FTAA Protesters vs. Canadian Border Patrol

As the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Quebec City draws near, Canadian officials have begun to tightly monitor the Canadian border in the hopes of heading off the thousands of U.S. activists expected to converge on the city from April 16th-22nd. Judging by reports coming out of Quebec City, this might be a difficult task: organizers with the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA) in Quebec — the group organizing housing for protesters — now expects upwards of 25,000 protesters to make the trip to Quebec’s picturesque capital city, over one third of them from the U.S.

As the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Quebec City draws near, Canadian officials have begun to tightly monitor the Canadian border in the hopes of heading off the thousands of U.S. activists expected to converge on the city from April 16th-22nd. Judging by reports coming out of Quebec City, this might be a difficult task: organizers with the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee (CASA) in Quebec — the group organizing housing for protesters — now expects upwards of 25,000 protesters to make the trip to Quebec’s picturesque capital city, over one third of them from the U.S.

Accordingly, in what appears to be part of a concerted effort to keep leading activists out of Canada, immigration officials have already begun to crack down on protesters attempting to cross the border. In response, numerous groups across the continent are planning border actions to protest not only the Summit and the FTAA, but also the potential closing of borders between Canada and the U.S.

Meanwhile, in solidarity with the hundreds of groups all over the Americas protesting the FTAA, the Mohawks of Akwesasne (adjacent to Cornwall, Ontario) have pledged to open the Three Nations Bridge Crossing between New York State and Ontario on April 19th, to allow safe passage into Canada for U.S. activists making their way to Quebec.

The Crackdown Begins

The Canadian government has wasted no time in implementing their new border policy in preparation for the Summit. Several U.S. citizens have already been barred from Canada, reminiscent of last June’s Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Windsor, when over 500 U.S. citizens were turned away at the Detroit/Windsor border during the protests.

Only two weeks after a tour of Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City in which he addressed issues of racism, police brutality and the FTAA, prominent U.S. activist Lorenzo Komboa Ervin was barred from entering Canada to address crowds at the University of Calgary and Lethbridge in Alberta. Ervin was told he wouldn’t be allowed to enter Canada until he could prove he wasn’t a “clear and present danger” to state security — even though he has been a frequent visitor to Canada in the past.

Similarly, several U.S. activists were denied entry into Canada during both CASA spokescouncil/strategy meetings in Quebec City. On the first occasion, ten U.S. activists and journalists from NYC (representing the NYC Direct Action Network, the Ya Basta! Collective and IndyMedia) were detained at the border while their van was searched and their documents either confiscated or photocopied by border guards. Afterwards, they were turned away — even though none of them had a criminal record — but not before border guards explained that, “it was their duty to protect the Canadian economy.” At the most recent strategy meeting at the end of March, activists from Connecticut were detained for seven hours on the Vermont/Quebec border, before border officials reluctantly let them through.

Likewise, American activist George Lakey — who was to give a keynote speech on civil disobedience at a recent legal demonstration on Parliament Hill and later attend a rally outside the Department of Foreign Affairs — was detained for several hours at the Ottawa airport. According to Kerry Pither of the Solidarity Network, one of the event organizers: “The first thing they asked him was if he was protesting in Monday’s action.”

The measures are not only limited to U.S. citizens — Canadian immigration officials have put an all-points bulletin out to stop French farmer José Bové from attending the Summit. Bové, who recently spoke at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, has been invited to address the Second People’s Summit by the Council of Canadians — a 100,000 member-strong NGO. Recently, upon questioning by reporters, immigration spokesman Richard St-Louis acknowledged the special bulletin was unusual and tied to Bové’s intention of attending the Summit. Upon hearing of Canadian immigration’s security measures, Maude Barlow, the Council’s chairwoman and a widely-acclaimed author on trade issues, said: “It’s just another example of how our civil liberties are being suspended. He speaks for millions of people, for farmers and the landless.”

Border Solidarity

In response to the Canadian government’s plans to block U.S. citizens from entering the country, numerous groups in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada are planning large-scale protests, demonstrations and celebrations at several international border crossings.

