Quebec City
"Free-Trade" Flashpoint

by Darryl Leroux

Dollars and Sense magazine, March / April 2001


The "Battle in Seattle" in December l999 gave notice of the growing resistance to neoliberal "globalization." Since then, protestors have dashed with police across North America - in Washington, D.C.; Windsor, Ontario; Mexico City; and Montreal - and around the world. The Third Summit of the Americas, in Quebec City, April 20-22, stands to be the next flashpoint in this struggle.

Aside from their usual declarations on security and terrorism, human rights, and democracy, the 34 American heads of state expected at the Summit (all except Fidel Castro) will focus on finalizing the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. According to Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew, "The FTAA is inextricably linked to the Summit of the Americas process."

Several Quebec organizations are currently planning large-scale grassroots resistance at the ,< Summit, and many other groups in the Americas are tying local struggles to the struggle against the FTAA. Predictably, the Canadian authorities are planning harsh security measures during the Summit in an effort to render inaudible and invisible the concerned citizens present in Quebec.


The Canadian government's assurances about the FTAA will sound like deja vu to those who heard its pre-NAFTA declarations. The FTAA agenda, according to the government's official website, "will help the hemisphere and its governments combat inequality and help spread the wealth we are creating through expanded liberalization and increased integration." In reality, the FTAA would extend NAFTA to the entire Western hemisphere - eroding government and citizen control over health, education, labor rights, and environmental protection, submitting all to the forces of the so-called "free market."

Take, for example, some recent high-profile cases under NAFTA. In 1998, the Ohio-based Ethyl Corporation challenged a proposed Canadian law banning MMT (a gasoline additive the company produces) because the law "expropriated" its assets in Canada.

The company even claimed that "legislative debate itself" was an unlawful taking "because public criticism of MMT damaged the company's reputation." A year after Ethyl sued Canada for US$250 million, the Canadian government withdrew the legislation and paid the company US$13 million to settle the case. In a still more recent case, Metalclad Corporation, a Texas-based toxic-waste-disposal company, sued the Mexican government when the state of San Luis Potosi barred the company from reopening a waste-disposal site there. In 1995, local citizen pressure and proof that the dump site would contaminate the local water supply convinced the state governor to order the facility closed. In response, Metalclad sought US$90 million in compensation. In August 2000, in the first NAFTA ruling on an investor-to-state lawsuit, the NAFTA tribunal ordered the Mexican government to pay US$16.7 million in compensation to Metalclad.

Meanwhile, workers have filed more than 20 labor complaints under NAFTA's labor side agreement, almost all of them against the Mexican government. (NAFTA does not allow complaints to be brought against companies, only against governments.) Almost every case has proved fundamental violations of labor law, yet nothing concrete has been done to redress the complaints of Mexican workers. Incidents like the January 2001 police violence against striking workers at Mexico's Kuk-Dong garment factory (whose biggest customer is Nike) reveal the truth about toothless "side agreements." As Martha Ojeda, the director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, says: "We already know that its [NAFTA's] protections for labor rights are worthless."


The aggressive police response to recent demonstrations across North America shows how far the authorities will go to safeguard the "democratic" ideals of corporate globalization. Quebec City will be no different. The police operation for the Summit will be the largest security deployment in Canadian history. No fewer than four major police forces are preparing for the protests, and numerous other

small forces will also make themselves available for Summit duty. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) estimates that the overall police operation during the three-day Summit will cost over $30 million (Canadian). At least 5,000 officers from the federal RCMP, provincial Surete du Quebec, and two large municipal forces are slated to work during the three days. Meanwhile, the Surete du Quebec has promised to "coordinate and establish the necessary liaisons with the Canadian Armed Forces" should the need arise.

Police officials have declared a security perimeter in downtown Quebec, around which they plan to build a 2.3-mile-long metal fence similar to those that surround prisons. Moreover, everyone who lives or works within the security perimeter - nearly 25,000 people - will be required to carry a security pass to enter, as will over 6,000 official Summit delegates and nearly 3,000 accredited journalists. The original police plan to run criminal record checks on all Quebec City residents receiving passes was quickly shelved (at least publicly) in the face of widespread public outrage. The RCMP has rented all the vacant apartments and houses within the security perimeter, and reserved all the hotel rooms - to keep troublemakers out. According to sources in Quebec City, the RCMP will also seal all sewer entrances within the security perimeter for fear of protesters finding their way through the underground maze and into the laps of government officials and business executives.

