Ask NDP leader Jack Layton how much he likes the crowds at the Bella Center, the packed-to-the-rafters convention hall that is playing host to the Copenhagen climate change summit. Layton arrived yesterday. He couldn't get in because of the sheer crush of humanity. He arrived again this morning to face more security madness and appealed for help from the Canadian embassy in Copenhagen. "We're trying to get him in," said a Canadian official here.
His story is not unique. A prominent journalist I know came to the summit on Monday. He was accredited; all he had to do was show his passport, pick up his security badge, walk into the Bella convention centre and cover the end of the world while drinking some of the worst coffee known to humanity.
He never got in. The crush of humanity - delegates from 192 countries, several hundred environmental groups, thousands of journalists, armies of campaigners and lobbyists and far too few Danish security officials - kept him waiting for the entire day. He gave up, returned to his hotel and tried to penetrate the Bella fortress again on Tuesday. Hours more of waiting in the chill, damp Copenhagen weather. I don't know if he got in.
The Bella Center is the size of a big-city airport, but it's way too small for an event of this size and prominence. On Tuesday, the United Nations, the summit's sponsor, said it "regrets the long delays." It had an explanation. Some 45,000 people applied to attend the conference. The Bella's capacity is 15,000 and fire department officials are in a low-grade panic about fire codes being breached. On Monday alone, the UN accredited 3,500 new delegates. The Brazil delegation alone was said to have 600 people.
So the Danish police swung into action. Most of the NGOs - the non-governmental organizations - were banned from the Bella Center. The Bella Center subway stop was closed. Everyone who could get in had to traipse a kilometre or so from the next station, only to confront a maze of barriers to get anywhere near the actual security line-up. This morning, I left my hotel at 6:30 to avoid the madness. It worked, barely.
The crush of humanity, the chaos, is hard to imagine unless you are here. Think Pearson or JFK airports at Thanksgiving or Christmas. At times, it's hard to walk in the halls, as vast as they are. It can take 30 minutes to get a coffee. There is no space left in the media centre, which is the size of a soccer pitch. Some 3,500 journalists are accredited. When former U.S. vice-president Al Gore came here the other day, security guards locked their arms together to form a human fence around him just so he could move.
Today - Wednesday - promises to multiply the Bella Center madness. A demonstration is planned that may attract 10,000 people, threatening more chaos. On Thursday, some 115 heads of state and government are due here to sign a new climate change deal. Let's do some numbers. Canada's prime minister's office alone usually travels with 50 people - RCMP, media advisers, staff and the like. Presume that's the average contingent for the leaders. That's an extra 5,000 people or more. The Bella Center is going to burst on Thursday and Friday. Maybe I'll just sleep here tonight.