Protesters carry the torch for international human rights abuse against former U.S. vice president
Of all the slogans shouted at Tuesday's protest outside the Palliser Hotel, "Detain Dick" was easily the catchiest.
Other, wordier slogans like "Dick Cheney, war criminal" lost some of their intended punch from the low attendance.
Kevin Hunter, protester and member of the Communist Party of Canada, was a little surprised. He stressed bigger turnouts are the usual case for controversial political figures in Canada.
At many times, it seemed like the ratio of reporters to protesters outside the site of Cheney's speech – his first such appearance in Calgary – was about even, with a swarm of middle-aged photographers milling around the line of sedans and SUVs parked on the curb. Cheney was in town to promote his new autobiography, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir."
When asked if they would like to put a question to Cheney during his $500-a-seat reception at the hotel – organized by the Vancouver-based Bon Mot Book Club – most demonstrators took a different approach.
"I would love the opportunity to arrest him; I don't want to just go in and ask him a question," a protester named Doug said, refusing to give his last name, citing fears of prosecution for his views.
"I wish I knew how that could be done," he added.
His sentiments were shared throughout the group.
"He has admitted to torture, which is a war crime," said participant Don Haze. "Look it up."
"We're not here to bring dick Cheney to justice, but hopefully we can hold our own government accountable."
– Protester, Kevin Hunter
Haze was referring to the use of waterboarding on suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent war in Iraq, a practise that Cheney has admitted to authorizing on three separate occasions during his two terms as vice-president of the United States from 2000 through 2008.
When it reached peak attendance at roughly 30 people, Tuesday's protest was barely contained within the eight feet of sidewalk in front of the hotel.
Through scattered shouts and honking cars, Hunter described the "massive turnout" of over 200 protesters that came out for former U.S. president George W. Bush's visit to Calgary in March 2009 just after the end of his second term in office.
"It was so massive because it was still right there, in the public consciousness," he remembered, referring to the still-fresh memories of the charges of various human rights violations that dominated Bush's time in office.
Despite the conspicuous lack of leadership within the group, the protesters were reassuringly unanimous on the goals of their argument.
"We're not here to bring Dick Cheney to justice," Hunter said with a shrug. "But hopefully we can hold our own government accountable."
Returning to the front of the protest, Doug said he finds it "ridiculous that people are paying to hear a war criminal speak."
Amidst the screaming, Doug seemed positively nonchalant, leaning against a railing, placard slung over his shoulder.
"What has he got to say that anybody would want to hear?"