Protesters vow to ignore G8 and G20 "designated speech areas" in Ontario
According to the results of a Google Maps search, the “designated speech area” set aside for protesters of the Muskoka 2010 G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ontario, is an estimated nine kilometers from the actual site of the conference.
A representative of the G8 Integrated Security Unit told the Straight that the distance between the two locations is actually seven kilometers, but nevertheless, far enough away that nobody attending the summit is going to hear the voice of an activist.
However, Sgt. Peter Chamberlain, a spokesperson for the ISU, noted that there is very little difference between a designated speech area and a sidewalk.
“Even though there is a designated speech area selected, the protest groups have absolutely no obligation to use that location if they don’t want to,” he said. But, Chamberlain continued, the site is a location that media outlets are aware of and so can act as a staging ground for activists to speak directly to news outlets.
The G8 Summit is scheduled to take place at Huntsville’s Deerhurst Hotel from June 25 to 26. It will precede the larger G20 Summit, which will happen in Toronto June 26 to 27 (and which also has a designated speech area).
Harsha Walia, a Vancouver-based activist, is planning on traveling to Toronto to speak at protests against the G20 Summit. She dismissed concerns that so-called designated speech areas actually limit free speech.
“People are rejecting free speech zones because they are in fact protest pens,” Walia explained. “People have a right to protest and free speech anywhere in Canada.”
She argued that while such areas are attempts by authorities to control protesters, designated speech areas are simply being ignored by the public and are therefore not a concern.
Dave Coles, president of Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada, described the concept of demarcating specific areas for use by protesters as “nonsensical”.
“You can’t spell out where you have free speech,” he told the Straight from Ottawa.
Coles made headlines in 2007 when he confronted three individuals later confirmed to be agent provocateurs at a protest against the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in Montebello, Quebec. He argued that since that incident, the federal government has continually interfered in the free speech of Canadians.
“There has just been repeated incidences where the state uses the police to falsely create havoc to execute some sort of political agenda,” he said.
Coles argued that when over a billion dollars is spent on security for a four-day meeting (roughly what security for the G8 and G20 is costing), the government is consciously making a political statement.
“They are trying to manage the message,” he explained, arguing that if the real goal was security, the summit’s organizers would have selected a safer location than a densely-populated area of downtown Toronto.
Coles also said that activists will ignore the protest zones.
Regarding the G8 designated speech area, Chamberlain conceded that the site is removed from the location of the conference. But he noted that two security perimeters around the Deerhurst Hotel are going to keep protesters kilometres from conferences attendees anyway.
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