Last Updated: Monday 20 August 2001
Face to face in Vancouver: Protesters sit
down with foes
Patricia Bailey Canadian Press
Activists who took to the streets in Quebec
City and Genoa to protest global trade will step
inside Vancouver's convention centre this week
for face-to-face meetings with the corporate
and government leaders they oppose.
About 800 delegates from 90 countries will
have the chance to grill a World Bank
vice-president, Mats Karlsson, the president of
the Treasury Board of Canada, Lucienne
Robillard, and Skip Rhodes, a senior manager
The 2001 Civicus Assembly, running from
Sunday to Thursday, bills itself as a world
alliance for citizen participation.
Washington-based Civicus -- an international
network of non-governmental organizations,
businesses, unions and civil activists -- is
dedicated to encouraging voluntary
participation for social change.
"So much of civil society gets pegged in the media as just about protesting...
What most of us want is a chance to have a dialogue with government and
corporations.... This conference allows us to do this," said organizer Shabna
Ali, who works in Vancouver's non-profit sector.
"This is the first time I'll have a chance to question someone from Chevron or
the World Bank, and I think they need a good talking to," said a smiling Cass
Elliott, a Vancouver-based activist and the coordinator of the conference's
youth media team, which organized protests in Quebec City and marched in
At conference workshops, delegates will discuss international trade, poverty
and health, as well as the nature of protesting itself.
As the violence around international trade meetings escalates -- a protester
was shot dead at a G-8 meeting in Genoa last month -- there will much
discussion about the best way to create change.
"There is lot's of debate around what level we take [protesting] to. Some
activists only want peaceful demonstrations. Others believe in direct action,"
said Elliott. "We are asking ourselves what is violence? Is it breaking a
window, or is it when someone gets hurt?"
Elliott said many Canadian protesters are increasingly radicalized by what
they perceive as the federal government's efforts to crack down on legitimate
The recently released APEC inquiry report criticizes federal officials for
instructing the RCMP to remove student demonstrators camped out on the
site of the 1997 summit for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vancouver.
The report also questioned the arrest and pepper spraying of protesters by the
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has led calls for an investigation into
allegations that police abused their powers by firing more than 900 rubber
bullets and using 6,000 cans of tear gas to subdue protesters at an
Organization of American States meeting in Quebec City last April.
And in May, the RCMP created a special unit to deal with public dissent,
called the Public Order Program. The new team of Mounties was established
to help officers exchange information on crowd-control techniques with other
Although Elliott believes forums like the Civicus conference are necessary to
make world leaders listen to the anti-global trade movement, he said many of
his fellow activists won't come to the conference because the registration fee
-- between $500 and $750 -- is prohibitively expensive. And some of his
friends simply disagree with inviting corporate figures to a social activism
conference. "It doesn't go over all that well," he said.
As a result, the conference -- which is meant to reach out to grassroots
activists -- may fall victim to protests itself.
The opening speech will be given by Craig Kielburger, the Canadian who
founded the world's largest network of child activists, today at 11:00 a.m., at
the Vancouver Convention Centre.
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