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Damage is seen Wednesday, May 19, 2010 that was caused by a firebomb at an Ottawa downtown bank early Tuesday morning. Anarchists who claimed to have firebombed the bank are vowing to take their protest to the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in Ontario.

The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand

Word that the federal government has budgeted up to $930-million for security at the upcoming G8 and G20 summits provokes some sharp questions that the government is unable, or unwilling, to answer. Canadians are willing to pay a steep price in dollars for security. But they also expect some clarity on why, exactly, they are being asked to pay so much.

The summits are marquee international events, and opportunities to showcase Canada to visiting leaders and media. It is in everyone's interests, including most of the international protestariat that will inevitably descend on the region, for security to be thorough, so that no one gets hurt. A heavy, disruptive and expensive security presence is a regrettable but necessary feature of 21st-century summitry.

That does not, however, justify the opaqueness of today's operation. Parliamentary estimates tabled yesterday request an additional $321.5-million for the RCMP, another $262.6-million to the Department of Public Safety and another $63.1-million to Defence, all toward policing and security at the summits. (Costs are also being incurred by other departments and jurisdictions.)

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But beyond these high-level, large and all-encompassing numbers, the Integrated Security Unit that is co-ordinating summit security could not provide an accounting of how the money will be used. Nor is there any indication that a post-summit publication will detail the costs, or provide for a public audit that would indicate whether the money was well spent.

The federal government has known for nine months that the G8 and G20 summits would take place back-to-back. But it only realized in February that Huntsville, Ont., would not be able to handle both meetings; its decision then to move the G20 portion to Toronto will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. How much more? The government is loath to tell.

An eagle-eyed watchdog will get small hints of what is up through MERX, the government's online tendering system. MERX will tell you that 596 portable toilets, construction projects costing up to $5-million, and ATVs costing up to $250,000 have been or will be procured as part of the summit security effort. But this does not add up to almost $1-billion, nor does it include costs internal to government.

More information on spending, and how the Integrated Security Unit's threat-based assessment method translates to actual costs, can be made available without compromising the operation itself. On questions of law and order, the federal government has a distressing habit of disregarding the bill. Canadian taxpayers are entitled to better.

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