After protesters accused the Prime Minister's Office of ordering police
to crack down, because it did
not want visiting dignitaries to be confronted by angry demonstrators, Chretien was forced to call an
inquiry into the allegations of abuse of power and incompetent police work. Dozens of students were
pepper-sprayed, arrested and strip-searched.
For more than two years retired B.C. judge Ted Hughes heard from all
sides and, finally, issued his
report yesterday, on Tuesday August 7.
From what I can glean, the report whitewashes the Prime Minister Office's involvement and puts the
blame on bad police work.
Mr. Hughes concluded that federal officials played an "improper" role
and said the RCMP did not
meet expected standards of professionalism. He blamed poor police planning for most of the mistakes.
Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward, who represented several protesters at
the inquiry, said
demonstrations at international summits have become a focal point for people who disagree with a
range of globalization issues. Ward says that these protesters aren't going away as they have stepped
up their presence in such meeting places as Seattle, Quebec City and Genoa, and police better get
used to it with better-laid plans.
Next year, the Group of Eight will meet in Kananaskis, about 60 kilometres west of Calgary.
"There must be a level of tolerance for dissenting views," Mr. Ward
said. "And there must be a forum
available for those who disagree with the objective of these summits and a means to allow peaceful protests."
The RCMP, on the other hand, say it is the protesters who are getting
out of hand. The Mounties say a
"hard-core" group of professional demonstrators has emerged in Canada in recent years.
Constable Danielle Efford said polls show Canadians are opposed to protesters
who break the law.
She cited rock-throwing at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last spring. Of course, this
doesn't explain why the RCMP cracked down so hard on protestors who didn't break the law.
Mr. Hughes's report says police acted inappropriately in several instances
and violated the
demonstrators' constitutional rights. He ended with a string of recommendations for police behaviour at
future summits. Among them, Mr. Hughes urges that protesters be given a "generous opportunity" to
see and be seen by participants in a public event.
Mr. Hughes addresses the actions of Staff Sergeant Hugh Stewart, who
became a symbol of the police
crackdown when he pepper-sprayed students blocking a road at UBC. The image of Staff Sgt.
Stewart wading into the crowd of young people with a canister of pepper spray became an enduring
image of the APEC issues and was replayed over and over on newscasts.
In his report, Mr. Hughes says Staff Sgt. Stewart made "some unfortunate
decisions" but adds that his
superiors put him in that position by giving him only six minutes to clear the road because the
motorcade of leaders was on its way.
I feel that Hughes doesn't go far enough in his criticism of the PMO
and Jean Chretien's involvement in
the whole mess. And it's quite apparent that the RCMP will still have a wide berth when it comes to
picking and choosing who the "hard-core" protestors are. Just who deserves to have their
constitutional rights ignored and trampled on?
In Quebec City this year, protestors like Rabbi Jaffar, a well-spoken
and unrepentant spokesperson
for the anti-globalization forces, were arrested and held in jail for the duration of the conference. To
silence them. They were not told of charges against them and were held despite anger from all quarters
of Canadian society. Even pro-free traders decried these "police state tactics".
The Hughes report does not address this. It may have slapped a few hands
and waggled a few fingers
at the RCMP and the PMO. Unfortunately, the report also makes it quite clear that when it comes to
dealing with protestors, Big Brother will decide whether or not to use the jackboot.
George Orwell might have found this rather ominous.