CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

April 12, 2001 Protesters gear up for intimidating security at FTAA summit





Some Concordia students protest

Some students at Concordia protested the $15 exam deferral fee required to attend the FTAA Summit.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj


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.

Corporate interference
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 $20 million.

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. “It’s 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 standby—point 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.

“It’s too bad, because the number one issue should be the FTAA, but instead, it’s the security measures the government is taking, because people can’t get close enough to actually protest the issues.”

Second People’s Summit
Hundreds of activists are expected to gather in Quebec a few days before the FTAA talks begin for The Second People’s 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 People’s 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 People’s 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 FTAA—unlike 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.

“It’s 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.