Terror Precautions: A life under siege

Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 at 7:00 UTC 6 comments

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.

Entry filed under: Free Space, Freedom, Human Rights, Terrorism, Travel.

Don’t Ban the English Defence League Evangelicals and Pacifism

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 at 12:40 UTC

    I really can’t get on board with this logic – “…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…”

    Highlighting only an instance where the security services failed whilst not taking into account all the times they have foiled some plot or other is an incredibly biased and essentially incorrect way of representing their success rate and not nearly the calibre of argumentation we usually see from you.

    Any system may succeed a thousand times and then fail the thousand and first. 7/7, as terrible as it was, is not the damning indictment against the effectiveness of security measures that you make it out to be.

    I do generally agree that the amount of CCTV and other security measures taken by a lot of institutions is absurd and perhaps not all that much use, but it’s still better than doing nothing.

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 26th February 2010 at 14:11 UTC

      I take your point about that one particular sentence/line of argument. What I managed to miss out of this post was the rest of the International Relations argument; if we tried harder to project a friendly image (something my Canadian friends keep telling me they know how to do 😛 ) the situation could be dramatically changed, whereas right now we seem to be being unfriendly because people don’t like us because we’re being unfriendly, a sort of vicious spiral.

  • 3. Jon Searles  |  Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 at 14:40 UTC

    What is even more annoying than the constant civil rights violations in Britain, either to pursue bogus terror charges or to distract the public’s attention from real issues, is that Labour are up in the polls. They won’t go away if no one votes them out, yet no one complaining about them non-stop seems to care. Isn’t 13 years of worse corruption than under the Tories, destruction of public services to a greater degree than under Thatcher, civil rights violations that are arguably worse than anywhere in Western Europe, and blatant criminal activity by the Labour leadership (the expenses scandal being only one of many examples) enough?

    • 4. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 26th February 2010 at 14:13 UTC

      It comes down to the question “who else would you choose?” – and besides, the main parties were at best equal with each other in that scandal. Labour might have been in charge, but the parties had been at it for years, way back into Thatcher’s time as far as we can see.

  • 5. Lizzie  |  Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 at 22:35 UTC

    In Britain the Data Protection Act could get in the way- we even have to switch fax machines and printers off at night so no customer details are left around, in a pretty secure building.

    • 6. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 26th February 2010 at 14:14 UTC

      Yeah, I should have clarified that the offices themselves were still a key card away, and that I never actually saw anyone’s workplace who wasn’t either minding a reception desk, patrolling for one reason or another, or working in a shop or cafe.


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