PM's role in suppressing demonstrators at APEC forum probed; CJFE calls for thorough inquiry

Tuesday, September 22, 1998

Hon. Anne McLellan
Minister of Justice
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6 Canada
Fax: +1 613 990 7255

22 September 1998

Hon. Minister McLellan,

On behalf of the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting freedom of expression worldwide, I am writing to strongly urge a thorough inquiry into the arrests and pepper spraying of peaceful demonstrators during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Vancouver, British Columbia in November 1997. Furthermore, if Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien or his office were involved in the violent reprisals against demonstrators, we believe that role should be publicly exposed.

Protesters were arrested and pepper-sprayed by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), mostly for protesting against Indonesian dictator Suharto, who was attending the APEC summit. Some of the 49 demonstrators arrested were displaying signs calling for free speech and human rights.

After almost a year, secret memos and letters have come to light revealing the Prime Minister's alleged involvement in trying to prevent President Suharto from being "embarrassed" by Canadian demonstrators. Memos initiating from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) show direct involvement in having protesters removed who had erected a tent city in protest over APEC meetings being held at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Apparently, members of the Canadian government reportedly offered assurances that no demonstrators would get close enough to Suharto to either harm him or embarrass him. Newspaper reports speculate that Canadian officials were reportedly concerned about the trade implications of upsetting Suharto.

"The Globe and Mail" reports on 21 September 1998 that a note written by government official Patricia Hassard of the Privy Council Office says Chr├ętien wanted "to be personally involved" in the security arrangements at APEC. It seems there is not much doubt the Prime Minister was involved.

We are shocked to hear that in the ongoing negotiations over Suharto's security preparations, "The Toronto Star" reports on 19 September 1998, that "Indonesian officials were so concerned about protecting Suharto that they asked Canadian officials what would happen if an Indonesian security guard shot a student protester. Canada agreed to allow the bodyguards to carry holstered weapons but asked that they be kept concealed." The Indonesians were reportedly told that it would not be acceptable to shoot any demonstrators and for that we are thankful.

Yet our own police thought it acceptable to spray peaceful protesters with pepper spray, which is terribly painful and causes swelling and temporary blindness. As you must know, Suharto was forced to resign earlier this year in part after massive protests, and it is a shame to think that this same dictator was prevented from seeing any demonstrations in Canada due to the ruthless tactics of Canadian authorities and security forces. We are pleased the RCMP Public Complaints Commission is currently investigating the incident, although critics have called for an independent inquiry to be held immediately. However, the CCPJ believes that if the PCC is unable to ascertain blame for this shameful incident, an independent inquiry must be called. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,
Wayne Sharpe
Executive Director