WHISTLER -- Instead of pulling out the pepper spray and handcuffs, police here were handing out water-bottles Wednesday to a few parched protesters at the G-8 summit of foreign ministers.
The morning demonstration by fewer than 50 people who travelled by bus from Vancouver left the police, who appeared to outnumber the protesters, with little to do but look on with bemusement.
The demonstrators listened to a few speeches and made a few impromptu chants, but there was no civil disobedience.
Instead, police escorted two of the protest organizers to a short meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham.
Elsie Dean and Phil Lyons told Graham of their concerns about militarism in space, arms control and international poverty.
Dean, a 78-year-old veteran of left-wing causes in B.C. going back to the McCarthyite period of the 1950s, said she was pleased with her meeting with the minster.
"Mr. Graham said publicly that the Canadian government was opposed to the militarization of space," said Dean. "The rest of it was the kind of exchange you would expect -- 'I'll look at it' -- you know."
Dean was also positive about the protest itself, despite the turnout, which was small and tame compared to most other left-wing protests, especially in B.C.
"We're getting our message out one way or another. If we had stayed home this would never have been expressed," she said.
Veteran activist Garth Mullins dismissed reporters' suggestions that the protest was a failure. "It's sort of a pre-mobilizing event on the way to Kananaskis. It's on a work day and early in the morning so I think it's a good turnout."
Mullins said he intends to join about 1,000 other protesters expected to converge on Kananaskis, the Alberta resort that is hosting the G-8 summit of world leaders June 26 and 27.
Buses are being organized to take activists from B.C. to Kananaskis, said Mullins, although he is unsure how much protest will be allowed. "Kananaskis has been completely sealed off so there are no real areas to protest."
The Whistler protest was organized by the Lower Mainland Coalition for Social Justice, a group of community and labour groups that came together earlier this year to counter the policies of the provincial Liberal government. Some of the protesters also participated in the recent demonstration outside Premier Gordon Campbell's Vancouver home.
Many of the protest's participants were unemployed people from Vancouver's low-income inner city, including Sam Campbell, 53, who lives on a disability pension. He told the crowd: "Let's feed the masses and not just caviar and other things that are being served behind this steel fence to these special individuals. They should eat macaroni like the rest of us do."
The protest seemed even smaller when compared to the security operation outside the Chateau Whistler.
The police, still jittery after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and wary of the violence at past political summits, mounted a tight security presence outside the meeting.
As two police helicopters hovered overhead, RCMP Sergeant Grant Learned rejected suggestions of a security overkill.
"What we have to plan for is always the worst-case scenario. And at the end of the day we would always want to de-escalate rather than escalate and not have the resources."
Learned said security protocol prevented him from saying how many police were involved in the security operation. "What you don't see -- like the tip of the iceberg -- is what is below the surface. We don't discuss what those arrangements are."
Learned said the protest numbers were about what was expected, but police had to be prepared for a few individuals or "anarchists" who might create a disturbance.
Everyone entering the Chateau Whistler was checked for official accreditation or a hotel guest pass. All bags were put through a scanner outside. All hotel staff plus employees in businesses inside the hotel were put through a screening process prior to the meeting. There were only a few hotel guests staying in the hotel during the summit.
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