La Malbaie (Canada) (AFP) – As they thrash out disputes affecting billions of livelihoods, the G7 leaders are more likely to spot a bear roaming the Canadian countryside than the flag-burning protestors that were once a staple of their gatherings.
US President Donald Trump and his peers from Canada, Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Japan will spend their two-day summit at a luxury resort on the banks of the St Lawrence River in rural Quebec that features a spa, casino and a 27-hole golf course.
After what are expected to be heated discussions on issues such as world trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, they will then tuck into a dinner including locally-caught lobster tail, beef fillet and maple leaves nestled on a French brioche. Their entertainment will be topped off by a private performance by Canada’s Cirque du Soleil.
Previous summits — most famously in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in 2001 — are best remembered for the teargas-filled images of protestors battling with riot police close to the meeting.
Those protests have been seen as a forerunner of a wider backlash against globalization that helped Trump win the 2016 US election and have also catapulted Italy’s new populist government into power.
This time round, the protesters have only been authorized to demonstrate in Quebec City — around 100 miles (150 kilometers) away from the Manoir Richelieu summit venue which lies on the outskirts of the sleepy town of La Malbaie.
Even the summit press center is in Quebec City, meaning the few journalists who have been authorized to travel to La Malbaie on a handful of special buses have had to go through security at 4:00am before being allowed on board.
– Black bears but few protestors –
The passengers spotted several black bears along the highway to La Malbaie which is dotted by small farms and roadside signs advertising whale watching tours.
Protest organizers had predicted that several thousand protestors would march through the streets of what is Canada’s oldest city on Thursday evening where many shops have been boarded up over fears of violence.
But in the end only about 400 actually showed up. There were some scuffles and a couple of arrests but the protest passed off largely peacefully, albeit after the flags of all seven of the bloc’s members were set on fire.
Remi Arsenault, a 34-year-old health worker from Montreal, was determined to join the protests even if the objects of his wrath were so far away.
“The G7 is just a bunch of capitalist governments who exploit the workers,” he told an AFP reporter, accusing the club of perpetuating racism and destroying the environment.
And while Trump is at odds with his fellow leaders on a host of issues, the US president is not seen as a champion by the protestors.
“Trump is a fascist, a capitalist who wants to defend privileged interests and wants to stir up international tensions,” added Arsenault.
Véronique Chapier, a 44-year-old from Quebec, said that if Trump really wanted to shake up the status quo “he would be protesting with us.”
More protests are expected over the next two days, although police swiftly broke up an attempt to block the road from Quebec City to La Malbaie.
Although a small group of protestors have been allowed to go to La Malbaie, they are being corralled into a tiny fenced-in area that appeared out of view of the summit venue.
Nearly 9,000 police from across Canada, with dog units and helicopter support, have been mobilized to protect the leaders.
An estimated 70 percent of the G7 summit budget of about Can$600 million will be spent on security, according to Canadian officials.
– Frogmen and golf carts –
Access to La Malbaie is strictly controlled for the summit. Locals as well as G7 delegates and media must pass through several police checkpoints to get in and out.
Police could be seen on nearly every block of the town itself where few residents ventured outside, partly to escape the sound of helicopters hovering overhead.
A Canadian naval vessel could be seen moored along the banks of the river from a vantage point in the casino and special forces frogmen zipped back and forth in dingys.
Trump and his Japanese colleague Shinzo Abe have enjoyed a game of golf together before at bilateral summits.
But the golf carts at La Malbaie have been temporarily reassigned — ferrying heavily-armed police around the resort.