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Pepper in Our Eyes: The Apec Affair

by W. Wesley Pue, ed.

It’s been over two years since the pepper-spraying of University of British Columbia students by the RCMP at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation captured national attention. In an age of limited historical memory, questions raised by that incident seem to have been displaced by the tear-gassing of young people at last December’s anti-WTO protests in Seattle.

Yet the APEC affair, which raised crucial questions about accountability and truthfulness at the highest levels of Canadian government, demands continued investigation. One useful resource is this quasi-academic tome, with essays by the likes of Terry Milewski, the CBC reporter removed from covering the story, and Gerald Morin, a member of the ill-fated initial APEC inquiry.

It’s an unsettling journey that challenges the Canadian myth of incorruptible Dudley Do-Rights (in the only country that celebrates its secret police on postcards).

While this is not exactly a mass market book, most of the essays are accessible in addressing constitutional questions raised by the violent response to peaceful protest. Other topics covered include the nature of APEC itself, the trade-off of human rights in the name of economic growth, and the efforts of students to obtain financial assistance to pay lawyers at the APEC inquiry.

Apart from some unconvincing contributions – including a police officer’s explanation of when and why force is used and a pro-APEC student’s complaints about the militant tone of some of the protesters – Pue has exercised sound editorship, making sure the essays do not become overly repetitive.

Ironically, though, the composition of this collection might well draw protest from the very individuals who were pepper- sprayed. Most of the writers are lawyers and university professors, and while some are sympathetic to the protests, the reader is left hoping to hear the voices of those who were mistreated and jailed in the interests of not insulting visiting politicians and dictators.


Reviewer: Matthew Behrens

Publisher: UBC Press


Price: $39.95

Page Count: 232 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7748-0779-2

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 2000-3

Categories: Politics & Current Affairs