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The Council opposes the RCMP’s plan for a ‘free speech area’ for the G7 summit in La Malbaie

The Council of Canadians was questioned by the police on June 25, 2010 for coming too close (within 5 metres) of the massive fence surrounding the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto where the G20 were to meet the next day.

On June 8-9, the G7 – which includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and other ‘leaders’ of the world’s ‘richest’ economies – will meet for a summit at the luxury hotel Le Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie, situated about 150 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

The Prime Minister recently announced that the themes of the summit would be: “Investing in growth that works for everyone; Preparing for jobs of the future; Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment; Working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy; and Building a more peaceful and secure world.”

While those lofty goals strain credibility and are unlikely for this thoroughly neo-liberal body committed to ‘free trade’ deals, privatization and deregulation that favour transnational corporations, another theme that wil apparentlyl be disregarded at the G7 summit is the freedom of expression.

That’s because an Integrated Security Unit (led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police partnered with the Sûreté du Québec, the Service de police de la Ville de Québec and the Canadian Armed Forces) formed for this summit has announced that they will establish a ‘free speech area’ for the public when the leaders are meeting.

The RCMP website states, “During the G7 Summit, the ISU will ensure that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression for all is respected. A free speech area will be set up for this purpose in La Malbaie for the duration of the event. The location has not yet been determined. We will share this information as soon as possible.”

The Council of Canadians has opposed previous ‘free speech zones’, notably at the time of the North American Leaders’ summit in Montebello, Quebec (in August 2007) and the G20 summit in Toronto (in June 2010).

That’s in part because the report by retired judge Ted Hughes that came out of the public inquiry into police violence at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver stated that people have the right to “see and be seen” by “visiting leaders”.

The RCMP solution in Montebello was to have an audio/video feed of the designated protest area streamed into the summit (presumably with the fictional notion that the G7 leaders could watch that feed during their meeting).

The ‘designated protest area’ for the G20 summit in Toronto was on the north lawn of Queen’s Park, almost three kilometres away from where the leaders were meeting.

At that time, Toronto-based Council of Canadians organizer Mark Calzavara stated, “The police say it’s a free country and you can protest anywhere, but in the same breathe they are saying they will strongly encourage protesters to go to this area. You can’t use the excuse that maybe something will happen to delegitimize protest. It’s a political convenience much more than physical security for everyone.”

Also at that time, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association stated, “Freedom of expression is protected throughout Canada: our country, and all of Toronto is a ‘free speech zone’. Protesters cannot be prevented from demonstrating outside of the ‘designated demonstration area’, particularly when the area set aside is situated in a place that is so remote from the meetings that protesters cannot be directly seen or heard by the leaders. Therefore, it is appropriate for the police to acknowledge publicly the right of protesters. Language suggesting that protesters are strongly encouraged to gather in the free speech zones is inappropriate.”

The Council of Canadians rejects ‘free speech areas’ and ‘designated protest areas’ and calls on the Trudeau government to ensure that those demanding fair trade, the right to water, climate justice, Indigenous rights and more can assemble where they can be seen by Trudeau, Trump, May and the other G7 leaders.