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The 15th anniversary of the Summit of the Americas

Barlow and Bové reunited in Brussels on the 15th anniversary of the FTAA protests in Quebec City. Photo by Sujata Dey.

Fifteen years ago – on April 20-21, 2001 – massive popular protests were waged against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City. More than 100 Council of Canadians chapter activists, 16 staff and 8 Board members were there to oppose the FTAA.

Among many actions, the Council of Canadians organized a Peoples’ Summit that featured Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow and French farmer-activist (and now Member of the European Parliament) José Bové.

Just days after the summit concluded, Barlow wrote, “The occasion was the gathering of 34 heads of states of North and South America to further the economic and social integration of the Americas based on the U.S.-style free market model known as the ‘Washington Consensus’ and to consolidate North American corporate dominance in the countries of the South. This integration will be accomplished by signing a ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’ based on the model of NAFTA, but extended to be ‘WTO compatible’ and include a whole new agreement on services.”

She has also noted, “To protect themselves from the escalating opposition to this process, the Canadian government erected a cement and chain-link fence around the entire city – dubbed the ‘wall of shame’ – and triggered the biggest security operation in peacetime Canadian history. Six thousand and seven hundred police, thousands of soldiers on standby, armoured tanks, plastic bullets, and 5,000 canisters of tear gas (they ended up ordering more from a US supplier) were assembled. A jail was emptied in anticipation of the protesters about to descend on the city.”

And Barlow has highlighted, “Outside the wall, thousands of Canadians and other citizens of the Americas started streaming into Quebec City. On April 20 our members, including myself, joined about 3,000, mostly young people, in a march from Laval University to Old Quebec. At one point in the march, we were separated into two streams – ‘yellow’ for those going directly to the wall and ‘green’ for those going into the city where they could act as observers and supporters. Within half an hour, the wall had been breached and clouds of tear gas were rising through the air. Four hundred and sixty-three were arrested. On April 20-21, our members chose to be near the action at the wall, both to express our deep opposition to the random, government-endorsed brutality being waged against innocent protesters and to serve as witnesses to the days’ events.”

In the end, the FTAA missed its target deadline of 2005 and the deal itself was defeated. While we face the threat of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and a variety of bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, let us celebrate our collective win from fifteen years ago and remember that these so-called ‘free trade’ deals can – and are – defeated.