The G8 and G20 Summits are fast approaching. G8 leaders will be meeting in Huntsville, Ontario at Deerhurst Resort on June 25, 2010; the G20 will be meeting in Toronto at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on June 26 and 27.
At a cursory glance, the G8, or Group of Eight, extends back to the 1973 oil crisis; originally called the G6, leaders from among the most powerful nations in the world met to discuss solutions to the global economic recession. Nations included at the first meeting in 1975 were France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Canada was invited to join the following year, causing the group to be renamed the G7. Russia was brought into the fold in 1997, thus creating the G8.
But as many students of history will appreciate, the power and privilege of these nations have much deeper roots in the histories of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism than the circumstances of the 1970s may suggest. Following the collapse of ‘official’ colonialism in the era following the Second World War, some might further contend that the Bretton Woods system, and the creation of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, further cemented the power and privilege of the former colonial powers.
Together, these nations hold a significant portion of the world’s wealth and power, with some of the world’s largest stock exchanges, the 2nd and 3rd largest oil producers and 2nd largest oil reserves, seven of the nine largest nuclear energy producers, and nearly all of the ‘trillion dollar club of nations’. Collectively, these nations house 14 per cent of the world’s population and account for 60 per cent of Gross World Product. They also account for 72 per cent of world military expenditure, and hold between 96 and 99 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
The G20, or Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, was formally established by G7 finance ministers in 1999 in response to an Asian economic crisis. Along with the nations of the G8, this organization also includes South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Australia, and the European Union, along with executives from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
These meetings have been criticised given that only some of the most economically privileged nations are included; furthermore, those included no longer represent the world’s most powerful economies. They have also become sites of resistance for protestors, and particularly the anti-globilization movement or global justice movement.
This year promises to be no different, as officials prepare for “the biggest security event in Canadian history.” State power will be out in full force this June, as the federal government mobilizes its military and police to protect ‘world leaders’ against citizens who gather to raise their voices against current policies and practices. The ‘Integrated Security Unit’ will include the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Forces, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and Toronto and Peel Region police.
Interestingly, in light of a judicial decision following the 1997 APEC Summit in Vancouver, protestors’ rights in Canada are such that visiting leaders cannot be shielded from lawful protests. Canadian protestors have the right to be seen and heard.
Prime Minister Steven Harper may be rightly concerned about popular protest in populous Toronto, where the federal Conservatives have mustered little support. As leader of the host nation, Harper is responsible for setting the agenda. His refusal to place climate change at the top of the G20 agenda is undoubtedly one of many reasons protestors will be out in full force.
Although child and maternal health will be a key issue at the G8 Summit, the Harper government’s refusal to fund family planning and abortion-related projects has also sparked controversy and calls for women’s rights to be brought to the table.
The Canadian government’s recent invitation to include Ethiopia, Malawi, the Netherlands, Spain and Vietnam may in part be a response to public pressure; the At the Table 2010 campaign (along with Make Poverty History), representing a wide coalition of over 60 groups, including NGOs, environmental groups, labour organization, poverty groups, faith groups, and students, has been organizing a wide-scale lobby of Canadian politicians in the hopes of opening a spot at the table for at least one African nation besides South Africa.
A wide range of events are being planned for the Summits so as to continue this tradition of popular protest, where people excluded from formal G8/G20 talks will be welcome to participate and offer a counter-dialogue to these and other policies.
A People’s Summit will be held in Toronto between June 18 and 20, bringing together a variety of justice-seeking networks and groups concerned with the environment, poverty, human rights and social justice.
On June 24, there will be a demonstration over Indigenous Sovereignty and Self-Determination, beginning at 11:00 a.m. at Queen’s Park. There is some criticism that G8 and G20 meetings will be held on Anishinaabe land.
A coalition of Toronto-based community organizations, Justice for Our Communities, are holding a rally, march, block party and tent city on June 25.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is arranging buses from various communities outside Toronto to a public march and rally at Queen’s Park on June 26 at 1:00 p.m.
An Anti-Capitalist March and Anti-Colonial March to the Summit, organized by the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR), has also been organized for June 26, beginning at University and College at 1:00 p.m.
Actions on June 26 will be followed by Saturday Night Fever – also arranged by SOAR – a street party scheduled to carry through to dawn.
Of course, these are only some of the activities being planned for the Summits in Toronto. Do you know of other events underway? What do you think should be a priority for G8/G20 leaders? What issues do you feel concerned citizens and protestors should bring to the Summits?
Thanks are due to Tom Peace and Jay Young for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this post.
Suggestions for further reading:
Steve Hewitt, Spying 101: the RCMPs Secret Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917-1997 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002).
Ian McKay, Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2009).
Ian McKay, Reds, Rebels, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2005).
W. Wesley Pue, Pepper in Our Eyes: the APEC Affair (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000).
Reg Whitaker and Steve Hewitt, Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: Lorimer, 2003).