I wasn't thrilled that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service quoted my book in its new report on the anti-globalization "threat." In some of the circles in which I travel, writing for The Globe is enough of a political liability, never mind being a de facto CSIS informant. But there it is on Page 3: No Logo helping CSIS to understand why those crazy kids keep storming trade meetings.
Usually, I welcome any and all readers, but I have this sneaking suspicion that, a few months from now, this report is going to be used to justify smashing in the heads of some very good friends of mine.
In April, Quebec City will play host to the most significant free-trade summit since the World Trade Organization negotiations collapsed in Seattle last December. At the Summit of the Americas, 34 states will meet with the purpose of launching the Free Trade Area of the Americas—a version of the North American free-trade agreement for the entire hemisphere (except, of course, Cuba).
The CSIS report is designed to assess the threat that anti-corporate protests pose to the summit. But, interestingly, it does more than paint activists as latent terrorists (though it does that, too). It also makes a somewhat valiant effort to understand the issues behind the anger.
The report notes, for instance, that protesters are enraged by "the failure to approve debt relief for poor countries." They believe that many corporations are guilty of "social injustice, unfair labour practices . . . as well as lack of concern for the environment," and that the institutions governing trade are "interested only in the profit motive." It's not a bad summary, really (infiltrating all those teach-ins paid off). The report even pays the protesters a rare compliment: According to CSIS, they not only know their stuff, they are "becoming more and more knowledgeable about their subject."
Sure, these observations are made in the spirit of know thy enemy, but at least CSIS is listening. Which is more than you can say for our Minister of International Trade. In an address to the Inter-American Development Bank this month, Pierre Pettigrew set out a bizarre George Lucas-style dynamic in which free traders are the forces of global order and its critics the forces of "global disorder." These sinister foes aren't motivated by "idealism"—as the CSIS report states—but are driven by a selfish desire "to exclude others from the kind of prosperity we enjoy." And they don't have some legitimate concerns—they don't have a clue. "Globalization, quite simply, is part of the natural evolutionary process," Mr. Pettigrew said. "It goes hand in hand with the progress of humanity, something which history tells us no one can stand in the way of."
If the government is worried that protesters are going to ruin its party in Quebec City, it should start by admitting that Mother Nature doesn't write international trade agreements, people do. Better yet, instead of "monitoring the communications of protesters," as the CSIS reports calls for, the Liberals should drag the discussion out of the cloak-and-dagger domain of intelligence reports and devote the next eight months to an open, inclusive, national debate on whether we want NAFTA for the hemisphere.
There is a precedent. In 1988, the Liberals played a leading role in just such a debate, over the free-trade agreement. But back then, the pros and cons of trade deregulation were theoretical: it was a war, essentially, of competing predictions.
Now, Canadians are in a position to examine the track record. We can ask ourselves: Have the NAFTA rulings allowed us to protect our culture? Has the labour side agreement protected the rights of factory workers in Canada and Mexico? Has the environmental side agreement given us the freedom to freely regulate polluters? Have human rights, from Chiapas to L.A. to Toronto, been strengthened?
We can also look at the proportion of our GDP that relies on trade (43 per cent), at the standard of living for average Canadians (stagnant). Then we can ask ourselves: Is this the best economic system we can imagine? Are we satisfied with more of the same? Do really we want NAFTA x 34? Such debate in itself would be evidence of a healthy democracy, but we could go even further. Canada's entry in the FTAA could become a core issue in the next federal election and—here's a crazy idea—we could vote on it.
It won't happen, of course. Democracy in Canada will be relegated to a petty haggling over tax cuts. The critics of our economic path will become more disenfranchised, and more militant. And the job of the police will be to protect our politicians from real politics, even if it means turning Quebec City into a fortress.
Setting the stage for this use of force, the CSIS report concludes that, "given the virulent anti-globalization rhetoric . . . the threat of summit-associated violence in Quebec City cannot be ruled out." Perhaps it can't. But given the virulent anti-activist rhetoric, and the collusion of our politicians, the threat of police violence in Quebec City is virtually guaranteed.
This article first appeared in The Globe and Mail.