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From H-Ville to G-Spot

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Issue: 68 Section: Accounts Geography: Ontario Huntsville, Muskoka Topics: media, G8, freedom of speech, security, G20

May 21, 2010

From H-Ville to G-Spot

G8 host has little control over how Legacy Fund touches Huntsville

by Rachelle Sauve

On June 25 and 26, Huntsville will host eight of the most powerful leaders in the world. “[We] didn’t have an option,” says one resident. Photo: Rachelle Sauvé

HUNTSVILLE—This June, the ritzy, resort-rich Muskokas will see the life, leisure and liberty of its residents change in preparation for the interplay between heads of state and their entourages, private security forces, temporary workers, the global media, protesters and police.

Huntsville, Ontario, and the Deerhurst Resort will take the world stage for a few days to play host to the "informal" and private working meeting of the world’s richest states.

“Prior to the announcement that the G8 was coming to Huntsville, there were no community consultations,” said Dan Powers, assistant to Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty. “The G8 summit is a federal responsibility,” he said, administered and determined by the prime minister and his office.

“No, we (Huntsville) didn’t have an option,” said Kelly Haywood, General Manager for the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, explaining that despite lack of initial community input regarding the G8 summit, “the idea was primarily embraced as an opportunity to benefit the business community.”

For many in Huntsville, the undemocratic nature of the G8, the lack of safe and clear forums for debate and dissenting voices, and the tremendous police presence and control over the area are still secondary concerns overwhelmed by the economic benefits that will come to the Muskokas through the G8.

The G8 will bring money and interest to the area—an area that Chaffey District Town Councillor John Davis says faces struggles in tough economic times. Huntsville, he said, is a “sort of weird community where there are people who are really rich and people who wait on tables and clean hotels for minimum wage.”

Operating in trying economic times and dealing with problems such as an aging population, youth out-migration and underemployment, Hunstville town council is debating tapping into its rainy-day reserves to finish funding G8-related projects to make up for the projected shortfall.

“There will be a debenture of almost $9 million that the township is going to have to somehow pay,” said Davis, whose constituents are worried about housing, the public library and road maintenance. He said not all the money coming to the area for the G8 is being spent wisely, but that “everything that goes on in a community, if there is money being spent, is beneficial.

“Is it solving poverty? No. Is is solving homelessness? No,” he said. “What does?”

For a town that Davis describes as having “not a lot of money” in the municipal coffers, the G8 summit brings with it a sudden and great opportunity for building local infrastructure and economy. “It is the cheapest, best advertisement we’re probably going to get.”

Jack Tynan, Managing Editor of local newspaper Huntsville Forester holds that “if someone is going to come and fix up your neighbourhood for you, you smile and thank them.”

Parry Sound and the Muskoka region will profit directly from hosting the G8, receiving a $50-million G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, to be distributed by Muskoka MP and Minister of Industry Tony Clement and The Federal Economic Development Initiative of Northern Ontario.

Projects benefitting from this money have been pulled directly from Community Municipal Master Plans, according to Haywood—plans she said were developed through community input and, where possible, have been contracted to local businesses. Bracebridge-based Fowler Construction, for instance, has been awarded a $3.9-million security contract.

The Legacy Projects include replacing asphalt sidewalks with concrete sidewalks in the village of Rosseau and new signs for Bracebridge. A Summit Centre, a University of Waterloo research centre and an icepad will be constructed in Huntsville, according to Municipal G8 Information Co-ordinator Lauren Parrot.

Parrot, a Federal Youth Intern, is clear that despite her professional title, she can offer minimal information about the G8 summit. Her job is to deliver inquiries to the Summit Management Office (SMO)* or to the Integrated Security Unit (ISU)**.

“Security is really run by the SMO—they plan and organize everything and we’re really sort of bystanders.” said Councillor Davis. The SMO briefs town council and staff, and conducts community meetings. To stay informed, Davis explained, the ISU (which has been in the community for over a year) has taken to frequenting local coffee shops and listening for rumours they might need to dispel.

The growing police presence in Huntsville will swell to thousands in the days leading to the summit, and will control movement in the city with security perimeters and flight, marine and traffic restrictions.

An ISU information pamphlet explains the G8 is “a private, working meeting between several working leaders” and that “the general public is discouraged from coming to observe the event.” The ISU has set up a toll-free number for townspeople to “report unlawful activity that could be related to the summit.”

The ISU has come under criticism in the recent past for selectively dismissing civil liberties during the Olympics.

Richard Cusson, who works at Deerhurst Resort, said what has recently changed is the notable presence of plain-clothed police integrating into town activities. “It’s not too hard to tell (that they are police officers) when you see two guns sticking out,” he said.

In a town thickening with police, rumour and suspicion, Cusson, for the most part, is choosing to keep his lips sealed. As an employee of the host resort, he is “not supposed to talk about it,” he said. “The least amount of info I get, the better for me.”

The ISU seems to be following the example set during the Olympics. It declared it will honour Charter rights to assembly, free speech, the press and other fundamental freedoms. Special note is made by the ISU G20/G8 website, regarding Breach of Peace, a designation that allows police to arrest people without laying charges, and thereby skipping scrutiny and accountability in the courts.

Police seem to be gathering information and allies in the community. People living within the interdiction zone have all been visited personally at their houses by the ISU, explained Councillor Davis, and people living in the summit area must register with police forces. “They must provide a name, date of birth and, of course, a background check is done,” said Powers.

He said only a small number of people will truly be affected by the police presence and that others, including those in the area who are opposed to the G8, need not worry about police involvement in their lives.

The Huntsville Forester has received and printed relatively few words from those opposed to the G8, said Tynan. Though he knows some locals may oppose the G8, Davis suggested that Huntsville “is a small town and those people still have to live in this town after.”

Local media are most inhabitants’ means of accessing information, and most of the information reported comes directly from the SMO or ISU.

Davis, critical of the Forester for delivering what he calls “cookie-cutter journalism” and acting as “a mouthpiece for the Mayor” said that when a small town of 20,000 receives the majority of its news from one paper that tends to print whatever the reigning political bodies offer, “it becomes an autocratic society; democracy is not served well.”

Rachelle Sauvé is a cook, gardener, educator, agitator and advocate working for over a decade at Food Sovereignty and Anti-Poverty Movements in Ontario.

* A federally administered project of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
** Overseen by Public Safety Canada and is a combined force of the RCMP, OPP, Canadian Forces and other security agencies.

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