Staff checks part of massive security for G8 foreign ministers meeting. 

Protest is peaceful as dozens of RCMP look on

Karen Bauckham’s drive to work was a little unusual this week.

First the recruiting manager for Whistler-Blackcomb had to manoeuvre around a blue sign the size of a small car telling everyone her office was closed for most of the week.

Then she had to pass through a tight security check showing ID which she had to wear when she was out and about.

Of course she had already gone through a complete security check by the RCMP earlier.

The same RCMP who were parked in the hundreds right outside the front door of her office at Base II on Blackcomb.

It was the location chosen by security officials to set up their command post and provide refreshments for the officers, and a place to get out of the blistering heat and sun.

The massive security presence was all part of the plan to protect visiting dignitaries to the G8 foreign ministers meeting at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler this week.

But Bauckham took it all in stride.

"Security is definitely getting tighter but it’s really not that big of a deal up here," she said.

All the staff at the recruiting centre had to get security checks done. Anyone not wishing to do it, said Bauckham, could take a few days vacation or work at an alternate location.

Bauckham’s staff weren’t the only people who had to undergo background investigation. Everyone who worked at the Chateau had to be checked out too, and all had to wear large security picture ID.

Around the hotel a perimeter fence of heavy lead was erected. Armed RCMP secured checkpoints and carefully scrutinized conference goers ID.

Surveillance helicopters circled overhead all day long.

No accreditation or security ID, no entry to the hotel. It was that simple.

Police sniffer dogs could been seen checking out the area surrounding the hotel grounds.

On Wednesday, the first day of the conference, about 75 protesters who had come up by bus from Vancouver, gathered outside the fence at the front of the hotel.

A small crowd – considering up to 1,000 are expected at the full G8 Summit in Kananaskis at the end of June. Hundreds of others protesters are to demonstrate at venues across the country during the Summit as well.

The Whistler protesters chanted and spoke on anti-globalization issues.

Elsie Dean, one of the organizers of the Lower Mainland Social Justice Coalition, which sponsored the protest, asked to hand over their concerns, contained in a declaration of agenda items, to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.

And in a rare move, Graham agreed.

Dean and another organizer, Phil Lyons, were searched and their bags x-rayed before they were escorted inside the hotel to meet Graham.

He greeted them enthusiastically and thanked them for their input.

"All I can say is I will convey your concerns about weaponization of outer space to (US Secretary of State) Mr. (Colin) Powell and I will try, in fact I will make sure, that all the foreign ministers get a copy of (your declaration)," he said.

Shortly after the protest broke up peacefully.

Some questioned the need to have such a large number of security officers when everything was so quiet.

But RCMP Sgt. Grant Learned said that in situations like this you always have to be prepared for the worst but hope for the best.

"It is always easier to have people standing by and prepared and not have to use them than it is to need them and not have them," he said.

This is the second economic conference held in Whistler during which the RCMP has provided crowd control for expected anti-globalization protesters.

In July 2001 at a joint conference of the Council of State Governments-West and the Pacific North West Economic Region in Whistler up to 500 protesters were expected.

Only a hundred or so showed up. There were more police officers than protesters.

The G8 meeting may mirror that experience.

While security officials, some of whom will go on to use their expertise at the full G8 Summit in Kananaskis, are prepared for the worst they don’t expect it.

"Things can escalate very, very quickly in a crowd environment," said Learned.

"The greatest percentage of all the security arrangements that you see for these types of events are focused on a very small percentage of people that may or may not be identifiable."

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