Demonstrators gather against the visit of former US vice-president Dick Cheney outside the Vancouver Club.

Vancouver, Canada - Shouting “Shame, Shame!” and “Arrest Dick Cheney!” raucous protesters shoved and grabbed at people who paid $500 apiece to hear the former US vice-president speak in Canada.

About 300 activists protested Cheney's arrival late on Monday in the West Coast city of Vancouver, accusing him of authorising torture during the George Bush administration's war on terror and calling on Canada to arrest him.

“I am surprised and disappointed that he was allowed into Canada,” Gail Davidson of Lawyers Against the War, a group opposed to the US-led invasion of Iraq, told AFP on Monday, as the crowd screamed, “Arrest the murderer!”

“Canada is not supposed to be a safe haven for people who have committed acts of torture,” Canadian opposition MP Don Davies told AFP. “This is an embarrassment on the world stage, and it's an embarrassment domestically.”

The New York-based Human Rights Watch had earlier called on Canada to arrest and investigate Cheney over the alleged torture of prisoners in the years following the September 11 attacks.

“Overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration, including at least two cases involving Canadian citizens, obligates Canada to investigate Cheney to comply with the Convention Against Torture,” the group said on Saturday.

Cheney was invited to Vancouver by the Bon Mot Book Club, a private company with bank, university and media sponsors, to talk about his new book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.”

Bon Mot owner Leah Costello defended the invitation to Cheney, saying he had the right to speak about his eight years in the US administration.

“It's important to maintain an open society that has open dialogue, and the freedom to speak,” she told AFP.

Costello turned down AFP's request to attend the event or talk to Cheney because Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, a sponsor of the event, had an exclusive right to an interview.

“It's irresponsible the way they throw these words around,” the Globe quoted Cheney as saying, in response to critics who accused him of approving torture.

He insisted that the controversial practice of waterboarding terror suspects does not amount to torture and was only used on three people.

Vancouver police and private security guards helped attendees pass protesters and enter the club. Several people were shoved, and in one case sitting protesters held onto a man's legs.

Later in the evening police suited up in riot gear and called in reinforcements. Local media said at least one protester was arrested.

A second appearance organised by the same book club was scheduled Tuesday in Calgary. - Sapa-AFP