Outside the security and prosperity Partnership summit, the Sûreté du Québec earned a little unwanted attention for its own "three amigos," undercover officers sent to infiltrate a protest march.
What brought the matter to news desks was footage by the Council of Canadians showing the three, gussied up in some after-school special "anarchist" aesthetic, approaching a police line. One brandishes a large rock. Confronted by protestors, they shuffle around awkwardly before making a comical "assault" on the police line that results in their "arrest."
Pix of the men on the ground show their boots: identical to those worn by the officers arresting them. Smooth.
Of course, democracies aren't clean-cut things, and peacetime is an average, not an absolute. History suggests that what those in power admit falls a step short of what they commit. (And let's not forget that the RCMP started its own "violent anarchist cell" before the Quebec City FTAA protests.)
Far be it from me to praise Toronto cops (do we have any reason, after all, to think they haven't tried the same thing before?) but I've been to rowdy protests here defused by the tactic of bike cops standing in lines and shoving people. After the ouster of Julian Fantino as chief, some genius realized that if you point an Arwen tear gas launcher at class-war anarchists, they don't calm down. The RCMP and SQ, by contrast, may be interested in order, but not so much in calm.
And then, what isn't provocative about our purported representatives laying plans for the continent while ensconced behind such theatre of the absurd?
Or what isn't provocative about the glib, patronizing dismissals by the autocrats themselves, telling us, "Don't worry, all that's on the table is trade and security"? Harper, in one of his few media appearances, mocked fears, saying no one had to fear discussions about standards for labelling jelly beans. Jelly bean standards, no. But standards generally, yes.
This recent meeting is a continuation of what we've seen around the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region and Canada's shadowy (and stalled) CA4 agreement with Central American nations. It's a return to smaller, less theatrical summits and a shift to piecemeal adjustment of bureaucratic practices.
The idea is that less drama means smaller protests, which in turn means less attention. It worked, but only up to a point. A friend returning from the protests observed that while they were small, they were composed almost entirely of people with a good grasp of the issues who were unafraid of police posturing.
The neo-liberal project that birthed the WTO and has bathed cities in tear gas has been stalled by America's political crisis and the South's political courage, but we've every reason to believe it lives on in the SPP's attempts to make movement across borders easier for corporate wealth.
In bureaucratic society, standards have the power to give and take life. Mexican protestors at a similar summit in Cancn were killed over standards. Everything from the livelihoods of farmers to entire Latin American regimes has risen and fallen on the question of standards.
Yet Harper makes jokes about jelly beans, and the media focus on bumbling cops. That's the clearest provocation of all and we got it all on film.