MONTREAL — Attending his first event in Montreal in nearly three months, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not get much of a first-hand glimpse of the raucous local protests that have made international news.
That’s because there are about a dozen people demonstrating outside the hotel where he’s scheduled to speak — and not all of them are aware of the prime minister’s attendance.
Police easily outnumber protesters by more than two to one at the International Economic Forum of the Americas, which the prime minister is attending Monday.
The event is taking place under considerable security.
A line of riot police is defending the site of the conference. The RCMP is searching the bags of journalists covering the event. Earlier in the day, there were minibuses filled with heavily armed provincial riot police but they eventually drove away.
An advisory announcing the prime minister’s attendance at the conference, and that of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, only went out Monday morning, giving potential protesters little advance notice of the high-profile visitors.
Some were completely unaware the prime minister was coming.
When approached by a reporter for an interview one young man, Marc-Antoine Marcoux, replied: “Harper’s going to be here?”
He expressed frustration about the overall turnout for the event, which he had said was supposed to attract 1,000 people.
Even police appeared befuddled by the lack of protesters. One police officer left the defensive line to talk to Marcoux and ask him where everybody was. He asked whether there was some delay, or whether droves would suddenly show up later.
Student and anti-capitalist groups did stage a small demonstration outside the downtown hotel hosting the conference, which Harper and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney were attending Monday. Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan will also address the conference Wednesday.
Protesters were heckling delegates as they entered through the police line, telling attendees to “go home” and calling them “fascists.”
The crowd over the lunch hour had included several dozen protesters, and most of them left well before Harper’s scheduled 3 p.m. speech.
The event followed Montreal’s tumultuous Grand Prix weekend which saw vandalism, arrests and clashes between riot police and anti-capitalist demonstrators.
The speech by Greenspan scheduled for Wednesday is also expected to draw the ire of protesters. An anti-capitalist group organizing Monday’s event blames Greenspan as being largely responsible for the global economic crisis.
Delegates at the four-day economic conference include political, economic and regulatory officials from around the world.
Montreal’s student protests, which have lasted four months, have swelled to include various causes — including opposition to capitalism.
Protester Priscillia Laplante believes the Harper government’s policies are squeezing poorer people in Canada.
“He goes completely against what the middle and lower classes believe right now,” said Laplante, who also wants to send a message to conference delegates and Charest.
“It’s no longer just a question of education, it’s a question of rights, it’s a question of social class and we believe it should be fair for everybody.
“I think that if we look for solutions together, it will be possible to find them.”