New Form of Protest in Canada: Teddy Bears

May 3, 2001 -- Forget the cream-pie-in-the-face. Canadian protesters have come up with a new, cuddlier way to protest lawmakers: teddy bears.

Two anti-free trade protesters were arrested Wednesday at Ottawa's House of Commons after they unfurled a banner reading "Decriminalize Democracy" in the public gallery. The pair began throwing teddy bears onto government benches occupied by parliamentarians.

Security guards quickly subdued and charged them with causing a disturbance.

Bears Undetected

After the disturbance, Dan McTeague, a Liberal parliamentarian spoke to reporters while holding two of the bears.

"We've had paper thrown before but this is the first time we've had a stuffed animal attack; it is a grave concern," he joked.

He said one of the bears landed by his desk. "We only saw two, one went ahead and one beside my desk. I saw there was more coming from the other side. One hit [Liberal parliamentarian] Gurbax Malhi … and the rest were just sitting on the floor afterwards."

McTeague went on to note the bears went undetected by the metal-detecting security system in place.

But Government House leader Don Boudria refused to see the humor in the situation.

"This is Parliament, not a recreation center, not a demonstration hall, or not a barricade, and any use of the building for anything other than parliamentary purposes is wrong," he said.

Boudria said he was determined to find out who let the protesters into the building.

"Somebody in the opposition, or somebody's office in the opposition issued a gallery pass. I want to know who it is, were they aware, was a member aware, whether it was a member of staff, and so on," he said.

A Catapult Full of Cuddly Softness

The two stuffed animal-tossing protesters, identified as 19-year-old Rebecca Lake and Marika Schwandt, were protesting the jailing of fellow activist Jaggi Singh, who was arrested after hurling teddy bears at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last month.

The 28-year-old was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon when he allegedly used a giant catapult to hurl the toys over a security fence.

He is scheduled to appear in court today to determine when a preliminary hearing and trial will be held.

Singh's supporters and fellow activists contend that Singh is innocent, and have sent police confessions admitting to the crime.

"The charges are a bit silly given that this catapult was just lobbing stuffed animals. Even if one can construe that as being a threat to security, he had absolutely nothing to do with it," spokesman Jonathan Oppenheim told Canada's National Post newspaper.

The group also issued a statement saying: "The catapult was a prop which was used in an absolutely non-violent manner to mock the absurdity of holding the secretive and undemocratic summit within a walled fortress."

Worldwide Effect; Local Rebuke

"Free Jaggi Singh" protests have taken place from across Canada and the United States, to as far away as France and the Czech Republic.

But McTeague warned the protesters about Wednesday's teddy bear attack, saying, "All kidding aside … this kind of tactic should never be used in the House of Commons. If you have a statement to make, make it by the ballot or make it verbally, write us a letter or do what you have to do, but throwing stuff at usdoesn't accomplish anything," he said.

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