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Fight the Power

by Stephen Lautens

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April 20, 2001

With few exceptions, Canada is not famous for its protests and demonstrations. Except for the Winnipeg General Strike and 'scratch & save day' at The Bay, Canada has been a pretty quiet country.

Face it - for three-quarters of the year Canada is just too cold a country for serious civil unrest. And the rest of the time we're too grateful for the warm weather or busy packing up for the cottage. Those perpetual general strikes that happen in the south are only possible because you can march around outside shouting slogans without freezing to death.

That kind of civil disobedience in the streets lasts about fifteen minutes up here. Pretty soon everyone gets too cold and heads over to Tim Horton's for a jumbo coffee and a jelly-filled. What that means is we have to cram a whole year's worth of protests into a few weeks. The rest of the time we express our discontent with vague grumblings and calling in sick.

And we're much too self-conscious to yell things through a microphone or do the "Hey ho, hey ho" chant with much enthusiasm. As Canadians, it makes us feel vaguely silly.

That's why we've had to import so many demonstrators for the Summit of the Americas that starts today. We just don't know how to protest.

In Toronto there have even been schools for demonstrators, teaching the fine art of going limp when being hauled off for denouncing corporate globalization without getting your Gap khakis wrinkled.

I've read that there are supposed to be five thousand delegates to the Summit of the Americas and a total of six thousand police officers. That means everyone gets their very own cop and we still have a thousand to spare. Unfortunately, with over ten thousand demonstrators expected, there will be only one cop for every two protestors, so it means they'll have to share.

Don't get me wrong - I'm no free trader. I think anything the Americans are keen on us joining is probably not that great a deal for us. We do seem to come out on the short end of the stick whenever push comes to shove with our neighbours to the south.

You have to wonder if these international summits are just a pretty big waste of time and money. Haven't the world's leaders ever heard of conference calls?

And you have to question the wisdom of putting the Summit - or anything else for that matter - in Quebec. You know the separatists are going to go out of their way to embarrass us, like having a grounded teenage son hanging around the house and bothering your dinner guests.

Quebec Premier Landry has already made a speech saying French Canadians are the "Latins of the North." Think of it. Under the PQ's leadership Quebec could be the next Paraguay.

But the Summit goes on, and so will the protests - in their uniquely Canadian way. One university has even postponed exams so its students can attend the protest in Quebec City. That's the spirit of the 60s: "Excuse me sir, but can I be excused to go to the Summit to topple the multinational cartels and defeat globalization? I have a note from the Dean."

How Canadian.

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© Stephen Lautens 2001

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