by Jane Shulman
People throughout Quebec and across North America are planning activities
to protest the international meetings about the Free Trade of the Americas
Agreement in Quebec City next week. At Concordia, students affiliated
with several organizations are preparing to board buses for Quebec.
The FTAA is the farthest-reaching trade agreement ever, including more
countries and more changes to individual countries trade regulations
than any agreement before.
For many, the chief concern is that countries will surrender too much
control of their own economies to a handful of the most powerful leaders
in the world. They maintain that developing countries and poor people
everywhere will suffer, while those behind major multinational corporations
stand to benefit most.
Among other things, they claim that the agreement allows corporate interference
in individual national policies. Corporations can ask the World Trade
Organization to impose sanctions against groups or entire governments
for standing in the way of corporate profit.
One well-known case saw the Ethyl Corporation sue the Canadian government
a few years ago for banning a gasoline additive called MMT. A World Trade
Organization tribunal heard the case, and ordered Canada to pay Ethyl
At Concordia, the group FTAA Alert is working on campus and with FTAA
McGill to mobilize students to come up with a plan for protesting and
decide what issues to target.
Other Concordia students are working with affinity groups preparing for
events and specific forms of protest.
Nisha Sajnani, president of the Graduate Students Association, is
going to Quebec primarily to learn more about the FTAA. She is not protesting
any specific parts of the agreement, but there are many aspects that she
thinks people should know about.
Students should be worried, because this is a far-reaching trade
agreement that could threaten government-funded social programs and post-secondary
education. It opens up public institutions to privatization, she
said. Its up to each person to learn about the FTAA.
She noted that the level of security being taken against the protesters
a monster steel-and-concrete fence, 6,000 police officers on the streets,
4,500 soldiers on standbypoint to a government intent on keeping
vast amounts of information to itself.
It is ridiculous that the Canadian government has so much to hide
that they will have people arrested for protesting.
Adam Graham, another Concordia student who will be going to Quebec with
an affinity group, agrees that the security measures are extreme.
There are walls around walls around walls, with police lines of
RCMP and Surêté du Québec officers guarding them,
he said. They are mobilizing forces in ridiculous proportions against
people who are doing what is within their rights.
Graham explained that he will protest the breach of democratic process
that the security represents.
Its too bad, because the number one issue should be the FTAA,
but instead, its the security measures the government is taking,
because people cant get close enough to actually protest the issues.
Second Peoples Summit
Hundreds of activists are expected to gather in Quebec a few days before
the FTAA talks begin for The Second Peoples Summit of the Americas,
from April 17 to 21.
There will be workshops, seminars,
teach-ins and discussion groups about the areas that would be most affected
by the FTAA, including the effects of globalization on women, particularly
in developing countries, the environment, genetically modified food, poverty,
health care and education.
The Peoples Summit is coordinated by labour unions, environmental
and research groups and other grassroots organizations, and is partially
funded by the provincial and federal governments.
It is open to people who have been recommended by non-governmental organizations
and groups familiar to the various organizing bodies. Many people who
will not have access to the official Peoples Summit will hold workshops
on their own.
Among many of the protesters who will be at the site of this trade meeting,
there is an emphasis on teaching and learning about the issues within
the FTAAunlike meetings last year in Seattle and Washington, where
the goal for many was to halt the closed-door discussions. The formidable
security presence in Quebec makes this scene different from the others.
I think most people see the futility of trying to shut down the
talks, observed Graham. His sense is that a lot of people are going
there to learn and to show their concern over the absence of public consultation.
Its amazing to see how many people who are not otherwise politically
active will be getting on buses to go to Quebec, he said.
This is part of a series of articles about globalization and the views
of Concordia faculty and students.