Vancouver 1997 APEC Summit – Political Policing and Civil Rights

Posted: October 6, 2011 by napatreez in Vancouver APEC 1997
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The 1997 APEC summit was known as the biggest and most-expensive private meeting in Canadian history. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) (Link) is a forum for 21 countries that want to advocate free trade and economic cooperation throughout the Asia Pacific area. APEC was created in 1989 responding to the expanding interdependence of Asia-Pacific economies and the advent of regional economic allied groups like the European Union in other parts of the world. APEC works to raise living standards and education levels through sustainable economic growth and to make a sense of community and show interests among Asia-Pacific countries. Members account for approximately 40% of the world’s population, 54% of the world’s gross domestic product, and 44% of world trade.(Wikipedia, Link)

There was lots of tension in Vancouver that was being built at this time. Politicians from around the world were all meeting at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference. This meeting was held on the grounds of University of British Columbia, where many students were carrying protest signs, angry that the issue of human rights wasn’t on the APEC meeting. The RCMP was trying to clear the area but chaos arose.  The protesters tore down a fence and pepper spray was shot into the crowds. (CBC Achieve, Link)

Protesters and members of the UBC community alleged that they were targets of police harassment before and during the event. It was end of the year in 1997 the world media eyes were on Vancouver to cover the APEC summit. Basically all the news that was on headlines was not much to do with APEC but rather towards police response to the crowds and protesters. The least that could be said was that the police response was out of the ordinary and shocking. “A crowd of students was pepper-sprayed, along with a CBC cameraman. The dramatic video footage of the incident that appeared on the evening news”(Pue, 2000) and everyone saw. The use of pepper spray to attack non-violent protesters is unusual and brings the ministry of justice into disrepute. All over the web there is a picture of the “pepper spray sergeant” using a huge canister of pepper spray and going all-out on the non violent crowd.

Many law professors that wrote to Prime Minister Chrétien to report that a number of serious constitutional violations that had taken place on UBC campus during this ‘incident’. Later, an unapologetic Prime Minister Chrétien brushes away the pepper spray incident, saying “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate”.(Link) This really makes no sense especially when according to Peu: there was a protester held by police extremely long period of time for just displaying a sign that said “Free Speech”. Furthermore, this initiated many legal proceedings with this case and more. “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian government were named as defendants in these cases, and a public inquiry was launched. A central issue was whether the Prime Minister’s officials gave orders of a political nature to the police that resulted in law-abiding citizens being assaulted and arrested.”(Pue, 2000)

Peu goes on to say APEC raise serious questions about constitutional principle, the role of police in a democratic society, public accountability, and the effects of globalization on rights and politics. So how much power do the politicians really have?  Some of the authors, such as Gerald Morin, chair of the first RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and CBC journalist Terry Milewski, had a direct connection with the APEC situation that occurred. This was more than just a case of abuse of power and authority over a non-violent crowd by the use of pepper spray. There must have been some special orders and political influence given to the police.

When a Search was conducted on Google –“Vancouver 1997 APEC Summit”, the first page consisted of one link from Wikipedia and many news articles of the 1997 APEC Summit. However, the best information came from the UBC Achieves. The news articles from the search only talk about the pepper spray incident. On Wikipedia it is more formal in the sense that it talks about solely about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and does wonders for explaining what it is and its history, purpose and goals, criticism, and expansion. The UBC Achieves had information about everything. Surprisingly there was no government websites talking about the incident or the inquiry.



Peu, W. P. (2000). The apec affair In Pepper in Our Eyes Toronto: UTP Distribution.

Pecho, J. P. (2008). Apec inquiry collection (various collectors) . Retrieved from

Milewski, T. M. (Producer). (2005). Protest and pepper spray at apec conference. [Print Photo].

Retrieved from

Asia-pacific economic cooperation (2011). [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is a good introductory overview.

    You point out Pue’s remarks about the question of government interference. This is one of the key issues associated with the 1997 APEC incident. In a future post, it would be great if you could explain the principle of police independence, discuss its importance, and explain how the RCMP actions at UBC in 1997 came to be seen as a violation of this principle. What are the implications?

    Another important aspect of the policing of APEC ’97 was the use of ‘undertakings’ as a policing tactic. What are undertakings, and why was their use in this context problematic?

  2. […] not, this is exactly what happened during the 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit (Link ) In Vancouver. These aren’t any type of workers were talking about; we are specifically talking […]

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