In less than three months, the city of La Malbaie — with a population of over 8000, will host the 2018 G7 summit. Security preparations are already underway in the Charlevoix region.
The G7 meetings will also mark President Donald Trump’s first visit to Canada.
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The first weekend in June, world leaders will fly into the military base in Bagotville where, weather permitting, they’ll be transported by helicopter to the summit at the Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie.
The region is known for its ski hills, local artisanal cuisine and hospitality, as well as its beautiful landscapes.
“Charlevoix is really an example of how economic growth can marry itself very, very well with the beautiful environment that we’re so known for in Canada,” said Alexandra Young, director of communications for the G7 summit management office.
“It was very important for the prime minister to host his counterparts in a location like Charlevoix because it’s just so stunning,” she said.
Bringing together world leaders from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Japan for a two-day summit will have taken nine months of planning and 55 pre-meetings with representatives from the G7 countries.
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“So it really is a collaboration between the G7 countries, the European Union and the European Commission in advance of the summit and of course, hearing what Canadians and people around the world have to say, and all of that feeds into the content for the leaders’ discussion,” Young said, adding the summit management committee has already started eliciting feedback from Canadians through its website.
The summit meetings will be broken into five themes, which include climate change, peace and security, gender equality, jobs for the future and investing in growth.
“Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment is an over-arching theme for all of the summit,” Young said.
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In La Malbaie, community relations officers have been employed since September to answer residents’ questions about the logistics of the meetings. Close to 800 residents will be in the “restricted zone” and will need accreditation to access their homes.
The price tag for all of the planning and security is already estimated to cost over $600 million. A security fence is already under construction around the Manoir Richelieu as a first perimeter.
“Then there’s a second perimeter that is kind of meant to protect the first one,” explained Sgt. Camille Habel with the RCMP. “People who have business being in there will be allowed in there.”
But no one else will be permitted. Not even all of the thousands of police officers on duty that week will have clearance to enter within the perimeter. Many of them will be patrolling the area as well as the Free Speech Zone — where protesters will be allowed to demonstrate during the summit.
“That’s one of our rights in the country and we have to make sure that people who want to do it have a safe place to do so,” said Sgt. Habel.
Still, some residents are concerned about the protests getting out of hand.
“We know when oppositions rise, sometimes there might be a lack of judgment. And I wouldn’t want this region to be suffering from any prejudice from the event,” said Jean-Paul Plante, formerly of Quebec City who’s been living his retirement in La Malbaie for the last 10 years.
He remembers how violent protests broke out during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001.
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The RCMP say they are prepared for the worst case scenario — whether that’s protests turning violent or intercepting a drone that enters into the no-fly zone above the G7.
“There are ways to counter them – to either render them inefficient, or if we really need to, destroy them,” Sgt. Habel explained.
However, she said she believes it’s not likely there will be a drone war overhead during the G7.
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While residents have concerns, they hope the summit will help to increase tourism in the La Malbaie and Charlevoix region.
“It just puts Charlevoix on the map internationally… people will know Charlevoix exists, see how beautiful it is and maybe want to spend some of their vacation there,” said Young.