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Cablegate: Montreal Anti-War Demonstrators Coalition Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: Quebecers have traditionally been known for anti-war
sentiment; in the lead-up to the current war in Iraq, polling
data, media coverage and the largest demonstrations in Canada
have indicated that pacifism is alive and well in the province.
But the picture of Quebec pacifism presented in the last several
months is probably more complicated than a simple outgrowth of a
historical tradition. Echec a la guerre, the coalition group
that has organized all of the large anti-war demonstrations in
Montreal since January, is comprised primarily of social action
and labor groups. Many of these same people and groups were
active in protesting against globalization at the Quebec City
Summit of the Americas in 2001. Interestingly, evidence has come
to light recently that the size of the Montreal demonstrations,
which were reported to have drawn participants in the 100,000 to
200,000 range, may have been considerably exaggerated. END

2. A Lger Marketing poll conducted March 19-23 is one of many
highlighting Quebec's anti-war views. While Ontarians were
equally divided as to whether or not the U.S. led coalition is
justified in declaring war on Iraq (38 percent said yes, 39
percent said no), in Quebec those numbers were 82 percent no and
only 18 percent yes. The same poll indicates that twice as many
Quebecers (18 percent) would be inclined to boycott U.S. products
than Canadians (9 percent).

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3. Quebec journalists who in normal times hold views more
compatible with anti-globalization and anti-U.S. groups have
intensified their bias in the past year. The France-U.S.
disputes at the UN and the rise of anti-French sentiment in the
U.S. has only deepened the anti-U.S. slant of the French media in
Quebec. Moreover, the presence of France in the dispute has
increased the percentage of AFP stories and stories taken
straight from French publications. La Presse, arguably the most
important paper in Quebec, dispatched correspondent Jooned Khan
to Baghdad at the beginning of the war; Kahn is well known for
his anti-American views and his reporting from Baghdad reflects
this bias. He has been regularly contributing first person
accounts of casualties, especially civilian. Most of the guests
on "Maisonneuve l'coute," one of the most watched news shows
in Quebec, are solidly anti-U.S. Last fall, Maisonneuve hosted a
Moroccan-born professor, Omar Aktouf, who claimed on the air that
Ben Laden had nothing to do with 9-11. Aktouf's comments were
unchallenged by Maisonneuve and the other guest, a French
philosophy philosopher Pascal Bruckner. Maisonneuve and RDI, the
all news network of the French CBC, continue to host French
authors with strong anti-American views.

4. The large Montreal demonstrations against the war -- reported
at 25,000 on January 18, 150,000 on February 15 and 200,000 on
March 15 -- were organized by an umbrella group called chec la
Guerre (Defeat the War). The Group receives the logistical
support of the Fdration des Infirmires et Infirmiers du Qubec
(FIIQ), the Federation of Quebec Nurses. The FIIQ has a
membership of 45,500. (The chec la Guerre web site is
actually the FIIQ web site.) Quebec unions tend to be more
politicized than their more work place oriented counterparts in
other Canadian provinces. They typically have foreign policy
positions, and their leaders speak out on behalf of international
groups they see as oppressed (i.e. the Palestinians). The Nurses
union, for example, has provided assistance to Cuban
o Cuban
organizations and is financing other international projects.

5. The chec coalition, which assembled 125 groups for its first
large march on February 15, has grown to over 200 in the past 6
weeks. Most of these groups have small, sometimes overlapping,
memberships. But the coalition also includes large, more well-
known groups like the Federation of Quebec Women, Greenpeace,
chapters of labor groups such as the Federation des Travailleurs
du Quebec, and the Muslim Council of Montreal (itself an umbrella
group of some thirty Montreal Muslim organizations.) The
official spokesperson of chec la guerre is Francine Nmh, who
is also Director of the Quebec Association of International
Development Organisations, an umbrella group of 51 organizations
that work in International Development such as Oxfam-Qubec and
Mdecins du monde. Nmh was a delegate at the Summit of the
People at the Summit of the Americas. In February, she said that
aid that
"this war is illegal and immoral; to participate is to accept the
premeditated murder of the Iraqi people."

6. Much has been made of the size of the demonstrations in
Montreal. The front page of the tabloid le Journal de Montral
on March 16 screamed, "Record Crowd for Peace: 200,000 People in
the Street" (superimposed over a picture of the crowds). La
Presse estimated the demonstration at between 100,000 and 200,000
but said Montreal's showing provided "a lesson of pacific
solidarity to the rest of the world" where demonstrations on
March 16 attracted fewer people than a month earlier. Several TV
reports said Montreal had one of the largest demonstrations in
the world. The huge numbers of people who came out in cold
weather to protest were quickly seized upon by organizers and
commentators as indicative of the strength of the Quebec anti-war
cause. Bloc Qubcois leader Gilles Duceppe quoted the 250,000
number in the House of Commons as proof of strong public anti-war
sentiment. Some said it could be argued that as many as 10
percent of Montrealers were demonstrating (greater Montreal's
population is approximately 2.5 million people).

7. However, on Sunday (4/6), Jean-Franois Grenier, President of
GeoCom, a site locator company in Montreal, suggested to viewers
of the French CBC 5 sur 5 show that the numbers of protestors on
March 16 were not more than 49,000. He indicated to post on the
phone that 49,000 was a generous interpretation of aerial photos
his company had taken of the crowds (leaving open the possibility
that some thousands of people had left the protest when the
photos were taken). Grenier told us he thought the actual
figure, as indicated by the density of the crowds measured in his
photos, was likely between 35,000 and 40,000. Geocom made a
crowd density assessment for the demonstrations on March 14 at
the request of French CBC. Grenier indicated he thought the
numbers cited by both the media, demonstration organizers and
even the police were way off. (Grenier also questioned the size
of demonstrations reported in Europe.) None of the Monday (4/5)
papers mentioned the strong possibility that the March 16 crowds
had been overestimated nor did CBC French television do much to
publicize its new-found information.

8. COMMENT: Regardless of the number of people who attended the
peace marches, Quebecers do oppose the war to a greater extent
than other Canadians. But because that opposition is greatest
among the media and militant anti-globalization groups,
perceptions may be skewed. The present anti-war sentiment is
widespread in Quebec but we suspect that among the general
population, this sentiment does not run as deep as the media and
certain politicians have presented it.

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