Saturday night at around 9:00 pm, four students who were participating in an anti-APEC protest at the UBC Museum of Anthropology were arrested by the RCMP. Eleven students had set up a tent city, wrote some slogans on windows and rearranged some rocks to spell out a message. A BCCLA observer at the site reported that the protest was restrained, non confrontational, non obstructive and entirely peaceful.
However, the RCMP claimed that the student’s presence hindered workers in laying cables and making other preparations for APEC functions to be held there. The RCMP could act immediately because UBC gave control of the president’s house and the Museum of Anthropology to the Federal Government for the term of the APEC conference. According to the police, the students were warned that if they did not leave they would be arrested. Seven students left, and the remaining four, who were said to be “interfering with the use and enjoyment” of the property, were charged with criminal mischief and taken to the RCMP campus detachment.
As a condition of release they had to sign an undertaking in which they promised, for the term of the conference, not to be within 100 meters of any site, person, or official of the APEC conference, and that they would not
participate or be found in attendance at any public demonstration or rally that has gathered together for the sole purpose of demonstrating against the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation or any nation participating in the so named conference.
While the B.C. Civil Liberties Association recognizes the legitimate need for security arrangements, it considers that these conditions go well beyond security needs. The 100 meter limitation seems chosen for the sole purpose of preventing the students from making themselves heard by any of the APEC delegates, and the total prohibition on participating in demonstrations, no matter where they are held, serves no security interest at all. Since the students had in no way behaved or threatened to behave in a violent manner, these conditions seem designed to prevent legitimate political protest. They constitute a clear breach of the students’ right to assembly, association and expression.
Effectively, the undertaking stifles the students’ right to protest the actions of their own government, as well as those of other governments, upon threat of imprisonment. According to the RCMP, these conditions were drafted by an APEC planning committee that included the RCMP well before the conference began.
The right to participate in peaceful political protest is one of the most cherished in the Western legal tradition, and is particularly important on University campuses. While the BCCLA agrees that ‘releases on undertakings’ may appropriately be used to limit an arrestee’s subsequent criminal conduct, the use of this tool to stifle constitutionally protected political speech is a dangerous erosion of liberty.
It would seem that the powers that be want to protect APEC members from witnessing first hand what it means to have free political speech in true democratic nation.