Police state as Quebec holds summit of Americas
by Liz Rowley The Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliates, social justice, church, anti-poverty and environmental groups, women, seniors, youth, Aboriginal Peoples, the Council of Canadians and Common Frontiers, the Communist Party and even the New Democracy Party (social democratic) are all making preparations for the Summit of the Americas, and the People's Summit — featuring Fidel Castro — preceding it on April 17-21. The Quebec Summit will draw leaders from 34 countries (excluding Cuba), to lay plans for a hemispheric free trade zone to be set up by 2005. US President George W. Bush will attend the gathering hosted by Canada and by some of the most powerful transnational corporations in the world. The main demonstration of outraged opposition to these plans, and the secrecy surrounding them, will take place on Saturday, April 21, not far from the Plains of Abraham where US invaders were once defeated. Buses, vans, trains and even planes are being marshalled to move thousands of people from central and eastern Canada. Planeloads were planned from BC and Alberta, until the Quebec City airport announced that no charter planes would be allowed to land during the Summit dates, forcing alternate landing arrangements to be made. One train will come out of the Atlantic region, and another out of Toronto, collecting people as they go. Efforts to block insurance for Montreal buses taking protesters to Quebec were finally stalled, but now highway and bridge crossings are threatened with closure under the pretence of "security." Organisers are urging protesters to leave plenty of time for travel. Police and military presence at the Summit will include the RCMP and its riot squad, the provincial Surete du Quebec, Quebec city police, the Sainte-Foy police to guard the airport, and the army — about 400 troops for "logistical" support. Dogs, horses, guns, pepper spray Altogether close to 6,000 police and military personnel will be present, armed with pepper spray, dogs, horses, riot gear, guns and an array of weaponry —some specially bought for the occasion. Security costs are estimated to be about $35 million, excluding a new $7.5 million Bell helicopter and other perks for the Surete. All this is paid for by the same public which is holding legal protests against the Summit. A virtual police state is being set up in Quebec City. The Quebec Detention Centre, which holds up to 600 inmates, is being emptied for detained protesters. The movable wire cages used by police to detain protesters will also no doubt make their appearance during the Summit. Surveillance cameras will be everywhere, inside and outside the 3.8 metre high chain link fence which police plan to expand beyond the current 6 kilometre perimeter fence, tagged "the Berlin Wall," the "Wall of Shame," and "the Wall of Provocation" by local residents. About 7,000 Quebec City residents living inside the perimeter will have to carry passes to get in and out of their homes, and 10,000 provincial employees who work inside the perimeter have been told to stay home on April 20. Movement throughout the city will be restricted by military checkpoints. Police officer Brongel told the Toronto Star that "...we have for months now been looking into the various protest groups that we feel might be a threat during the summit, but what official measures we're going to be taking, for security reasons we're not going to be discussing that publicly." The police and military presence and preparations are so extreme that a recent report stated that security overkill could make mayhem inevitable at the Summit. Certainly the City of Quebec thinks so, and has had its Charter amended to release it of any civil liability for damages caused during the Summit. The City of Seattle was stuck with $17 million in damages in 1999 after cops attacked non-violent demonstrators. Quebec City Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier asked the federal government to cancel the Summit, because of widespread fear of "risks" among residents. The government declined, and instead will distribute door-to-door 278,000 copies of a glossy 16-page brochure extolling the virtues (for business) of free trade and the Summit. Duff Conacher, coordinator of Democracy Watch, said "the true undemocratic nature of the Canadian government is being so starkly revealed by these extreme measures ... This is a wake-up call to all Canadians to realise we don't live in a democracy." But if these advance volleys by the state were intended to scare off would- be protesters, the plans have backfired. Outrage at the efforts to stymie legal protests, and threaten protesters with police violence and jail, have moved thousands of people into action on both sides of the Canada-US border. And the Internet is whipping information around the continent at record speed. The labour movement, slow to move at first, has pulled unions inside and outside the Canadian Labour Congress into action. Labour will be responsible for transporting thousands of workers, seniors, youth, and others to the big demonstration on April 21. Buses from as far away as Windsor, Sudbury, and the Niagara Peninsula will travel up to 36 hours to demonstrate their anger at the plans for corporate globalisation. Part of the lead-up to the Summit are teach-ins being held in many cities. The Toronto teach-in on March 16-18 was jammed with people who came to learn about the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, and about what to expect during the protests in Quebec City. Participants learned civil disobedience techniques, and how to protect themselves against pepper spray, tear gas, beatings, and what to do if arrested. (Wear layered clothes padded with newspaper, and carry at least a litre of water and vinegar against the gas.) For weeks now, protest organisers and lawyers acting on behalf of the protest committees have been working out of Quebec City, challenging efforts by police and other authorities to curb civil and legal rights. The suburban Sainte Foy by-law, making the wearing of any face covering illegal, was thrown out, scuttling a similar by-law being drafted for Quebec City Council. These volunteer lawyers and organisers also successfully challenged insurance companies which had refused to insure bus companies carrying protesters. They are currently fighting the insurance "surtax" which arbitrarily increases the cost of rentals by up to $500 per bus. They are also battling with authorities which may close bridges into Quebec City as well as the decree closing the airport to charter flights during the Summit. Faced with these challenges, protesters repeat what appears on numerous Summit web sites: "It didn't start in Seattle, and it isn't going to stop in Quebec." Communist Party leaders said the mass protests were vital to expose the real nature of this proposed hemispheric corporate constitution, and to build up a powerful and united cross-Canada opposition.