(This column was published in the North Shore News on Dec. 8, 1999)

 

Police response warranted

By Leo Knight

THOSE who watched the television news footage of the so-called "Battle in Seattle" or grunge versus greed, must surely have been wondering what all the fuss was about with the relatively tame proceedings at the November 1997 APEC demonstrations.  

 

Frankly, it's mystified most people how the country could become embroiled in the APEC hangover following the pepper-spraying of a few activists engaged in the sort of civil disobedience designed to elicit a response from police.  

 

They asked for it and they got it. That should have been the end of it.

 

But not here in the land of the terminally bewildered.  

 

The RCMP in the APEC situation were between a rock and a hard place. The federal government wanted to use Vancouver to host the APEC conference and the task of providing security for the world leaders attending the conference fell to our national police force.  

 

For good or bad, they are required to do their duty regardless of their personal feelings for butchers like Suharto.  

 

The Mounties did their best to tread the fine line between allowing legitimate protest, duty to the government, and trying to satisfy the demands of a repugnant dictator here at the behest of our government.  

 

But when the professional protesters spurred on by the gutless agitators tried to breach the police lines, they were stopped by the cops using only the force necessary, in this case pepper spray.  

 

But a host of complaints from people who can't seem to accept responsibility for their own actions later, and suddenly we were mired in a multi-million-dollar inquiry all bent on trying to determine whether the prime minister had ordered the police to pepper spray the protesters.  

 

They trundled out copies of police notebooks as evidence of the direct involvement of the the prime minister with entries like "PM wants the tenters out" and "PM wanted everyone removed."  

 

Somehow nobody could figure out that the initials "PM" don't stand for prime minister, but for Staff Sergeant Peter Montague, who was responsible for the Indonesian delegation's security. But, hey, what's a few million dollars of taxpayer's money for if not to waste?  

 

Well, at least the hearings have provided some hilarity for our money. There was former Solicitor General Andy Scott doing the St. Vitus Dance trying to explain his loose lips on a flight from Ottawa with a pal.  

 

Not to mention first inquiry head, Gerald Morin, hiring a private investigator to try to get some dirt on a Mountie who blew the whistle on Morin's own verbal indiscretions at a gaming table.  

 

Imagine what we might have done if the Mounties had cracked down on the protesters in the manner the Seattle Police Department did.  

 

What bugs me about all this is the credibility professional protesters like Garth Mullins and Jonathan Oppenheimer are given by the media.  

 

Throughout the riots in Seattle -- and that's what they were -- Oppenheimer was interviewed and given the public stage he covets so dearly to spout his foolishness. When the weekend was over, there was Mullins proudly waving the front page of a Seattle paper and trumpeting that the protesters had struck a blow for society and shut down the talks.  

 

Unless I miss my guess, the talks did go on after being delayed a day due to the rioting and looting. That the delegates to the WTO couldn't reach agreement has a whole lot more to do with global politics than the actions of people like Mullins.  

 

Whatever one may think of the WTO and its attempts to negotiate rules for open global trade, the actions of the professional protesters, anarchists and agitators who hijacked attention away from the real issues of the talks, one cannot condone the lawlessness we witnessed.  

 

Legitimate protest is necessary in our society. Just as necessary as the freedom of speech that allows it. But when people like Mullins talk about civil disobedience as a method of protest they have to realize that means breaking the law. If they or anyone else breaks the law, they must also understand they will face the consequences for that. That's the whole problem with all of this.  

 

At APEC the civil disobedience amounted to an attempt to breach the police lines. The consequence was a face full of pepper spray and in some cases, arrest.  

 

At the "Riot at the Hyatt," again, the civil disobedience was an attempt to breach the police lines to get into the hotel where the prime minister was giving a speech. They were met with a squad of tactical police who stopped them. Well, gee, what the heck did they expect?  

 

The same thing happened when former News columnist Doug Collins was speaking at the Vancouver library. They believe in free speech when its to their advantage and as long as the speech is in agreement with their own opinions.  

 

Seattle was no different. Protesters turned up in the thousands for a veritable cornucopia of causes. Fair enough. All was well until the agitators and anarchists decided they might as well strike a blow for the anti-capitalism cause and smash store windows in a rampage of violence and looting.  

 

Unlucky for them, Seattle isn't in Canada. The Seattle police are not hampered by the hand-wringing socialists.  

 

Instead of surrendering control of the city to the rent-a-cause lunatics, they fought back. Were they violent? Absolutely. But that's the consequence for causing several million dollars worth of damage to a society they want to destroy.  

 

The protesters have a right to speak out on any issue. They do not have the right to break the law in the process. The police have the right -- and the duty -- to enforce the law. Ultimately, that's the lesson the APEC inquiry needs to understand.

 

  -30-

 

 

 

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