MONTEBELLO, Quebec (Reuters) - Ray Sunstrum admitted he didn’t expect to find himself protesting nearly alone outside the summit of North American leaders on Tuesday, but said it didn’t bother him.
“It doesn’t take a million people here to protest. It takes one person,” the soft-spoken 60-year-old Gatineau, Quebec, resident told a reporter outside the Chateau Montebello resort in the small Quebec town of Montebello, about 70 km (43 miles) east of Ottawa.
Some 2,000 people demonstrated Monday against the meeting of U.S. President George W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
It had dwindled to a handful on Tuesday, and even a plan to protest from canoes ran out of steam before the paddlers reached the resort beside the Ottawa River.
“I think the issue is free speech and democracy.” Sunstrum said, holding a picture of Bush that was modified to make it look like he was wearing the beard and headgear of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Inside the resort hotel, the leaders wrapped up two days of meetings on issues such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership, or SPP, a plan to more closely integrate North American security and trade.
The SPP was a lightening rod for Monday’s protest, with critics deriding the meeting as a secretive session that ignored the concerns of ordinary citizens while the leaders talked to corporate chief executives.
“I’m amused by the difference between what actually takes place in the meetings and what some were trying to say takes place,” Bush told reporters, accusing critics of the summit of using “scare tactics.”
Violence erupted during Monday’s protest, with a group of about 200 younger demonstrators throwing bottles, vegetables and rocks at riot police, who responded with tear gas. Four people were arrested.
Police guarded the resort entrance again on Tuesday, but the officers in riot gear were only occasionally visible behind a security fence — whizzing about on small, four-wheel all-terrain vehicles.
Five young men approached and asked to “talk to our elected leaders.” After much insistence a police officer said, “No.” The men left peacefully, but not before talking to police and reporters through a megaphone.
“People don’t like getting tear-gassed and shot at,” Alex Hundert of Toronto said when asked why so few demonstrators had shown up. Another man added that Monday’s violence had involved only a handful of anarchists in the crowd.