With Seattle in Mind, Quebec Puts Up a Wall
(Taking No Chances on Summit Security)
QUEBEC Separation has always been a raison d'être of this
beguiling bit of France, the only walled city in all of North
America, perched on a towering promontory and defined by the
limits of geography, language and politics.
The French built forts to keep out the British, then the British
erected their own walls here to keep out the upstart Americans.
More recently, separatists have made Quebec their ideological
bastion, at times banning even the sight of a Canadian flag as they
battled to win independence.
Now Quebec is putting up a new wall, one to separate Canadians
from President George W. Bush and the 33 other national leaders
who will attend the Summit of the Americas on April 20-22. At
the top of their agenda is the formation of a hemispheric free trade
area extending from the high Arctic to Tierra del Fuego.
Thousands of police officers are coming to back up what is being
called Quebec's "wall of shame," and many Canadians are asking
whether such separation is necessary, or is anti-democratic
overkill, infringing not only on the rights of protesters but on the
character of a country known for tolerance and civility.
"It's not setting the kind of example that I think Canadians would
like to set for the world," said A. Alan Borovoy, general counsel
of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.
With anti-globalization graffiti already appearing on Quebec walls
in Franglais ("Le Pouvoir au Peuple, pas aux Multinationals!"),
crews are working 12-hour days to erect almost 5 kilometers (3
miles) of chain-link fence and concrete highway abutments. The
3-meter-high (10-foot-high) fence will constitute a formidable
barrier almost six miles long around the conference center where
the meeting will take place. In some stretches, the cliff on which
Quebec sits serves as part of the barricade. In others, the new
wall rises just feet from the stone fortifications built by British
engineers two centuries ago.
The police contend that the layout of Quebec, with its sloping hills
and narrow streets, makes a barrier necessary to separate
protesters from the delegates and ensure the participants' safe
passage into and out of the meeting site.
But with the fence in place, most protesters will be kept downhill
from the buildings where the officials are to meet and too far away
to reach the ears and eyes of the dignitaries they hope to convince
of the inequities of free trade.
The mayor of Quebec, Jean-Paul L'Allier, is learning what it feels
like to be caught on the dividing line between opposing forces. He
said that when Quebec was approached several years ago to hold
the summit meeting he was overjoyed. Quebec has long been a
champion of free trade, he said, going back to its founding in 1608
by Samuel de Champlain, a shrewd explorer who saw in North
America the chance to extend France's commercial opportunities.
"If Champlain were back here now, he would probably be in favor
of globalization," Mr. L'Allier said.
He began thinking differently about the summit meeting in late
1999 when protesters disrupted the meeting of the World Trade
Organization in Seattle. Televised images of violent clashes with
the police suddenly made the mayor realize that he would have to
plan fortifications, not festivities. For a time he wanted the meeting
"Now we're doing our very best to take the lessons of Seattle, not
only insofar as having a stronger police force but in having stronger
ways of making people feel capable of utilizing their right of free
speech," Mr. L'Allier said. Quebec is providing space in the lower
town, more than a mile from the meeting site, for protesters to hold
an alternative people's summit meeting.
Mr. L'Allier, who for years refused to fly the Canadian flag at City
Hall because of disputes with the federal government, has worked
to beautify old Quebec in the 12 years he has been mayor. He
concedes that the new fence makes an ugly statement in a city of
such history and charm that it has been declared a UN world
heritage site. But he believes it is necessary.
"I was more nervous at the beginning, but now I realize that the
police forces have no mandate to clash with the crowd," he said.
"They will make sure private properties are protected, and they
have a mandate to be cool, like sometimes they are in France."
More than 3,000 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
will be on duty for the summit meeting, along with 2,000 from the
Quebec provincial police and hundreds more from the local police
departments of Quebec City and the nearby town of Sainte-Foy,
where the airport is located. Constable Julie Brongel, a
spokeswoman, said that Mounties at the meeting would not use
pepper spray for crowd control but will have trained dogs.
Police officials have emptied a nearby jail to hold unruly
demonstrators. In their zeal to prevent a repeat of Seattle they also
tried, unsuccessfully, to get Sainte-Foy to ban the use of scarves
that can be used as masks. Quebec has had a similar law on the
books since 1864. But "our instruction to the police force is not to
take care about that," the mayor said.
Mr. L'Allier thinks the police may outnumber protesters at the
summit meeting. But activists are predicting that 15,000 or more
will come. Crowds have already shown up at pre-summit
demonstrations in Ottawa and Toronto, and Canadian immigration
officials have stopped protesters at the border.
For the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the delicate
questions of who gets in and who stays out are not restricted to
the border or the streets. He has been criticized for excluding
Cuba, as well as Quebec separatists.
Quebec has erected blue banners on the road from the airport
welcoming delegates to "la capitale nationale." Officials
expected to be invited to welcome the meeting's dignitaries and
extol Quebec's virtues, but Mr. Chretien, a staunch anti-separatist,
has refused to give them a platform.
In the end Quebec and Canada are left to confront the conflict
between access and separation as they always have, with dogged
"In Canada we don't ban demonstrations," Mr. Borovoy, the civil
activist, said with resignation to match the mood created by the
impasse over summit security. "We just reroute them."