'Beautiful nightmare' awaits Quebec town hosting next G7

When G7 leaders arrive in Quebec’s picturesque Charlevoix region for their summit next May, they will be hunkering down in an historic resort hotel in the tiny town of La Malbaie.

Perched high on a cliff above the St. Lawrence river, the Manoir Richelieu is already protected by four imposing cannons on the front lawn.

That probably won’t be enough though to meet the ultra-high security requirements to ensure the safety of the leaders of the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — so a plethora of additional measures are likely. 

“I think it will be a beautiful nightmare,” said Jean Racine, a retired Surêté du Québec officer who provided security over 28 years for eight Quebec premiers, from René Lévesque to Jean Charest.

“For me, I would love to work because it’s very, very, very complicated. They’ll have to think of everything, and they’ll have to find solutions to all these problems, to make sure they have an orderly meeting.”

Cannons symbolically protect Manoir Richelieu

Decorative cannons rest on the lawn of the Manoir Richelieu. Security is sure to be tightened up at the hotel. (Photo: Radio-Canada / Pascal Poinlane)

These problems include, of course, the threat of terrorism, which can come in ever-varying forms, Racine said.

But they also include the disruptive capacity of different kinds of demonstrators — some who come to participate in peaceful political protest, and others who come to provoke a violent response. 

He expects police and security officials are already sketching out plans because staging a summit in a small community poses a different set of problems.

How to get there?

La  Malbaie, a town of about 9,000 people, is 150 kilometres northeast of Quebec City and accessible by a two-lane highway, by rail on a tourist train, and by water.

There is limited lodging, so journalists and demonstrators may have to shuttle back and forth from Quebec City or other towns along the way.

“You will have to make a big security setup here because you have the St. Lawrence River, you have the railroad. They will have to look at the logistics at all levels — transportation, communications, lodging, food,” he said.

“On a divided highway like we have between Montreal and Quebec City, we could transport dignitaries with their convoy quite easily, isolating them in a kind of bubble. But on the two-lane highway to La Malbaie, that’s more difficult to secure. The rail line is also hard to secure, because you have to check all along the way and at every bridge crossing. So I think we will see a lot of helicopters going back and forth.”

Trudeau Europe 20170526

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, joined fellow G7 leaders at the G7 Summit in Taromina, Italy earlier this month. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

While the leaders are here, there will be constant surveillance, in the air, on the ground, on the water, even around the Manoir’s golf course, he said.

Mayor reassures residents

La Malbaie Mayor Michel Couturier has already posted a video on the town’s website aimed at reassuring local residents.

Everything will be done “to ensure the security of citizens,” he said, adding that he’s confident “we will be enriched by this unique experience, which will mark the history of our town.”

Demonstrators will have to worry about logistics too, he said.

“It’s not a huge area there so to have 10,000 people there, it will be very difficult, and they won’t be able to stay there unless they can camp somewhere,” he said. 

Organizers will have to make room for demonstrators somewhere, Racine said, because they have the right to be protest. 

“But we will have to define the place,” he added.

Security analyst and former SQ officer Jean Racine

Security analyst and former SQ officer Jean Racine said the arrangements for the upcoming G7 will be complex. (Photo: Radio-Canada)

The RCMP will probably take the lead in setting up the overall security apparatus, he said, though the SQ will be involved as well as the military.
“It’s complicated but, you know, security is quite a small community around the world,” he said.

“When we go to another country, we make a trip assessment, and they give us protection and normally ask us, what do we want, how can we cooperate and do security together.”

In the end, though, Canada is responsible for the security of the world leaders.

“So we prepare for the worst so that always have good news,” he said.

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