There were two shows down at the Metro Convention Centre on Friday: a rather expensive 'conversation' with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before 6,000 suits, and the protesters across the street who would very much like to see Mr. Bush charged with war crimes.
I arrived a couple of hours before the main even was due to start, and the only activity on the street was the media setting up. It wasn't until about half an hour later that a van pulled up across the street and a woman in a full black burka got out and began offloading signs, tables, and platters of vegetarian food. I noticed that some of the signs had to do with Omar Khadr, so my first thought was that the woman was his mother. But then she vanished, so who knows.
After a few more people had gathered, I wandered over to get some footage. I did a quicky interview with one of the organizers, and then I was interviewed myself by... somebody. She had heard me mention that I actually had a ticket and asked if she could see it. I pulled it out, and all of a sudden there were three or four other people with video cameras in my face saying, "Wow, you've got a ticket? Can I get a shot of that?"
Protests like these always tend to draw some pretty disparate groups, but this one seemed particularly unfocused. Besides the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the Omar Khadr people, there was also the Communist Party, the Steelworkers Union, and one guy selling his self-published book entitled, "Bin Laden: The One True Muslim?"
Omar got into a bit of a... discussion with him.
Once our little group had finally gathered, we checked our bags and cameras at the coat check, walked through the airport-like security ("please empty your pockets and hold out your arms"), and entered the hall.
Someone at the protest tried to tell me that ticket sales had been really low, but she appeared to have been misinformed. The place was packed - so much so that by the time we got in we could only find four separate single seats in the far back. But no matter - we could see it all on the jumbo screens.
(BTW, in the "Canada is one big small town" department - turns out that in this crowd of 5 or 6 thousand, the gentleman sitting next to me was from Milton. About six blocks from my house.)
The organization of the event itself left something to be desired. It appeared to start on time, with a brief intro explaining the format (first Clinton, then Bush, then the two of them answering questions from Frank McKenna), and thanking the long list of corporate sponsors.
Then... nothing. For half an hour we sat there waiting, wondering what the hell the problem was. Was there a security threat? A shoe throwing incident? One woman behind me speculated that maybe Bill had a 'friend' in the dressing room. When things finally did get underway again, we had to suffer through another fifteen minutes of introductions before, FINALLY, Bill Clinton took the stage.
Next: The Main Event