Montréal, le 10 octobre 1998
Numéro 22
(page 6) 
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            Vos commentaires           
 by Ralph Maddocks
          Among my favourite books is Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and in it is a phrase which suddenly seems quite topical,  
« For he can thoroughly enjoy  
The pepper when he pleases. » 
          Our gourmet Prime Minister – he's the one that likes pepper on his plate – openly displayed his contempt towards those students abused by the RCMP in Vancouver at the APEC conference last November.
          It will be recalled, though perhaps not by our Prime Minister, that at the APEC conference a number of students, who were conducting themselves peacefully, were savagely attacked by RCMP officers wielding pepper spray (which you and I may not possess legally) while apparently mindless that the nation would soon be watching it all on the evening television newscasts. 
Nothing new for the APEC 
          Repression of protest at APEC meetings isn't anything new. Last year in the Philippines, 10 000 people were stopped by police blockades while attempting to march on the APEC Leaders' Summit. At that time, Canadian commentators were making remarks about the characters of regimes which ordered such tactics to suppress free speech. 
          APEC, or to give it its full title the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, is a grouping of 18 nations whose objective is to create, apparently whether the citizens of those countries like it or not, a « free trade » zone in the Asia pacific region. Whether true free trade will result or not remains to be seen. Its critics imply that at present it is simply an organization aiming to change the rules of trading to benefit corporate interests at the expense of the ordinary people. It is known that APEC operates through closed meetings of bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians. Certainly, the fact that it involves such well known democratic icons as former Indonesian President Suharto, with his involvement in East Timor, doesn't help its image. 
          The announcement that the APEC meeting was to be held in Vancouver came, it seems, as a surprise to many at the University of British Columbia. The decision to hold the meeting at the UBC Anthropology Museum was taken without the students, faculty or staff being consulted. The administration at UBC must be extraordinarily naive if they thought that this decision would go uncontested. They must have been completely unconscious if they thought that the intended presence of Suharto and his fellow democrat from China, Jiang Zemin, would not lead to demonstrations of some kind. 
          Those who thought that Canadians have a right to free speech, and an implied right to protest peacefully, must also have been rather surprised by some of the revelations coming out even before the hearings of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission Hearing into APEC are held. Documents revealing that Suharto was promised that he would « see » no sign of protest during his visit, documents indicating that the PM ordered the RCMP to arrest students camping out peacefully at the site days before the APEC meeting was held. Which they did. Suharto goons were given permission by the RCMP to carry weapons, which they then appear to have asked if they could use. In an interesting twist to the story, the RCMP now claim that they were protecting the students from harm. That foreign dignitaries should be protected few would contest. That the real purpose of this show, and vigorous employment, of force was to protect some of them from being embarrassed is appalling. 
          The RCMP used to be relatively free from political control but it was in the Mulroney era that this arm's length relationship changed markedly, and there is little reason to believe that it has reverted or even slowed down. We have since seen a number of incidents where the RCMP have not exactly covered themselves in glory. Gustafsen Lake and Ipperwash come to mind and the revelation in 1995 at the Gustafsen Lake trial where a « training » video showed an officer remarking that « smear campaigns are our specialty » bodes ill for us all. 
The morning after 
          Out of seventy protesters arrested at the APEC fiasco only one has been charged. His trial was postponed because the Crown failed to make full disclosure and because various motions were made on the protester's behalf alleging abuses of due process, deprivation of liberty and other violations. The charge against him is assault on a UBC Traffic Patrol Officer. He is alleged to have used a megaphone « too loudly », thus the assault charge. A very serious and threatening act towards the APEC leaders; especially since the protester was first arrested by three plainclothes officers who did not identify themselves, three weeks before anyone showed up for the APEC meeting!            
          A student group which has been following all of this suspects that many of the documents relating to the crackdown have been destroyed, many of them in the Prime Minister's Office, and many e-mails have been erased by the RCMP, although some of the latter have now been recovered by means of special recovery software. Claims were made also that the PMO has no documents in its possession and, in an act of brazen arrogance, an official in charge of the APEC planning said that he regularly destroyed all the documents in his possession. Even those documents which have been released appear to have been heavily vetted, even to the extent of blanking out references to portable toilets. 
          Anyone interested in reading more about the duplicitous hypocrisy of our politicians and their attitudes to the rights of ordinary people should search the web, where there are many sites dealing with this and other matters. 
          An interesting conjuncture occurred in Parliament when the affair managed to unite momentarily the opposition parties; the sight of the Reform and New Democratic parties talking in similar terms made one almost question one's own hearing. So far, calls for an independent judicial inquiry have been rejected by our Prime Minister with the offhand remark that the RCMP Public Complaints Commission (which of course cannot impose sanctions) has adequate authority to investigate fully. That our Prime Minister has said he would not testify is also troubling. If for no other reason, a judicial inquiry with subpoena powers would seem to be the only way to avoid what may come to be seen as a whitewashing exercise. Upon further reflection though, the Somalia judicial inquiry affair comes to mind and we all remember what happened to that one. 
          The PCC hearings began this week and a parallel class action suit has been launched against both our pepper loving Prime Minister, Capsicum Chrétien and his sycophantic Minister of Foreign Affairs, allegedly for preventing the exercise of the citizen's right to free speech. 
          « Curiouser and curiouser! » cried Alice. 
(*) capsicum: a genus of tropical plants or shrubs bearing pungent fruit called peppers. 
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