A Security Bulwark Is Erected Around Quebec Talks On Trade

vieuxcmaq, Sunday, March 18, 2001 - 12:00

Colin Nickerson (

QUEBEC CITY - Not since 1759, when troops under the Marquis de Montcalm anxiously hunkered behind
Quebec's fortress walls, awaiting an English invasion force, has this achingly beautiful city, perched above
the St. Lawrence River, been so braced for trouble.

A security bulwark is erected around Quebec talks on trade
By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff, 3/11/2001

QUEBEC CITY - Not since 1759, when troops under the Marquis de Montcalm anxiously hunkered behind Quebec's fortress walls, awaiting an English invasion force, has this achingly beautiful city, perched above the St. Lawrence River, been so braced for trouble.

The Summit of the Americas, a gathering of presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders from 34 nations of North, Central, and South America, will be held here from April 20 to 22. Along with the heads of state,the meeting, which will focus on creation of a free-trade zone stretching from Argentina to the Canadian Arctic, is expected to draw 4,000 delegates and government observers, 2,500 journalists, and thousands of anti-globalization activists from around the world.

In the biggest security operation in Canadian history, police and other authorities are readying for the expected legions of agitators with heightened border security, a towering chain-link fence that will seal off Quebec's old Upper Town, and even new bylaws that ban scarves, ski masks,
and other face gear that might hide identities.

Free trade opponents admit to being rather awed by the extraordinary effort to transform this Old World-style city of narrow lanes, stone houses, and soaring church spires into an ultra-security zone. But they say they are undaunted.

''People are mobilizing for Quebec City because they hope to raise public consciousness about the
onslaught of globalization and multinational corporations under the guise of so-called free trade, '' said Orin Langelle, cochairman of the Action for Community and Ecology in the Regions of Central America, a group based in Burlington, Vt.

Most of the protesters claim to be coming in peace. But memories of riots at the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle are still raw, and Canada wants to avoid a repeat.

A recent report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country's spy agency, warned that''anarchist elements are actively organizing to disrupt the summit'' by using gasoline bombs, sabotage,and other tactics.

So, ironically, even though much of the summit will be dedicated to discussion of greater opening of borders across the Americas, Canada is drastically tightening its own borders against would-be spoilers of the event.

A spokesman for the Immigration Ministry said that activists from the United States and other countries who want to join protests will not be automatically barred, but should expect close questioning and criminal background checks. Those arrested in the Seattle protests are likely to be turned back.

''It is a major event, we are taking extra measures, and the border is certainly on a very high state of alert,''said Richard Saint-Louis, a senior Immigration Ministry spokesman. ''If we have reason to think you are coming to riot or cause violence, you will be turned away. For noncitizens, including Americans, entry to Canada is a privilege, not a right.''

Security forces are raising a second wall in North America's only fortress city - a charmless, 10-foot-high,heavy-duty chain-link fence, reinforced by steel posts anchored in concrete, that will form a 2.5-mile ''security perimeter'' within the cobblestone-paved heart of the Old Town. Almost all of Quebec's major tourist sites, from the majestic Chateau Frontenac to the hulking Citadel, will become off-limits to everyone except summit officials, accredited journalists, and registered residents.

The new wall will also surround government buildings, a convention center, and the Plains of Abraham just outside the original ramparts, begun by the French in the 1600s and completd by the British in the 19th century.

Nearly 5,000 police officers, including five Royal Canadian Mounted Police riot squads from across the country, have been summoned for duty.

Prisoners are being transferred from local jails to ensure there is plenty of cell space for arrested protesters. Quebecers living inside the barrier will have to carry special permits to pass through police checkpoints. And the pastor of a church within the security barrier has been told that parishioners from outside the perimeter will not be allowed to attend services - forcing the venerable St. Pierre United Church to close on Sunday for the first time.

Government officials describe the precautions as mere prudence. "As the proverb says, `If you want peace, prepare for war, ''' said Serge Menard, Quebec's minister for public security.

But a growing number of critics, including civil liberties groups in Canada and the United States, say the security measures are veering toward paranoid suppression of everyday rights.

In one of the more bizarre security moves, the suburb of Sainte-Foy, several miles from the summit site but home to budget motels where many demonstrators and journalists will stay, just passed an ordinance banning the wearing and possession of ''a mask, hood, ski mask, or any other object of the same nature to cover one's face.''

Sainte-Foy may rescind the measure after the blasts of criticism from civil libertarians, but Quebec City itself is armed with a similar bylaw. ''We must be ready for the hooligans of international protest,'' said Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier, who nonetheless fears that his city might get a bad name if law-abiding demonstrators are restricted or if citizens are harassed by police. ''There are so many ways a summit can go sour.''

Opponents of globalization claim that free trade treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement among Canada, Mexico, and the United States, are capitalist ploys to subvert national environmental laws, undercut labor organizations, and destroy indigenous cultures by imposing economic hegemony in the name of ''open borders.''

The agreements tend to be hatched in secrecy. Only a month before the summit, for example, Canada and the United States refuse to disclose major points of the pending Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

''So little information is provided by governments that no one really understands just what these
agreements are,'' said Cassie Watters, an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. The group believes free trade primarily benefits multinational companies by enabling them to more
easily move operations to countries where labor is cheapest.

''Free trade has become another cudgel to use against unions and underpaid workers in this country by threatening to move operations - and take away people's jobs - to places where they pay even less,'' she said.

According to activist sources, significant numbers of anti-globalization protesters, including many from New England, are starting to slip into Canada well in advance of the summit to avoid intensified border scrutiny.

Others are attending ''protest workshops'' organized in dozens of countries. The workshops teach everything from how to defend oneself in street battles with police to how to get along with hardened criminals if arrested.

Activists hope the Quebec summit might provide them with their best chance to fight what they consider the real enemy: public indifference to free trade.

''We should consider this a struggle or war against our own governments,'' said Maude Barlow,
cochairwoman of the Council of Canadians, a 100,000-member nationalist group that fears free trade is making Canada an economic and cultural colony of the United States. ''This is turning into a truly global fight against globalization.''

The last time Quebec City fell under serious siege, in 1759, British General James Wolfe scored a victory after his troops sneaked up on the French by scaling the cliffs rising from the St. Lawrence.

The Mounties have no intention of letting history repeat itself.'We're ready on every front,'' said spokesman Normand Houle. ''Even if 2,000 people try to scale those cliffs, we'll be there waiting.''

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