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Quebec City Summit of the Americas

The Summit of the Americas held in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, on the weekend of April 20, 2001, was a round of negotiations regarding a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The talks are perhaps better known for the security preparations and demonstrations (known as the Quebec City protest) that surrounded them than for the progress of the negotiations.

Progress of the negotiations

The talks were the third in the negotiation process for the FTAA. 34 heads of state and government met in Quebec City, representing all the countries of North and South America except Cuba. Partially due to resistance from the leaders of some poorer countries, no deal was reached in Quebec City.

Security and public response


From the beginning, the authorities indicated their intent to use very intensive security measures to restrict the ability of anti-globalization movement protesters to approach the area where the summit took place, in light of the well-known previous incidents in Seattle (November 30, 1999), Prague (September 26, 2000), and Montreal (November 20, 2000).

The most controversial of the preparations that took place was the construction of a 3-metre high security fence of concrete and wire around a large section of the downtown, including the meeting site, the National Assembly, and many residences. Only residents, delegates to the summit, and certain accredited journalists were allowed inside. Businesses and churches within the area were not permitted to open.

Security services were provided by the RCMP, with the collaboration of the Canadian Armed Forces and CSIS.


The Quebec City protests (called A20) were one of the largest anti-globalization demonstrations to that point, attracting some 20,000 protesters from all across the Americas. Groups represented at the protest included trade unions, civil society groups such as Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians, the New Democratic Party and Parti Québécois caucuses, and a great many groups from universities and colleges across the hemisphere.

In addition to the political focuses of the anti-globalization movement, many focused their attention on the division of the city with the security barrier and what they saw as the draconic nature of the police response.

Protesters began to arrive on Friday, April 20, many being hosted at Laval University, CEGEP campuses, and churches. A number of clashes with police took place on Friday evening, as did peaceful gatherings including a vegan supper and concert underneath the Dufferin-Montmorency Autoroute.

The primary day of protests was Saturday, April 21. It began with the Second Peoples' Summit of the Americas, an educational and political gathering near the Gare du Palais, in the lower city east of the summit site. From there, the protesters marched northwest along Boulevard Charest towards Rue de la Couronne.

Protests were divided into three classes: "green zone," being legal protests with no risk of arrest; "yellow zone," peaceful, unsanctioned protest with some risk of arrest or confrontation with police, and "red zone," being direct acts of civil disobedience carrying a high risk of arrest.

This innovative division was developed after the protest in Montreal in November 2000, which though meant to be peaceful with a low risk of arrest was violently dispersed by riot police on horseback. The zone system is meant to protect those who do not wish to run the risk of arrest or of clashes with police.

At Rue de la Couronne, the protest march split, with the majority of protesters (the green zone) heading north, towards a main rally at the Colisée.

Protesters favouring the yellow or red zones headed south, towards Cap Diamant. Many spread out through the Saint-Jean Baptiste area north of and below the fence; others marched along the edge of the mountain on Côte d'Abraham towards its intersection with the Dufferin-Montmorency Autoroute, through which the fence passed. Peaceful protesters, including individuals running speaker's corners, were in great numbers throughout this area during the afternoon.

Police responded to the protests by firing tear gas canisters, water cannon, and rubber bullets, dispersing large groupings of protesters both violent and peaceful, including teach-ins and teams of medics helping the wounded. Other tactical interventions aimed at arresting various perceived movement leaders and the expulsion of the independent media centre and protest clinic from their locations. So much tear gas was used that delegates were incommoded inside their meeting halls. The security wall was breached on several occasions, though protester incursion across the perimeter was limited.

Protests continued into the night. In addition to continued peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience, some protesters vandalized storefronts and advertisements and built bonfires. Police continued to respond with tear gas, in several cases firing at areas beneath the mountain where no protests were taking place, as well as with direct assaults on protester positions.

Protests concluded on Sunday, April 22.

Response to protest conduct

Police claimed that their actions were justified in protecting delegates from "red-zone" attempts to break through the fence, as well as to violent protesters destroying property and attacking the police, the media, and other protesters.

However, many protesters accuse the police of excessive force, claiming that the police's abundant use of tear gas and rubber bullets was both completely disproportionate to the scale of violence, and primarily directed at unarmed, peaceful demonstrators with dispersal of violent protesters an afterthought. A number of protesters were severely injured by rubber bullets; also, tear gas canisters were fired directly at protesters on a number of occasions in violation of the protocols governing their use. They also criticize the actions of prison authorities. Altogether, the anti-globalization movement describes the actions of the police in Quebec City as an attempt to suppress dissent.

Intelligence operations prior to the event are also criticized; for example, Joan Russow, then leader of the Green Party of Canada, was arrested while attempting to photograph the prison where protesters would be held. It is also claimed that some prominent protesters such as Jaggi Singh were arrested by plainclothesmen while engaging in legal activities far from clashes with police.

A formal complaint regarding the RCMP's conduct was filed by New Democrat MP Svend Robinson with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP. On November 13, 2003, the complaint's chairwoman Shirley Heafey found that "RCMP members used excessive and unjustified force in releasing tear gas to move the protesters when a more measured response could have been attempted first." The commission recommended improved crowd-control techniques, disciplinary action against certain officers, and a formal apology to protesters.

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