APEC: An Open Letter to
the Hon. Jean Chrétien

by Adam Jones


14 January 1998

Mr. Prime Minister:

In November 1997, your office and the RCMP were responsible for systematically violating the constitutional rights of dozens of Canadians gathered to protest the presence of dictators at the University of British Columbia. Prior to and during the APEC conference, students and others were arrested or threatened with arrest merely for holding signs that bore the language of our Charter of Rights.

Your own comments on this affair betray an appalling ignorance, or an equally appalling dishonesty. "We have given them a chance to protest," you said on national television before Christmas. "And the [protest] signs were all along the road. And they knew where the leaders were to pass. And the leaders read it. And that is what is a peaceful demonstration. And I am proud that we have organized it in such a way."

Is it possible, Mr. Prime Minister, that you are unaware of what most Canadians have seen on their TV sets and read in their newspapers over the last few weeks? A great wealth of photographic and eye-witness evidence, along with public statements by UBC officials, shows the reality to be the precise opposite of the version you have presented.

Here is some of what is known about the actions of your government and the RCMP on the days leading up to the APEC conference, and on the day of the conference itself.

Before APEC

Senior officials of the University of British Columbia (themselves accused of negligence in this fiasco) have publicly confirmed that your office intervened in security arrangements for the conference. Your officials acted to abrogate the existing agreement between the University and the RCMP - the only agency, I remind you, that is authorized to conduct domestic security operations - and to redraw the "security zone" to keep protesters out of sight. Such political interventions into the actions of security forces are a defining characteristic of authoritarian regimes around the world, sir. They are a frightening precedent for Canada.

Several months prior to APEC, "senior Canadian officials" offered "assurances" to Indonesian President Suharto "that planned human-rights protests will not pose a security risk" (as reported in The Globe and Mail, 9 October 1997). We do not yet know the precise character of those assurances, and whether you personally authorized them. But over the coming months, media investigations and freedom-of-information requests now underway should turn up the relevant documents. Does your brow prickle a bit at that prospect, Mr. Prime Minister?

In the days before the APEC conference began, a total of six student protesters were arrested and threatened with indefinite incarceration if they refused to sign an undertaking promising not to participate in anti-APEC protests, or protests against the Canadian government. All the students signed to gain their release. This outrageous document was prepared by the RCMP and others well before APEC commenced. It has been universally criticized; even the RCMP has now disowned it. You, sir, have not. Nor have you made it clear whether your office played a role in drafting it. If it did - and we will know soon - this is sufficient grounds for any official involved to resign.

Lastly, there is the case of Jaggi Singh, an activist with a long and honourable history of peaceful demonstration. On 24 November, the day before the conference, he was snatched away by police in half a dozen unmarked vehicles. He was then bundled away and forced to sign the absurd document just mentioned in order to gain his release. His ellged "crime" was that two-and-a-half weeks earlier (!), Singh had shouted into a megaphone loud enough to hurt the ears of a UBC security officer. In the aftermath of the operation, an RCMP spokesman announced that Singh had been arrested "before he had the opportunity to incite some sort of disturbance." Unmarked cars, pre-emptive arrests, trumped-up charges ... I remind you that we are speaking of Vancouver in the 1990s, Mr. Prime Minister, not San Salvador in the 1980s.

During APEC

The pepper-spray incidents attracted the greatest media attention, and they led you to make a let-them-eat-cake comment that will haunt you for the rest of your political life. But these were far from the only abuses committed by RCMP on the day of the conference - and they were acting, the evidence indicates, in concert with your officials.

You are surely aware of the high-profile lawsuit launched by Craig Jones, a UBC law student and board member of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. On the morning of the APEC conference, 25 November, Craig - my brother - was arrested and tackled to the ground by three police officers. His "offense": holding signs reading "Free Speech" and "Democracy" outside his residence, which abutted the APEC motorcade route. Craig was detained at the Richmond RCMP detachment for 14 hours, then released without charge. The RCMP has made various ludicrous claims post facto to the effect that his signs, hung on coat-racks, posed a physical threat to the occupants of passing limousines. This argument was not raised at the time of Craig's arrest, though the RCMP could have deployed it quite effectively to incapacitate him and the other protesters with laughter. Photographs taken at the scene clearly show RCMP officers removing paper signs placed on the sidewalk, cloth signs from fences ... any signs, Mr. Prime Minister, that might have offended the visiting dictators you were so anxious to impress. "Security" considerations were glaringly absent. My brother's backpack, which could have contained kilos of plastic explosives for all the RCMP knew, was unmolested throughout.

