OTTAWA -- The RCMP officer who earned the nickname Sergeant Pepper at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver will be on the front lines at next weekend's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, once more face to face with demonstrators, once more armed with a can of pepper spray.
Staff Sergeant Hugh Stewart shot to national notoriety after television news programs repeatedly broadcast footage showing him pepper-spraying demonstrators in the face.
He has been flown to Quebec City and is training other officers in crowd-control techniques, the RCMP confirmed yesterday.
One of the most controversial figures in recent RCMP history, Staff Sgt. Stewart wound up testifying before an inquiry about why he felt it necessary to use pepper spray on a group of passive protesters and a CBC cameraman.
Gabriel Huot walks by flowers attached to a security fence set up for the Summit of the Americas that will be held later this month Wednesday April 11, 2001 in Quebec City. The flowers were left as part of a peaceful protest earlier in the morning. Behind is the Radisson Hotel, where some leaders will be staying during the summit. (AP Photo/Jacques Boissinot)
His name also brought down a cabinet minister: Then solicitor-general Andy Scott was forced to resign his post after he was overheard telling a seatmate on an airplane that "Hughie" would take the fall for the behaviour of security forces at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.
Next weekend, though, Staff Sgt. Stewart will be just one of roughly 6,000 police officers standing guard as an expected crowd of more than 10,000 antiglobalization protesters attend the Summit of the Americas and protest against negotiations toward a free-trade area of the Americas.
He is stationed at the Valcartier military base near Quebec City, training other officers.
"Are you serious?" Sierra Youth Coalition co-ordinator Karen Gorecki said. Ms. Gorecki was among the protesters at APEC in 1997 and will be in Quebec City next weekend. She said just hearing that "Sergeant Pepper" would also be there gave her a sick feeling in her stomach.
"After the whole rigamarole this government went through at the APEC inquiry? They're putting him out there again? I can't believe Jean Chrétien would allow that to happen," Ms. Gorecki said.
Those organizing the summit have already come under fire because of the exhaustive security precautions being taken. In addition to what is being dubbed as the largest peacetime police operation in Canadian history, a three-metre-high fence has been built around the centre of the city, and border controls have been tightened to keep possible troublemakers out.
The fence is being challenged in court as an unconstitutional restriction on protesters' freedom of expression, since it will prevent delegates at the summit from hearing their message.
Staff Sergeant Mike Gaudet, an RCMP spokesman, said Staff Sgt. Stewart was being brought in along with other riot police from Vancouver because of his expertise in dealing with crowds.
"Staff Sgt. Stewart has in excess of 20 years of service in crowd control. He is a specialist in this area," Staff Sgt. Gaudet said.
"We're doing this to ensure the summit is safe for everyone."
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