Not since the War Measures
Act, thirty years ago, has there been a greater display of the armed might of
the state in Canada than there will be in Quebec City during the Summit of the
Americas on April 20-22. And not since the War Measures Act, when the army
occupied the city of Montreal after two public officials were kidnapped by the
FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front) thirty years ago, has there been a greater need
for people of conscience to speak out against the repression of dissent.
If there is violence in
Quebec City, it will almost certainly come from the police not the
demonstrators. For the last few weeks, hints of evil intent by “a small number
of violent groups,” has been used by the RCMP and Quebec’s Public Security
Minister Serge Menard who announced just yesterday yet another 1,000 police to
add to the extraordinary army of 5,000 already in place for the meeting of
leaders of the Americas.
Not a single group organizing
for Quebec City is planning violence of any kind. Most of the groups in a
somewhat naïve attempt to avoid police repression have written in their basis of
unity that they renounce all violence. There are two organizations that refuse
to renounce violence in advance because they think that in some struggles
violence is sometimes necessary, for example the Zapatistas in Mexico.
Neither of these groups is
planning violence in Quebec City. As they see it Quebec City is different from
Seattle. Breaking windows at Starbucks, as a symbol of transnational corporate
domination can be justified, in their view. Breaking windows in a small café in
Quebec City cannot. As far as I can see, humour and imagination rather than
violence will be the weapon of choice of demonstrators in Quebec City.
The anarchist groups that
security forces are most worried about have been distributing flyers door to
door in Quebec City encouraging residents to “adopt a demonstrator.” You can
check off whether you want an anarchist, a feminist, a trade unionist, a student
or whatever with cute little graphics beside each check off. They are calling
their activities a “Carnival Against Capitalism.” Sounds threatening doesn’t it?
In the 1960′s the police used
to talk about “outside agitators” causing problems in otherwise peaceful
demonstrators so that they could justify riding in on horses clubbing young
people whose only crime was opposing the war in Viet Nam. The strategy of
creating the evil few to repress the many is a very old one. Don’t buy it. You
can find out what is being planned yourself. Start with the independent media
site at www.cmaq.net.
The biggest challenge to the
wide variety of groups organizing to protest the FTAA will be to remain united
in face of state attempts to divide them. The movement got diverted after
Seattle in a divisive debate about tactics.
The tactic used by
anti-globalization protesters is non-violent civil disobedience. In the best
tradition of Gandhi, demonstrators put their bodies on the line. In the direct
action training taking place in numerous cities across Ontario and Quebec,
students are learning how to remain calm and peaceful in face of police
provocation. The police on the other hand, learn how to intimate and frighten
demonstrators so that only those willing to be dragged to jail will remain to
face down the Darth Vadar-like terror of the riot squad.
In Windsor last summer in
what seems now like a dress rehearsal for Quebec the massive police presence led
to completely unprovoked brutality against peaceful demonstrators. Police used
pepper spray indiscriminately on protesters who were doing nothing more sinister
than hanging a banner on a fence. Residents of Windsor became furious when they
realized that their city was turned into an armed camp to protect them from
2,000 peaceful, youthful demonstrators who were in general better behaved than
Like in Windsor, there is a
10 foot high fence with a concrete base virtually surrounding the old city to
keep demonstrators far away from where 34 leaders of the Americas are meeting.
And like in Windsor, major attempts are being made to stop activists from coming
in to Canada from the United States.
The police build-up and
rumours of violence are also an attempt to frighten away people who might find
common cause with the protesters but are not willing to take a risk to protest.
The claims of the Canadian government that the Summit of the Americas will focus
on strengthening democracy ring pretty hollow in face of the fact that no-one is
permitted to even see the documents that the leaders will be discussing,
activists assume that the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) will have all
the odious elements of NAFTA, including the infamous Chapter 11, which allows
corporations to sue governments if laws or regulations interfere with profit.
In a recent report journalist
Murray Dobbin finds that more than half of the corporate law suits so far
involve challenges to health or environmental measures and that almost half are
challenges to municipal or state government regulation.
No one really knows what’s in
the FTAA agreement because the documents are secret. On April 2, protesters in
Ottawa will use direct action to attempt to liberate the documents from the
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The training for that
action will be held in the Parliament Buildings in full view of television
There may be the odd person
in Quebec who gets frustrated enough to throw a rock at the police or threw a
window but that is not the reason for the massive police build-up. The biggest
challenge to the anti-globalization movement in Quebec will be not to get
diverted by these age old police tactics of divide and rule and keep their eyes
on the prize, the growing opposition to undemocratic trade deals that seek to
codify corporate rule over democratically elected governments.