Montréal, 17 février 2001  /  No 77
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          Very shortly, in just a few weeks in fact, we shall see meeting together in Quebec City, the 34 democratically elected heads of state and government from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Whether that long-lived democrat from Cuba will be present also is, at the time of writing, obscure. This latest meeting concludes a series of six major hemispheric events hosted by Canada over the last couple of years.
          These leaders are supposed to address common hemispheric challenges, including economic integration, improved access to education, alleviation of poverty, enhanced respect for human rights and democratic development. Canada was chosen to host this Summit at the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile. The occasion will doubtless offer, once again, opportunities for these politicians to strut around while polishing their images and enjoying a few more minutes of fame in the warming sun of Quebec. 
Looking for approvals 
          One of the reasons for this meeting, according to reports emanating from the Chrétien pilgrimage to George W., a couple of weeks ago, is to obtain « fast track » approval from the US Congress. Fast track is the permission for U.S. presidents to negotiate trade agreements without having them amended later by Congress. This is something that all US presidents prefer to have so that they can avoid arduous negotiations with their friends in Congress. In practice, most countries like it too since they believe there is no point in arriving at intricate multilateral agreements that can be unilaterally altered by a U.S. Congress which, upon reflection, finds that it doesn't like all or part of the agreement. 
          This latest exercise in self-congratulation will likely be accompanied by protests from groups who hold the view that these meetings do little or nothing for the poor and economically disadvantaged among us, an opposing view to which they are entitled even though they may well be mistaken. The latter view, according to a recent poll, is held by about 43% of the people surveyed who thought that the NAFTA agreement had done more harm than good. Such dissidents point to the increased marginalization of the poor in developing countries and allege an increase of 10 million poor people, women and indigenous groups, in Mexico between 1993 and 1997 following the signing of the NAFTA agreement. They point also to unrest in places like Ecuador and Colombia where trade liberalization was accompanied by general strikes. 
          At the White House meeting, Mr. Chrétien said that the Quebec summit would not focus exclusively on economic matters but also on « strengthening democracy and fostering social inclusion. » A view echoed later by Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew when he told students at Laval University that « Canada has a duty to put a human face on globalization ... to ensure that the winners are not always the rich. » 
          Making the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) appear to be a form of foreign aid, along with this attempt at openness to « social clauses, » is perhaps designed to cause the more moderate unions and environmentalists to re-examine their strategies. It is obviously part of a policy of containment, a way to oppose those protest groups labelled by Mr. Pettigrew as « reasonable » and « credible » against the ones he dismissed as « irresponsible, more radical » and « vehement. » 
Radically different strategy 
          With all the mass demonstrations being planned for Quebec City and support for free trade declining, there would seem to be an opening to call for a radically different trade strategy. One that doesn't begin by empowering politicians with « fast track » permissions but demands that the process be slowed down, and made more open and transparent. The Canadian government is said to have consulted with a wide variety of groups about the subject of the FTAA earlier this year. However, these civil society groups claim that the government has not responded to their repeated requests to be included, as are business groups, in the negotiation of the new trade agreements. This is perhaps not too surprising in view of some of our government's activities on the trade front. Imagine what might have happened if the miracle of « mad cow disease » had not raised its prion saturated head fortuitously in the middle of the debate about jet airplane subsidies. 
     « According to some commentators, the Quebec meeting is likely to be a violent and disruptive affair with the level of demonstration being more sophisticated than even that displayed at Seattle in 1999. » 
          According to some commentators, the Quebec meeting is likely to be a violent and disruptive affair with the level of demonstration being more sophisticated than even that displayed at Seattle in 1999. There are many groups already working in the background bringing together a wide range of interests and agendas, protests which will again incorporate both people and technology. While the people demonstrate in the streets, the technology employed will likely involve cyberattacks against business and other institutions.  
          A precedent exists when, in June 1999, protests known as « J18 » were organized to coincide with the G8 Economic Summit in Germany. A march of two thousand people in the City of London turned into a riot in which 42 people were injured and damage was estimated at a couple of million dollars. This protest was not confined to Europe because other cities in North America and Europe were involved, and in many cases their financial districts were targeted. 
          The more militant protesters belong to extremist elements associated with causes such as environmentalism, animal-rights, anti-abortion activists and the like. The most notorious dissidents may be found among the anarchists and members of the Third Position, a largely European phenomenon but now thought to be spreading rapidly through the USA. This group is said to be an odd mixture of extreme Left and Right wing political motivations; motivations which include the determined use of violent means of protest.  
