Reactions to the FTAA Summit
Former MP says democracy trampled on
A member of parliament and former industry minister who had helped set the stage for free trade with the United States, Sinclair Stevens expressed surprise at the words he found himself writing for the April 24 issue of the Globe and Mail.

He was shocked and stunned by what he and his wife saw and experienced in Quebec City, he said.

While he views free trade as "a model for democratic development in every corner of our hemisphere" and supported Canada's hosting of the FTAA meeting, he says our government was "dead wrong to behave in a manner that suggests we have forgotten what democracy is all about."

Having arrived in Quebec City Friday at about 5 p.m., Stevens and his wife went to see the "security" fence that had so raised the ire of Canadians, first near the Chateau Frontenac. They were warned about the gas "farther on" by another visitor. As they continued around the perimeter of the fence, they saw a contingent of riot-geared police, lined up three deep behind a closed gate. Stevens described them as "an intimidating sight -- in battle dress, with helmets, masks, shields and assorted elaborate weapons."

Walking on almost to Dufferin Street, they saw about 50 protestors, standing and sitting on a small side road. The security fence was nowhere in sight, but a much larger group of riot police were standing, shoulder to shoulder and several rows deep, at the end of the road.

As he chatted with the friendly protestors about their free trade concerns, they were interrupted by the eerie drumming and rattling of riot sticks against shields as the police, totally unprovoked, began a slow, unified march, taking six-inch steps. Although he and his wife moved to the side of the road, the protestors simply remained where they were.

"To my horror, the police then fired tear gas canisters directly at those sitting or standing on the road," Stevens said. He described the pain in their eyes and throats from the gas, and the kindness of one young woman who offered them vinegar to help alleviate the pain.

The police kept advancing. Despite Stevens' protests that they were doing nothing, one policeman pressed up against him and ordered him to get behind a rail and "get down". He did.

Shocked at such police-state tactics in his country, Stevens said they were mild compared to what he saw the next day.

The crowd at the gate at Rene Levesque Boulevard on Saturday afternoon was large. A CBC crew had asked Stevens for an interview, but suddenly, dozens of tear gas canisters were fired, water cannons were sprayed and rubber bullets began to hit people. Separated from his wife for three hours, both suffered from the gassing, unable to breathe and almost passing out.

Stevens said he and his wife lost their innocence that weekend. He says the label, "hooligans", given to the demonstrators so freely by both government and reporters is unfair. After talking to dozens of them himself, he describes them as mostly university students who came to Quebec to express their well-thought-out views on a subject that is important to them and to everyone. "I may not have agreed with their position, but I sure believe in their right to express it," he said. "The police had no cause to violently suppress it."

Stevens disagrees with those who say that a handful of demonstrators got out of hand, forcing the police to take collective action.

"The police action in Quebec City, under orders from our government, was a provocation itself," says Stevens, "an assault on all our freedoms."