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)

If people at work started taking orders from their loved ones at home, of how to do their job, nothing would ever get done right. Not only that, but this would be totally wrong in itself. Well, believe it or not, this is exactly what happened during the 1997 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vancouver. These aren’t any type of workers were talking about; we are specifically talking about the federal police force in Canada, specifically the Royal Canadian Mounted Police(RCMP). Now, the RCMP did not follow the fundamental principle of police independence. There was the big question of government interference. This is one of the key issues associated with the 1997 APEC incident. The RCMP came into violation of this fundamental principle.

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.

Accoring to Pue(2000) APEC raised some 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 famous 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.

Surely enough there had been some special orders given to the police during the 1997 APEC summit. This is evident from the behavior of the police . The RCMP was really worried about making sure the leaders were protected, which was fine, but to an extent. The whole process of how it was done was really out of the ordinary. The police went about proactively arresting protesters and even taking down sings that protesters put up. The police went to the extent of using pepper spray on the non-violent protesters, this was really an outrage. This is a breach of individual’s rights to exercise their freedom of speech. When individuals were arrested (for no proper reason) there was special bail conditions, they had to sign bail papers with conditions such as “we will only release you if you promise not to go back and protest in the UBC area until such and such time”. There is no way the police were acting this way without special orders given to them.

Pue 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 given to the police for this day.

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 Pue: 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)

Another important finding while conducting my research was that 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.

The concept of police independence from government goes deep and can be confusing; it indulges on what has been referred to as a special delicate balance (Wiseman 2008). Contrastingly, the rule of law would be breeched if anyone told an RCMP officer that they must investigate or lay charges against a certain person or group. For example like during the APEC if officers were told to use force against protesters to make them stop. This kind of direction to the police comes in the way of police investigations and the course of justice. These kinds of directions bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Then again, the RCMP, like others in the government, must be accountable to superiors and ultimately to responsible Ministers and through them to other people. Entire downright independence “would run the risk of creating another type of police state, one in which the police would not be answerable to anyone.”(Wiseman 2008) Police independence from interference in individual investigations is definitely important, but so is the ability for the government to provide general direction to the whole police force and be accountable for police conduct.

In the book “Police Corruption Deviance, accountability and reform in policing” by Maurice Punch (2009), he talks about something called state domination corruption. He says it is when police are linked to state or local politicians and their illicit aims, with sometimes clandestine units, death squads and violence against political opponents and rivals in criminal enterprises and against out-groups such as terrorists, street children, and journalists. Well what happened during APEC was exactly this, because police were guided by political influence and there was no “police independence” that day. There is lots of evidence in the RCMP PCC exhibits which is about 1.3m of text records. It consisted of documents compiled by many government agencies and witnesses for display during the RCMP Public Complaints Commission. There was so much evidence of statements from police and witnesses, pictures, videos(about 80), and other relevant material.

An important testimony was provided by Annette Muttray from the UBC Library Archive (Link) . Muttray was a graduate student at UBC and became a target to police on that Nov, 25, 1997. She was arrested while looking for her friend Jamie Douchette during the protest, but he was already arrested himself. She was taken to the Richmond Police Detention Facility, where many other APEC protesters were. She, like all other females was subjected to a strip search by the police. In the end, Muttray’s allegations that her arrest had been inappropriate, and that her bicycle and backpack had been left unattended by police were rejected by the PCC Commissioner. In addition, while the strip search of female prisoners was, in general, deemed inappropriate by the Commissioner, he agreed that Muttray had been legally and rightfully arrested and that her strip search was, therefore, not unlawful. In a similar case another UBC student represent himself at the RCMP Public Complaints Commission hearings and was a vocal critic of the process insisting that it could have no lasting effect due to its inability to call then Prime Minister Jean Chretien to account for decisions made in and around the protests at UBC.

Annette’s story brings me to my point of the police and politicians using techniques of neutralization (Punch, 2009), which are accounts and rhetorical devices employed to neutralize the moral bind of law. Accounts are employed both before and after an act, in order to justify or excuse it. This is basically a form of denial. The RCMP officers that day at APEC could have been thinking to themselves sayings “these orders were given by our prime minister, so were only doing our job”. These are just ways of minimizing wrong things and making them justifiable. Another good example of this is when Prime Minister Chrétien brushes away the pepper spray incident, saying “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate”.(Link) Punch would say this technique of neutralization is the denial of responsibility from the Prime Minister.

In the Charter of Rights and Freedoms it guarantees some rights to everyone. Some of those rights in the Charter are the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. During the 1997 Vancouver APEC summit, these fundamental freedoms which are guaranteed by the Charter were nowhere to be found. Special orders given to the police were in breach of these fundamental rights during their dealings with demonstrators. The demonstrators just wanted to be heard and issues about human rights to be discussed in the APEC agenda.

For some reason Canadian politicians promised the Indonesian and Chinese head of states that they would stop protests that were directed at them. They expressed their concerns to Canada that they didn’t want their leaders to be publicly embarrassed by protests at the Vancouver APEC summit.  RCMP Staff Sergeant Peter Montague reports that he too did make promises that they would try their hardest to stay away from protest routes and protestors. Clearly our very own Government and the federal police force of Canada took the head of states from China and Indonesia’s embarrassment more important than the very own rights and safety of their own citizens.

The final recommendations of the inquiry (link) from Judge Ted Hughes, he mentioned a few things like how the federal government exercised improper influence on security arrangements for the 1997 APEC summit and the RCMP displayed “inappropriate police conduct” during the raucous event, concludes a highly anticipated inquiry report. The interim report of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, put together by former judge Ted Hughes, pointed a finger at federal officials for unwarranted “influence and intrusion” in the pepper-spraying and arrests of students camped on the summit grounds at UBC.

The three main recommendations were:

1. Policing public order events

— “Generous opportunity” must be allowed for peaceful protests.

— University campuses are the wrong places for events where “delegates are to be sequestered and protected from visible and audible signs of dissent.”

— Mounties need to improve approaches to command structures, training, planning, Quick Response teams, and record keeping.

— The national police force needs to work with the leaders of protest groups before protests occur. Adequate warnings need to be issued if physical confrontation is possible.

— Decisions on body searches should be made taking into account the kind of protest and risks involved. Police, when releasing prisoners from custody, should consider whether it is late at night and a long ways from the place of arrest.

2. Public complaints procedure– The APEC inquiry was “lengthy, complex and expensive.” As things stand, any member of the public personally affected or not, is able to make complaints and have their expenses covered. There should be a way to streamline the process — British Columbia’s approach being a good example.

3. Relations with Canadian government– The Mounties should request “statutory codification” stating how they are independent from the federal government. The force’s officers need to know they must “brook no intrusion or interference whatever” in carrying out their duties.

All in all, it doesn’t matter if you naturalize your actions or not because they are wrong in themselves. The police should not use methods of neutralization and make themselves think it was okay for them to act unlawfully because they were given orders from politicians. Rather, the police should just do their job normally and independently and away from any influence let alone a political one. Now how often will officers go out and break their little rule of silence and go yapping “we were told to do this because of so and so”. The answer is never, but even without the police telling us directly, it’s not hard to put the pieces of the puzzle together of what happened that day during Vancouver APEC Summit 1997.

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