Quebec City Crackdown
From April 20-22, Quebec City has the dubious honour of hosting the 3rd Summit of the Americas. The Summit will bring together 34 heads of state -- every head of state in the Americas except Fidel Castro. And despite stringent security measures, including the largest police deployment in Canadian history, a tremendous contingency of anti-globalization protesters will be there to shake up the process.
Aside from the Summit's usual declarations on security and terrorism, human rights and democracy, the main focus of this year's meeting will be to finalize the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. According to Pierre Pettigrew, Canada's Trade Minister, "The FTAA is inextricably linked to the Summit of the Americas process."
This agreement, which by its very nature will affect the everyday lives of millions, extends the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire Western hemisphere. It has been the subject of secretive negotiations since the first Summit was held in Miami in 1994. Negotiators have set 2005 as the FTAA's implementation deadline.
Like NAFTA, the FTAA will submit health, education, environmental and labor standards to the forces of the free market. There are numerous illustrations of how such free trade agreements work in favor of corporations and against governments and individuals. Take the case of Metalclad Corp., a Texas-based toxic waste-disposal company, which accused the Mexican government of violating Chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Mexican state of San Luis Potosi had refused to allow Metalclad to re-open a waste-disposal site that was contaminating the local water supply. In response, Metalclad sought $90 million in compensation. In August 2000, a NAFTA Tribunal ruled in favor of Metalclad, ordering the Mexican government to pay $16.7 million in compensation.
Meanwhile, workers have filed more than 20 labor complaints under NAFTA's labor side agreement, almost all of them against the Mexican government (since NAFTA does not allow complaints to be brought against corporations). In almost every case, fundamental violations of labor law have been proven, yet nothing concrete has been done to redress the workers' complaints. Incidents like the recent police violence of January 2000 against striking workers at Mexico's Kuk-Dong garment factory (whose biggest customer is Nike) and the Duro Bag factory (whose biggest customer is Hallmark) point out the impotence of the labor agreements. As Martha Ojeda, the director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, says, "We already know that its [NAFTA's] protections for labor rights are worthless."
Since the anti-WTO protests in Seattle, there has been a growing awareness of neo-liberalism's failure to protect citizens' rights. To the wide coalition of protesters that will decend on Quebec in April, the FTAA represents another push of that same neo-liberal agenda. Not surprisingly, Canadian authorities are well aware of the potential PR disaster the Summit could become -- and they are doing everything they can to silence the dissenting voices in Quebec.
Security measures being planned for the Summit are sweeping -- the largest police deployment in Canadian history. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) estimates that the overall budget for the police operation during the three-day Summit will be well over $22 million. Over 5,000 officers from the RCMP, provincial Surete du Quebec and local municipal forces are slated to work during the three days, while the Surete du Quebec assures people on its web site that if need be it will "co-ordinate and establish the necessary liaisons with the Canadian Armed Forces." Apparently, the need has arisen, as the Armed Forces have already been called in -- they are currently training 800 riot police just outside of Quebec City.
Police officials have declared that they will establish a security perimeter in downtown Quebec, around the Vieux-Quebec and the Haute-Ville, two areas where the Summit will take place in April. They plan on erecting a 2.4 mile long metal fence, similar to those found around prisons, in the streets of the provincial capital sometime in early spring. The perimeter will cover approximately 4 square miles of the downtown core.
Moreover, all citizens who reside or work in the security perimeter -- nearly 25,000 people -- are currently being given a security pass to enter the area, as will over 5,000 official delegates and nearly 3,000 accredited media. The original police plan to run criminal record checks on all Quebec residents receiving a pass was quickly shelved in the face of widespread public outrage.
At a November press conference to announce more details on the planned security measures, Serge Menard, Quebec's minister for Public Security, surprised many by explaining that the Orsainville provincial prison will be emptied of its over 600 inmates during the Summit to make room for arrested protesters. He later went on to justify the need for such drastic police measures by saying, "If you want peace, you must prepare for war." This thinly veiled attempt to intimidate residents of Quebec City falls in line with the RCMP's portrayal of the Summit as "an eventual crisis situation," thereby justifying all police actions.
