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G8? What G8?

For months the writing was on the wall - literally.The day Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the G8 Summit was going to be held in Kananaskis Country, a short helicopter jaunt from Calgary, the f...

For months the writing was on the wall – literally.

The day Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the G8 Summit was going to be held in Kananaskis Country, a short helicopter jaunt from Calgary, the first graffiti appeared on a downtown Calgary office building.

It simply read ‘No G8,’ but the clumsily spraypainted message was foreboding enough to stir up images of past summits involving some of the world’s most influential leaders.

Images of tear gas canisters being hurled at protesters, fences collapsing under the weight of anarchists and water cannons forcing back rowdy crowds immediately came to mind.

There was a rash of serious injuries, as well as a fatality at the latest G8 Summit in Italy. Closer to home, police have clashed with protesters with devastating consequences in Seattle, Vancouver and Quebec City in recent years. There was even a near-riot on the East Coast just weeks before the world’s leaders were slated to gather in Alberta. If it could happen on the East Coast, it could happen anywhere.

The protesters made no bones about it – they were coming to Calgary and they were going to make some noise. Roads would be blocked, businesses would be disrupted and the downtown core would come to a grinding halt.

In the days leading up to the summit, a handful of Calgary businesses boarded up their windows, while some high profile oil companies covered the signs at their head offices, hoping not to draw the ire of an angry mob of protesters. Prisoners from the downtown jail were transferred to free up the prison cells for sign-toting, sing-songing felons of a different type.

For the most part, however, it was business as usual in Calgary and area, despite a greatly enhanced police presence on city streets.

The first protest took place at the Gap in downtown Calgary. A group of several hundred gathered to condemn the clothing store’s labor policies and the company owner’s redwood forestry practices in California. There were more curious onlookers on-hand than actual protesters and the most disturbing scene resulting from the protest was a number of folks waving their butts in the air bedecked in paint that read Boycott Gap!

The police (who were mainly patrolling the area on bicycle and wearing shorts rather than full riot gear) looked on, but kept their distance and as lunch came to an end, so too did the peaceful protest. Over the next couple of days a series of other peaceful protests were held in the city. Again, no police intervention was needed. When a protester began to get too rowdy, other protesters would intervene before the situation got out of hand.

As I drove into downtown Calgary on the first full day of G8 meetings, I came across a horde of protesters waving anti-globalization signs in the air and chanting slogans such as ‘Whose streets? Our streets!’ Part of me wondered how many trees worth of Bristol board had been used to create their signs, but I do respect their right to peacefully protest. They sat on the Centre Street Bridge, blocking my usual way out of downtown, but I simply found a new route and was home just five minutes later than usual.

On the Trans-Canada Hwy., where it was widely believed the worst disruptions would occur, (particularly for truckers trying to get through the city en route to Vancouver or Regina) yet another peaceful protest came to an uneventful end just moments after it had begun.

Throughout the entire event, I must admit I waited with bated breath for something disastrous to unfold. While Calgary is a pretty laid back city, people had come from all over to be heard, and many of them admitted packing their gas masks in preparation for a fight.

However, as the summit drew to a close, I was extremely proud of both the protesters, who did a wonderful job policing themselves without bringing excessive disruptions to thousands of lives, and to the police who were ever-present, yet unwilling to antagonize the masses.

I found the police strived to accommodate the protesters rather than intimidate them, and they were rewarded for their efforts. Most truckers who experienced delays along the Trans-Canada were expecting the worst, so they took what minor delays there were in stride.

I would like to give a thumbs up to the Calgary Police, the RCMP and their counterparts from around the country who showed up to ensure order was maintained during the G8 Summit.

Instead of seeing our city and country portrayed as a war zone on CNN like many expected, most international news outlets instead commented on the beautiful Kananaskis scenery and the important world issues that are supposed to be front and centre at an event of this magnitude.

Hopefully, this year’s summit security will be duplicated at future world events.

James Menzies heads our western news bureau and he can be reached at 403-275-3160.

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