95, Issue 1
Thursday, May 24, 2001
Mixed views follow Summit
The last of 400 protesters who were arrested in Quebec City between April 20 and 22 have long been released and gone home.
The remains of 1700 canisters of tear gas fired throughout the historic weekend have long been cleaned off the city streets. The ten foot tall and four kilometre long steel fence, which many protesters deemed an affront to democracy, has long been removed. The leaders from 34 nations across North and South America have long returned to their political haunts.
A month has passed, yet many questions remain. In the post-mortem analysis of the Summit of the Americas, both protesters and politicians have been left licking their wounds and reflecting upon both their victories and defeats.
Jennifer Story, communications officer for the Council of Canadians, said it was unfortunate the mainstream media framed everything around the issue of the violent protests. "Despite the hype – our message was carried. Quebec City was a turning point for activism in Canada – our numbers are growing," she explained.
She said the FTAA could lead to the potential privatization of integral Canadian services such as education and cited the potential damage trade agreements can bring to the environmental, health and labour standards.
Common Frontiers, an umbrella group for numerous Canadian non-governmental organizations, organized a parallel Summit which ran from April 16 to 21. The People's Summit featured organizations attempting to develop a counter argument to the free-trade agenda being discussed within the Summit walls.
"One of the greatest successes of the Summit was bringing together progressive organizations from around the Americas," said Karine Rainville, executive assistant for Common Frontiers.
The People's Summit culminated with its participants taking part in the anti-FTAA march on April 21.
She said she regretted that more members of the march, whose route was designed to avoid the four kilometre long fence, did not join their protesting brethren along the wall.
Constable Julie Brongel, a media spokesperson for security at the Summit, said organizers were very happy with the tolerance officers showed on the front lines. "We were satisfied; we took a measured approach," she said.
Canadian security intelligence learned a great deal about the planning of any future large-scale security measures, in terms of deployment and organization, she explained.
"We were very content with the way the majority of protesters protested," she noted. "Only 2% took part in violent actions."
Brongel downplayed criticism the fence was breached by protesters on both April 20 and 21. "We never believed it would be protest secure. The wall came down, but there was no breach of the human security perimeter," she said.
Gil Warren, president of the London and District Labour Council, said the unofficial count of close to 50,000 protesters in attendance is what marks Quebec City as a success for the anti-globalization movement.
"This is a fundamental challenge to capitalism. It's not going to go away until the system has changed," he said.
New strategies have to be developed to take on the forces of neo-liberalism, he said. "We have an obligation to present a clearly viable economic alternative. We need to make local economies more self-sufficient and not based upon greed but co-operation."
Michael O'Shaughnessy, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Canadian government viewed the Summit as a resounding success, due the inclusion of a "democracy clause" which will make a democratic government the essential requirment for a country's participation in any future free trade area.
He praised the People's Summit for its own success and noted the FTAA, if completed, will become the largest free trade area in the world and help push the re-distribution of economic growth.
Ted Hewitt, Western's VP-research and an expert on free trade, said free trade can bring democracy, human promotion and prosperity to those nations involved.
"It's about governments trying to create jobs in order to be competitive," he explained. "We're talking about development here."
Erin George, Ontario Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the CFS was successful in putting post-secondary education into the trade debate.
"In the big picture, Quebec was twice the size of the  World Trade Organization protest in Seattle," she explained.
George said anti-globalization forces will now turn their attention to fighting the General Agreement on Trade and Service, which is set to be initiated by 2002, as well as continuing to fight the FTAA before its 2005 deadline.
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