quebec city -- for monique trem-blay, it will be a trying three days. Friends won't be able to visit her, nor will she be able to shop for food. And if she wants to get to her job, she'll have to obtain a security pass from police just to leave and re-enter her neighbourhood.Tremblay lives in St.-Jean-Baptiste, one of two neighbourhoods slated to be enclosed within a 4.5-kilometre-long security perimeter when 34 heads of state assemble in Quebec City April 20 to 22. Along with thousands of her fellow residents, she's not happy about it.
Of course, what's happening in St.-Jean-Baptiste isn't entirely unprecedented. After an estimated 50,000 demonstrators overwhelmed Seattle police and successfully halted a World Trade Organization meeting in November 1999, organizers of controversial high-profile meetings have shored up security and clamped down on protestors.
At a gathering of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Windsor last June, for instance, police sealed off a six-block-wide chunk of the city's downtown with 10-foot-high barriers of cement and chain-link fence.
But while Windsor's security zone only affected businesses, in Quebec City, for the first time, residents, too, will be trapped -- nearly 7,500 of them. At five square kilometres, the security zone will enclose 2,000 homes, 400 businesses, the eight summit meeting sites, and such places as the provincial legislature, the historic Plains of Abraham and Quebec's citadel.
None of this will make life easy for the residents of St.-Jean-Baptiste and nearby Old Quebec. Three schools have had to cancel classes on Friday, April 20. Hotels are banned from making reservations for guests. And there's the matter of entry passes.
"We heard about them in the newspaper in November," recalls Tremblay, who asked that her real last name not be published. "It said that the people who were to be included in the perimeter were to get a letter in January."
She got her letter this week, sent jointly from the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and Quebec City's police. "The letter says, "We invite you to obtain an entry pass.' It doesn't say what happens if I don't," Tremblay says. But she thinks she knows: "I won't be able to get home if I don't have the entry pass. That's what I understood."
According to the letter, only residents of the enclosed neighbourhoods can get the passes, leaving tourists, shoppers, friends and family in the lurch.
"It won't be possible for anybody to invite friends for a beer in Old Quebec," Tremblay laments.
As a result, she and fellow residents are organizing a campaign against the security zone. A neighbourhood association called the Comité Populaire St.-Jean-Baptiste is pitching in as well.
"We want to go door-to-door, and we're going to picket," Tremblay says.
"We're beginning an information campaign to educate people about the security perimeter and their rights and liberties," says Nicolas Legault, who works with the Comité Populaire. "We're holding a huge public assembly in the middle of the neighbourhood on March 5, and a demonstration on March 17."
The campaign took its first major step on January 16, when 30 people denounced the zone at a Quebec City council meeting. "We're not in favour of creating a war zone," one resident told council members.
"I won't even be able to buy a pint of milk," another complained.
Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier replied that the decision to impose a security perimeter was made by the federal government and the RCMP, so his government was powerless to do anything about it.
It's a decision the RCMP is quick to defend. Spokesperson Constable Julie Brongel says a "buffer zone" is needed to ensure the safety of visiting dignitaries.
"Some groups have been quite vocal about their wishes to disrupt the summit," Brongel says. But when asked to elaborate, she declines, alluding to "security concerns."
Other opponents of the zone will be mounting a legal challenge, and they have a precedent -- even though it's American -- on their side. Last July, U.S. federal judge Gary Feess decreed that a 186-acre security area planned for August's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles "substantially disregarded" the free speech rights of would-be demonstrators. When the convenience of conference organizers runs against the right to free speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, Feess ruled, "the First Amendment always wins."
Los Angeles police were forced to drastically reduce the size of the zone, permitting demonstrators to convene immediately outside the convention.
The challenge to Quebec's zone will be based on the right to free speech contained in the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, says Montreal civil rights lawyer Julius Grey. "We're certainly going to fight this thing," he says.
He won't speak for every civilian, though. The zone has its supporters among small business operators like Rénald Veilleux, the manager of Au Petit Coin Breton, a crêperie in the Old City.
Veilleux says the security zone "won't bother me at all," because even though local residents and tourists won't be able to frequent his restaurant, he anticipates the 8,000 delegates and journalists on the inside will.
Same line at the Auberge du Trésor, an Old City hotel that was prohibited from booking rooms for the three summit days. Instead, a buoyant employee reveals, the RCMP has reserved all the rooms.
Legault, of the Comité Populaire, still thinks the majority of residents are unhappy about the barrier.
"Most people I talk to are very angry about this," he says.
"People around the perimeter think they're being taken hostage. They didn't decide to host these heads of state."
But barring a surprise in court, come April 20 they'll have little choice.