Nuclear mattersPolitical summits should be held in remote locations

Published 18 June 2010

Canadian security expert says that holding the G8 summit in Toronto makes no sense; bringing world leaders to an urban setting escalates cost — and risk; “it is overwhelmingly easier to get a device such as a powerful dirty bomb into Toronto than it would have been into Kananaskis [Alberta],” where the 2002 G8 summit was held

Security for the international summits in Muskoka and Toronto 25 to 27 June will cost $1 billion. Graeme Kirby, who was part of a team of security experts hired to study the costs of the 2002 G8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta.

Kirby writes in the Times Colonist that he is shocked by the fact that the current Canadian government has decided to proceed with the locales in spite of the exorbitant cost and unnecessary risks posed by these locations.

He notes that the cost factor and the security risks were clearly spelled out in the report his team produced, a report that was no doubt provided to the Harper government before the location of the G20 summit was decided.

In 2002, then-finance minister Paul Martin, apparently shocked at projected costs for the Kananaskis summit, asked that a group be convened to look into all aspects of meetings of heads of states or government.

This team consisted of people such as the recently retired assistant commissioner of the RCMP, the ex-head of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office, and experts in logistics, transportation, building design, and real estate.

In the face of anticipated costs of $200 million (the current estimate is now $300 million) for Kananaskis, Martin asked whether there was a better solution.

Kirby’s group looked at all requirements for such high-level summits, from security through food and drink to transportation, accommodation, meeting spaces, publicity, administrative staff, site preparation, and so on. It quickly became clear that the overwhelming cost of any summit was security.

If you want leaders such as the U.S. president to attend in person, then you meet the security requirements demanded by those responsible for his protection. Nothing is more important to a summit than security.

In 2002, Kananaskis was chosen not only because Alberta needed to be seen as important to the Liberal party but because it was relatively easy to secure compared with any site in or near a populated area.


Kirby writes that the ease of securing a remote site was only one consideration. International terrorists continue to demonstrate that collateral damage — the harm and destruction of people and property that are not the primary target — is of no concern to them. Indeed it adds to the publicity.

If you killed all the G8 leaders, the publicity would be great but the consequences not as serious as most people initially think. Vice-presidents and deputy prime ministers quickly step in. Relatively speaking, if Kananaskis had been destroyed or seriously damaged, no great harm would have been done,” Kirby writes.

If the same were to happen to the city of Toronto, however, the effect would be devastating to the Canadian economy and the province of Ontario. The same is true of any major Canadian city. Moreover, it is overwhelmingly easier to get a device such as a powerful dirty bomb into Toronto than it would have been into Kananaskis.

There are other unnecessary risks to an urban site such as Toronto that the Kirby group’s report identified. The safety of the security personnel protecting the world leaders is imperiled more in such a locale than in a remote location.

The security of Canadians in other centers will also be affected because their police forces will have to contribute to helping secure Toronto and the Muskoka area.

The Canadian government knows all this, since the report of 2002 will have been brought to their attention along with the probable costs of more than $1 billion. Kirby concludes:

I will not speculate on the reasons for the decision to proceed with the Toronto site in spite of the exorbitant price tag and potential security risks.


However, I hope for the sake of all Canadians that the worst-case consequences of holding the meetings in Toronto do not come to pass.