Using a citizen search and seizure operation to pressure the gov­ernment to release public documents


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Operation SalAMI used what it called a “Citizen Search and Seizure Operation” to pressure the Canadian gov­ernment to release a secret draft treaty that members believed could undermine human rights. The group was able to generate public condemnation of the secrecy used to shield the government and the treaty from public scrutiny. Philippe Duhamel, an organizer and trainer, describes the operation:

For months, the government had adamantly refused to make public the draft papers for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), a trade liberalization treaty being negotiated among 34 countries of the Americas. We announced our intention to pick up the hard copies of the FTAA texts at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Inter­national Trade on April 1, 2001. First, we would hold a legal demonstration in Ottawa, where one of two things would happen: either we would joyfully pick up the boxes of documents given to us, or the offensive secrecy of the process would be made public. If the texts were not released, we would use a nonviolent blockade to shut down the building and attempt a “search and seizure” operation, a citizens’ raid to obtain the documents through a strictly nonviolent intervention.

When the government did not comply, a group of citizens declared, “We ask you, police officers, to do your duty and help us retrieve the documents to which we have a right. Do not become accomplices of the secrecy and manipulation of this government. If you refuse to seek and retrieve the texts on our behalf, we will have no option but to attempt to retrieve those ourselves.” One by one, they then gave their names and said, “I am here to exercise my rights as a citizen. Please let me through.” Groups of two then proceeded to climb over the barricade. Close to 100 people were arrested and held overnight. No charges were filed. Across the country, people asked, “Why is the government refusing to give us these documents and choosing to arrest its own citizens instead?”

The action, and the vast campaign around it, were covered by virtually every media outlet in the country. The govern­ment was forced to act. One week after the Citizen Search and Seizure Operation, the Canadian government, after consulting the other negotiating partners, finally agreed to make the documents public.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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