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What went wrong at the G20 meeting in Toronto? Pt1

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 19, 2010

Part 1, show me the money!

There were several issues that arose out the recent meeting of global leaders in southern Ontario at the end of June. The first issue is cost. The G20/G8 cost the Canadian people over a billion dollars for a 3 day event. This expense included a 10 km fenced enclosure costing almost 10 million, new crowd control equipment including the dreaded ‘sound cannon’ and of course security enforcement personal..

The security cost of last G20 was held in spooked Pittsburgh cost only 13 million, London’s in 2009 was priced (for the whole event) at 20 million. Now, the G8s have a record of costing more (although even by that standard we spent more than twice as much as the next most expensive G8, L’Aquila, which was a masked way for the Italian government to rebuild the town after a devastating earthquake) but in this case the vast amount of money was spent on the G20 in Toronto.

Let’s compare this to other past events. Security for the Olympics here in Vancouver cost around 1 billion, depending on your source. This was a 26 day event with some history of terrorist violence in the past (The Munich and Atlanta Games). At the opening ceremonies 10 heads of state as well as over 41 other high officials from over all over the world. This of course did not include the thousands of performers or the crowd of tens of thousands watching in person or the billion or so watching on TV; a very high profile event we paid over 40 million a day for security. If one was worried about ‘sending a message’ the Olympics (as those who tried to justify the expense of the games constantly reiterated) would be a prime target.

The G20/G8 events, although also ‘famous’ for their protest, these are low level (ie few people), low impact (minor property damage) and attack mainly social justice activist. However, they do get a disproportionate amount of press in the first instance because the activist are trying to point out social inequalities, access inequalities and other justice issues and for the second instance because the participants (especially those representing private interest) do not want the ‘masses’ to know what is going on (largely at private behind-closed-door events) and those who worry about a repeat of MAI.

MAI was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which was derailed by popular protest in the late 1990s. This victory of the ‘people’ followed by the resistance to ‘restart’ MAI at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. Seattle was a break water point for both the activist and the ‘establishment’. When protesters came out again in Quebec in 2000 and Genoa, the ‘security’ forces were prepared to be more ‘aggressive’. Since then there have been a couple of deaths – all of them protesters.

The change the security forces have taken is the adoption of the ‘Miami’ model. This was an event where negotiations for the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement occurred in Miami, Florida. This model, seemed a win-win (-lose) for the security forces, the politicians/lobbies (and the activist/masses). There are several aspects of the psychology of the Miami model I will bring up in the next post, but the important aspect for now is the money. One reason the ‘local forces’ are willing to be so ‘active’ is large amounts of money are infused in the local security apparatus and forces. Often this is seen as new equipment but in Toronto’s case the vast amount of money was spent ‘paying’ for the personal (with its corresponding overtones of ‘mercenary’). One area of visible equipment increase was in the form of riot gear but enough to say a lot of money was spent, a lot of people detained, a lot of press on the ‘thugs’ and very very very little was broadcast of substance in spite of the fact the VAST majority of the activity of activist were peaceful, important and should have been heard; instead we got a burning car.

One Response to “What went wrong at the G20 meeting in Toronto? Pt1”

  1. If one was worried about ‘sending a message’

    A message was indeed sent: “Look how much money we can screw out of people for a three day event. Who’s up next?”

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