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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada defended on Wednesday the huge cost of providing security to two international summits it will host late next month and attacked critics who asked why the bill had shot up to C$930 million ($880 million).
In March, Canada allocated C$179 million for security costs at the two summits. This week it shocked legislators by revealing the overall total would in fact be many hundreds of millions of dollars more.
On June 25 and 26 leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations will meet in Huntsville, Ontario, about two hours' drive north of Toronto. The Group of 20 nations will then gather in Toronto on June 26 and 27.
"This is an unprecedented event where you have two summits back to back and we believe the experts when they say this is the necessary level of security," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the House of Commons in response to criticism from the Liberals, the biggest opposition party.
"I understand that the Liberals don't believe in securing Canadians or the visitors here. We're different."
The Liberals, noting that security for the two-week Vancouver Winter Olympics in February had cost under C$900 million, said the summit bill was excessive and blamed incompetence and haphazard planning.
"It's shocking. It's frankly irresponsible ... we can't afford to be spending C$1 billion in 72 hours," said Mark Holland, the Liberals' national security spokesman.
Toews said it was wrong to compare the summits to the Olympics because far fewer leaders had visited Vancouver.
"I don't think you can say, 'Well, because it's seven days instead of 14 days, it should be half the price.' It simply doesn't work that way," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
He also said Canada had to protect leaders against threats from "very sophisticated criminals or terrorists".
The left-leaning New Democrats noted that C$930 million could buy 1,270 new hybrid buses for public transit systems or more than 132 million bed nets to prevent malaria.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway