It had all the makings of a cloak-and-dagger thriller.
A fancy evening in a historic hall of a famous university that only people on the guest list were supposed to know about was disturbed by a fire alarm in an adjacent library and a noisy parade of ragtag demonstrators, just before a VIP's limousine pulled up under tight security.
Meanwhile, only a few blocks away, secret preparations for the main event the next day - a closed-door meeting of top international cabinet ministers - were going on quietly behind the locked doors of a private club usually reserved for the city's business elite.
No, this wasn't something out of a Tom Clancy novel.
It was the beginning last night of two days of off-limits talks between labour ministers of the G8 industrialized countries and their delegations.
The meeting is so confidential, not even its location - the Club St. Denis on Sherbrooke St. E. - has been officially divulged. Same story for the reception and supper for 120 people last night in McGill University's Redpath Hall, which was also prepared in secret.
"That we didn't find out about this until reading about it this morning in The Gazette is amazing to us," said protester Maryse Mitchell-Brody, 18, of New York, a freshman in international development studies at McGill.
Earlier, at a rain-soaked press conference on the banks of the Lachine Canal, members of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence pledged to field 1,000 protesters against the meeting.
"They are are proposing to make elderly people work longer and to relegate substandard jobs to immigrants living in industrialized countries," said the group's Karina Chagnon.
At McGill, Mitchell-Brody and about 20 other demonstrators banged drums and clanged symbols as Jane Stewart, Canada's human resources minister, led other guests into the hall around 7 p.m. for drinks and a sumptuous supper of confit de canard, caribou medallions and other Canadian delicacies.
The social event followed a two-hour meeting between Stewart and counterparts from other G8 countries along with international trade union leaders at an undisclosed location, which a Stewart aide said was off campus.
The minister was followed up the steps last night by labour leaders including Marc Laviolette, president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, who paused and peered at the demonstrators from behind a phalanx of security guards before going in.
McGill's 17,000 undergraduates are in the middle of spring exams. Hundreds had to vacate the adjacent Redpath Library before the reception after a fire alarm was pulled, disrupting their studies for a few minutes.
Some felt honoured by the G8 ministers' presence, even if it was unannounced. "I think it's a good thing they've come here - it shows McGill is still an important place," said Daniel Sullivan, 21, of California, who is graduating in immunology.
Behind him, a brass plaque on the outside wall of Dawson Hall commemorating the International Labour Organization had "G8" spray-painted across it in red, and underneath it, "Assassins." The plaque lauds the Geneva-based body for "its work of furthering world peace through social justice."
Whoever sprayed the paint "doesn't know the first thing about what the ILO stands for," Sullivan said.
Several blocks away down Sherbrooke St. at the corner of Laval St., preparations at the Club St. Denis were being made for today's main event.
"We're a private club here, sir - we don't give names," the club's porter said from his window after declining a request for information. "Nothing is going on here, I can assure you."
Then the inside entrance door opened and an organizer sporting a G8 pass appeared, smiling. "You're from the press? Oh, so now the fun begins."
- Jeff Heinrich's E-mail address is email@example.com.
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