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At the Gates of Fortress North America

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September 15, 2007

At the Gates of Fortress North America

Opposing the Security and Prosperity Partnership: Demonstrations in Montebello

by Stefan Christoff

Riot police form a line beyond the summit location. Photo: Stefan Christoff

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.

Chemical gas fills the air in Montebello, Quebec outside of the location of the trilateral summit, forcing the majority of demonstrators to retreat from the police lines.
A police helicopter hovers close over the demonstrations.
Riot police form a line beyond the summit location.

Demonstration on the streets of Montebello in opposition to the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" (SPP).

Flags in the sky in Montebello: a local of the United Steelworkers Union from Hamilton, Ontario that joined the front-lines of the protest.
Tess Tesalona of the Center for Philippine Concerns addresses the demonstration in Montebello.
"No One is Illegal" graces the shield of a riot cop on the front line of the Montebello protest.
Tear gas is fired at demonstrators in Montebello. Multiple international health organizations have condemned the use of tear gas by police forces internationally due to the harmful impacts on personal health.
Riot police gather in a local grave site in Montebello, Quebec, which was used as a staging ground to fire rubber bullets and teargas at demonstrators opposed to the SPP.

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This is a very good article, and I’ll certainly keep it handy for further reference.

Two things really irk me about this whole issue: first, the lack of any understanding of recent history; second, the analogy with the EU.

Ask an average Canadian under the age of 30 why our prime minister takes his orders from Washington, why plans for the upcoming Anschluss must be prepared in secret, why with a booming economy there are now a quarter of a million Canadians living on the streets and 1.2 million Canadian children living in poverty, or why the US army gets to decide that Canadians can’t have a protest demonstration on Canadian soil — ask any of these questions of young Canadians and you will draw a blank stare. They do not know that in 1987 their parents and grandparents — in response to a thinly veiled threat articulated by US president Ronald Reagan — took the first big step in surrendering Canadian sovereignty to the American empire.

1987 was the year of the Free Trade federal election. Brian Mulroney had won the previous election by swearing that he would never under any circumstances enter into free trade talks with the Americans. Free trade talks with the Americans began not long afer Canadians put Mulroney in office. Now he was up for re-election, the treaty was ready for Canada’s signature, and polls suggested that Muroney would lose because of it. Mulroney signaled his best friend Reagan to help out with some kind of a statement, and Reagan complied. If Canada refuses to sign the deal, Reagan said, the likelihood of the US ever entering into any other kind of agreement to improve trade relations with Canada was zero.

The New Democratic Party pressed for a national debate on the issue and got it. They laid out precisely what was at stake: the erosion of Canada’s social safety net, including our highly successful and efficient universal health care system; the loss of Canadian control over several — if not most — of our primary economic sectors, including our natural resources; the loss of thousands of well-paid jobs in industry and their replacement with jobs in the “service industry” — the euphemism for McJobs. Like Cassandra, the NDP was right; like Cassandra, they were not believed. Mulroney won the election, the trade deal was signed, and further consultation with the Canadian electorate on any issue regarding our vassal-state status vis-a-vis the US was deemed unnecessary.

Now for my second beef:

Those who claim that “deep integration” — the creation of a North American superstate — would be similar to the EU don’t know much about the EU. There are hard and fast rules about who is admitted into the Union. The “Copenhagen Criteria” are regulations regarding democratic governance, human rights, and economic viability. Embedded within these broad criteria are stipulations implying, for example, that prospective EU member states foreswear aggression, torture, and the death penalty; have no laws on the books that discriminate on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality; uphold democratic rights, including such things as free and fair elections; and produce adequate evidence of fiscal responsibility. While Europeans debate endlessly over whether Turkey is pure enough for them, Canadians are not even notified, much less invited to debate union with the most aggressive state on the planet — a state that kills its felons and tortures with impunity; can’t run a clean federal election; denies full civil rights to its sexual minorities and full reproductive rights to its women; and currently closes in on nine trillion dollars of national debt while still borrowing.

Then there are those irksome statistical items that distinguish our neighbour as “world leader”: the 737 out of every 100,000 American citizens who languish in prison — the highest imprisonment rate on earth and the largest detention system in the advanced industrial world; the 90 privately owned firearms for every 100 citizens, making the US the most heavily armed society on the planet.

Four and a half million Americans have no health insurance, yet the cost of the US health care system tops Canada’s by at least 50 percent. Then you have to ask yourself what’s wrong with a country that represents 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes half of all illicit drugs. On the Global Peace Index, the US ranks 96th; 53rd on the World Press Freedom Index; and 42nd on the Life Expectancy Index. Where the USA does score high is on the wealth index: there were 13 US billionaires in 1985; now there are more than 1,000.

That is the nation whose sinking star our corporate elite want to hitch the Canadian wagon.

mis printed quote

On the picture with the riot shield the quoteation is Personne n'est illegal You have mistranslated this. 'Personne n'est' in this instance means 'No one': the quote therefore is not One is illegal but:

No one is illegal.


the last photo

Unbelievable that the police would use a graveyard in that manner. Is there no respect left for anyone anymore???

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