The violence began in 1999, during protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Since then, police and anti-globalization protestors have clashed at events around the world. But the demonstrations at the most recent meeting of world leaders were peaceful. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, many credit a new approach to policing:
The violence began in 1999, during protests at the World Trade Organization
meeting in Seattle. Since then, police and anti-globalization protestors have
clashed at events around the world. But the demonstrations at the most recent
meeting of world leaders were peaceful. As the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, many credit a new approach to policing:
(Sounds of crowd: “G8, Shut it down!”)
Hundreds of protestors are winding their way through the streets of downtown
Ottawa. They’re here to send a message to the leaders of the eight largest
industrialized nations meeting in Canada.
They argue G8 policies are benefiting corporations – and hurting people in the third world. And they’re concerned about the Western leaders’ environmental track record.
David Bernanz is a member of the Bikesheviks. They spent two days biking here from Montreal. And they want Westerners to reduce their dependence on
“It really is not a very sane approach to organizing our lives and we’d be much better off with better public transport, more bike paths and that’s the kind of thing we’re promoting.”
Like most protestors, Bernanz is nonviolent. But in the past few years, these marches have disintegrated into battles. Some have thrown rocks and molotov cocktails.
Police have lobbed tear gas and pepper spray. This time, both sides expected more of the same. But Royal Canadian Mounted Police inspector Jean Yves Lemoine knew something had to change. He was in Quebec City last year when violent protests
broke out as leaders discussed the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.
He says he never wants to experience that again.
“I was on the line in Quebec City and I saw lots of things there that to me, didn’t work. When my partner got a molotov cocktail on him and he started to burn…he wasn’t injured but I saw lots of people in the crowd – same thing. It was just violence. Violence didn’t resolve anything and after all this, nobody knew why they came and protested. We only
remembered the violence.”
Last fall, it was announced the G8 leaders would meet
outside of Calgary. Inspector Lemoine got to work.
He helped create police liaison teams in both Calgary and Ottawa – where protests were planned. And he started showing up at the protestors’ meetings – trying to establish communication.
“At first, what can we find out about each other, what common grounds do we have, and lots of people were saying, ‘you don’t have any’ but that’s not true. We do have some. It’s a question of education, eh?”
Lemoine encountered skepticism – from both the police
and the protestors. Activists in Ottawa refused to participate in discussions, but Lemoine kept trying.
And he met with his colleagues, explaining the protestor’s rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But Lemoine knew communication wasn’t enough – the
police needed to diffuse the tension during the protest itself.
During a similar meeting of the G-20 in Ottawa last fall, hundreds of riot police lined the streets. There were complaints that police dogs attacked innocent protestors.
This time, dogs and riot police were on call, but not visible.
(sound of marching)
Clusters of uniformed officers chat on the street corners as the protestors march by.
Others patrol on bicycles. Lemoine and his liaison team are right in with the
marchers, wearing polo shirts that say police liaison. They know the organizers of the protest have called for graffiti and property damage. And there are large groups of marchers dressed in black, their faces covered with bandanas.
But Lemoine just keeps talking.
“Activists were coming to see us, people with bandanas on, they were pulling it down and saying, what are you doing? Well, I’m just a liaison, I want to make sure whatever’s happening here, that it’s okay with you so we can work together.”
Despite fears, the protests were mostly peaceful. Activists like Samer Elahtraash believe the change in police tactics was responsible.
“It pretty much proves what we’ve been saying all along. Every time there is a riot, it is a reaction to the police, to them coming with visors down and no badges and beating up on protestors. When they refrain from doing that, there’s no violence to speak of
But not everyone is convinced the Royal Canadian Mounted Police approach will work elsewhere. Jim Pugel is the assistant police chief in Seattle. His city continues to deploy riot police for large demonstrations.
“It depends on the nature of the event, the emotional atmosphere and the intelligence gathered ahead of time and also the current environment.”
(sound of protests up)
Prior to the protests, the RCMP’s intelligence unit predicted there would be violence.
Inspector Jean-Yves Lemoine would like to think they prevented that – by using tools he says are less intimidating, but even more effective.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly in Ottawa.