Chronicle of a Protest

By Edwords, Fred | The Humanist, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Chronicle of a Protest


Edwords, Fred, The Humanist


In preparing for the anticipated protests against the FTAA, Quebec City authorities encircled the entire venue of the Summit of the Americas with a 2.3-mile concrete and chain-link fence, later referred to by demonstrators as the "Wall of Shame." Within its perimeter--guarded by more than 6,000 specially trained riot police brought in from across Canada --were the hotels where the trade leaders stayed, as well as the convention center where the summit was held. The estimated total cost of this security effort came to $100 million, making it the largest police operation in the history of Canada.

What follows is a chronology of the major events as they unfolded, drawn from eyewitness accounts on both sides as well as from the media.

Monday, April 16, 2001

The six-day People's Summit, a series of seminars on the environment, human rights, and poverty--being held as an alternative to the forthcoming Summit of the Americas--opens in Quebec City. Over 2,000 invited attendees from all thirty-five countries of the Western Hemisphere (including Cuba, which will be excluded from the Summit of the Americas) gather to try and encourage a social component to what will be the otherwise business-focused talks on the FTAA at the Summit of the Americas.

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Hundreds of demonstrators stage peaceful protests against the FTAA in the afternoon and evening without incident.

After dark, at Universite de Laval and elsewhere, thousands of demonstrators arrive, with over 2,000 of them taking up their lodging in sleeping bags on the floor of one large gymnasium.

Friday, April 20, 2001

In the morning, before departing from the White House, George W. Bush declares: "Our goal in Quebec is to build a hemisphere of liberty" and to "make our hemisphere the largest free trade area in the world, encompassing thirty-four countries and 800 million people."

Meanwhile, in Quebec City, between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters form into two groups: one to demonstrate in the high-risk "Yellow Zone" at the front lines; the other to occupy the lower-risk "Green Zone" in the rear.

By 12:00 N demonstrators have filled the streets near the conference center; those in the Yellow Zone, drawing near the Wall of Shame, are drumming and chanting. When the Wall is reached, some begin shaking the fence to chants of "Tear down the Wall." With the use of a few bolt cutters, this crowd is able to bring a large section down. Then hundreds pour into the breech as others lob rocks, bottles, and fence debris at the defending police. The police respond with smoke bombs, concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. As the first wave of protesters retreats, it is replaced by a second. More retreats and waves follow. Police in riot gear--helmets, shields, and batons--stand shoulder-to-shoulder to form a human fence.

As the afternoon wears on, there are sporadic attacks on the protesters by police wielding nightsticks. Other police take up positions between nearby buildings. In various places, protesters sing, dance, drum, or simply sit in the street. During the confrontations, New Democrat Member of Parliament Svend Robinson is injured by police and peaceful protest leader Jaggi Singh has, without provocation, been nabbed from the Green Zone by undercover officers.

When trucks equipped with water cannons arrive at the rear of the crowd, hundreds of protesters swarm over them, forcing them to retreat. The police respond by firing multiple volleys of tear gas canisters, making many people disperse or flee to side streets. Eventually, by 8:00 PM, the police have forced most of the crowd several blocks back.

Because of the protests, the opening ceremonies of the three-day Summit of the Americas, scheduled to begin at 6:30 PM, have been delayed by an hour and a half. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in addressing the assembled national leaders, condemns the violence as "contrary to all democratic principles that are so dear to us," stating that the violent protesters "do not represent the vast majority of those who have come to Quebec City in order to express peacefully and calmly their legitimate concerns. …

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