Terror Precautions: A life under siege
Today I took a trip into downtown Calgary with a difference: I spent most of the trip inside or on top of a mix of office, shopping, hotel and other buildings. Calgary has an excellent network of first floor/level 2 passages connecting many downtown buildings in a wonderful maze designed to help you get around. What’s surprising is just how happy big businesses (inc several oil companies) are to have you walk through their buildings.
At first, I found the whole experience unnerving. Being told that there was a Tim Horton’s (Canada’s answer to Starbucks) in the “Canadian Pacific building” seemed odd (not the buildings actual name, but given CP has a steam engine outside the building, its an obvious moniker). Being told I could just roll into this office block and order coffee, walk upstairs and pass along a corridor into another block of offices (with a mall, so less weird) then pop through a series of bridges and corridors, malls, atriums and lobbies and find myself on the otherside of downtown does take some getting used to.
Finding myself inside an oil company’s offices or even the stock exchange was rather exciting for reasons I’m supposed to be on holiday from. I didn’t learn anything exciting, other than that they’re a bit more welcoming here than they are in London. BP’s building here has more outward markings than BP’s office in London, as best as I can remember.
The floral displays were interesting, the turtles in one building required photography – no one stopped me even though I was fully ready to play ignorant Englishman, fully aware that you don’t take photos inside other people’s office buildings, or indeed anywhere in public.
Enough of the marvelling at the day’s tourism. My point is this. For 4 hours I wondered around office block after office block, past unguarded entrances to lifts and through a succession of corporations none of whom seemed to bat an eyelid. I was, heaven forbid, in the best positions imaginable for a terrorist and barely a security guard passed me by. In fact, only in the biggest mall did I see any. During this trip I’ve already found myself complaining at the lack of security twice if not more so, but this was ludicrous…
Or perhaps the culture of fear in London is ludicrous. Welcoming people into the lobby of your office block is a good way to make people feel easy around your company. Acting as if anyone who walks through your door is a terrorist until proven otherwise is just stifling. I walked amongst staff and shoppers, occasionally having to turn back because I’d taken a wrong turn, and even, dammit, taking pictures – I made a reasonable attempt at a “Calgary from +15 feet” photo study.
Yes, this represents an enclosure of spaces, with CCTV allegedly pointing at me (but with ridiculously few cameras in evidence) and with signs stating that my right to be in the building could be withdrawn at any time by the owners, security or police, preventing dissent or creativity in all but a few restricted ways. But on the other hand, this represents a reminder of how much freedom the people of Britain have given up to almost no avail. It didn’t prevent the 7/7 attacks, it doesn’t stop protesters from making life difficult for companies, but it does make life very uninviting. And for all my animosity towards such companies, its was an oil company’s building where I found free wifi. Britain would certainly be a nicer place if we could just chill out a little and find ways to stop living under siege.