The Government Shouldn't Try to Make People Afraid of the People

Have a look at this video. It’s about five minutes of video shot by protesters at the Security and Prosperity Partnership talks in Montebello, Quebec. These talks are being hosted by Canada and featured Prime Minister Stephen Harper meeting with American president George W. Bush and Mexican president Calderon, about deepening the integration of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The talks are being opposed by environmentalists, labour activists and opponents of globalization.

Here, we see a clean-cut, older, bald-headed gentleman along with several other individuals (all of whom are not ashamed to show their faces), vehemently warning off three masked individuals standing menacingly in front of a line of riot police, holding hefty stones (and an empty bottle in a back pocket) with the clear intention of throwing them. What follows is interesting, as protest organizers approach the three would-be thugs to warn them away from the police line. This report from the Canadian Press details what happened next.

Rather than leave, the three actually start edging closer to the police line, where they appear to engage in discussions. They eventually push their way past an officer, whereupon other police shove them to the ground and handcuff them.

However, the three do not appear to have been arrested or charged with any offence.

Watching the video, I would have to say that I detect a certain sheepishness on the three individuals as they approach the line, and then appear to engage in whispered conversations with some of the riot police, before easing themselves through and promptly getting tackled, handcuffed, and hauled away. And, to this point, there is no record of these people having been formally arrested. They’ve sort of disappeared off the map.

This has led protest organizers to claim that members of the police, either the RCMP or the Surite du Quebec, of placing undercover cops within the protest to make trouble and justify stronger police action. And, on the basis of the video, I would have to agree that it looks very suspicious.

And, as always, it’s not the crime that gets you, but the cover-up. After much hemming and hawing (and some outright denying), government officials confirmed that the SDQ did have undercover officers seeded within the protest, and the implication is that the three “arrested” individuals were members of the SDQ. At least one officer is claiming that a rock was handed to one of the three by another protester, but no-one has yet explained the empty glass bottle in the back pocket of one of these guys.

Now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that undercover cops can be found within the crowd of a legitimate protest organized days in advance. Indeed, one would say that this would be best approach the police could take to do their job, including identifying disruptive elements and removing them, before innocent bystanders (both inside and outside the protest) got hurt. Keeping these officers undercover prevents them from being a catalyst of attention and potential disruption.

But the last time I checked, the duty of the police was to keep the peace, and it seems that the majority of the protesters were doing a better job of that than the alleged provocateurs. I am hard-pressed to see how clutching stones and acting aggressively toward a line of riot police meets the definition of keeping the peace. And the last time I checked, the duty of the police was to serve the public, and I’m even more hard-pressed to see how appearing to attempt to discredit a legitimate and peaceful demonstration through acts of staged violence meets that definition.

If these facts bear out, I’ll be joining my progressive and libertarian friends (and conservative friends) in demanding a public inquiry. If these facts bear out, then our democratic rights and freedoms have been spat upon, and our assigned protectors have forgotten the critical balance between keeping order, and suppressing dissent.

If nothing else, the actions of the calm and collected protesters against these three would-be thugs has caught my attention and my respect. I hadn’t originally intended to pay much attention to the issues surrounding the SPP, but now I will. Because the protesters have shown themselves to be decent, law-abiding people, and officials in the government appear to have reacted with enough fear to try and discredit them. That’s the wrong reaction, and you don’t want to make me start quoting from V for Vendetta.


Incidentally, the name of the proposed “deep integration” between Canada, the United States and Mexico is somewhat telling. The “Security and Prosperity Partnership”? An award for most compelling (and concise!) bit of positive spin should go to the government worker who came up with that title. Imagine: “how can you be opposed to this? How can you oppose Security? How can you oppose Prosperity? How can you oppose our partnership?”

Well, maybe when it might do more than what it says on the tin.

There has been a disturbing tendency within our governments to try and suppress dissent or, failing that, trying to make that dissent look as bad as possible. This is another case in point.

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