As next week's summit looms, activists find a 'perimeter of fear' keeps them far away from the action
G8 leaders bring differing priorities to the table. Activists, meantime, aren't even being allowed in
By DAWN WALTON
Friday, June 21, 2002 Print Edition, Page A6
CALGARY -- While African development is supposed to be the central focus at next week's meeting of world leaders, access denial is becoming a major theme for globalization opponents.
The Mounties have denied media passes to some left-leaning journalists. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has barred from entering the country the majority of delegates from developing nations who hoped to attend an alternative summit. And the federal officials have launched a border crackdown to search and interrogate visitors, a move activists say is designed to discourage protests.
"The people that they target are the people who disagree with [Prime Minister] Jean Chrétien," said Jamey Heath of Greenpeace, an Ottawa-based communications co-ordinator for the environmental group.
Even though he was given access the G8's environment ministers summit in Banff two months ago, Mr. Heath's application for access to the media centre in Calgary, located an hour's drive away from where G8 leaders are meeting June 26-27 in Kananaskis, was rejected.
Reasons for the rejection were not given, but officials directed Mr. Heath to make a request through the Access to Information Act.
So was Pam Foster, co-ordinator of the Halifax Initiative, an Ottawa-based non-governmental organization and a writer for the human rights Upstream Journal, who describes her political views as "critical or on the left."
The RCMP told her that criteria for denial include being mentally unfit, having a criminal record, displaying antisocial behaviour or holding political views that are subversive, violent or extremist.
As far as Ms. Foster is concerned, none of those labels fits.
"Somehow they have equated my political views with being extremist or violent," she said.
Dan Rubinstein, news editor of Vue Weekly, an Edmonton independent newspaper with a circulation of about 30,000, feels much the same about his application rejection.
"If they had said, 'Your paper's tiny and insignificant and not trustworthy. Stop bugging us,' that would have been easier to understand, perhaps. But it was some sort of security check that indicated that I shouldn't be there, which is puzzling," Mr. Rubinstein said.
Organizers of the Group of Six Billion People's Summit (G6B), which opens today in Calgary, said 58 of 60 delegates from Africa and other Third World countries have not been able to get entry visas. No reasons were given, but organizers said they think the concern is that the delegates would seek refugee status once here.
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre has said he would look into the matter.
But Immigration Canada spokeswoman Susan Scarlett said yesterday there could be no investigation until G6B officials hand over the names of those affected.
"I don't know how many people have applied, where they applied. We've not been given any list. We don't have any idea about these people except what the conference organizers have been saying."
Earlier this week, undisclosed information related to the G8 prompted the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to step up security measures at border crossings and airports across the country. More vehicles will be searched and more people will be sent to Immigration officials for detailed interviews.
People wearing clothing associated with the protest movement, carrying G8-related materials and those who say they plan to attend protests, have been forced to endure lengthy interviews or have been refused entry, said Sarah Dover, a volunteer member of the G8 Legal Collective, which is helping activists gain entry into Canada.
She described it as part of the "perimeter of fear" that is being built around Calgary.
Jordan Marsh, another member of the legal team, called the federal government's intelligence information "fear mongering" and worries it may deter some people from coming to Canada.
"That's what they're falling back on to justify their unjust actions at border crossings."
Immigration Canada spokesman Rob Ferguson said protesters are not being zeroed in on. Immigration officers are merely requiring the kind of paperwork and types of questions they have always asked the border, he said.
People who could be turned away include those without travel documents, those charged with or convicted of criminal offences, people who appear poised to break Canadian laws and those without enough money to support themselves while here.