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Banff G8 environment meeting - Protest? What protest?

Date: 15-Apr-02
Country: CANADA
Author: Jeffrey Jones

Like most locals and tourists along Banff Avenue, the main drag lined with shops selling Canadian Winter Olympic team sweatshirts and teddy bears dressed as Mounties, the 25-year-old hotel worker is only vaguely aware of the high-level environmental meeting taking place in town.

Banff, Canada's mecca for skiers, hikers and backpackers, is playing host to the Group of Eight environment ministers meeting this weekend, and any fears of mass protests disrupting life in this picturesque locale have proven unfounded.

"I've definitely noticed the police presence," said Kitson, who has lived in town for three years. "But most people in town didn't know anything about it until the police started going door-to-door last week telling people it was here."

The meeting is one of several high-level gatherings leading up to the G8 Summit in nearby Kananaskis, Alberta, this June, which will include the leaders of the world's richest nations - the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Similar events in recent years have attracted throngs of anti-globalization and environmental activists. Some, such as last year's G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, were marked by violent confrontations, tear gas and arrests.

But this is Banff. While environmentalists have arrived to criticize the absence of climate change issues and the Kyoto Protocol on the official agenda, some of the largest gatherings outside the meeting at the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel have comprised a herd of elk that meanders through town.

"If they're protesting to save the environment, why would they go into a park and destroy it?" Kitson asked. "I think they're smart enough to know that they would just look bad if they went about it the wrong way."

MOUNTIES, SECRET SERVICE

Security is tight in the shadow of Sulphur Mountain, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and secret service agents patrolling the castle-like Banff Springs, even if threats have proven minimal at best.

One Mountie took a moment on the weekend morning to offer some hotel patrons a brief history of the 114-year-old rundle-stone building, a favorite among international tourists, royalty and Hollywood stars alike. "Actually, I've spent much of the time doing PR," he confided.

As far as the police are concerned, things have turned out as expected in the Banff National Park town of 7,500 people.

"We plan for every contingency and we use the very best intelligence estimates and do risk assessments to determine at the time of the event the kind of response that's required," said Corporal Jamie Johnston, RCMP spokesman for G8 security.

The national police force and the city police in nearby Calgary are in charge of operations for Kananaskis on June 26 and 27 in what will be Canada's largest ever security detail.

Hillary Atherton, a bartender at Banff's Rose and Crown pub, said locals were more concerned about the town becoming a staging ground for protesters at that summit.

"People weren't worried too much about this one. The only protest I heard of was a bunch of Greenpeace people going to march dressed up as owls," Atherton said.

Greenpeace plans the demonstration on Sunday to draw attention to what it calls Canada's weak policies of protecting forests, which has threatened the endangered spotted owl.

The group released a study saying even Banff is not immune to environmental damage. Its own waterway, the Bow River, is threatened by melting of mountain glaciers caused by climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, the group said.

It claimed strong support among many people in the region.

"This is a beautiful area, it's got a small population, but we've got hundreds of members here," said Benedict Southworth, director of Greenpeace's climate change campaign. "You may not get mass demonstrations but you will get people giving up their time to come along and do what they can," he said.

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