$1 billion buys a lot of pepper spray and Tasers

You would think that just a few months after hosting the Winter Olympics that the federal government would have some idea of the cost to provide security for a major international event.

By George A. Brown, editor

Ontario’s cottage country elite were mildly excited to learn Huntsville would host the G8 leaders’ summit June 25. After all, the community would be getting a new hockey rink after the media horde moved out, fresh pavement on the municipal airstrip, and the streets would be festooned with hanging baskets of flowers and colourful banners.

Torontonians were mildly miffed when they learned the city would host the accompanying G20 leaders’ summit June 26 and 27. Downtown would be cordoned off for a couple of days, the CN Tower would be closed to tourists and the Blue Jays’ games against Roy Halliday’s new team would be played on the road instead. But the federal government was going to cover the full $179 million cost to provide security for the leaders and their entourages, and replace all the windows protestors would inevitably break.

A few weeks later the whole country is in an outrage after it was announced the security tab alone for three days of meetings is expected to cost Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion. And Toronto businesses are on the hook to replace their broken windows.

You would think that just a few months after hosting the Winter Olympics that the federal government would have some idea of the cost to provide security for a major international event. Certainly the recent firebombing of an RBC branch in Ottawa is an indication that there is a serious homegrown terrorist threat but how did the security estimates increase by 500 per cent?

How much pepper spray and Tasers does $1 billion buy?

Thankfully, the opposition parties have asked the auditor-general to review the spending once this boondoggle is over.

For the few hours these 20 world leaders will actually spend face-to-face, you would think there would be a more secure, cost-efficient way of meeting. I realize more deals are done in the hospitality suite than in the boardroom but if any meeting could be held by video-conferencing this is it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take these leaders to an area that is already secure, like one of Canada’s military bases? If they have to come to Toronto, put them up in the SkyDome, which has hotel and meeting rooms. Better yet, why not have these meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York? Surely it most be permanently prepared for a delegation of world leaders.

The 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis Country supposedly generated $300 million in economic spinoff. Security cost $200 million. All I got was a ball cap.

As with the Kananaskis summit and Winter Olympics, small towns across the country will see their already short-staffed police forces seconded to fortify the G20 Integrated Security Unit. While I wish no harm to the Italian prime minister during his G20 meetings, I would prefer to have Ponoka’s RCMP in Ponoka during Stampede Week and not walking the perimeter in downtown Toronto.

By the way, the additional RCMP security budget for the Ponoka Stampede is $23,000 — to be shared equally by the Town of Ponoka and the Ponoka Stampede Association.

One report estimates the G20 security detail will require 5,500 rooms per night for nine nights surrounding the two days the leaders will meet in Toronto. And rooms in downtown Toronto don’t come cheap. Cost is estimated at $8 million.

Undoubtedly there will be protestors. Most will be reasonably well behaved but just in case, Toronto police have purchased four long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) or sound cannons. Apparently they are surplus from the last Austin Powers movie and can emit an ear-piercing sound up to 135 decibels — enough to cripple protesters with pain.

And only in Canada are we polite enough to provide “designated demonstration area” for rabble-rousers. After the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver, a judge ruled protesters have the right to be seen and heard — so not corralled by security forces and hidden from the view of the G20 leaders.

There is one lasting benefit to the G20 Summit in Toronto: municipalities have dibs on buying leftover matériel at 50 cents on the dollar. Metro police have already added the noise cannons to their permanent arsenal, giving them an effective crowd dispersal tool to keep Toronto’s unruly Stanley Cup partiers at bay.