Report back from Montebello

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"Protests like the one at Montebello are essential to a healthy democracy. Bush, Harper and their cronies should think twice before assuming they will get away with fooling the people."

On August 20, we were in Montebello, Quebec to voice our opposition to the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), and to the secret meetings and agenda set by Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón. Hundreds of community, labour, student and peace activists converged next to the huge, metal security fence circling the resort, patrolled by a massive show of police and security officers.

Earlier, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians and Barb Byers of the Canadian Labour Congress led a march to the main gates of the Chateau Montebello to deliver crates of petitions from Canadians-Canadians from all walks of life, who want Harper to know he has no mandate from the Canadian people to cook up such an agenda that delivers Canada into a secretive and anti-democratic, corporate and security laden world that violates our human rights and the health of our environment.

The SPP will only intensify corporate control and deny the crisis of global poverty, injustice and war.

To reach the protests, we walked along train tracks, through fields and by a golf course for about two kilometres, having talked our way through three security checkpoints with Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby New Westminster and Trade/SPP Critic for the NDP. Traveling by car, it is likely we would not have made it had Libby and Peter not been able to show MP credentials.

Having been to APEC, the FTAA and other protests, we expected heavy police presence; however, we did not expect to find that agents provocateurs with rocks were apparently deliberately trying to subvert peaceful, democratic protest. The bold intervention of Dave Coles, President of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, captured on video by an activist from Nanaimo raises some very serious questions about the role of the state in disrupting democratic protests.

A mainstream reporter asked if there was any point to being there, protesting. The question implied that there is a predictable cycle of security, protest and confrontation that has no real point. But there is a point.

This heavy-handed form of security began with APEC in Vancouver in 1997 and the Quebec Summit of the Americas in 2001, and was designed to protect leaders from public scrutiny and keep them hidden behind closed doors and their agenda secret. The state creates an environment of confrontation, assembling itself in an aggressive and anti-democratic way.

The expected confrontation happens (whether or not it is prematurely provoked by agent provocateurs), and always among the pepper-sprayed and arrested are student activists and young people-such as the journalist from Global Aware we met early in the day on Monday, who was pepper-sprayed in an unprovoked incident (she had goggles just in case, but had not anticipated the action and had not had time to pull them over her face).

And the mainstream media story becomes predictable, unquestioning of what the protest is really about.

Exercising our democratic rights against an order that would otherwise tell us that there is only one viewpoint is essential to defending policy that needs to be made in public. Selecting 30 corporations to be on the "inside" is the antithesis of democratic governance.

Thus, the mobilization of people, a genuine expression of democracy, that the State itself wants to shut down, becomes an important tool to raising consciousness about both the issue of the SPP and what it entails, as well as the manner in which it is being carried out.

In that regard, these protests have a powerful message: that people cannot be silenced. It was interesting to note both Bush and Harper in their closing press conference, dismissed what they termed "conspiracy" opposition theories, in an attempt to deflect the seriousness of opposition that is mounting.

Protests like the one at Montebello are essential to a healthy democracy. Bush, Harper and their cronies should think twice before assuming they will get away with fooling the people: their actions will inevitably have public consequences.

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