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Chrétien grilled as free speech meets pepper spray

The Story

In November 1997, Vancouver plays host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Conference. When protesters show up, the RCMP is quick to make arrests using pepper spray and brutal force as seen in this TV report. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien tried to play down the RCMP's handling of the demonstrators, joking: "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate." But the controversy dubbed "Peppergate" continues to plague Chrétien and his Liberals four years later. The question at the centre of the controversy: Did the Prime Minister's Office violate the constitutional rights of Canadians to appease a visiting foreign dictator, Indonesian President Suharto. While the long-awaited report into police conduct at the APEC conference slams both the RCMP and the federal government, it stops short of criticizing Prime Minister Chrétien.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Aug. 6, 2001
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Eric Sorensen
Duration: 4:43

Did You know?

• The RCMP Complaints Commission began an inquiry in October 1998. The Commission sat for more than 160 days and heard from more than 150 witnesses. The 453-page report delivered by former judge and B.C. provincial conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes was released in September 2001.

• Although the report criticized Jean Carle, a former director of operations in the PMO for playing an "improper" role in pressing police to remove protesters, the RCMP took full blame. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said it was the police who made mistakes that led to the improper crackdown on protesters.

• Peppergate left Prime Minster Chrétien personally unscathed but claimed a prominent victim from his cabinet. Solicitor general Andy Scott was forced to resign after he was overheard on a flight saying RCMP Staff Sgt. Hugh Stewart "would take the fall" for Peppergate. Hughes's report blamed Staff Sgt. Stewart for the "unfortunate decision" to use pepper spray on the protestors, but said his decision was a reflection of poor planning by the RCMP. In June 2002 Stewart was promoted to the rank of sergeant major.

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

• 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.

• 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, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.


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