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Fortress G8

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Issue: 68 Section: Features Geography: Prairies Kananaskis Topics: G20, G8 history

June 20, 2010

Fortress G8

Briefly, the G8 summit in Kananaskis, 2002

by Amanda Wilson

The Delta Lodge, a 90-minute drive from Calgary, hosted the G8's 2002 summer summit. A high security budget, and the summit's isolation, kept protesters far away from world leaders and their discussions. [cc 2.0] Photo: Satoru Kikuchi

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 fourth 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.

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The G8 summit in a remote ski resort in Alberta signaled a shift in G8 summits in several ways. It was now seen as necessary to make summits inaccessible to protests and members of civil society. Kananaskis was also the first summit to take place after 9/11. Security costs ballooned to $96.5 million, or one-third of the summit's overall budget.

The summit was short, both in length and content. Lasting only a day and a half, it produced no final agreed-upon communique, despite the looming agenda items of terrorism, Africa and economic growth. Prime Minister Jean Chretien hoped to highlight aid to Africa as his "legacy issue," but much of the summit's agenda was overshadowed by the push for anti-terrorism measures.

While the RCMP promised “free speech zones” at the summit, the choice of Kananaskis—150 kilometres from Calgary—made it clear that mass mobilizations at the summit site would not be feasible, with a 6.5-kilometre perimeter and 13 checkpoints which kept dissenters away. A 150-kilometre “no fly zone” was guarded by 18 fighter pilots and three aircraft missile batteries. More than 6,000 Canadian Forces personnel were deployed in Kananaskis and Calgary during the summit. Chretien attempted to amend the National Defense Act to declare the summit area a "military security zone" but the provision was withdrawn following widespread public outcry.

Protests were quieter at this G8 Summit. A "G6" counter-summit, representing the 6 billion people living on the planet, was hampered by Canadian officials who refused visa requests from the vast majority of African delegates hoping to attend. Protests concentrated in Calgary, with a diversity of tactics and strategies, such as a nude anti-sweatshop rally in front of a GAP store, the “Showdown at the Ho-Down” (a street party outside an official summit function hosted by the mayor), and anarchist street soccer games that challenged police officers to a game (they declined to play).

The largest protest (“J26”, named for its date, June 26), a snake march through the downtown core, attempted to disrupt businesses and some G8 meetings taking place in Calgary.

The Kananaskis summit contained many of the refrains and promises heard at previous summits. This time around, there were no protesters within earshot to challenge them. The events of 9/11 seemed to drastically shift the space for protest and dissent, with governments using them as an opportunity to clamp down on civil disobedience and resistance.

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.

Briefly, the G7 summit in Toronto, 1988

Briefly, the G7 summit in Halifax, 1995

Briefly, the G8 summit in Genoa, 2001

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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