Police Actions at Protest Plague Canada's Government

E. Thomas (prop1@prop1.org)
Sun, 29 Nov 1998 06:48:41 -0500


November 29, 1998

Police Actions at Protest Plague Canada's Government


TORONTO -- It started out as little more than a brief
spot on the nightly news, but the treatment of
protesters at an international conference in Vancouver last
year has turned into a recurring political nightmare for
Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his government. 

The latest casualty was Solicitor General Andy Scott,
Canada's top law enforcement official, who resigned last
week after he was overheard talking about an investigation
into the protest with the person sitting next to him on an
Air Canada flight. 

Leaders of the opposition in the House of Commons
contend that Chretien and his closest aides had directed the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police to be aggressive in
keeping protesters away from former President Suharto of
Indonesia during last year's Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation summit meeting. 

When protesters refused to leave a roadway where
Suharto was expected to pass, the Mounties forced them
out, dousing them with irritating pepper spray. The
episode was recorded by a news cameraman, and was
replayed on the nightly news, but not prominently. 

Little happened until this fall, when reports appeared
suggesting that Chretien had tried to keep Suharto from
being embarrassed during the meeting and had ordered the
Mounties to control protesters aggressively. 

In the daily question periods in the House of Commons,
Chretien was repeatedly criticized. He tried to deflect
some of the criticism by joking that being hit with pepper
spray was better than being hit with a baseball bat. Few
people laughed. 

A special panel was established to look into the actions of
the prime minister and police. The inquiry panel revealed
electronic messages between the protesters and Terry
Milewski, one of the reporters who covered the story for
the CBC -- which receives most of its funding from the
federal government. In the exchanges, Milewski tries to
gain the protesters' confidence by appearing to be

Chretien's office accused Milewski of bias and filed a
complaint with a news media ombudsman. The reporter
was taken off the story, and when he wrote about the
incident for a local newspaper he was temporarily

The inquiry itself came to a halt when the government
refused to pay lawyers fees for the protesters. It was
supposed to resume last week, but a judge put it off
indefinitely while charges of bias against one of the three
panel members are investigated. 

While the inquiry was running into trouble in Vancouver,
an opposition member of Parliament told reporters in
Ottawa that he was seated near the solicitor general on a
flight when he overheard him tell another passenger that
police would probably have to take the blame for what
happened in Vancouver. 

The conversation suggested that Scott had prejudged it.
The solicitor general's casual handling of sensitive matters
also raised doubts about his judgment. 

When confronted by reporters, Scott denied everything. He
said he could not even remember the name of the person
sitting next to him. 

But the other passenger was identified as Frederick Toole,
a lawyer from Scott's home province of New Brunswick.
Toole filed an affidavit corroborating what the opposition
member had said about Scott. 

Scott resigned a few days later. 


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