By Jonathan Spicer
Hundreds of students marched in Toronto last Thursday to protest the seventh summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Ryerson was one of Toronto’s gathering points for those worried about the proposed international deal that would create the world’s largest free trade zone, affecting 650 million people and $9 trillion in capital. The rally was part of a hemispheric day of action planned to coincide with the summit.
Many anticipate that the FTAA, which was being negotiated in Ecuador by the 34 democratic countries in the Western Hemisphere, will concentrate profits, privatize social services and deteriorate legislation protecting workers rights and the environment.
The FTAA’s effort to facilitate commercial exchange in the Western Hemisphere began in Miami in 1994, where heads of state agreed that barriers to trade and investment should be progressively eliminated. The deal is subject to ratification in 2005.
“We are with Brazil,” said Arron Gibson, a first-year new media student at Ryerson, who marched in the demonstration last Thursday. “We are with all of the citizens who will lose out if this goes through.”
“Brazil is the only country that is a threat to the FTAA now because its elected leader [Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] is completely against it,” Gibson said.
Students, some in Halloween costumes, gathered around 1 p.m. in front of Jorgenson Hall to hear speeches that touched on war, water and women’s rights. Ryerson students joined those who were bussed in from the University of Guelph and local colleges and universities.
Rain fell lightly on the demonstrators as they streamed up Yonge Street.
Police cruisers, cops on bikes and a grey GMC truck lead the march. Atop the speakers in the back of the pick-up, Alex Lisman, wearing a George W. Bush mask, waved to his cheering followers like he just won an election. At the back, a ghostly figure with “peace” etched on her breast floated in the wake.
“There can be stereotypes on either side; that everyone in Canada or the United States is for free trade when there’s a huge proportion — it they know what it entails — who would be against the idea,” said Noel Lianga, a University of Guelph student who was at the march. “People in South America or Latin America, knowing that people here support them, will probably get a lot more strength out of it.”
His friend, fellow Guelph student Joel Fulford, said demonstrations in the north have more clout because of greater rights of speech and participation than some states in the south. “Here, we have a lot more media access, and we can get the word out there … to the authority or people who are supposed to represent us,” he said.
The march stopped at the foot of the federal Liberal headquarters. With the New Yorker Theatre as a towering backdrop to his performance, a Colombian wearing a United States military uniform asked: “Why are these uniforms in Colombia? Ecuador? Anywhere but the United States?”
Anti-FTAA protesters have long feared that its implementation would lead to increased militarization and control of the hemisphere’s natural resources. This draws people to the streets, along with the idea that larger economies will increasingly dominate smaller ones — even through the FTAA stresses that they take this into account in order to facilitate equal participation.
Canada and the United States alone represent almost 80 per cent of the hemisphere’s combined gross domestic product.
After leaving Liberal headquarters, the students marched down Bloor Street to meet a group of students from the University of Toronto that had just left the Toronto District School Board building.
“We’re here today with people across the hemisphere,” said part-time U of T student Emily Sadowski. “These people … are feeling the same things.”
The march flowed by Holt Renfrew, and then the Gap, Birks and William Ashley, before the demonstrators gathered at the steps of Queen’s Park to hear more speeches. Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, closed up the cold, damp day with an appearance at U of T.