The RCMP recently announced that it has rented all vacant apartments and houses within the security perimeter, as well as reserved all hotel accommodations within 55 miles, to avoid leaving anything vacant for trouble-makers. In an ironic twist on the notion of "free markets," the RCMP even forced several NGOs that had reserved hotel accomodations and conference rooms up to a year in advance out of their reservations, thereby assuring their space monopoly. They will reportedly go so far as to seal all sewer entrances within the security perimeter for fear of protesters finding their way through the underground maze and onto the laps of government officials and business executives.
In a late January border incident, Canadian officials extended their suppressive policies to a group of U.S. citizens. Ten New York City-based individuals trying to attend a strategy meeting organized by the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA in French) were denied entry into the country. Canadian officials proceeded to search the van, collecting and copying all documents pertaining to the mobilization against the Summit. As the activists were leaving, one Canadian official added wryly, "It is my job to protect the Canadian economy."
Within Quebec City, the paranoia surrounding Summit security is reaching a fevered pitch. On February 4th, two plainclothes officers arrested three youth on one of the main avenues downtown for, ironically, handing out pamphlets denouncing the Summit security's violation of civil rights. Once their story became public, both the police and Quebec City Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier quickly apologized for the "mistake," by explaining that the officers had misunderstood a local bylaw. However, only days before, members of the largest Quebec-based coalition mobilizing against the Summit were confronted by officers for passing out the same pamphlet in a mall.
In response to these police moves, la Ligue des droits et libertes du Quebec (the Rights and Liberties League of Quebec) urged police not to create the impression that protesting is illegal, as it is a basic right protected under Canadian law. Spokesperson Andre Paradis explained "that the necessity to establish a security perimeter shouldn't transform the provincial capital into a city under siege, where the fundamental rights of civil society to express itself cannot be exercised in public space."
In spite of high-level police intimidation, a large and diverse coalition is still planning opposition to the Summit. The largest group is Operation Quebec Printemps 2001 (OQP 2001), a coalition that was formed in December 1999. OQP brings together over 30 regional organizations (as of mid-February) including unions, NGOs, campus groups, community organizations, and political parties, as well as individuals. Coalition members' concerns range from the FTAA's impacts on labor and the environment to the threats on civil liberties resulting from the Summit itself.
Although the demands of coalition members vary greatly, the aim of OQP 2001 is to raise awareness about the FTAA and globalization, organize non-violent protest, and present viable alternatives to corporate globalization. A "People's Summit" is planned for April 17-22 that will bring together activists from across the hemisphere and feature workshops, conferences, teach-ins and demonstrations. Alternatives, a large Quebec-based NGO and member of the OQP coalition, has also leased a building just beyond the security perimeter that will serve as the "Alternative Media Center." The Center is now open to journalists and a Quebec City Indy Media website (www.quebec.indymedia.org) in French, Spanish, and English is now up and running.
Another major group planning resistance to the Summit is the Montreal-based Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC). Formed in April 2000 to offer a radical, anti-capitalist critique of corporate globalization, CLAC recently helped form the Quebec City-based Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA). CASA and CLAC are now planning a Carnival Against Capital, including events in Quebec City and Montreal throughout April 2001 and culminating in a Day of Action on Friday, April 20, in Quebec City. The Carnival will include workshops, teach-ins, concerts, conferences, cabarets, street theatre, protests, and direct action.
CASA and CLAC are also planning a series of events in Quebec City, for activists to discuss strategy, build networks, and become familiar with the city. The first such meeting, at the end of January, saw over 350 activists from across the U.S. and Canada share ideas and strategies for April. Meanwhile, CLAC has an "FTAA Caravan" moving across the northeastern United States and Canada. The caravan has already visited dozens of communities, most recently in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, New Hampshire and Vermont.
CASA and OQP 2001 are also working to provide lodging and food for out-of-towners coming to Quebec City for the Summit. The two groups, in collaboration with the People's Potato (a Quebec-based organic food provider), are working on establishing kitchens in Quebec City to provide low-cost meals for locals and out-of-towners alike. Since the RCMP has reserved a block of 11,000 hotel rooms for the Summit, the search for lodging space has been difficult. However, OQP 2001 is trying to rent halls and gymnasiums and, in conjunction with the CASA, has planned an "Adopt a Protester" program. The idea, as CLAC member Jaggi Singh explains, "is to have protesters sit down and eat with Quebec City residents to get the real story (not the corporate media's) out to residents of the city. That way, people will have a chance of understanding what's actually going on."
Darryl Leroux is a freelance journalist living in Peterborough, Ontario.