An uneventful G7 – from a security standpoint

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on June 18, 2018

Well, the G7 in La Malbaie, Quebec, is over and some would say ‘Thank God!’  It would be hard to imagine a weirder summit than the one Canada just hosted.  The group of seven powerful economic and political nations usually gathers to talk shop, take some selfies, and sign a final communique that is or is not significant.  Think what you may about these kinds of high-level meetings, they do usually serve at the least as a forum for like-minded leaders to discuss important issues and make decisions that in time will help resolve such issues.  This year’s confab will be remembered solely for the bizarre, albeit not unexpected, performance by the US President who single-handedly undermined the conference and had many talking about whether it was indeed a G7 gathering or a G6 vs G1 conflict.

I am not interested in what the American President did or didn’t do last weekend: it is out of my disdain for that man that I have explicitly told my family that our cottage in the Madawaska Highlands is a strict ‘no-Trump zone.  I will leave the fallout of his statements/tweets to political commentators.

No, what fascinates me is what did not happen in Quebec – i.e. there were no major security incidents.  There were protests in Quebec City, several hundred kilometres from where the power set was discussing important things, but even these were minor in nature.  According to Reuters only ten people were arrested in connection with anti-G7 protests  but the scattered demonstrations were largely peaceful as authorities closed off streets and responded to any protests with ranks of police in riot gear.  Compare that with the 2010 G8/G20 disaster in Toronto where police cars were burned, bank windows were smashed and hundreds were arrested.  The question raises itself: what was different this time in Canada?

There are at least two, and perhaps three, main reasons for the lack of serious incidents this time around.  The first was the very wise decision, from an organisers’ perspective, to hold the meetings far away from a large urban centre.  The 2010 debacle took place in Canada’s largest city and we all know what happened.  This year’s version unfolded in a small venue away from any city.  It was relatively easy to secure and monitor.

Secondly, officials decided to devote a lot of money to security.  A lot.  According to estimates  up to 70% of all resources earmarked for the summit, over $400 million, went to security.  Many would argue that was a grossly disproportionate amount but it undoubtedly contributed to the complete absence of catastrophic attack or wildly violent demonstration.

Thirdly, perhaps, was the reaction of Canadian activists and protesters.  It is possible, although I have no direct data to support this, that Canadians were appalled not only at what many labelled an overbearing police response eight years ago but also a disgusting display of wanton violence by the likes of the so-called Black Bloc.  We are a diffident people and the scenes of chaos on the streets on Toronto in 2010 may have led many to take steps to avoid a repeat.

All in all a success story from the viewpoint of those charged with preventing bad things from happening.  For those who see in this an unjustified quashing of legitimate dissent and speaking truth to power I will respond with a simple example.  Can you imagine – go ahead and try – if anything had occurred last weekend to the US President?  Anything from a pie in the face to an armed attack??  You think he is angry at Canada now over trade?  The implications of a security incident to that man make me shudder.

In a perfect world we would not need security and the nation’s people would have clear and unfettered access to its leaders.  Alas, the world is not perfect and neither are our leaders.  Especially some of them. As a result we put in place onerous security and stifle dissent to a degree.  That is the planet we live on.  You might want to get used to that.

Phil Gurski worked as a senior strategic analyst at CSIS from 2001-2013, specializing in al-Qaeda/Islamic State-inspired violent extremism and radicalization and as a senior special adivser at Public Safety Canada from 2013 until his retirement from the civil service in May 2015.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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