The caging of much of the old city of Quebec City to secure the 34-nation Americas summit is the "greatest humiliation of Canadian democracy," civil-rights lawyer Clayton Ruby said yesterday.
In the company of activists and cultural figures in various disciplines, Mr. Ruby made the comment behind a symbolic two-metre-high chainlink fence at a news conference in the gallery of the Ontario Heritage Centre in downtown Toronto.
Wall of Shame: Naomi Klein, right, speaks from behind a chain-link fence at a news conference Friday in Toronto. Aaron Harris / The Canadian Press
"Had we been told a year ago that we were going to cage an entire city, no one would have believed it for a minute," he said.
"The Canadian government cannot tell the difference between democratic protest and criminality, but clearly Canadian citizens can. Jean Chrétien, democracy is more than casting a ballot every four years."
Actress Sarah Polley, who organized the event along with author and columnist Naomi Klein, said the security clampdown on legitimate public protest in Quebec City is "horrifying to those of us in the arts, who rely so heavily on freedom of expression to do our work."
The two initiated a petition to condemn what they call the largest police operation in Canadian history "without a single act of violence in provocation." It has been signed by scores of well-known cultural personalities and thousands of others.
Because of the extraordinary interest, the petition is now being managed by the nationalist organization the Council of Canadians, which has posted it on its Web site (http://www.canadians.org).
The petition says the security barrier and the 6,000 police who are expected to be on hand for the summit are hardly incentives to peaceful protest.
"When the streets are blocked off and hundreds of meeting halls in Quebec City are out of reach to citizens because they are inside a sprawling 'security zone,' it is democracy itself that is marginalized."
Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said that had the government negotiated in good faith with the protesters, "we could have worked within our own movement to deal with the very small element that might inclined to vandalism."
Wall of Shame: Workers building part of a six-mile security barrier for the 34-nation Summit of the Americas, to take place in Quebec from April 20 to 22. (Robert J. Galbraith for The NY Times)
Mr. Ruby said the obligation of the state toward demonstrators is to be "protective, friendly, supportive," not a dissimilar obligation it has to the visiting heads of state.
"But both can be accomplished with a different attitude than sealing off an entire Canadian city, an unprecedented and, I think, abhorrent symbol of what it means to be a Canadian this century," he said.
Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive