Activists upset by small number of anti-G7 protesters
Police in riot gear watch as protesters march through in Quebec City on Saturday June 9, 2018, as the G7 summit closes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Giuseppe Valiante and Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, June 9, 2018 6:11PM EDT
QUEBEC -- Bernard Rioux remembers the months of planning among unions, anti-globalization activists and other progressives ahead of the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, where tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police.
Almost two decades later, he stood outside Quebec's legislature building watching the several hundred people who gathered to march down the streets of Quebec City's old quarter to denounce the G7 summit being held 140 kilometres north in La Malbaie.
Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for security and other costs in Quebec City and La Malbaie, no more than a few hundred people showed up to any of the series of demonstrations over the duration of the 44th annual, two-day summit.
"There is a retreat in the movement," said Rioux, 69, on Saturday afternoon. "We've suffered a series of defeats, and it's hard to attract people when you don't win."
Jobs are more precarious today than 20 years ago, fewer people are unionized, salaries of working people haven't meaningfully increased, he said.
"Up until now we haven't been able to build that balance of power. We need to rebuild it."
In 2001, activists called themselves anti-globalization -- a term that seems quaint nowadays considering how globalized the world has become -- and they were fighting against a specific target, Rioux said.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas was a proposal to make all of the Americas -- from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego -- a free trade zone.
"We knew that meant multinationals could invest without the protection of local, cultural and environmental norms," Rioux said. "There was a movement built around that, months and months in advance.
"And the FTAA never happened -- we won."
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Quebec City in April 2001 and were met with thousands of canisters of tear gas, hundreds of rubber bullets and hundreds of arrests.
"It was like a war zone," said Roger Rashi, 70, who also attended Saturday's protest. "Police all over the place, people being arrested at the drop of the hat, clouds of tear gas all over Quebec City ... it was an incredible, tense day of confrontation, which is not the case today, as you can see."
The G7 summit is an annual gathering of the leaders from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan and Italy -- which represent the majority of global wealth.
A representative from the European Union also attends the summit as do other dignitaries from around the world. Canada has not hosted the summit since 2010.
Rioux said relatively few people came out to denounce the G7 because there wasn't one specific unifying target to denounce.
Rashi said the reason was due to "police intimidation."
"There's an incredible array of police officers in Quebec City. For the past couple of months there have been continual messages coming from the police not to protest, and if we do, to be prepared to have our demonstrations cancelled at a moment's notice."
Anne-Valerie Lemieux Breton, 39, a generation younger than Rashi and Rioux, helped organize Saturday's protest. She said that in her domain of community organizations, mobilization is stronger than ever.
"Last September we were 2,000 people who formed a human chain around Quebec's legislature to denounce the cuts to services," she said.
Quebec City in 2001 can't be compared to the G7 today, she said.
"The 2001 summit was in Quebec City, the (security) fence was there -- the G7 isn't even here," Lemieux Breton said. "And the G7 isn't a decisional body, it's an informal gathering. In the context of so much police repression I'm satisfied with the mobilization."
She said people gathered on Saturday to protest the policies of G7 countries that exacerbate inequalities and favour the concentration of wealth.
"We want a real fight against offshore tax havens, we want a real fight against climate change," said Lemieux Breton.
If there is any positive signs for the future, it's in the environmental movement, said Rioux, which has recently racked up a couple of victories.
Under significant pressure from environmental groups, TransCanada dropped its plans in 2015 to build a port in Cacouna, Que., for the Energy East pipeline. In 2017 the company cancelled the project altogether.
"Victories are possible," said Rioux. "It's going to take a while and we have to be patient."