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Military helicopters hovered as protesters converged in Montebello, Quebec, a relatively remote Canadian town in which the political leaders of North America gathered for a two-day summit on August 20. The Fairmont Château Montebello, the location for the critical trilateral meetings, became a Canadian fortress surrounded by a high metal fence and thousands of police from throughout the country.
Throughout the summit, over 1,000 protesters converged to oppose the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a North American governmental and corporate initiative aimed at developing greater integration of trade and security policies from Mexico to Canada. Critics view the SPP as a post-9/11 development of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade treaty widely unpopular among labour unions, indigenous communities and social justice activists across the continent.
Corporate influence is central to the entire SPP process, within which, according to official documents, "high-level business input will assist governments in enhancing North America's competitive position." Entirely absent from the process are environmental groups, labour unions and representatives from indigenous communities.
Major corporations represented by institutions like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the North American Competitiveness Council have strongly advocated for the institutionalization of the SPP. Both organizations were also strong backers of NAFTA. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), NAFTA negatively impacted the majority of Canadians: "Income inequality expanded in Canada during the 1990s," after the implementation of NAFTA "as the top 20 per cent of families saw their incomes increase, while the bottom 20 per cent saw their share drop."
Critics of the SPP argue that the initiative will be a blow to working people in North America. "The founding premise of the SPP is that an agenda of economic free trade and national security will result in human prosperity," writes No One is Illegal -- a grassroots anti-colonial immigrant and refugee rights collective in Vancouver -- "yet we know that the so-called 'prosperity' of previous free trade agreements such as NAFTA have only brought corporate prosperity, with increasing rates of poverty and displacement for the majority of people."
The Montebello summit included multiple sessions between the North American leaders on "integrating" more than 300 areas of policy -- including health, safety and environmental standards -- between Canada, the US and Mexico, according to official documents. Although details of the meeting have not been revealed, government officials had stated that areas of discussion at the closed-door meetings included water exports, environmental policy, immigration controls and military power in North America.
A stated aim of the Security and Prosperity Partnership is to "increase border security" in North America, according to internal documents outlining the trilateral initiative. One area of focus is the creation of a co-ordinated no-fly list between the US and Canada. Canada recently announced the creation of its own no-fly list, while the US list now includes half a million names.
Migrant rights organizations such as No One is Illegal, operating in multiple Canadian cities, were centrally involved in organizing the demonstrations against the SPP. The initiative has been slammed as an attempt to model North American security regulations after extremely stringent European laws, widely referred to as "Fortress Europe." In 1999, the BBC reported on "Fortress Europe," writing that harmonized immigration legislation in Europe would "lower the drawbridge for the few but keep it firmly up for the many."
In light of the SPP standards, migrant rights organizations in North America expressed concerns of attempts to create "Fortress North America," a match to the exclusionary European model.
“Debate surrounding the SPP has grown because the initiative encapsulates so many important issues in post 9/11 North America concerning domestic repression justified through language of ‘national security’, said Harsha Walia of No One is Illegal in Vancouver. “The SPP also promotes an economic system which displaces people throughout the global south, specifically in Latin America, while implementing security policies in Canada and the US which attempts to halt peoples ability to flee the economic destitution created by the economic polices promoted through the SPP.”
Secret discussions at Montebello also revolved around the "War on Terror," linking North American foreign policy in both Latin America and the Middle East, while demonstrators in Canada called for a withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan. Block the Empire, a Montreal collective active in opposing the Canadian military participation in the NATO mission in the Kandahar province of southern Afghanistan, was strongly represented at the demonstrations in Montebello.
Also present at the demonstrations in Montebello were members of the Centre for Philippine Concerns from Montreal, who decried the Canadian and US support for the current government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Manila, Philippines. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International accuse the Arroyo government, a key Western ally in Asia, of carrying out hundreds of assassinations of leftists as part of the "War on Terror" in the Asia-Pacific region.
Demonstrators faced police violence in Montebello. Federal and provincial police forces used chemical gas --"tear gas" -- rubber bullets and clubs to push demonstrators away from the location of the trilateral summit. Following the demonstrations in Montebello, the Quebec Provincial Police were forced to admit to the use of under-cover police provocateurs within the demonstration, after a widely-circulated online video picked up by news media clearly depicted undercover agents carrying rocks during the demonstration.
Demonstration on the streets of Montebello in opposition to the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" (SPP).
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.