Ottawa — Thousands of Canadians will be on hand to greet George W. Bush when he visits Ottawa later this month — and that’s not necessarily a good thing for the U.S. President.
Busloads of protesters from across Ontario and parts of Quebec are expected to arrive in Ottawa on Dec. 1, the day Mr. Bush makes his first trip to the Canadian capital.
Some will rally against Canada’s possible participation in continent-wide ballistic missile defence. Some will join a mass demonstration against the Iraq war. Some will participate in “smoke-ins” organized by Canadian marijuana activists. But they all will be doing their best to make Mr. Bush feel unwelcome.
“We’re hoping to make Dubya [Mr. Bush] feel uncomfortable. Dubya should feel uncomfortable. Dubya is responsible for slaughtering thousands and thousands of people for no reason at all,” said Sid Lacomb of the Canadian Peace Alliance, which is helping Ottawa-based Network to Oppose War and Racism (Nowar-Paix) organize two of the demonstrations.
Organizers say they expect about 20,000 people to join in protests against the Iraq war, a fraction of the 200,000 people who attended one anti-war rally in Montreal before the invasion.
But organizers point out that the pre-war rallies of 2003 were held on weekends; the Bush visit is taking place midweek. The demonstrations before the invasion were organized weeks and months in advance; there was not much warning in this case.
And perhaps “people have become a little bit passive, giving in to the idea that the Americans are in Iraq now, they can’t just leave,” said Lincoln Addison of Nowar-Paix. “People have succumbed to that discourse and that’s one of the things the anti-war movement is working against.”
Still, said Mr. Addison, 20,000 people will be a big crowd. And American sensitivities seem to be running high.
Mr. Bush’s staff are said to be worried that he will be heckled by MPs if he makes a speech in the House of Commons; both Canadian and U.S. government sources say it is unlikely he will address Parliament.
Summit organizers are mindful that many MPs strongly oppose some of the President’s policies, and are aware that a former president, the late Ronald Reagan, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher were heckled by backbenchers during their appearances in the Commons.
Maverick MP Carolyn Parrish, a strong critic of the Bush administration, said she will sit politely in her seat if the President does address the House. But that quiet civility is not likely to extend beyond Parliament’s Centre Block.
At 4:20 p.m. on both Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, hundreds of people are planning to light up marijuana cigarettes on the grounds of Parliament Hill to protest against American attempts to prevent changes to Canadian drug laws.
One demonstration at noon on Dec. 1 in the city’s Confederation Park will target Mr. Bush’s record on freedom, justice and equality. A candlelight vigil at 5 p.m. on Parliament Hill will focus on the Iraq war. Other actions are being arranged for the next day.
Mr. Addison’s group is keeping its distance from graffiti messages sprayed with black paint on prominent Ottawa buildings that are urging the like-minded to protest against Mr. Bush’s visit. “We don’t support that kind of vandalism. It’s unproductive and hurts the image of the peace movement,” he said.
The Ottawa Police Service, which is helping the RCMP handle the crowd, have enough resources to face any type of situation, Staff Sergeant Monique Ackland said.
Opposition MPs have complained that criticisms Ms. Parrish and others have lobbed at the U.S. administration will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to trade disputes. But Mr. Addison said those concerns should not override the dangers he says U.S. foreign policy poses.
“We shouldn’t be intimidated by American stick-wagging. We live in a culture of fear and this is largely a manufactured culture of fear. And if we keep succumbing to this, then we’re never going to change anything,” he said.
GLORIA GALLOWAY, Globe and Mail