Calgary Lockdown

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<b>In preparation for G8 meetings in Kananaskis next week, Calgarians are witnessing unprecedented security measures. So why don't they feel safe?</b>

In the bad old days, critics would joke that you could shoot a cannon ballthrough downtown Calgary after hours and never hit a soul. These days, Calgaryprides itself on the residences and businesses that keep downtownvibrant 24/7. But zealous security for the coming G8 Summit will turn back theclock.

Starting Sunday, June 23, downtown Calgary will be locked up tight, duringthe day as well as after dark. Calgary police will patrol the streets, whilethe military patrol Kananaskis. RCMP will escort Internationally ProtectedPersons (mainly heads of state) wherever they go, including to a$300,000 Gala reception and dinner downtown, Tuesday.

"There’s a clear agenda to portray activists as dangerous, disorganized,violent, irrational people and it’s created this frenzy that is not based onreality,” said activist Sarah Kerr. “The police have been traveling around thecity providing ’information’ telling people what to be afraid of."

Property managers for office buildings across the city have hired privatesecurity guards to scrutinize newly-issued badges for building employees. PetroCanada and other oil companies plan to ban couriers and stand ready to shut down elevators in case people enter their buildings to escape tear gas.

Calgary City Hall has taken full-page ads in local papers to explain somesecurity measures including: closed parking areas, closed Plus 15s (second-story connections between buildings) and restricted access to City Hall and to theairport. Early Stampede visitors will get a chilly reception.

Office workers have adjusted their vacations to avoid the lockdown. Early reports indicated that one in sixdowntown workers plans to leave town or at least not go into work during the G8week. The most recent poll shows 36 per cent of Calgarians planning to avoid some parts of the city next week.

Canada’s claim to fame at the G8 Summit is its $500-million, three-year Africa Action Plan. But critics charge that the Summit itself — a two-day meeting — will cost Canadians almost as much. Estimates range up to $100 million in costs for the various security agencies involved, including Calgary police, RCMP, Canadian Forces and uncountable Secret Services. U.S. president George W. Bush alone is reputed to be bringing 600 security agents.

Calgary police and the RCMP have signed a joint mission statement statingthat, “The vision of the G8 Summit Security team is to develop an integratedpolicing platform that will minimize fear through planning, education andcommunication.” To that end, their Community Relations Group and PublicAffairs Communication Team have made presentations to hundreds of groups andindividuals since last fall.

But the main effect of security communications has been to alarm Calgarians.Take the plans for the Group of Six Billion (G6B) People’s Summit featuringspeakers such as Stephen Lewis, Project Ploughshares’ Ernie Regehr, corporatemaverick David Korten, human rights legal expert Kathleen Mahoney and gun-control advocate Wendy Cukier. Some 900 participants have pre-registered.

Although almost all the speakers from abroad have gotten clearance, only twoout of sixty invited conference delegates from Africa and the Indiansubcontinent have been able to obtain visas to enter Canada.

Elementary schools near the University of Calgary are preparing emergencyevacuation plans for the time that the conference sessions are underway, June21 - 25. One principal warned parents in her monthly newsletter that, “Placesto avoid would be the campus as well as the downtown core.”

That principal’s school had heard a presentation by the Department ofForeign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), home of the G8 Summit Managementoffices. DFAIT’s Information Services office has given hundreds ofpresentations to local groups since last fall. But nobody from that office will speak with local media, making it difficult to find out exactly what information they present.

A clue may be found in information being passed around in community info-sources. An unsigned articlein the June issue of the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community newsletter (probably apolice press release) reads like something out of Reefer Madness: “Youngpeople and their parents should know that what may seem like a harmlessinvitation to express freedom of speech in a spirit of cooperation andsolidarity with like-minded individuals has the potential to escalate intoviolence, creating a situation in which the vast majority of participants hadno intention of becoming involved.”

“It’s an incredible campaign of fearmongering,” said Kerr, “and it’sdesigned to scare people out of listening to what it is we have to say.” Kerrbecame a Calgary celebrity when she was arrested at the first WTO protests inSeattle and gave cheerful, daily CBC radio interviews from jail on her cellphone. She has been a movement spokesperson ever since. On a recent speakingtour of Alberta, she found people ready to make the connections between localconcerns (farms going broke, oilfield working conditions) and G8 treaties.

As soon as the G8 Summit was announced, Kerr joined a coalition of labour andactivist groups organizing a Solidarity Village educational music festival,where ten thousand people could live for a week, with lectures and discussionsand live entertainment. “We’ve been trying to do something that’s sanctionedand organized and safe.” But, she says, “we were thwarted at every turn.”

Kerr is especially disappointed with Mayor Dave Bronconnier and City Council, saying they are putting activists in the position of breaking the law when they gather — a justification, she suspects, for their overblown security measures.

“They said that public spaces are not appropriate for demonstrations, which isoutrageous,” she said. “Public spaces are exactly where citizens should gather.”

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