It was billed as a summit of justice ministers, the first time the world's most powerful elected lawmakers would meet to discuss terrorism and international policing since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
But only the United States, Canada and Italy (and the European Union) sent their top people to the Group of Eight event that concluded Tuesday, leaving Germany, Britain, Japan, France and Russia represented only by vice-ministers, deputy prosecutors, assistants, under-secretaries and managers.
And that poor showing indicates that U.S. President George W. Bush's "war on terror," backed by allies like Canada, is less an international than a North American preoccupation, some experts who attended the two-day meeting at a Laurentian resort said.
"It was supposed to be a summit - not a technical meeting but a meeting of G8 ministers, and there were only three countries that sent one: Canada, the U.S. and Italy, only because the Italians hosted the last meeting" of G8 justice ministers in Milan in Feb. 2001, observer Désirée McGraw said.
Not a Priority
"When you only have very high-level representation from three of the eight countries, it indicates to me that (the anti-terrorism agenda) isn't really a priority outside North America," said McGraw, who lectures on the G8 and globalization at McGill University.
"With everything happening right now in France, the U.K., Germany and Japan, it's a surprise."
Adding to the impression that the meeting was a dud, U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft left a half-day early yesterday, flying home to Washington "to deal with a criminal matter" without even stopping to pose for a group photo of the event.
At a press conference closing the conference, Martin Cauchon, Canada's justice minister and co-chairman of the meeting with Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay, played down the absence of ministers from outside North America and Italy.
"It was still a high-level meeting and the countries delegated some very competent people in their fields, who have participated openly and with dynamism to the discussions," Cauchon said after a reporter pointed out the absences.
MacAulay denied that the conference's low-profile had anything to do with anti-terrorism measures taking a back seat to discussions on the main agenda item, aid to Africa, at next month's summit in Kananaskis, Alta., as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien indicated this week.
Canada's new anti-terrorism legislation and increased budgets for crime-fighting "indicates quite clearly where this country stands when it comes to public safety," MacAulay said.
Unlike other G8 meetings in Canada this year and last, demonstrators were absent from the justice event.
Choosing to hold the meeting at a sealed-off mountain resort, an experience to be repeated next month when G8 leaders meet in Kananaskis, is part of a trend to insulate politicians from militant opponents, said Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli.
"We lived through the experience of Genoa" - where police shot and killed a protester amid riots last year at a G8 summit in Italy - "and a large city can be a very big problem for these kinds of events," Castelli said.
- Jeff Heinrich's E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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