Canada: Police Arrest Trade Summit Protestors

Publisher Name: 
Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- Social activists emphasized the ''civil'' in civil disobedience at a meticulously staged, almost polite, protest Monday against a proposed hemispheric free trade deal.

Still, about 70 of the 500 protesters outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade were arrested during a ''search and rescue mission'' to retrieve a working draft of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Two by two, and then in larger groups, activists approached police barricades to read a lengthy manifesto condemning the government for keeping the FTAA negotiations secret.

''Do not become accomplices of the secrecy and manipulations of this government,'' they told police. ''If you refuse to seek and retrieve the FTAA draft texts on our behalf, we will have no option but to attempt to retrieve them ourselves.''

A line of about 30 RCMP and Ottawa city police officers met the protesters as they calmly scaled the barricades. Some were dragged away when they sat on the muddy grass.

Others, including one pregnant woman, walked away with police.

''Well, I hope my parents will understand,'' Patrick Shory, 16, said anxiously as he prepared to mount the metal barricades.

As he spoke, hundreds of protesters milled about under bright sunshine, waving signs and beating drums. An organizer with a megaphone directed the protest, pointing out areas where people could gather without fear of arrest and other areas where they could attempt to enter the building.

Nearby, a giant paper-mache float depicted a business executive with a black padlocked briefcase with the slogan: FTAA Top Secret.

Protesters included local students, activists, the Raging Grannies and a few notables, including Maude Barlow, director of the Council of Canadians.

RCMP Cpl. Louise Lafrance said not all those arrested would necessarily face charges.

The protest was partly a practice run for the massive demonstration scheduled for the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, April 20-22.

There, leaders of 34 countries will discuss multilateral issues, including the FTAA.

''Everything being done about trade agreements is in secrecy and we want to hear what's going on,'' said Sabrina Salhia, a University of Ottawa student.

''In a true democracy we'd know . . . the environment, human rights and social justice, all these thing are coming second to trade and capitalism.''

Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew has said he will try to convince his pan-American counterparts to agree to release details of their negotiations during a meeting in Argentina this week.

But Canadian officials have said it's doubtful they'll reach that consensus. The Bloc Quebecois and NDP have also clamoured for greater transparency in the process.

Activist groups have been trying to emphasize that they are a peaceful lot that comes to collective decisions about how to protest. Areas are designated for those who don't intend on participating in civil disobedience.

Employees at the federal building, within sight of the Prime Minister's residence, were given the day off Monday.

Many in the diverse movement that has sprung up to protest the summit say they are worried about the massive police presence planned for Quebec City.

Officials have assigned up to 6,000 officers around a 4.5 kilometre fence encircling the old city.

''I have to tell you on the personal level I'm worried about Quebec City,'' said Catherine Louli, a spokeswoman with the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

''I think Quebec City is a highly volatile situation.

''If the police are doing this (Quebec City) as intimidation that's one thing, but fear breeds irrationality and people don't think when they're afraid.''

AMP Section Name:Trade Justice
  • 110 Trade Justice