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November 10, 2015
By McKenzie Institute

736 words – MR

Informed decision making
Why TO2015 was different than previous Canadian experiences

Planners for the Toronto Pan Am/Para Pan/Am 2015 (TO2015) games estimated it would bring more than 10,000 visiting athletes, coaches and team officials, plus an additional 500,000 tourists, to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for a sustained period of time.

In terms of raw numbers Toronto has had larger events – such as the annual 1,000,000 visitors to the Caribbean Carnival or 850,000 people who attended World Youth Day in 2002. However, as a sustained event over a series of weeks with multiple venues that required specific safety and security requirements, Toronto had no prior or equivalent experience to TO2015.

Some may say that Canada had prior experience with multi-sport events, but from a strategic perspective, these past experiences have limited applicability to TO2015. Here is why:

Both the world and Canada changed considerably since the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics Games. Specifically, the global security context changed dramatically and even Toronto and Montreal, within the Canadian context, have changed their respective urbanity and composition;

Again, contextually, the safety and security issues present at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games have little commonality with what Toronto faced in 2015, and;

The 1999 Winnipeg Pan Am Games (1999 Games) took place during a time of relative global stability, where many of the emerging threats faced today did not exist.

Furthermore, from an operational perspective, Winnipeg had some prior experience from the 1967 Pan Am Games. Also, as a metropolitan area, Winnipeg and Toronto are significantly different;

{Thinking creatively about the threats}

Even before the Parliament Hill incidents, there were many contextual changes since TO2015 was awarded to Toronto in 2009. For example, when the bid was won, the headlines ranged from fear of H1N1 spreading, Canadian Forces preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan and US Army base shootings.

No one had heard of Isis, Toronto had not experienced a massive flood since 1954 and BlackBerry had not suffer a four-day outage.

Edward Snowden had not yet explained how easy it was to hack into personal e-mail and few people knew the name James Foley.

There were only 11 event venues within Toronto at the start of planning in 2009. That number increased to more than 40.

For TO2015, most threat assessments were conducted by the OPP, with the assistance of their Federal partners: Public Safety Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada, Environment Canada-Weather Services, Environmental Assessment, Environmental Emergencies, and Industry Canada.

During the planning process security organizers had to consider the following questions:

  • What do these agencies consider to be threats?
  • How are they determined?
  • How in-depth are the threat assessments?
  • What compromises – if any – are being made to accommodate institutional interests?
  • Are we relying solely on Canadian information-gathering or are we working with international partners?
  • Does the US government, for example, have special concerns that are not being well addressed?
  • Do our partners and guest countries have concerns about our safety and security protocols?
  • Is anybody thinking or studying the German police experiences leading up to and during the 1972 Olympic Games, when terrorists assassinated athletes?

{The key to success is informed decision-making}

From the 1972 Games up to the uncoordinated response to the attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014, the following hypothesis emerges: a willingness to reasonably consider the unthinkable, coupled with informed decision-making, can prevent or reduce mistakes, failures, and tragedies.

The 21st Century is highly complex, dynamic, and interdependent, all of which have completely altered the threat spectrum. Paradoxically, strengths have also become weaknesses, especially as more actors enter the theatre and the effects of mother nature become more profound.

In summary, naturally-occurring or man-made disruptions, emergencies and disasters are costlier, increasingly severe and are happening more often.

The intangible benefits to hosting large-scale sporting events are numerous and noble, including local and national pride and displaying the love of sport. Indeed, sport has a magic that – even if temporary – can turn foes into friends and friends into foes. Yet these emotional responses are becoming increasingly expensive and so much of the success of any large multi-sport event hinges on the host city’s public support to foot the bill.

(Source Material edited from Nov 2014)