You may have caught wind of the Brisbane, Australia G20 summit that just wrapped up over the weekend. If you read anything about it, you most likely gleaned that Canada's Prime Minister had a very stern warning for Vladimir Putin about the Ukraine conflict (which I'm sure he took so seriously), despite said conflict not making it to the summit's official agenda. Or that Australian cops made fun of Harper for Nickelback, Celine, and Bieber. While the summit officially focused on the global economy, the bad blood between Russia and the west "dominated" the summit according to Al Jazeera, whereas the Toronto Star said those tensions are what the summit will be "remembered for."
Besides the posturing over Ukraine, US President Barack Obama pushed an agenda of getting smart about climate change, as Australian protesters literally buried their heads in the sand as a way to protest their current government's deaf and dumb approach to the environment. This came on the heels of America's new climate deal with China, which by all accounts seems like a really great step forward. Harper has alluded to a new Canadian climate plan that will be announced soon, but so far, Canada has been silent on our commitment to environmental progress.
But another interesting detail that emerged from the Brisbane summit, which hasn't been getting that much attention, is the amount of Aussie-bucks that our friends down under spent on security. The Brisbane summit's security costs totalled $100 million, according to the Brisbane Times. That's a lot of money, of course, but in comparison to the 2010 Toronto G8/G20 summits, it's chump change.
While Toronto had the unique challenge of hosting two separate summits in both Muskoka and Toronto for the G8 and G20 respectively, our security budget totaled a seemingly exorbitant $929 million (if you go by Parliament's own numbers). The common argument for why Toronto needed this much money is twofold: 1.) cities like Washington, DC or London, England already have a pre-existing super-security infrastructure since they do so many flashy, important things. Toronto needed to build ours from the ground up. 2.) just as former CSIS director Ward Elcock argued, other cities may not be very transparent about the money they've actually spent, whereas Canada has been totally transparent. Scout's honour.
But, what kind of existing security infrastructure did Brisbane have, which required such a low (comparatively low, of course) security budget to be spent in an Australian city of just over 2 million people? Clearly, they're not on the level of a London or a Washington, so why did Toronto go so crazy with spending in 2010?
While they did not respond to VICE's request for comment in time for publication, it doesn't take a forensic accountant to determine that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) were a major beneficiary of the G8/G20 security spending. Reports say that the TPS may have netted up to $100 million dollars from the G20 budget, which would equal the Brisbane summit's total security spending. Chief Bill Blair, at the time, explained that his cop squad "did not see this as a windfall opportunity," though his force was able to gear up with things like "Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) that use noise to blare messages and disperse crowds."
I spoke to Jenilee Guebert, the Director of Research for the University of Toronto's G20 and G8 research groups, about summit spending. She told me: "The most expensive summit in history was actually the 2000 Okinawa summit in Japan. And the Japanese chose that particular site because they wanted to funnel funds into Okinawa. It was one of the poorer districts in Japan, so it was a very conscious decision to pick that and spend that much money going into the lead-up to the summit."
The Okinawa G20 was, in fact, a pricey one. Their 2000 G8 cost $734 million, and they had a reported 20,000 police officers designated to police the summit. While total security costs for that G8 are apparently unavailable, Guebert's point about funneling money into Okinawa raises an interesting question: If indeed this was a similar case of our government trying to funnel money, where did it go?
Guebert's research group assumes that the total G8/G20 spending for Canada's 2010 summits (which
is $1.1 billion all told) should be split 35 percent to 65 percent. That means roughly $385 million was spent on the G8 summit in Muskoka. This is more than three times the security budget spent in Kananaskis, Alberta for their G8 in 2002. Kananaskis is the mountainous region outside of Calgary that hosted the G8 one year after 9/11, and yet they didn't need such an extraordinary amount of cash to protect our planet's precious leaders.
Photo via Carl W. Heindl.
