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WORLD SUMMIT NOTEBOOK: Fakelakegate takes the cake

by Rob Gillies
| June 25, 2010 10:59 AM

It was dubbed Fakelakegate, but the water feature inside the media center for the global summits is more like a wading pond, incapable of creating much of a splash.

Except, perhaps, as a headache for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been criticized for the cost of the G-8 and G-20 summits.

The fake lake is a few inches deep and about 10 meters across at its widest. It cost $55,000 and is part of a nearly $2 million mini theme park that will be torn down when the summits end.

Organizers wanted to showcase Canada's tourist appeal by building a media center that includes an artificial lake with canoes and deck chairs along its "banks."

Most of the 3,700 journalists covering the G-20 summit here aren't allowed to go the smaller G-8 summit in picturesque, tourist-friendly Huntsville. So they are covering the proceedings from Toronto, only blocks from a real lake -- in fact, one of the Great Lakes -- Lake Ontario.

The fake lake in the Toronto media center has come to symbolize how much Harper's Conservative government has spent on the summits -- at least $1 billion. Canada spent a mind-boggling $900 million on security alone. Ironic, considering leaders discussed reining in deficits.

Opposition parties and journalists say the fake lake takes the cake.

"It's what everybody will remember from the summits," said Canadian Broadcasting Corp. journalist Don Newman, a veteran of Canadian politics.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron, of course, has access to Huntsville and the cool waters of Muskoka Lake. He took a dip early Friday under the watchful eyes of massive security forces.

"I think it's the safest swim I'm ever going to go for," Cameron told Canadian broadcaster CBC. "There were about two police ribs," he said, referring to rigid inflatable boats. "I don't know if there were actually frogmen under the water, but I wouldn't have been surprised."

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The thousands of police who have been patrolling the security perimeter of the G-20 summit site have been working 12-hour shifts since last Friday. One police employee handing out equipment to officers earlier in the week said they were exhausted and joked they would all be zombies by the start of the summits this weekend.

Toronto's downtown core resembles a fortress, with a big steel and concrete fence erected along several blocks to protect the summit site. Police patrol the Lake Ontario waterfront from boats and jet skis. About 19,000 security officers, from all over Canada, are involved.

Besides the police, the downtown core is a virtual ghost town.

"It is weird," said Toronto resident Rob Nutall. "It doesn't feel like the city I am used to, and it is just sort of quiet and things are boarded up. ... Sometimes I feel scared seeing all the police around, but it just doesn't feel like Toronto."

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Residents may want to rethink trying to get close to the security fence. Ontario's provincial government secretly gave police extra powers to arrest people during the summits. The Cabinet quietly passed a regulation last month that allows police to stop and search anyone coming within five meters of the security fences around the summit site. If they refuse they can be arrested.

Peter Kormos of the opposition New Democrat party says secret laws that result in arrests and detention "are the hallmarks of tinpot dictatorships."

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A papier-mache "Angel Merkel" had an embarrassing moment during an Oxfam publicity stunt. Protesters wearing the heads of the G-8 leaders --and suits that made them appear naked -- posed in Huntsville, Ontario, the site of the G-8 summit. Oxfam said it was the "naked truth" that the G-8 leaders have failed to deliver on past promises. The breasts and nether regions were covered by maple leaves, but the "German Chancellor's" lower maple leaf fell off during the photo opportunity.

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Associated Press reporter Jane Wardell contributed to this report.

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