The 1997 Vancouver APEC Conference

Nations would use any measures necessary to assure all goes well at conferences that have important world leaders attending them. But when do these “measures” go too far? What is deemed appropriate, and what is deemed excessive? This is the basic issue of the APEC conference and protest that happened in Vancouver’s University of British Colombia on November 25, 1997. It is evident that the rights of many individuals have been infringed to keep the interests of the state in tact and protect the foreign visitors.

The APEC conference or Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference was held in Vancouver. APEC consists of many Southeast Asian and East Asian countries like Indonesia, China, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines, as well as North American Countries like Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Their mission is to “support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region” (APEC website 2012). Just like other organizations, there are conferences held within countries involved, and on November 1997, it was Canada’s turn to host it. The leaders of each participating country were to attend this conference; the big benefit to this conference was economic prosperity and profit that would have been gained by Canada. It was viewed by the Prime Minister’s Office as of up most importance to protect the visiting diplomats. Because of the visiting world leaders, there were a lot of protests that were going to happen on the week of the conference.

People, mostly comprised of UBC students, realized their right to free speech and protested against the world leaders attending the conference. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police designated certain areas called “demonstrative areas” where protesters can protest, but were located far away from the actual conference (APEC Chair’s Final Report 2001). Not being able to be heard made the protesters angry and various confrontations started to occur by the protesters. Police officers retaliated by using pepper spray, dogs, and other violent means to hold back on the unruly crowd. The protesters were even more rallied up and fought back which started a whole cycle. The event created a lot of tension between the police and the protestors and turned a peaceful protest into a violent one where many rights of individuals were compromised. An examples this violation of rights was the violation fundamental Charter right of Freedom of Expression. This was compromised when the RCMP removed the Tibetan flag (a country that was invaded by China in 1950 and is living in hardship without many of the basic human rights) from the Graduate Student Society Building (APEC Chair’s Final Report 2001). There was no violence intended, just a message of Free Tibet; yet this form of expression was silenced.

The government attempted to justify the actions done by the RCMP giving them reasonable cause for acting the way they did. These actions were justified because the government was concerned for the security and safety for the citizens and the world leaders that partook in the event.  President Suharto of Indonesia came with military bodyguards to the conference; therefore the safety of the people was a concern. Interestingly enough, Suharto was one of the major reasons for the protesting. He is known for his crimes against humanity and peace, and the mass murdering that killed more than 20, 000 people, most of which are part of the Indonesian Communist Party (CBC News 1998). The most important reason for the actions of the RCMP was to protect the foreign visitors. With demonstration zones far away from the actual conference, the government intended for the conference to go without any interruption. This is to make sure that the leaders and their decisions are not influenced by the protest: if you have a group of people negatively portraying your country, you would not feel compelled to partake in the conference and withdraw your vote on some economic proposals. With Suharto and other foreign leaders and the opportunity for economic prosperity, the government allowed stronger security for the conference. The police took this tighter security and abused their powers, thus violating the protestors’ rights from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Going back to the original question proposed: what was deemed excessive and what is deemed appropriate? Moreover, should there be excessive security measures to protect the interests of the state, the foreign visitors, and the protesting citizens? The rule of law states that no one is above the law, yet evidently through the APEC event in 1997, the government impeded on the laws that were laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

References

“APEC Chair’s Final Report Following a Public Hearing”. 2001. Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Retrieved October 16, 2012. (http://www.cpc-cpp.gc.ca/prr/rep/phr/apec/fr-rf-eng.aspx)

APEC website. Retrieved October 16, 2012. (http://www.apec.org)

CBC News. 1998. “The APEC Incident: Protecting Foreign Visitors”. CBC’s News in Review. Retrieved October 16, 2012. (http://newsinreview.cbclearning.ca/wp-content/uploads/1998/11/nov98_apec.pdf)

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