ottawa -- the teach-in on parlia-ment Hill last weekend and civil disobedience action at the Foreign Affairs department on Monday are a test -- of the organizers, the government and all those who think political points can be made more forcefully without a Molotov cocktail.
It's a memorable event, not only because it's April Fool's Day and a fabulously surreal setting for radicals to talk shop and plot against the latest free trade deal. There's also a swelling of political energy that can only be summoned by those who know they are winning.
And, in the media fight for the sympathy of Canadians in bars and living rooms across the country, there are signs that the professional spinners in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade are being outwitted at every step by puppeteers and pamphleteers.
They begin their Sunday proceedings in earnest tones under the gaze of the Greek figures carved into the ornate ceiling. This is where committees of MPs usually meet. But today, a panel of experts and activists run through the perils for Canada buried in the Free Tree Area of the Americas for the 250 who have filled this room -- many more wanted to come, but the room's symbolism, not its seating capacity, was the priority of organizers.
Now that free trade with the United States has grown to include Mexico, it would be easy to give in to the inevitability of larger and larger pacts. As one woman in the audience frets, "I have a sinking feeling that this thing is going to pass."
But the panel disagrees. According to Marc Lee, author of an exhaustively researched but eminently readable paper just released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian government's foreign policy fortunes have sunk in the last year.
Twelve months ago, Liberal lefty Lloyd Axworthy was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his flunkies were gearing up for that meeting in Windsor of the Organization of American States. Back then, the hemisphere was the centre of Canada's foreign policy attention. Pink Lloyd was going to export Canadian democratic values to Central and South America, at the same time helping Canuck companies flog their finished goods in untapped markets.
But Axworthy has departed the government, taking his progressive gloss with him, and the Canada-friendly Clinton crowd have been replaced by a Republican administration who are blunt about putting their short-term interests ahead of everything else.
To make matters worse, Canada has played its own cards badly, says Lee, blowing its image as an honest broker by getting into a hissy fit with Brazil over who gives more subsidies to its aircraft manufacturers.
"This is not a done deal -- I think we're going to win," Lee tells the crowd.
Two and a half hours of the ins and outs of hemispheric affairs keeps this audience on the edge of their chairs. But the TV cameras don't show up until after lunch (sandwiches in an adjoining committee room dominated by a majestic painting of the Fathers of Confederation).
The media draw of the day is George Lakey, an internationally recognized authority on non-violent civil disobedience. Lakey and his team of trainers begin with testimonials from previous civil disobedience actions in El Salvador, Canada and the United States. He asks the members of the audience to turn to the people next to them and discuss the lessons to be learned. I and two U of Ottawa students next to me remark on the symbolic power of contrast between the people and the powerful -- regardless of whether they are campesinos and soldiers in El Salvador or citizens and a secretive government in Canada. Lesson two: build allies in mainstream groups and don't allow yourself to be marginalized. Make sure the unions and church groups turn up at your demo.
Lakey follows his expositions/discussions with a role-playing session. Participants take turns being protestors, cops and innocent cafeteria workers just trying to get through a blockade and into work. Alexa McDonough, relegated to a seat in the fourth row while her radical nemesis Svend Robinson opens the meeting, gets her picture taken by playing a baton-wielding cop.
For good measure, an agent provocateur is sent in who urges the crowd not to take this shit and to fight back. Instinctively, some of the others try to calm him down, "to take away some of his energy," as one participant says.
"The media attention would have concentrated on him," Lakey observes.
Afterwards, participants remark on what they were feeling at various stages of the practice, and one participant notes, "It was amazing how much the camera changed the dynamic of the group. You just wanted to drop what you were doing."
Proceedings in Parliament end at 4 pm, but then it's on to a Unitarian church for more prep and training. Affinity groups identify themselves and the number of people in each group who are prepared to go over the barricades Monday and be arrested.
Every theatre piece has a script, and so does this one. As the sun goes down on the Ottawa River outside the corner windows, we leaf through the 16-page action kit. As well as the names, e-mail addresses and phone and fax numbers of Canada's negotiating group and schedules and info on the role of affinity groups, there are instructions for the special teams who are to carry out the "citizen search operation" to retrieve the FTAA negotiating text from inside the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
"As we approach the police," it advises, "each person will stop and read the citizen search warrant. You may want to practise reading it in a clear, loud and dignified tone of voice -- you'll be on camera!"
