The trickle of foreign protesters for this weekend's Summit of the Americas has begun, and some have already been turned away at the border.
"We can confirm that certain individuals who were coming for the summit have been denied entry into Canada," said Canada Customs and Revenue Agency spokesman Danielle Daneau.
Two of three foreign spokesmen for the alternative People's Summit, which opened in Quebec City yesterday, were detained for questioning by Canadian immigration officials and granted limited visas to enter Canada.
"I was questioned thoroughly," said Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Alliance for Responsible Trade in Washington, D.C.
"It's not normal procedure. They were trying to find an excuse to keep me out."
Immigration officials called her aside yesterday as she was clearing customs at Ottawa International Airport when she said she was going to the People's Summit, a gathering of more than 2,000 delegates from across Canada and the Western Hemisphere who want to add a social dimension to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Hector de la Cueva, a Mexican spokesman at the People's Summit, said he was detained for an hour on Saturday at Dorval airport near Montreal and asked repeatedly whether he was going to the Summit of the Americas.
"I said, 'No, I am going to the People's Summit. I wasn't invited to the Summit of the Americas,' " he said.
Mr. de la Cueva said Antonio Castro and Edouardo Castillo, two Mexican students headed for the People's Summit, had been detained on Sunday for at least 24 hours at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
"Canada's image," he said, noting Canadian officials say they welcome input from the People's Summit at the leaders' summit.
The Canadian and Quebec governments each contributed $300,000 for the People's Summit, which ends on Saturday with a demonstration in Quebec City's Lower Town.
"It's hypocritical when they say they want to dialogue with civil society."
Ms. Hansen-Kuhn said she has crossed many borders and has never had as unpleasant an experience as her encounter with immigration authorities in Ottawa. "I don't think that I seem like a very threatening person," she said.
Ms. Daneau of Canada Customs said her agency's agents have attended awareness sessions where they were given information about the summit itself as well as clearance procedures for summit delegates, dignitaries and demonstrators.
To prepare for the expected onslaught of protesters, Ms. Daneau said Canada Customs has devised an operational plan that will see staffing levels at the crossings based on risk assessment.
"For example, if there's an increase of traffic at a certain port of entry, we're going to redeploy the personnel as to be able to handle the additional traffic," she said.
Things may slow down for people coming into Canada over the next few days, even if it is not for the summit, she said.
"Travellers can expect some delays, but as Customs is responsible for the security of the country, I think the public will agree that these measures are necessary," Ms. Daneau said.
She shrugged off criticism that Canada Customs' increased vigilance for protesters headed for the summit infringes on the freedom of citizens to express their disapproval of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"We've always said that everybody has a right to protest and all demonstrators who want to enter Canada with pacific intent are welcome," Ms. Daneau said.
"What we're focusing on are the demonstrators who want to enter Canada with criminal intent."
- 110 Trade Justice