Students protest at the Ritz

While most eyes are focused on the impending U.S.-led war on Iraq, a group of committed activists are making sure that other issues are not being neglected.

Last Friday, about 100 protesters danced, drummed and chanted in front of the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Sherbrooke St., blockading the front of the building for a brief period in the early afternoon.

Their target was a private meeting between Federal International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew and his provincial counterparts where he was slated to discuss the role of the provinces in the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

“I think [the protest] has been a big success,” said CSU VP Communications Yves Engler, one of the organizers. “In a couple of days we were able to get about 100 people out, and we did it all pretty much under the radar [through e-mail and word of mouth].

“A lot of people are committed. We had some really good mobilization. People know the issues, they don’t have to be convinced.”

One major concern of those present was the lack of democracy and transparency of the international negotiations involved in forming the FTAA, which would act to eliminate trade barriers and subsequently, backers of the pact say, lead to a better economic situation for all citizens of the Americas.

“The process is undemocratic. The FTAA is being negotiated secretly. The text [of the working document] was made available only this year. Before that, it wasn’t available to anyone except the Liberals and the […] heads of big businesses,” said Leila Martin, a first year Concordia student, echoing the fears of many that the rights of corporations are coming before those of ordinary citizens.

Counter press conference

At a press conference following the rally, Eric Squire, a member of the Solidarity Network to Stop the FTAA, laid out the reasons most activists are opposed to the proposed agreement.

He pointed out the departure of manufacturing jobs to the lowest-paying country (what is commonly known as the ‘race to the bottom’), as well as cases under the North American Free Trade Agreement – upon which the FTAA is being modeled – where the rights of companies overrule environmental concerns.

The protest marked the first time activists had taken to the streets against the FTAA since a rally held Oct. 31 gathered 7,000 people in front of Place des Arts.

Organizers hope to maintain the momentum from that protest and to continue holding regular events throughout the year.

The main goal, said Canadian Federation of Students (Quebec) chair Aimee van Drimmellen, is to spur the movement on in the hopes of holding two much larger rallies in September and November.

The September rally will coincide with the next round of talks for the World Trade Organization, which will be held from the tenth to the fourteenth in Cancun, Mexico.

November’s demonstration will be held during the next Summit of the Americas, to be held in Miami, Fl., on the twentieth and twenty-first, where the FTAA will be discussed by all 34 heads of state involved.


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