And so it comes to pass on Monday morning as two by two, "We ask that you, police officers, perform your duty and assist us in retrieving texts that should rightfully be accessible to us."
A phalanx of Ottawa police and RCMP officers, their every twitch being captured by the TV cameras, look more uncomfortable than the demonstrators, who finish reading, climb over one barricade and then another into the waiting arms of the police, who drag their limp bodies inside the building.
As the number of arrestees grows -- 85 will give themselves up to the cops before the day is done -- life goes on in the most relaxed way on the perimeter of the demo site. Pita sandwiches are served, and for dessert pieces of a chocolate cake baked in the shape of the DFAIT building, while peppy techno comes out of speakers run by a gas-powered generator.
The day ends with the release without charges of all but three of the arrestees -- three who refused to give their names.
RCMP spokesperson Louise Lefrance says police had talked to organizers beforehand and so knew what to expect.
"(The protestors) had long discussions (with the police at the barricades) and then they decided to (try to cross the police line) and be arrested. It was a theatrical event more than anything, and it was done for the purpose of getting media attention."
In a press release after the demo, the RCMP "thanked the organizers who were willing to work with us to hold a peaceful, safe event."
Philippe Duhamel of the Montreal group SalAMI, which organized the Ottawa demo, says in an interview later that he's not sure he wants to be congratulated by the police.
He says he had worried that there might be difficulties from people coming from outside Montreal with whom he had not worked.
But, he says, "if your action is well organized and self-disciplined, then you can keep control of what goes on."
And so it ends, two weeks before the largest and most publicized international gathering, with even old media hands wondering if the government is up to the media challenge from the protestors.
The federal government boasts that this will be the most media-friendly summit of its kind ever. Associate media director Eric Pelletier says, for example, that the opening ceremony will be televised, as will a Saturday afternoon (April 21) meeting between two Canadian government ministers and about 45 representatives of civil society groups. "It's quite unprecedented," says Pelletier -- and perfectly timed to suck media attention away from the huge demonstration planned for the same day.
But Patrick Gossage, who used to be press secretary to Pierre Trudeau, says summit organizers are going to need some pretty good material -- something more than men in suits talking in vague generalities -- to compete with what will be going on outside the 10-foot barricade.
"It's going to be the battle of the cameras," he says.
Round one to the citizens.
When he last talked to NOW two months ago, globalization didn't make Howard Hampton's roster of things to be worried about. But the Ontario NDP leader and his nine-member caucus are off to Quebec City in two weeks with the federal party to soak up some activist sunshine in what is expected to be a mammoth demo Saturday (April 21).There hasn't been any change in emphasis, he tells us this week. "This is a unique occasion -- how often do you have the gurus of the global corporate agenda come to your country?" Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Youth and UofT NDP host a "globalization activist fair" at the Hangar (100 St. George) from 10 am to 4 pm this Saturday (April 7). Participants include many anti-globalization groups, including some who muse whether it's worth the breath to give the party mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
by GLENN WHEELER
Enacting a law-enforcement strategy that's under increasing attack from civil libertarians, police erected barricades to prevent demonstrators from communicating their message to western hemisphere finance ministers meeting Tuesday. A dual blockade at Bloor and Avenue Road and more than 100 visible police officers kept 200 protestors from reaching the Four Seasons Hotel, blunting the power of their protest.Despite the "Capitalism sucks!" banner-waving and the chalked message "Police bastard this is your worst moment" on Bloor, demonstrators kept their cool at the frustrating turn of events. No one threatened to cross the barricade -- except one young man who offered a flower to one of the riot officers. NDP leader Howard Hampton, who was at the demo, said later that the police response was "over the top. Protestors were unable to get to the ministers to express their message" -- a sentiment contested by sergeant Robb Knapper, who insisted, "Demonstrators were afforded their right to demonstrate." In another development, civil liberties lawyer Clayton Ruby and anti-globalization scribe Naomi Klein have issued a public letter calling for police calm at the Quebec summit. "Democracy does not only take place in parliaments, voting booths and official summits," the letter says. "It takes place in public parks and streets. It also includes at times acts of civil disobedience. When the streets are blocked off and meeting halls are out of reach to citizens... democracy itself is marginalized."
by GREG KONSTANTINID