Bush, Clinton In Vancouver: Police, Occupy Protesters Brace For Former Presidents' Canada Visit

First Posted: 10/20/11 05:00 AM ET Updated: 10/23/11 03:35 PM ET

SURREY, B.C. - A raucous group of protesters gathered outside a Surrey, B.C. hotel Thursday, hoisting colourful cardboard placards, shouting into megaphones and looking and sounding much like the masses who have converged for Occupy rallies in cities across Canada.

But unlike their counterparts, this group had a single, united objective — to secure the arrest of George W. Bush.

"This is a specific way justice can be served," said Allison Jones, who travelled to the Vancouver suburb to show her disapproval of the former U.S. president and the policies he passed while commander-in-chief.

Bush and his fellow former president, Bill Clinton, drew two distinct crowds to their lunch-hour speaking engagement.

Inside were 500 business people who paid $599 per ticket to the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. Outside, another 200 or so activists stared down a line of police officers while chanting: "Do your job and enforce the law!"

Following protests that galvanized thousands in Vancouver and other cities across Canada last Saturday as part of the Occupy movement, RCMP in Surrey prepared for the prospect of holding back several hundred demonstrators as Bush and Clinton chatted inside. A key critique of the movement is that it has no unifying goal.

Several dozen Mounties blocked off a small stretch of road to traffic and formed a calm, human barricade in front of the venue. Cpl. Drew Grainger said there were no major incidents and no arrests.

Amnesty International, along with several other peace and human rights organizations, contend Bush should be tried under Canadian and international law for war crimes, including torture.

They point to what they call the illegal invasion of Iraq and his administration's admitted use of techniques like waterboarding as evidence of crimes.

Dick Cheney, Bush's vice-president, has defended the techniques, saying the intelligence gleaned saved lives.

Gail Davidson, who founded the group Lawyers Against War, said Watts and the Canadian government are doing something worse than simply turning a blind-eye to what activists see as the Bush administration's crimes.

"The U.S. is Canada's biggest trading partner, therefore, George W. Bush as a former president of the United States is a friend of ours and we're going to use our power to suspend the law and protect him from accountability."

Inside the hotel, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts told reporters the forum was meant to bring together diverse opinions on the global economy, and the group outside had a right to express their opinions too.

"I don't condone anything," she said of the war crimes allegations.

"I think that you have to realize there is a process and a venue — the international court — he has to be charged, tried and convicted. There's a process to do that and they have every right to proceed with that."

Back outside, a dozen people sang political lyrics in perfect harmony.

"Praise George Bush for an unending war on drugs and terror and the poor. Too bad about a million dead, at least the rich are safe in bed."

Others wore Hallowe'en masks depicting Bush, Cheney, and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Some waved a single shoe in the air, a reference to a notorious incident where an Iraqi man hurled his footwear at the former president as a sign of disrespect.

Chris Bennett blamed the world's economic problems on Bush and also pointed a finger at Canada's prime minister.

"Stephen Harper and George Bush are brothers from different mothers," he said. "Stephen Harper has taken Canadians' good name and trashed it in the same way George Bush has done to the United States."

Money spent on wars in the Middle East and bailing out big banks, as done in the U.S. and Europe, should be spent on bringing clean water, the Internet and other technology to developing nations, he said.

While Bush was on Canadian soil, a representative of the Canadian Centre for International Justice asked the courts to approve a draft indictment against Bush. A justice of the peace accepted sworn information alleging he was behind the torture of four men who were detained for years in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The group said it had 4,000 pages of documents supporting its case for trying Bush under the Canadian criminal code. The move was supported by a letter signed by more than 50 human rights organizations and individuals, including Amnesty International.

"We feel wonderful about being able to finally put these charges before a court," said legal director Matt Eisenbrandt.

A process hearing is set for Jan. 9.

Final approval for such a prosecution goes to the federal Attorney General, who the group admitted has not responded to any of their requests for assistance.

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Protesters march down Yonge Street during the third day of the Occupy movement in Toronto. Photo: Andrea Bellemare/AFP/Getty Images
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Filed by Brodie Fenlon  |