OTTAWA - A meeting of US, Canada and Mexico leaders on Monday and Tuesday has attracted "an eclectic group" of demonstrators united in opposition to further integration of North America.
Hundreds of anti-globalization protestors, environmentalists, peaceniks, and civil rights groups joined to taunt Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, US President George W. Bush, and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon.
The three North American leaders are expected to discuss trade and security at a two-day Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit in Montebello, Quebec, 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Ottawa.
The SPP was launched at the first "Three Amigos" summit in Waco, Texas, in March 2005. A second meeting followed in Cancun, Mexico, in 2006.
With placards reading "Reclaim democracy," "Basta Bush" and "No to Fortress America," the demonstrators marched from the Canadian parliament to the US and Mexican embassies, railing against the framework for greater security and economic integration of the three nations.
"This summit has certainly attracted an eclectic group of protestors," said Peggy Land of the Raging Grannies, taking time away from her grandchildren to wave a sign politely decrying: "The SPP sucks, dear."
"It's our only chance to be heard and to present our grievances to Mr. Harper, Mr. Bush and Mr. Calderon," she explained.
Indeed, during the summit, protestors will be kept out by a fence, three meters (10 feet) high and running 2.5-kilometers (1.5 miles) around the meeting place.
They will be "seen and heard," but only virtually -- via an audio-video feed set up by organizers.
The arrangement is "in compliance with (a Canadian) court's decision that protesters have a right to be 'seen and heard,'" said Sandra Buckler, a spokeswoman for host Stephen Harper.
But it has riled protestors.
"They've made it very difficult to protest at this summit," lamented Elizabeth May, Canada's Green Party chief.
In defiance, several protestors said they planned to try to get as close to the meeting site as possible, refusing to be "caged" in a forest clearing set up for them by summit organizers.
On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, meanwhile, peace activists bashed US policies in general, but the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, especially. "Troops out of Afghanistan," said posters.
The Canadian wife of Mohamed Harkat, an accused Al-Qaeda sleeper agent facing deportation to Algeria, where he says he would be tortured and killed, spoke out against Canadian and US anti-terrorism laws at the rally, saying they breached civil liberties.
Even 9/11 conspiracy theorists were on hand to tout an alternative version of the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed some 3,000 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, saying the White House was surely behind it.
"I'm here to try to get support from anti-Bush and anti-war activists. We're trying to expose 9/11 as the biggest lie ever told," said Ian Woods.
"The SPP is an opportunity for big business to ruin democracy," he added, more in tune with his fellow demonstrators. "It's about corporate control."
According to officials, Harper, Bush and Calderon are expected to discuss current market turmoil, trade and security, and strategies to stem pandemics.
They may also confer on product safety, following recent recalls of toys, dog food and toothpaste, and growing worries about defective "made in China" goods imported into North America.
But demonstrators say they fear the result will have a severe and negative impact on civil liberties, environmental and energy policies, as well as Canadian, US and Mexican sovereignty.
"We're not having any say in the SPP. It's undemocratic," said raging granny Peggy Land, accusing Harper, Bush and Calderon of making decisions behind closed doors without consulting with voters.
"So, we've come to try to stop it."
Copyright © AFP 2007