Residents at heart of protest zone in Quebec City anxiously await G7

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Residents at heart of protest zone in Quebec City anxiously await G7

Residents in the heart of the zone where protesters are expected to gather in Quebec City during the G7 summit are hoping protesters get their message across peacefully.

Gilbert Morin lives in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood, which is steps away from the security perimeter put in place during the Summit of the Americas in 2001.

He remembers the streets of the upper town being under lockdown while protesters clashed violently with police.

"It was impressive at the time, but we don't really want to live through that again," said Morin.

He recalls how his girlfriend was stuck inside her apartment on René-Lévesque Boulevard for an entire day, watching the steady stream of demonstrators take over the street, the air heavy with the smell of tear gas used by police to disperse crowds.

The G7 will be taking place on June 8 to 9 in La Malbaie, 140 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, which should scale down the size of the protests, Morin believes.

"We want people to be able to express themselves but hopefully without violence."

Michael Lewis, who lives in the nearby Montcalm neighbourhood agrees.

"I think it's a good thing for democracy that we have a voice and that we have opposing voices," said Lewis.

"But I don't like it when it gets out of hand," he said.

Prepared for the worse

Business owners are preparing themselves in case that is what happens.

Benoît Huot spent $1,200 on metal rods for the windows of his independent record store on Saint-Jean Street.

The neighbourhood bistro a few steps away, Le Hobbit, is also toying with the idea of putting its patio furniture back into storage for the weekend to avoid any damage.

"It's probably going to be alright, sometimes the media overdo it, but I don't know what to think," said Simon Benoît, who waits tables at Le Hobbit.

Orange for families

Claude Barabé came up with his own idea to try to minimize damage and disruption to the neighbourhood.

He is inviting citizens and businesses to occupy the space, rather than desert it during the weekend of the G7.

Barabé is suggesting people should put up orange balloons and flags to show children live in the apartment buildings.

He hopes families will go out and sit at their usual coffee shop to show Saint-Jean-Baptiste is home to small businesses and families, not international corporations.

"You can't come from outside, claiming to defend human rights, and attack my home, because this is my home."

Barabé said the right to free speech is important and he hopes to see protesters mingling with locals.

"If people start putting up graffiti or breaking things, they will be attacking people, not institutions," Barabé said.

Some relief for merchants 

A briefing session held by G7 officials on Friday morning seemed to bring some relief to local business owners, who had complained about being left in the dark about what would be done to protect their property.

Organizers laid out compensation plans that will be offered for any damage or revenue loss.

The president of the merchant's association for Old Quebec, Marc-Antoine Doré, said his members were slightly relieved to know what to expect.

"We don't have any other choice but to trust them," said Doré. "These are big organizations and they have much more expertise than they used to."