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Deja Vu?

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Issue: 68 Section: Features Geography: Ontario Toronto Topics: G20, G8 history

May 30, 2010

Deja Vu?

Briefly, the G7 summit in Toronto, 1988

by Amanda Wilson

Photo: Gary Shaul

Large summits are nothing new. The 36th G8 summit will set up shop in Huntsville June 25-26. Toronto, a past host, will this time welcome the 4th G20 summit June 26-27. The following is the first in a six-part series of briefs looking back on past G7/G8 summits and protest. Check back each Sunday for a blast from the past when we recap a different summit's official agenda and civilian and activist responses.


The 14th World Economic Summit in Toronto was held in a very different era. In 1988, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain still divided the world into east and west; South Africa was still under the formal rule of apartheid; and Osama Bin Laden was seen by the US as a freedom fighter. However, similarities to the upcoming summit in Toronto might make this coming June feel like a recurring bad dream.

Like the 2010 G8/G20 summits, 1988's G7 meeting was hosted in downtown Toronto at the Metro Convention Centre. It was also a year Canada played host to the Olympic Winter Games, held in Calgary.

Perhaps most intriguing, the final communique called for democracy in Afghanistan: “We welcome the beginning of the Soviet withdrawal of its occupation troops from Afghanistan. It must be total and apply to the entire country. The Afghan people must be able to choose their government freely.”

The current G8 position on Afghanistan calls for something different: ”The international community needs to remain engaged...Close coordination between the Government of Afghanistan, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), NATO, non-NATO ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partners and other stakeholders is essential for a successful transition.” Canadian troops will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2011, according to Dimitri Soudas, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, with the possibility of some soldiers remaining in Afghanistan past that date in “non-combat roles.”

In the lead-up the 1988 summit, as much media attention was paid to Ronald Reagan's farewell to the G7 as to international fiscal policy—the summit’s official focus. Summit delegates also discussed supposed concern over continued repression in apartheid South Africa, and committed to reduce the debt of the world's poorest countries by one-third.

Despite these pressing problems, some pundits believed no action was necessary on the part of the G7. "I don't see they have anything to do other than congratulate each other on how well things are going," wrote one economic analyst in the New York Times.

Protesters who disagreed faced a four-meter-high steel and concrete fence surrounding the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, military helicopters hovering overhead and sharpshooters on Toronto’s rooftops. Total security costs for the summit were $29.3 million.

Three main groups organized against the G7 in Toronto: The Other Economic Summit (TOES), the Popular Summit Coalition which organized a counter-summit at Ryerson University, and the Alliance for Non-Violent Action (ANVA).

Matthews Behrens, one of the organizers with ANVA, said at the time there was significant debate and discussion around the legitimacy of non-violent civil disobedience and its place within the resistance to the summit: “It's hard to imagine, but back then nonviolent civil disobedience was still viewed by many on the left as outrageous, vanguardist, dangerous, alienating to working people, et cetera.”

Approximately 500 representatives from Third World economic organizations met at TOES. It was the first of what would become annual TOES in parallel with every G7/G8 summit thereafter, until their isolated locations made it logistically impossible.

In advance of the summit, ANVA attempted to organize citizens' arrests of several G7 leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, for international crimes of torture, bombing of civilians and support for apartheid in South Africa. Canada had recently passed a law which allowed for the possibility of denying perpetrators of such crimes entry into Canada. When ANVA’s lawyer attempted to get an injunction to this effect, they learned the G7 leaders had been granted immunity under Canadian law for the duration of their visits to Canada.

Over the course of the summit, thousands of people protested. The largest rally from Queen's Park drew over 3,000 people, despite the threat of arrest by police. In total, 200 people were arrested. Protesters reported police violence during the summit and police surveillance in the days leading up to it.

“In many ways, the resistance at the G7 marked a high-water mark for social movement organizing in the 1980s,” said Behrens in an email. “It jump-started direct action organizing in central Canada to go on and shut down the ARMNX weapons fair in 1989 and led to major First Nations solidarity actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s with respect to the Innu, as well as Oka solidarity, and provided a base for much of the organizing against the Gulf War.”

Amanda Wilson is a researcher and writer based in Ottawa.

This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.

For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.

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