Churches’ summit showing termed ‘weak’

Published June 1, 2001

Although Canadian churches presented a strongly-worded letter to heads of government at the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, some faith-based protestors on the other side of the fence came away from the weekend disgruntled at what they call a weak showing from the church community.

Leaders of 34 countries signed the Quebec Declaration promising to form the world’s largest free trade zone from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn, following the April 22 to 24 meetings in Quebec. An estimated 30,000 protestors went to Quebec to show their opposition to the agreement.

Anglican Bishop Bruce Stavert of Quebec, whose cathedral lay just inside the $2 million fence erected to keep protestors away, presented a letter from the Canadian Council of Churches to a special “civil society” meeting for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hosted by the federal government.

The CCC asked the leaders to conform to United Nations standards of human rights, to protect the rights of aboriginal people in the Americas, and to cancel national debts. The letter listed the security of agricultural communities, the preservation of publicly funded health and education and the prevention of intellectual property patents from blocking access to life-saving medicines as areas of concern.

However, Bishop Stavert never got his name on the speaker’s list. “Whether any of the leaders, or their people, actually read it, I cannot say,” Bishop Stavert said.

Many criticized the meeting as a sop to the protestors on the other side of the fence.

Among the thousands of protestors, about 200 people identifying themselves with churches and faith-based groups who walked in the peaceful People’s March.

The downtown area was rendered toxic by floating clouds of tear gas, which kept members of the church groups separated from one another and away from the fence, to “act as witness” to the 6,000-strong police presence.

“We as the church were ineffective,” said protestor Susie Henderson, parish and diocesan program coordinator for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. “The police used tear gas as a crowd management strategy on people even when there was no trouble.”

She said members of The Ecumenical Coalition for Social Justice and the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative often accompanied her.

The desire for a more visible church presence in the future, she said, was prompted by the “excessive” police presence in Quebec and the liberal use of tear gas on people who were dancing and praying.

Read Canon Eric Beresford’s column on the summit.


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