Tightened security measures such as metal detectors and bag searches are poised to drastically change the character of Toronto's wide-open City Hall, but the details remain secret.
Security at City Hall has already been increased in recent years. But activist groups and individual citizens have long enjoyed mostly unfettered access to its sometimes raucous council chamber and committee rooms.
However, next week, Mayor John Tory's executive committee is set to debate a set of "enhanced security measures" that will include "patron screening" with metal detectors, searches and the X-ray scanning of bags.
Details have not been made public, and the plan comes after recommendations in confidential reports by police and federal officials. The mayor's office says he is dedicated to ensuring city facilities are safe, but wants to hear from the public.
"There are modern realities that mean safety has to be a priority," the mayor's spokesman, Don Peat, said in an e-mail. "To that end, the Mayor must take the advice from our safety experts, but City Hall is a public building, and so he looks forward to also hearing from the public on this matter."
Some city councillors are vowing the block the move. The left-leaning Joe Cressy said that while he has not read the report, he would vote against metal detectors at City Hall's front doors. "I, as a representative in this city, and as someone who lives in this city, want to remain as open and as accessible as possible, because that is the city I want to live in."
A public report by city staff says the new measures need an upfront capital expenditure of $500,000, plus $774,000 in annual costs for additional security staff.
The report notes that Canada's federal domestic terrorism threat level remains at "medium" after being hiked from "low" in 2014. According to the federal government's Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), a medium threat means terrorists have "the intent and capability" to strike and that "a violent act of terrorism could occur."
The report also notes that large U.S. cities already have similar measures. But only two major Canadian cities do: Calgary, which in 2015 started screening citizens before they enter its council chamber, and Edmonton, which introduced a similar screening regime in October.
Courts have long had similar entry security, and Toronto's major sports venues have also imposed such measures. Even Toronto Police Service headquarters, on College Street, tightened its own security for visitors this year.
But securing City Hall the same way could prove complicated, potentially causing lineups and delays. A library branch and a busy café operate just metres from the front doors. Tour groups from all over the world are ushered in to admire both the building – designed by renowned Finnish architect Viljo Revell – and the public art in its rotunda.
Just steps from the front doors, a federal government Service Canada desk offers new social insurance numbers. Another desk serves up marriage licences. Down the hall are counters for building permits. Homeowners also line up to pay taxes, water bills and parking tickets, as parents drop off toddlers at a daycare.
And almost every day, brides and grooms wander inside, looking for the right elevator for the wedding chapel.
According to a memo sent to city staff on Monday, "specific procedures for certain groups, such as members of the press gallery and daycare users, and other City Hall service providers" will be put in place.
Other proposed measures are alluded to in the city's public report, including unspecified "vehicle mitigation measures" meant to block attacks using cars or trucks; new barriers in council's two main committee rooms; and a new "physical measure" in the council chamber itself.
Toronto-based security consultant David Hyde said it's no surprise City Halls are following suit after the beefing up of security at provincial and federal legislatures in recent years: "When you look at Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, obviously you have a lot of dignitaries in there, and the potential for something that would have a very big impact is definitely there."