Anti-G7 activists in Quebec City call for end to remote meetings as summit in La Malbaie ends

The second major anti-G7 demonstration ended without incident in Quebec City Saturday afternoon, marking the end of a weekend of peaceful protests against the summit held 140 kilometres away in La Malbaie, Que.

Quebec labour unions, NGOs and Rwandan Congress of Canada were among those taking part in demonstrations

Hundreds gathered in the streets of Old Quebec on Saturday afternoon in the second major anti-G7 demonstration of the weekend. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Three days of largely peaceful anti-G7 demonstrations in Quebec City ended Saturday afternoon as a diverse crowd of several hundred people called for an end to expensive and remote meetings of world leaders. 

Around 500 activists gathered outside Quebec's legislature building, the National Assembly, swapping speeches, pamphlets and manifestos before taking off together to march through the city's historic quarter.

Claude Vaillancourt, head of one of the organizing groups, said meetings like the G7, which was held in La Malbaie, Que., 140 kilometre northeast of Quebec City, exclude the voices of the world's poor.

'It's not democratic. It's not good for equality between countries and within countries," Vaillancourt said. "The leaders of the G7 need to talk about this, but unfortunately that's never been the case."

There were no reports of any significant property damage, which had been a fear of many business owners in the city. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

Adrien Welsh, the secretary general of the Young Communist League of Canada, said holding G7 summits in remote locations like La Malbaie is a direct assault on the ability of citizens to participate in the decisions that affect them. 

He said Saturday's event showed there was a "broad unity against the G7 of popular and democratic movements."

Karine Champagne made a point of attending with her seven-year-old son Yuri. 

"I think it's important for the kids to be aware because they can maybe change things later," she said.

Heavy police presence, once again

As they did during two previous days of protest action, dozens of riot police followed the march closely, lining both sides of the street.

Once again, a provincial police officer was spotted carrying an assault rifle. The weapons were first noticed at a demonstration Thursday evening and raised the concerns of human rights groups.

Despite that heavy presence, police said their strategy was to avoid confrontation. During Saturday afternoon's protest, though, tensions rose as police forbade protestors from walking on sidewalks, shoving them back onto the street.

Activist Barry Conway travelled to Quebec City from Hamilton to participate in the anti-G7 demonstrations. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

Over the three days, police said they arrested 13 people, most for illegal assembly. There were no reports of any significant property damage, which had been a fear of many business owners in the city. 

Quebec City police Chief Robert Pigeon, speaking after the last protest, said officers seized a number of objects, including Molotov cocktails. 

Pigeon said preventative efforts included using trucks to block roadways to stop any vehicle from plowing into the crowd and surveillance to foil any property damage plans. 

He defended the heavy police presence, saying, "We chose to go with Option B. By that, I mean to be in prevention mode, to be more visible so we didn't have to use force.

"We finished with people being allowed to express themselves in public in a very safe way."

As they did during the two previous days of protest action, dozens of riot police followed the march closely, lining both sides of the street. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)
They worried the protests against the G7 meeting in La Malbaie would be a repeat of the 2001 Summit of the Americas, when clashes between police and activists led to property damage worth several million dollars.

The crowds this time were much smaller than in 2001.

Some activists attributed that to shifting priorities within the anti-capitalist movements, where the focus has increasingly been on anti-racist actions in response to the rise of far-right groups.

Barry Conway, who travelled to Quebec City from Hamilton to join in on the demonstrations, said all that mattered to him was that people showed up. 

Oxfam, a non-profit group dedicated to fighting global poverty, got creative with its demonstration on Saturday. (Peter Tardif/CBC)

"I think it's the solidarity and the passion, and the connections you make with folks," said Conway, who was wearing and black T-shirt emblazoned with "Antifascist" and the two flags representing the movement. 

"I mean, I would have been happy if I'd showed up and there were two people here passionate about the cause."

Conway said he was dressed in "black bloc" wearing a black scarf covering his face on Friday, but people living in the residential neighbourhood where he protested were kind and asked how he was doing. 

"It's a different culture in Quebec. There's a strong student movement and a strong activist movement," he said. 

Environmental concerns

Earlier, Oxfam, a non-profit group dedicated to fighting global poverty, staged a protest that depicted the G7 leaders on a camping trip, while a campfire representing "the Earth on fire" burned behind them.

"We are calling on the G7 leaders to recognize their responsibilities and really start to tackle climate change," said Rowan Harvey, a gender equality adviser for Oxfam, adding that women and girls in developing countries are most affected.

Climate change and empowering women are among the topics being discussed at the summit, and Harvey said they want leaders to "listen and act on the messages they hear."

The Trudeau government announced Saturday it raised more than $3.8 billion in an effort with other countries to send the world's poorest girls to school.

Members of the Rwandan Congress of Canada also held a protest, decrying Canada's invitation of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the G7, whom the congress has called a war criminal.

With files from Peter Tardif and Sarah Leavitt in Quebec City, and Verity Stevenson in Montreal