Activists, labor organizers and students from Tijuana, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Juarez/El Paso, Tucson, and other centers are currently organizing a bi-national three-day event in Tijuana-San Diego. The Stop the FTAA Coalition is planning teach-ins, protest, carnivals and a conference featuring speakers from both sides of the border. Also, they are promoting a multinational day of protest at the border on April 21st in support of the mobilization in Québec City.

Further north, at Blaine, WA, the Peace Arch Coalition — comprised of organizers from Vancouver, Portland, Victoria, Seattle and other Northwestern cities — is planning a cross-border No Way FTAA action day on April 21st. The event will feature live performances from major musical entertainers, theatre, special speakers and a day-long teach-in on the effects of free trade. Organizers expect thousands to attend the one-day celebration.

Likewise, groups in New York, Michigan, Maine and Southern Ontario are planning similar cross-border actions. The New York City Ya Basta! Collective is planning a convergence on the U.S.- Canadian border at Champlain, NY. They intend to distribute world passports, consistent with corporate globalization’s “free borders” rhetoric.

Organizers in Buffalo/Southern Ontario are planning three days of large-scale, highly visible actions to protest the FTAA and the Summit at the foot of the Peace Bridge connecting Ontario and New York State, while activists in Windsor and Detroit have similar plans for their border crossing. Richard Stander, a member of the Maine Global Action network, expects hundreds of activists from the Eastern Seaboard to converge in Jackson, Maine. Those who can’t get across the border will assemble at a local snowmobile club to plan activities.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Mobilization for Global Justice (VMGJ) — a coalition of nearly 20 progressive and radical groups — plans to coordinate crucial support on the Vermont side of the border for activists trying to cross into Canada at the Quebec/Vermont border. They are currently setting up a convergence center in Burlington (one hour away from the nearest crossing to Quebec City), creating an Independent Media Center to cover events and planning support services for border crossings and protests. The VMGJ expects thousands of U.S. activists from the Eastern Seaboard to converge on the city and are preparing for the eventual possibility of U.S. citizens being denied entry into Canada.

Safe Passage to Canada

In preparation for the Canadian government crackdown on U.S. citizens, activists in the Mohawk community of Akwesasne recently announced they will be opening the Three Nations Bridge Crossing (aka Seaway International Bridge) to U.S. protesters trying to make their way to Quebec City. Akwesasne, home to nearly 10,000, straddles the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and New York State. The international bridge runs directly through their community and lies entirely within Mohawk territory.

On April 19th, a group of Akwesasne Mohawks will be joined by activists from several other Mohawk communities, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), the People’s Community Union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Cornwall Labor Council the NYC, Philadelphia and Guelph Direct Action Networks and others, in an effort to allow safe passage to protesters entering Canada.

Shawn Brant, himself a Mohawk and an organizer with OCAP, explains: “Our objective is to carry out an action that truly represents the honour and integrity of the Mohawk people. We want to meet within the bridge to share our experiences and to continue after that. We’re not necessarily content with simply meeting a police line and just turning around and going home. We will take every measure that is seen as reasonable.”

When one considers the Canadian government’s plans for the Summit — over 6,000 officers, the largest security operation in Canadian history — it is apparent that the Akwesasne initiative is potentially risky. However, Brant asserts that: “It is unfortunate that we are being placed in a position where peace in society cannot be given due regard. We have to go to extremes to capture the attention of the people.”

The groups converging in Champlain, NY., Burlington, VT., Jackson, Me. promise to make their way to Akwesasne on the 19th if they are refused entry at their respective border crossings. They will join the other groups from Toronto, Peterborough, Cornwall, Guelph, Kingston and the U.S. that plan on successfully creating a safe passage into Canada. Brad Waugh, a member of the People’s Community Union, a Kingston-based anti-poverty organization, said he hopes that so many people show up on both sides of the border that Canadian officers have no choice but to let them through. However, he says: “If they [police] are going to bring their plastic bullets and their tear gas and the billy clubs, I don’t think they are going to find a group of people who are prepared to run away from that level of police brutality.”

Author: Darryl Leroux

News Service: Alternet

URL: http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=10690