Last November, Quebec Minister for Public Security Serge Menard announced that the Orsainville provincial prison would be emptied of its more than 600 inmates during the Summit to make room for arrested protesters. His justification for the draconian police measures: "If you want peace, you must prepare for war." It seems the war is already under way. In November, police arrested Joan Russow, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, for taking photos of the prison. The police detained Ms. Russow for 45 minutes as they destroyed the pictures. Later, they offered the explanation that the Green leader had "trespassed" - on public property!

In response to these police moves, La Ligue des Droits et Libertes du Quebec (the Rights and Liberties League of Quebec) urged police not to create the impression that protesting is illegal, as it is a basic right protected under Canadian law. Spokesperson Andre Paradis explained "that the necessity to establish a security perimeter shouldn't transform the provincial capital into a city under siege, where the fundamental rights of civil society to express itself cannot be exercised in public space."


In spite of high-level police intimidation, Quebec-based groups are creating a large, diverse, and dynamic opposition to the Summit. The largest coalition is Operation Quebec Printemps 2001 (OQP 2001). Formed in December 1999, it brings together over 30 regional organizations (as of mid-January) - including unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), campus groups, community organizations, and political parties - as well as individuals. Coalition members' concerns range from the FTAA's impacts on labor and the environment to the threats against civil liberties resulting from the Summit itself.

Although the demands of coalition members vary greatly, the aim of OQP 2001 is to educate the public on globalization, organize non-violent protest, and present viable alternatives to corporate globalization. The coalition is also building links with other regional, national, and international organizations. For example, OQP 2001 recently hosted a conference featuring Bishop Don Samuel Rulz, of Chiapas, Mexico, in Quebec City. OQP 2001 spokesperson Patrice Breton explains, "We plan not only on mobilizing around the FTAA and the Summit in April, but on focusing our attention on raising awareness of what globalization really represents."

Presently, the OQP 2001 coalition is planning a "People's Summit" for April 17-21. It will bring together activists from across the hemisphere and feature workshops, conferences, teach-ins, and demonstrations. The coalition has also leased a building just beyond the security perimeter that will serve as the "Alternative Media Centre." The Centre is now open to journalists, and OQP 2001 is operating a Quebec City Indy Media website < org> in French, Spanish, and English.

Another major group planning protests around the Summit is the Montreal-based AntiCapitalist Convergence (CLAC). Formed in April 2000 to offer a radical, anti-capitalist critique of corporate globalization, CLAC recently spawned the Quebec City-based Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA). Like CLAC, CASA espouses the principles of anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchy, anti-hierarchy, anti-reformism, autonomy, and respect for a diversity of tactics. According to CLAC, "It is possible to radically and creatively oppose capitalism, while at the same time maintaining the spirit of openness that is necessary to develop a diverse and pluralistic resistance movement."

CASA and CLAC are now planning a Carnival Against Capitalism, including events in Quebec City and Montreal throughout April 2001 and culminating in a Day of Action on Friday, April 20, in Quebec City. The Carnival will include workshops, teach-ins, concerts, conferences, cabarets, street theatre, protests, and direct action. CASA and CLAC are also planning a series of events, in Quebec City, for activists to discuss strategy,

build networks, and become familiar with the city. Meanwhile, CLAC has an "FTAA Caravan" moving across the northeastern United States, the Maritime provinces of Canada, Quebec and Ontario. The caravan has already visited dozens of communities, leaving numerous grassroots initiatives in its wake.

CASA and OQP 2001 are also working to provide lodging and food for out-of-towners coming to Quebec City for the Summit. The two groups, in collaboration with the People's Potato (a Quebec-based food provider), may establish kitchens in Quebec City to provide low-cost meals for locals and out-of-towners alike. Since the RCMP has reserved a block of 11,000 hotel rooms for the Summit, the search for lodging space has been difficult. However, OQP 2001 is trying to rent halls and gymnasiums and, in conjunction with the CLAC, has planned an "Adopt a Protester" program. The idea, as CLAC member Jaggi Singh explains, "is to have protesters sit down and eat with Quebec City residents to get the real story (not the corporate media's) out to residents of the city. That way, people will have a chance of understanding what's actually going on."


The Summit of the Americas in Quebec City will be another major test of the neoliberal agenda's legitimacy. As thousands of protesters from around the hemisphere converge on Quebec City, the world spotlight will shine on the Summit and the FTAA It remains to be seen whether protesters will succeed in disrupting the meetings, as they did in Seattle and Prague. But one thing is already dear - the "criminalization of protest" is here to stay. The authorities definitely have something to fear. As The Economist explains: "The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third world [sic] poverty. And they are right that the tide of globalization, powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters - and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes with them - so terribly dangerous."

Resources: CLAC <>; OQP 2001 <www.>


Darryl Leroux is a freelance journalist living in Peterborough Ontario.

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