Police repression biggest threat at Quebec City
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 the police.
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,
Most anti-globalization 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 cameras.
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.