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Budget Report or Terror Advisory?

Budget Officer comes up short on G20 spending inquiry

by Ryan Lum

Keeping our communities safe?
Keeping our communities safe?

After the Wednesday release of parliamentary budget officer (PBO) Kevin Page’s report on security spending for the G8 and G20 summits, minister of public safety Vic Toews said that the report “vindicated” the governments' decision to spend over 900 million dollars on security for the 3 days of meetings. The report considered security costs to be “not unreasonable” in the case of the Hunstsville gathering, but said that it is “too early to tell” whether the more than 600 million dollars spent on security for the 2 day summit in Toronto is justified.

12 pages in length, the report defended the decision on the basis that the government had been “relatively transparent” in its accounting process compared to previous summits. Having done the majority of its calculations in comparison to the spending outcomes of other meetings, the report, however, does not outline the cost to be incurred by heightened security in Toronto and Huntsville, which will inevitably increase commuting times and have an adverse affect on local economies.

Considering that the United States foreign service has put out an advisory against travel to Toronto this weekend, which is prime shopping territory for Americans living close to border who want to take advantage of a weakened Canadian dollar, one can expect that the normally bustling Toronto downtown will be empty, the silence broken by a few protest marches and the patrols of security units.

The irony of closing down a commercial district for the purposes of hosting a summit that seeks to stimulate the economy by pushing forward a neoliberal economic agenda is hard lost on anyone, but the reality of these meetings is that they attract protesters, and protesters are liable to be raucous and disrespectful of private property. Raucous enough to merit 10,000 police, 4 sound cannons and a myriad arsenal of crowd control weapons?

To put things in perspective, the granddaddy of anti-globalization protests, the anti-WTO in 1999 in Seattle, saw 40000 people cause 3 million dollars of property damage over 3 days. Last fall's G20 summit in Pittsburgh saw $50,000 in damages. Indeed, these costs cannot be dismissed, but they in no way compare to a security tab that tops 900 million dollars.

The report also defends the expenditures by saying that "The G20 is like no other event around" because it brings the most high profile world leaders into one place at one time, making it an optimal target for anyone who wants to wipe out a few heads of state.

However, CSIS executive director Dick Fadden has publicly stated that a G8/G20 type event is at a low risk for terrorist activity, owing to groups like Al-Queda's preference for "setting their own agenda" when it comes to an attack. Fadden did, however, say that the summits could expect some violence, most likely coming from "anarchist groups" and "multi-issue extremists". But wasn't it the 'anarchists', the ones dressed in black, who were behind those frenzies of window smashing in Seattle and Pittsburgh, the ones that caused a bunch of destruction? But they didn't kill anybody?

No, and in fact, the only anti-globalization protest related death has been that of Carlo Giuliani, who, at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, was shot in the face at point blank range by police who were using live ammunition.

So if history has proven that a 900 million dollar G8/G20 security budget is unnecessary, why has it been carried through with? To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld on his justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, "There are known knowns, there known unknows, and there are unknown unknowns". In the weeks following that address, Colin Powell presented the media with "evidence" that Iraq had WMD's and planned to use them on targets inside the United States. These assertions were later revealed to be entirely fabricated, but the threat of the "unknown unknown", the bogeyman lurking in the shadows, was so great that the Bush administration was able to convince enough of the American public to go to war.

Indeed, one has to give the PBO report the credit it deserves. Back in May when it was revealed that security costs were way out of whack, NDP MP Don Davies called for a review. This he got, but Kevin Page has done nothing but contribute to a climate of fear by filling it with obscurities and vagaries. From "unknown unknowns" to "too early to tell", the best way to win compliance is to offer protection from an enemy too sinister to imagine.


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