A coalition of activists called Tuesday for an inquiry into the clashes in Quebec City last month during the Summit of the Americas.
The decision to fire tear gas at protesters came from executive members of the federal and Quebec governments, they said.
The coalition of more than 100 non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, unions, environmental groups and doctors, wants an investigation into the use of tear gas, plastic bullets and arrests used by police during the protests in Quebec City in late April.
The inquiry should also look at the political forces, or politicians, who would have authorized the use of such force, coalition representatives say.
Denise Babin, a spokeswoman from the Quebec Association of International Co-operation, said Quebec City was "a city under siege" during the protests. She said police were to blame for using excessive force and unnecessary amounts of tear gas to beat back the protesters.
"We have all seen the images on TV and in the newspapers. Rows upon rows of police, thousands of tear-gas canisters, [and] plastic bullets," Ms. Babin said.
Although she did not identify any politician specifically, she said the decisions to stop the protesters came from the top, in both federal and provincial governments.
Leaders from 34 countries across North and South America discussed the controversial Free Trade Area of the Americas during the summit, a gathering of heads of state and heads of government. Protesters disrupted those discussions by marching and chanting against the proposed free trade agreement.
While many demonstrators remained within the bounds of the law, others engaged in more violent forms of opposition. Some protesters threw rocks at police forces and damaged public and private property, tearing down a barrier that police had erected around the site. About 50 police officers were injured in the clashes.
One group of protesters, five Montreal men, appeared in court on Tuesday, accused of planning to use weapons during the demonstrations.
All, supposedly members of an anti-capitalist fringe group called Germinal, were arrested days before the summit started on April 20, and they are the last people detained in connection with protests.
A court denied bail to the five men on Tuesday on various charges, including conspiracy to commit mischief likely to endanger life, possession of an explosive substance with intent to use it and theft and possession of military devices.
Still, critics have said the police response to those protests far outweighed the threat demonstrators posed.
Alex Neve, secretary-general for Amnesty International Canada, said an inquiry could lead to recommendations on how to cope with protesters when similar demonstrations take place in other cities in the future.
Mr. Neve mentioned similar protests in Seattle, Washington and Prague as indication that the anti-globalization movement is not slowing down.
"There is clearly a growing international and Canadian concern about globalization," he said in an interview after the press conference.
He said an inquiry would help other governments learn how to cope with protesters in a more humane way.
"An inquiry ... will provide answers, and a sense of justice," he said.
Mr. Neve said his organization has sent two letters — to both the federal and provincial governments — seeking such an inquiry. There has not been a response yet.
But he said the question has already become an international issue.
Amnesty International contributed to a four-person international observer mission of non-governmental representatives during the summit. That mission concluded that there were many instances in Quebec where tear gas was used often as a first resort. Mr. Neve says international human-rights codes suggest that it should be used only as a last resort.
He added that if the federal government refuses to launch an inquiry, Amnesty International could make Canada the target of a massive, international letter-writing campaign as it has done in the past with other governments accused of human-rights abuses.
Doctors who support an inquiry also say there is a medical issue involved.
Tear gas is a toxic substance, said Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, who supports an inquiry. She said an a publicly funded investigation should probe the question of decontamination programs for communities that were enveloped daily by a cloud of gas.
Witnesses have argued that not only demonstrators, but also medics who were helping tear-gassed protesters and residents who were not involved in the protests at all, were affected by police.
During the three days of the summit, more than 400 protesters were arrested. One protester, Jaggi Singh, became a national symbol for anti-FTAA protesters when he was arrested during an anti-free-trade march.
He was charged with taking part in a riot and with possession of a dangerous weapon. The weapon in question was a catapult that protesters say they made to launch teddy bears at police.
Critics of police tactics at the demonstration called Mr. Singh and other arrested protesters political prisoners.
The Quebec protesters are seen as part of a larger international movement that involves groups and individuals who oppose globalization. Many anti-FTAA protesters argue that globalization, as embodied in the FTAA, marginalizes the poor and infringes upon human rights by advancing the interests of the rich.
They say they have a democratic right to voice that opinion without being intimidated by police forces, who they argue should be protecting protesters as well as dignitaries.
see also: Jaggi Singh freed after 17 days in jail
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