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Toronto G20 large security task but economic boon

Dec. 8, 2009, Toronto – Many Toronto hotel and business owners were smiling Monday over word the G20 summit is being moved to the city, but at least one expert said it will be a monumental task to put together security details in such short order.


December 8, 2009
By Susanna Kelley | The Canadian Press

Dec. 8, 2009, Toronto – Many Toronto hotel and business owners were smiling Monday over word the G20 summit is being moved to the city, but at least one expert said it will be a monumental task to put together security details in such short order.

The G20 was originally planned for the Huntsville, Ont., area, to be held just after the Group of Eight meeting there in late June.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would be moved to Toronto following concerns that the smaller cottage country venue could not provide all the resources necessary to stage such a huge event.

The summit, to be held June 26 and 27, will be a boon to the city's hospitality industry, which has been hurting due to the global recession, said Terry Mundell, president of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association. "2010 was looking to continue to be a challenging year," Mundell said. "An event of this stature, with… what we believe to be a significant amount of economic activity for both our hotel community and our partners, is just a great, great shot in the arm
for us."

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The event will mean up to $17 million in hotel room revenue alone, and that doesn't count food, beverages and entertainment, said Mundell. The association estimates there will be 40,000 to 50,000 "hotel nights" to provide accommodations for all the people in town for the meeting of the world leaders.

Huntsville, which has 1,000 rooms at most, will still host the smaller G8, which will be held June 25 and 26.

Hosting a G20 summit also involves providing air-tight security for more than 30 international delegations and security expert Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer, called it a huge undertaking. "There'll be the anti-globalization types, there'll be the climate types, there'll be the professional demonstrators, which generally for the police are just a bother, (although) the anti-globalization types can sometimes get nasty," Mathers said.

Such events are usually scrupulously planned out two years ahead of time, and security concerns go far beyond protesters, he added. "You have the issue of… terrorist attacks," Mathers said. "Can you imagine if you're a Jihadist and you want to kill all the top G20 people? That would stop the world at least temporarily."

The amount of support required, both technical and human, to keep the leaders safe, is massive, he added. "You're bringing guys in from the airport in a helicopter. You want to make sure nobody shoots them down with a (rocket propelled grenade)," Mathers said. "You have to have military helicopters that have got the proper anti-aircraft systems and all of that to bring these people in."

Still, Mathers predicted the many security services involved the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto Police Service, the U.S. Secret Security Service and others will pull the operation together successfully in time.

Mundell says he's not overly concerned about security risks in Toronto's hotels, saying they deal with movie stars, senior politicians and high-profile celebrities every day.

In September, global leaders decided at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh that the G20 would replace the G8 as the leading international body for economic matters.

The move formalized a major shift in global politics that has seen emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil challenge established economies such as the United States and Europe for supremacy.

In the heart of the city's financial district Bay and King streets _ people were generally upbeat about the G20 meeting being moved there. "I think it's good for the city that the G20 is coming to Toronto," said John Leask, who works in the mining exploration sector. "For Canada it gives us a chance to profile what the country's about and get more people looking at Canada as a business centre."

Carmella Bandini, a telecommunications industry employee, said security will be an issue no matter where it's held. "So why not, let's test our own capabilities of doing the security and we should be OK."

The G20 will help Toronto stand out as a "market to be in," said 27-year old Tarah Clark, an equity broker with Deutsche Bank Securities who usually works out of New York. "To not do it would be an admission that we can't handle an event like that," said Clark. "We're a lot bigger than people understand so it would be a great way of showing the world that we can handle something like that."

Jake Kerr, who works with Scotiabank, lives in Vancouver but is in Toronto every month. "I think it's generally a good idea for Toronto and for Canada," he said.

"I'm looking at the security that is going on for the Olympics in Vancouver and if that's any indication, I'm not that concerned…I'm certainly impressed with the amount of preparation that goes on for events like that, so I wouldn't worry about it."