          Within these coalitions are groups such as the Black Bloc, the Anarchist News Service, the Black Army Faction, and the Anarchist Action Collective. The Black Bloc is a loosely organized grouping of anarchist affinity groups and individuals, estimated in North America to number just a few hundred, who come together to participate in protests and demonstrations. Some individuals believed to be responsible for much of the violence in Seattle were identified as members of the Black Bloc. 
« Direct action » demonstrations 
          The old-style demos with their waving banners, long winded speakers, and controlled marches in specific locations are long gone. Reminiscent of the Out of Vietnam and Ban the Bomb protests of thirty or forty years ago, today's demonstrators have reinvented the theme of « direct action » and employ a variety of novel methods to give a whole new appearance to the protests. The development and implementation of these new tactics are a direct result of the impact of new technology and the ability of organizers to use it to their advantage.  
          The protest movement has been affected profoundly by the Internet, not least by enabling protest organizers to make their arrangements unobserved by those government services charged with trying to monitor or stop them. Communicating by e-mail, and using encryption techniques like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), demonstrations and protests can be organized, worldwide if necessary, and schedules, assignments of responsibility, logistics and such can be organized and managed quite easily. No doubt the boys at the Echelon sites will be doing a lot of overtime these days. 
          Demonstrations in widely differing parts of the world can be coordinated to take place « spontaneously. » The need for a leader or central command is no longer a necessity, and recruitment has been simplified and can be done with minimal resources. The absence of a central commander and a reduction in infighting between groups is a direct outcome of a UK-based initiative which originated in the middle of the last decade. This phenomenon, known as « Reclaim the Streets, » had its origins in street parties or « raves » and is somewhat akin to the « cells » used by Communist organizers in times past. The parallel with the Internet is even more interesting when one considers that, just as the Internet was designed to withstand interruption by a cataclysmic event, so too does the removal of a « head » leave the anarchist group unaffected. However, the very radical elements and extremists can and do take advantage of this absence of central control and indulge in acts of violence, which was not necessarily the original and stated intention of protestors. 
          These demonstrations, just like those organized by Communists in the past, take place only after extensive training and educational courses have been held for the participants; there is very little spontaneity involved. There are a couple of known training courses available, such as those of The Ruckus Society and Co-motion Action, which make a charge but let participants pay as much as they can afford. These courses provide a source of funding for the protestors and of course unions and similar organizations give monies to groups which appear to promote their interests. Demonstrators are being taught also to employ simple household chemicals to soak rags to protect against tear gas and pepper sprays. Older techniques, such as employing ball bearings to disrupt the activities of mounted police, date back to the anti-nuclear demos of the 1960s. Combinations of chicken wire, PVC pipe, and linked arms can create street barricades that are difficult to breach. 
          The objective of past protests has been usually to prevent the conference participants from attending their meetings and, at a minimum, paralyze the host city, wreak some economic damage and make life generally difficult for the authorities. The use of cellphones enables protest groups to be organized easily and makes mobilization and direction of their resources much simpler. This newfound mobility makes it harder for the police to take adequate counter measures in advance. This they can do only by infiltrating the groups or monitoring the communications in an attempt to anticipate their intentions. 
Not to fear... 
          Already underway is a massive security operation that will affect the daily lives of many of the unfortunate residents of Quebec City and is unlikely to be met with the plaudits of the touring multitudes. It may have consequences for many others nowhere near the scene. No doubt Canada's fearless leader having secured his image as a strongman at the APEC summit a couple of years ago will have ordered large stocks of capsicum products along with other hardware beloved of police states throughout the world. Other toys such as water cannons, electric stun guns, clubs, rubber bullets, teargas grenades, concussion grenades, steel-tipped boots, armoured vehicles and the like are quite likely to make an appearance. 
          However, if the security preparations are too restrictive and repression of the demonstrators too enthusiastic then they could well create a backlash and provoke more violence than may have otherwise been the case. Canada's image as a peaceful country will be damaged if its security people prove to be too repressive when dealing with peaceful demonstrators. Perhaps one may hope that the government will change its views and engage in a more productive dialogue with those who peacefully oppose many of their free trade initiatives. If the attitude of some of our governments isn't modified then we may look forward to a future filled with escalating violent demonstrations. 
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