Canada Preps for G8 Summit

During a diplomatic junket to Italy last month, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien joked to reporters that the mountain resort he selected as ground zero for next week's G8 Summit is guarded "from the back by mountains, from the front by a river, from the south by an Indian village and from the north by 500 bears." Chretien was exaggerating the enclave's fortifications. But not by much.

Kananaskis Village, an upscale hideaway in the Rockies, about an hour's drive west of Calgary in southwestern Alberta, is about as remote as Seattle and Genoa were accessible. There are grizzly bears and whitewater rivers and a First Nations reserve in the area. Yet world leaders won't be thrust unprotected into the middle of an untamed western wilderness. The security zone around Kananaskis will be patrolled by thousands of soldiers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. And while they'll be there to hunt down rogue terrorists and stray anti-globalization activists, they probably won't mind using their night-vision goggles to fire potshots at the odd grizzly. After all, they don't want all that high-tech weaponry to go to waste.

Only one highway leads to the summit, a two-lane road heading south into the Kananaskis valley off the main east-west TransCanada thoroughfare. There are costs, of course, to such seclusion. With only 400 beds available on-site for the June 26 and 27 hoe-down, delegations from each of the member nations will have to be tiny; without bunks for his entire security and public relations entourage, there's talk that George W. Bush won't even be staying in Kananaskis. There's also a tremendous financial cost for Canada, which is spending an estimated $500 million to host its G8 brethren for two days -- about as much money as Canada has promised to dedicate to the much-ballyhooed New Partnership for Africa's Development, which has been assigned the awkward acronym NEPAD and is supposed to be the centerpiece of summit discussions.

There are many more delicious ironies and oddities to consider. At a pre-summit meeting of G8 environment ministers in the nearby resort town of Banff earlier this year, a draft of the final communiqué that was supposed to be written at the policy-setting mini-conference was leaked to media before the ministers even met. Meanwhile, at the same time as Canadian government officials were boasting of their consultations and cooperation with activists intending to target Kananaskis for peaceful protest, they were simultaneously working to undermine plans for a "solidarity village," a "festival of resistance" featuring big-name musicians and workshops that activist organizers believed would draw more than 10,000 people.

On the verge of signing a deal with the Stoney First Nation that would have permitted activists to camp out on the reserve where the road to Kananaskis meets the TransCanada, solidarity village organizers were surprised when Stoney leaders abruptly closed the door. Last week, news broke that the Stoney are being given $300,000 by the Canadian government for security, first aid and CPR courses ("capacity training," explained a government spokesperson) during the summit. "Now we know that the federal government paid to prevent G8 dissenters from being able to organize a peaceful response to the summit," reacted trade campaigner David Robbins of the left-leaning Council of Canadians.

Realizing that land near Kananaskis was at an insurmountable premium, activists shifted their efforts to Calgary, the oil capital of Canada -- a city with the distinction of being considered conservative in a province with the politics of Texas. Protest organizers, accordingly, weren't shocked when their requests for civic land on which to hold some sort of rally were promptly denied. Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier, affectionately called "Bronco" by a local tabloid, reminded activists that no political gatherings are allowed in city parks (even though, as many reports noted, Bronconnier recently kicked off his own leadership campaign with a picnic in a park). Still, no dice; that sort of logic doesn't work on a civic politician who, when asked about the right to express dissent, replied "The 1960s are over."

As of June 18, activists had yet to determine (or at least announce) a detailed course of action for protests in Kananaskis or Calgary. Organizers don't expect to see 10,000 people show up, but they think a few thousand are on their way. And without any officially-sanctioned meeting points, they're planning a couple of rallies and street theatre stunts, some unpredictable "snake" marches, maybe even an impromptu concert or two -- and they're warning, rather ominously, that there might be some "spillover" disorder on the streets of Calgary without a central gathering place.

"Every attempt at going through the proper channels was blocked," says Edmonton activist organizer Scott Harris, executive director of an NGO called the Alberta Council for Global Co-operation. "If they wanted the end result to be a non-confrontational protest, they haven't been very strategic. If they wanted some serious disarray and a chance for chaos, then they've accomplished that."

In other words, despite Chretien's crafty choice of location, this G8 summit could get ugly, because security officials have been stockpiling personnel, weapons and equipment and preparing for hats-and-bats riot response since Day One. Much of the estimated $500 million cost of the summit, in fact, is being spent on security, with nearly 1,400 Calgary police officers and colleagues from two dozen other forces across the country on duty (in addition to thousands of members of the Canadian armed forces).

There's also a no-fly zone over the summit which will be enforced and protected by fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles. A pair of brand new RG12 armoured military vehicles -- the ones favored by Middle Eastern riot squads -- were bought for $1.1 million by Calgary police. Hundreds of jail cells have been emptied should mass arrests be made and court rooms are being cleared for an onslaught of new charges, preemptive expenditures justified in the name of post-September 11 terrorism fear coupled with an insatiable desire to stop the so-called troublemakers.

That's right. The "t-word." Terrorism. Along with NEPAD and the catchall "strengthening global economic growth," it's one of three key prongs of the summit agenda. Those plans and Jean Chretien's desires for good news stories about helping Africa help itself aside, pundits now speculate that terrorism and the Middle East will dominate discussions. If that's the case, all talk of NEPAD will be relegated to being exactly what critics dismissed it as in the first place: "language [that] merely serves the interests of the G8 as it quells dissent to their neo-colonialist policies," according to the Anti-Capitalist Kananaskis club, or ACK.

NEPAD documents are full of phrases like "grassroots participation," and they were supposed to be drafted with input from African civil society groups. But Bayowa Adedeji, a member of a Nigerian NGO called the Centre for Human Rights Research and Development who's been in Calgary for the last three months, says until coming to Canada, people in his country had never even heard of NEPAD. "I think they want their multinationals to make more money, that's why they're embracing NEPAD," Adedeji says about the G8, a statement supported by a meeting in Dakar in mid-April intended to raise support and money for NEPAD that drew only 12 leaders from 54 African nations, plus 1,000 international businessmen from corporations like ExxonMobil, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.

One of dozens of different groups mobilizing for anti-G8 protests, ACK argues that "The global economic growth that the G8 serves to create is based on the exploitation of the majority of the world's peoples and the environment, for the profit and power of a few." It also has strong opinions on terrorism.

"The threat of terrorism is being used by G8 nations to militarize and oppress the world, under the guise of defending freedom," the organization says. "In the G8 countries themselves, people of colour are targeted by racist immigration and anti-terrorism legislation. Borders are becoming more militarized and new powers have been granted to governments to repress and control oppressed peoples and political movements."

For instance, the 10 speakers scheduled to come to Calgary for a June 21-25 counter-conference who didn't make it into Canada. And no, they weren't turned back by rivers or mountains, nor for fear of bears.

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