In November 1997, the world media converged on Vancouver to cover the Asia-Pacific Ecomic Cooperation summit. The major news story that emerged, however, had little to do with the crisis unfolding in the Asian ecomies. At the UBC campus, where the APEC leaders' meeting was held, a predictable student protest met with an unusually strong police response. 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 shocked Canadians. The use of xious chemicals to attack n-violent protesters somehow seemed un-Canadian. It looked more like something that police and soldiers in less democratic countries would do. Other news stories developed. Two dozen law professors wrote to Prime Minister Chretien to report that a number of serious constitutional violations that had taken place on campus. One protester, held for fourteen hours for displaying a sign saying Free Speech, initiated legal proceedings. Other lawsuits followed. The RCMP and the government of Canada were named as defendants, 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. But why all the fuss? So what if the Prime Minister gave orders to the police? The contributors to Pepper in Our Eyes maintain that the so what question is of vital importance. The events at APEC raised serious questions about constitutional principle, the role of police in a democratic society, public accountability, and the effects of globalization on rights and politics. The contributors, experts in a variety of fields, draw upon their kwledge to explain -- in plain English -- the background issues and the values at stake. 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 affair. By getting at the fundamental issues behind the APEC affair, Pepper in Our Eyes seeks to raise our civic consciousness. It shows that there was much more at stake that day than the questionable use of pepper spray. The Hughes Report Special Feature Selected as a BC Book for Everybody
W. Wesley Pue is Nemetz Professor of Legal History at the University of British Columbia.