You will forgive me for taking this part of the story a little personally, sir. I have every reason to believe my brother was arrested and jailed by a chain of command that began with you - or should have begun with you. If you were simply asleep at the wheel while these actions were taken, rather than actively complicit in them, my confidence in your leadership is hardly increased.

I must note also the lawsuit prepared by women protesters, who charge that they were sexually harassed while in police custody. All of the women detained by the Richmond RCMP on 25 November have stated they were strip-searched upon arrival at the detachment. No male detainee apparently was. I trust this matter, which again reminds one of the tactics of Third World military regimes, has been brought to your urgent attention.

Are you truly "proud" of these actions, Mr. Prime Minister? Or will you acknowledge the legitimate concerns of many thousands of Canadians, who are demanding answers to questions you have so far evaded:

     What did you know about the interventions by your office in security arrangements for the APEC conference, and when did you know it?

     Why did you do nothing to halt the suppressing of citizens' constitutional rights during the APEC gathering, and nothing to investigate it afterwards?

     Where is your respect for the Constitution that you, as Justice Minister in the Liberal government, worked to patriate in 1982?

     How will you, your government, and the RCMP act to ensure that these abuses are never repeated?

Please do not think that because this trampling of civil liberties took place "in the provinces," it will not come back to haunt you in the seat of your power. I believe the activities of your officials and RCMP on the UBC campus, combined with what is already known about the "assurances" given to foreign dictators, have the potential to destroy your political career and tarnish the legacy of the Liberal government. (My father, ever the forward-thinker, suggests "Peppergate" as a name for the scandal that may engulf you.)

Richard Nixon's political fate may seem a distant prospect to you. But I urge you to resist the temptation to dismiss and misrepresent events as blithely as you have in recent weeks. I call on you to behave like the public servant you were elected to be. In my opinion, Mr. Prime Minister, you can best serve the public by divulging, in a frank and forthright manner, the truth of this affair and your personal involvement in it.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Jones
Instructor, Political Science, Langara College
Ph.D. Student, Dept. of Political Science, UBC


From The National Post, 22 October 1999:
"PMO 'Directly Involved' in APEC Security"

RCMP documents: Legitimate protesters removed for political reasons

Photo: The tent city at the University of
British Columbia, set up (and forcibly dismantled)
prior to APEC

Tent city before APEC (Photo, 30k)by Mark Hume

VANCOUVER - The Prime Minister's Office played a direct role in security efforts at the 1997 APEC summit here, according to confidential police documents that have been obtained by the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

The commission, chaired by Ted Hughes, British Columbia's former conflict-of-interest commissioner, is conducting an inquiry into police actions at the international economic conference, which was marred by violence when RCMP riot squads clashed with protesters at the University of British Columbia.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, have long denied being involved in security issues at the summit.

Questioned in the House of Commons on Sept. 23, 1998, Mr. Chretien said allegations of his involvement [in security operations] were "based on no facts at all."

But the newly revealed documents show the PMO was so deeply involved that senior police officers in Vancouver were routinely calling Ottawa.

RCMP telephone and radio transcripts for Nov. 21, the day the prime minister was due to arrive, show the police removed demonstrators from a conference site at the University of British Columbia, not for security reasons, but because Mr. Chretien's office would have ordered them "outta there."

In a conference call, the RCMP security experts fret over the legal ramifications of moving in on a group of youths -- who had pitched a single tent near the UBC Museum of Anthropology -- who were doing nothing illegal. Legally they could not justify it, says the transcripts, but politically they knew Ottawa would demand they act.

"From a police point of view we're caught between a rock and a hard place," Superintendent Wayne May, chief of APEC security, says in the transcript.

At one point Supt. May says in a conference call with other RCMP officers that the usual rules of conduct don't apply, because of the level of intense Ottawa involvement.

"We know how we normally ... treat these things ... but ah then the ah, prime minister's not directly involved, when we're, ya know, in, in dealing with ah, tree huggers and that sort of thing. But ah, right now the prime minister of our country is directly involved and he's gonna start giving orders, and it might be something that ah, we can't live with or er, that's gonna create us a lot of, a lot of backlash in the final analysis so, we've got to try to develop a strategy," he said, referring to the problem of protesters.

One officer described them as "naive kids," who merely wanted to make a point, and who would probably move if they were asked to.

But with the prime minister and his aides due to visit the site on a pre-conference inspection tour, police felt they were under enormous pressure to take action.

