Canada Special Report

A RING OF ROCK AND STEEL

Brenda Branswell April 2 2001
Canada Special Report

A RING OF ROCK AND STEEL

Brenda Branswell April 2 2001

A RING OF ROCK AND STEEL

The stone wall that snakes around the old quarter of Quebec City speaks of the provincial capital’s storied past as a fortified city. The fortress appearance will be greatly magnified when an army of 5,000 officers from four police forces—the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec and two municipal corps—stage the most elaborate security operation in Canadian history. In fact, preparations for the April 20 to 22 Summit of the Americas started a year ago, when police began visiting cities where massive demonstrations had taken place. They wanted to learn what worked, said Sûreté Sgt. Richard Bourdon—and what didn’t. The goal is to prevent any ugly clashes from marring, or even derailing, the summit—no mean feat when as many as 30,000 demonstrators will try to make their views known to 34 visiting heads of state.

The Quebec City solution is a six-kilometre security perimeter designed to keep the protesters at bay. In early April, police will start installing part of it: an imposing 3.8-km chain-link fence. For now, the boundary’s details are secret, but, in general, police will restrict access to the two meeting sites, the convention centre and the historic Citadelle, and to several hotels in the city’s core

to only those accredited to be there. Police hope barbed wire on a small section of the nearby Plains of Abraham will dissuade people from climbing trees and scaling the fence. “The right to protest is a fundamental right,” said Bourdon, “and we intend to respect that right— outside the perimeter.”

In the meantime, police have contacted some protest groups planning to demonstrate against the talks. Some, Bourdon claimed, expressed concerns about being infiltrated by troublemakers. “We anticipate the worst,” he added. In fact, in early April, the Quebec government will transfer inmates out of a Quebec City jail to make room for protesters who may be arrested.

RCMP officers will provide security for visiting dignitaries. The Sûreté has the lead role for the thorny issue of crowd control, while the Quebec City force is in charge of perimeter control and Ste-Foy officers have responsibility for the airport. As part of their training for the summit, police have hired psychologists to provide them with insight into crowd dynamics. Police will also be relying on a number of crowd-control tools, including tear gas, although Bourdon stressed they will strive to use them as a last resort. Last week, the RCMP announced it had received approval to carry the Arwen 37, a rifle the British originally designed to subdue protesters in Northern Ireland. Firing plastic-coated bullets, the rifle relies on severe pain to subdue a target—but there has been at least one recorded fatality.

As for pepper spray, the four police forces agree. “It is not a crowd-control measure,” said Bourdon. “It’s a tool to control an individual in a particular situation.” For police, he added, the mandate “is to establish a balance between the freedom of the people and the security of people.”

Brenda Branswell in Quebec City