Why are some of the world's most powerful anti-terrorism politicians meeting this week in a sealed hotel at an off-season ski resort in the Laurentians, a two-hour drive from Montreal?
To promote Quebec tourism, apparently. Oh, and to relax.
"The choice has been made by me, being a minister from the province of Quebec," federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said yesterday after Day 1 of a two-day meeting of justice and interior ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized countries.
"There are many places that are very interesting and attractive in terms of tourism ... and I believe Tremblant is a very charming place," Cauchon, a former Quebec regional development minister, told reporters.
The Disneyland-like atmosphere of the artificial Tremblant village is desolate these days, the hills are almost bare of snow, there's not a skier in sight, and only the whiff of frying Beavertails reminds the few visitors of the place's winter raison d'être.
"Of course, we're here between seasons," Cauchon apologized. "The spirit here is fantastic in wintertime and summertime. But there are a lot of activities to do (now), and it's a very nice site and the surroundings outside are beautiful."
He and federal Solicitor-general Lawrence Macaulay are spending a quiet time away from prying eyes (the media are not admitted) with U.S. attorney-general John Ashcroft, along with the Italian ministers of justice and interior, and senior officials of five other countries and the European Union.
They and their delegations - 90 people in all, plus a phalanx of RCMP, Sureté du Québec and other police officers, some with German shepherd guard dogs - have shut down the big Fairmont Tremblant hotel at the foot of the mountain to do their work.
"Here, it's very relaxing surroundings, people are enjoying the place, enjoying the site, and I guess it would be helpful in developing good relationships among the representatives of the G8," said Outremont MP Cauchon.
Rubbish, said one independent observer.
"It's beautiful, but I mean, c'mon! Montreal's a beautiful city - why not hold the meeting there?" said Désirée McGraw, a McGill University globalization lecturer who heads the Montreal arm of the Group of Eight Research Group. It tracks the activities of the G8 and criticizes their secrecy.
"I think this is a good tryout for Kananaskis," she said, referring the the "main event" in June when Jean Chrétien, George W. Bush and other G8 heads of state meet at an Alberta mountain resort.
On the agenda yesterday was organized crime and child pornography The G-8 nations agreed to create an international data bank to combat what MacAulay described as the "very disgusting issue" of child pornography.
The proposed data base would allow police across borders to share information matching child victims and collectors who distribute pornography via computer, Cauchon said.
Today discussion moves to the "convergence" of organized crime and terrorism.
- On the Web: www.g8j-i.ca (official site), www.g7.utoronto.ca (watchdog site).
- Jeff Heinrich's E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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