Supt. May looked for legal ways to get the protesters off the site, while at the same time trying to fend off demands from the PMO, which wanted them evicted.

Speaking with other officers on Nov. 21, Supt. May said the prime minister would not be pleased when he heard there were protesters camping at the UBC site.

"Even they [the prime minister's staff] say they're not concerned with the security aspect of the prime minister's visit there, but it's the perception, it's, it's, the ah, um, it's the ah politics of it if you come right down to it, an, an, their concerned that ah, ah, ya know when the prime minister's told of this he's just gonna tell 'em, whatever it takes get 'em outta there."

In another call police officers say "we've got pressure from the PMO" and "Wayne May is obviously just getting pummelled by the PMO people."

The transcripts also imply that the RCMP was in turn put under pressure by Ottawa to tell UBC officials to evict the students. The university administration at first resisted the Mounties' attempts, saying the students had a democratic right to protest as long as they obeyed the law. But eventually, officials agreed to a police suggestion that the UBC site be temporarily leased to the federal government, who could then evict the students for trespassing.

Speaking on the telephone from the command centre, Brian McGuinness, deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department, tells a lawyer that UBC has agreed to the deal and the site will be turned over the next day.

"We are getting a great deal, well the prime minister's office has said, I want them removed so we're trying to dance around that because we're saying, 'Hey, there's laws of the land here that the prime minister's in charge of and we're trying to find a way that we can legally remove them.' "

Deputy Chief McGuinness said that in the meantime, UBC had agreed the police could move in if the demonstration at the museum escalated.

"We're trying to take that back to the prime minister to see if he'll live with that," he said. "That's just a proposal, like I said we're trying to get that past the prime minister."

Later Bill Ard, an RCMP Inspector, tells another officer that, "the prime minister wanted everybody removed ... OK, well that was the deal, he wanted everybody removed, and we're feeling that there's no legal way to do that at this point, so there's been a compromise at UBC."

The tension that was building at the RCMP command centre is obvious when Supt. May and a fellow Superintendent, Vince Casey, talk about how the number of protesters at the museum site has grown from four people to a dozen.

The next day Jean Pelletier, the prime minister's chief of staff and Jean Carle, his chief of operations, were due to visit the site -- and they were sure to see the protest camp. When Mr. Carle testified at the inquiry last August, he denied giving orders to the RCMP on security issues -- saying he merely expressed his opinion.

"I did not give instructions [to the RCMP]," said Mr. Carle. He conceded he may have been "forceful" in his recommendations to police, but insisted it was still "the RCMP [that] makes the decision."

Mr. Chretien had also been due to go along on that visit, but had cancelled at the last minute.

"And, that's gonna put Carle in a bad spot," says Supt. Casey.

Supt. May agrees and worries that the PM's staff "may overreact."

Replies Supt. Casey: "Do you want me to call Trevor, and if there's any excuse to remove these people at all, to remove them?"

Supt. May: "Ya ... The slightest bit of excuse they give us, let's get 'em 'outta there."

Supt. Casey then calls Trevor Thompsett, another superintendent at the RCMP command centre:

"Ya Trevor, I was just talking to Wayne, and he's got a little bit of a political problem developing tomorrow morning or has developed. He's taking the number two and number three man for the prime minister out there tomorrow ... they may react if these protesters are there, he may have a little bit of a problem on his hands ... Now he's indicating we should almost have these guys out of there even before they get out there tomorrow morning."

Supt. Thompsett: "Holy shit ... like according to the agreement we had [with UBC] they're gonna have to do something, either multiply or do something wrong eh. I mean don't get me wrong, I'd like to get the suckers out of there too."

Supt. Casey: "They're just causing us one damn headache."

Supt. Thompsett: "Wouldn't you believe it eh, I mean a handful of kids they can disrupt a whole incident like this."

Supt. Casey: "This is unreal."

In another conversation, Supt. Thompsett tells Supt. Casey: "I mean these are peaceable, I mean they're more of a nuisance than anything, they're kids like, but they're just nuisance that's all."

Supt. Casey agrees, saying, "They're not a threat in any way ... they're not a concern security-wise ya know."

Supt. Thompsett says Supt. May had tried "to coach" the prime minister's office out of demanding action on the protesters, hoping that police could talk the students into leaving voluntarily.

In the end, police arrested four protesters at the museum site and removed the tent. Four days later, at the close of the APEC conference, police clashed violently with hundreds of protesters blocking a nearby road.


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Created by Adam Jones, 1998. No copyright claimed for non-commercial use if source is acknowledged.
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Last updated: 27 September 2000.