The Muskoka spending was particularly controversial, as Canada's auditor-general at the time declared "rules were broken" over both the G8 and G20 summit spending; but he called special attention to the "32 municipal projects" that were greenlit in Muskoka from the coffers of a $50 million "G8 Legacy Fund," meant to repay the cottage-country community that hosted the disruptive summit. These 32 projects were in Tony Clement's riding (he is the current President of the Treasury Board), and apparently "then-infrastructure minister John Baird approved the funding based on the advice of Clement."
When I reached out to Tony Clement's office for comment, hoping to discuss how Brisbane, Australia was able to spend six times less (given a rough estimate that Toronto's G20 security spending was about $603,850,000) than Canada for their G20, I was told: "The RCMP can assist you with your questions pertaining to security at the G20."
The RCMP did not immediately respond to my request for comment. Their line item in the G8/G20 security spending budget represents roughly 55 percent of the total pie, and of course would not be at liberty to discuss the big picture spending questions I have.
While Clement was, at one point, criminally investigated by the RCMP after a Liberal complaint was filed, pertaining to his G8 spending, the investigation was eventually dropped. By all accounts, however, the process through which the G20/G8 funding was greenlit was a rushed one, which allegedly did not follow the due process required for a decision to be reached where all of the proper information is on the table. At the time, the NDP said Clement circumvented "all normal checks and balances" when it came to making a responsible spending decision on the 32 municipal projects for his riding.
In 2011, a political source told the Toronto Star that the $50 million G8 legacy fund "has nothing to do with a legacy for the G8. It seems like a legacy to the minister. [They] did everything but build a statue to Tony Clement in the riding."
Clement has since admitted that he overlooked certain procedural checks and balances.
To make his "legacy fund" even more peculiar, the City of Toronto, which was ransacked and riotted through by cops and protesters alike, did not receive a comparable "legacy" fund to repair the city. David Miller, Toronto's then-mayor, called out Ottawa for their excessive spending on the summits, saying it could have been better used to boost Toronto transit.
This all may seem like old news now, but the G8 and G20 summit budgets were designed and pushed through by our current government. And, with cities that have a similar population size to Toronto, like Brisbane, holding G20 summits with spending that comes to a fraction of our Toronto G20 cost, it seems even more brazen that such an enormous amount of money was pumped into Canada's summits.
Add that to the ongoing legal trauma caused by numerous accounts of police brutality during the summit (a Toronto cop will be facing a hearing tomorrow after ordering the detentions of more than 260 people for, allegedly, no good reason), and it's not hard to see that Canada might have gone too far. This is not to mention two significant class action lawsuits against the TPS are only in the preliminary legal stages. These cases were brought by hundreds of citizens, who are suing TPS, a police force that is defending itself using public money. And, there is also the currently unresolved issue of G20 detainees being videotaped during strip searches.
With all of this in mind, I reached out to the Prime Minister's office, and asked specifically how they reconcile the major spending discrepancy between the Toronto G20 and Australia's most-recent summit. I was told, by their Director of Communications Jason MacDonald: "The amount spent on security at the G20 four years ago was what was believed necessary to ensure the protection of the many world leaders in attendance at that particular meeting at that point in time."
Toronto did, indeed, get a serious amount of protection for the visiting leaders. And the city certainly did feel as if $600+ million was spent on locking the city down, given the makeshift detention centre, the intense swarm of cops (Toronto had four times the cops that London did for their 2009 G20), and the gigantic security fencing around Union Station. But to the untrained eye, how can you really tell how many millions were spent, without a deep audit?
Parliament's own assessment admits that "it is not possible to compare Toronto with previous G20 meetings" due to a lack of data, and identifies a key threat that explains some of the spending: "protesters would be considered a known threat and a portion of security operations would be geared to countering this specific threat."
With so many questions pertaining to the rushed nature of budget approvals, and with only a vague understanding where the money went, even now, four years later, it's no wonder the G20 and G8 summits in Toronto were once called "the billion dollar mystery." Considering the questionable efficacy of such summits to address the key issues of the world to begin with (Ebola and the environment were ignored in Brisbane, whereas economic promises were made that likely won't be met), it raises a new, larger question: Why do we have these summits in the first place?