Montreal riot police block protesters from economic forum

Quebec riot police monitoring entrances to a Montreal convention centre where a major international economic conference opened on Monday — but the threat of protest never materialized.
Anti-capitalist protester greets police guarding a global economic forum in Montreal. (Steve Rukavina/CBC)

Quebec riot police monitored entrances to a Montreal convention centre where a major international economic conference opened on Monday — but the threat of protest never materialized. 

Police in riot gear blocked off street access to the International Economic Forum of the Americas, an annual global summit that has drawn more than 3,000 participants from a dozen countries.

A line of Montreal riot police defended the site, while two minibuses packed with heavily armoured provincial police officers sat idling nearby, before they eventually drove off.

Under the tight security, officers checked identification of everyone who passed through their line. The RCMP, meanwhile, searched the bags of journalists covering the event.

A small crowd of people dressed in black gathered just before 9 a.m. in front of a police human barricade put in place in response to a possible protest planned by CLAC, an anti-capitalist collective based in Montreal.

But at many points during the day,  officers easily outnumbered the student and anti-capitalist protesters by more than two to one.

Harper stresses Canadian fiscal discipline

There were far more police officers than protesters by the time Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived to deliver a afternoon speech. The prime minister, attending his first Montreal event in nearly three months, slipped undetected past about two dozen demonstrators outside.

In his speech, Harper credited Canada's strong record of fiscal discipline as a reason the country has fared better than others during the economic crisis. He did not mention Montreal's ongoing unrest, but saluted the creativity and dynamism of the city.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney also addressed the conference Monday.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest also attended the Monday conference, using strong language against the student movement as he tried to frame protesters as extremists.

"What we have seen over the last few weeks is more than just dealing with tuition fees, it's extreme leftist groups who are trying to intimidate people through violence," Charest told reporters, adding that some of the protesters were anarchists.

His remarks also shed light on the heavy police presence employed to protect the conference venue.

"We are going to do everything to make sure that people are secure," he said. "We're not going to give in to any intimidation or violence."

On Sunday, police detained dozens of people outside the Formula One race site, citing security concerns for the "preventive detentions."

At least one other protest is expected this week outside the conference, when former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan addresses the conference.

The conference's main partner is Power Corporation, owned and run by Quebec's Desmarais family.

About 150 experts will make presentations over the next few days on themes including the economy, natural resources, finance, and health care.

With files from the Canadian Press