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
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
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
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."