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1997: Protest and pepper spray at APEC conference

Frustration is mounting in Vancouver. Politicians from around the world meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference. UBC students carry protest signs, angry that the issue of human rights isn't on the APEC agenda. The RCMP try to clear the area but chaos erupts. Protesters tear down a fence and pepper spray is shot into the crowds. Later, an unapologetic Prime Minister Chrétien brushes away the pepper spray incident, saying "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate."
• Protesters were especially bothered by the presence of Indonesian President Suharto because of his poor human rights record. In September 1998, a series of emails and internal correspondence were leaked to the press. They revealed that Chrétien was particularly worried that protestors would embarrass APEC leaders.

• The RCMP Complaints Commission began an inquiry in October 1998. Commissioner Ted Hughes found that some instances of RCMP conduct were inconsistent with the fundamental freedoms in the Charter of Rights. The 453-page report indicated that there was improper involvement by the federal government but stopped short of indicting Prime Minister Chrétien. The Commission sat for more than 160 days and heard from more than 150 witnesses.

• The Prime Minister's Director of Communications, Peter Donolo, accused CBC reporter Terry Milewski of biased reporting in 1998. Radio-Canada ombudsman, Marcel Pepin, spent five months reviewing Milewski's coverage and his correspondence with his sources. In one particular email exchange with student protester Craig Jones, Milewski referred to the government as "the forces of darkness." Nonetheless, Pepin found that while Milewski's journalistic style was "aggressive," he was not biased in his reporting.

• In 1989, Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) was established in response to the growing interdependent relationship among Asia-Pacific economies. The 12 founding members included Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. China, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia and Vietnam have since been added.

• Pepper spray, or oleoresin capsicum, derives from the cayenne pepper plant. When sprayed in the face, it causes temporary blindness and makes it hard to breathe. Eyes swell and seal shut. The effects of the spray can last for up to 45 minutes.

• The final report indicated that Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart made an unfortunate decision in using pepper spray on the protesters. But, his decision reflected limitations of poor planning and time constraints. In June 2002, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 25, 1997
Guest(s): Gabby Resch, John Tackaberry
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Terry Milewski
Duration: 2:28

Last updated: April 12, 2013

Page consulted on April 12, 2013

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