Nine Peace-Seekers Arrested at Military Firm L-3 Wescam in Burlington, Ontario
Executives at Canada's Self-Proclaimed "Largest" War Manufacturer Place Building on Lockdown, Refuse Dialogue as They Continue Work on "Low Cost Precision Kill Vehicles"
BURLINGTON, ONTARIO, MAY 15, 2006 -- Nine peace-seekers were arrested today on the grounds of military manufacturer L-3 Wescam for seeking a dialogue with company executives on transforming their business to purely peaceful uses. During a lengthy and exhaustively mobile civil resistance action, a group of people from Homes not Bombs and the Mother's Day Coalition for Peace darted inbetween private security and, eventually, Halton police officers as they sought entry at the 125,000 square-foot facility.
As they sought dialogue, another group of about 30 people gathered at the main entrance to Wescam for a moving ceremony led by Caledon East students commemorating the countless thousands killed by the likes of Wescam technology in Iraq and Afghanistan.
L-3 Wescam, perhaps best known for manufacturing the targetting equipment used by the deadly unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) The Predator (used to horrific effect in Afghanistan and Iraq, and described as one of the "superstars" of the 2003 invasion), also produces equipment for the Cobra Attack Helicopter, and the militaries of such human rights violators as Egypt and Colombia. Wescam was recently involved in The Low Cost Precision Kill demonstration of the Vigilante unmanned attack helicopter.
PROFITING FROM FEAR AND WAR
Wescam, like its parent L-3, is very much a fear and war profiteer, seeing its major strengths as the three prongs of the so-called "war on terror": war, surveillance and interdiction (directed against refugees, immigrants, and likely used against the Six Nations blockade at Caldeonia), and violence against dissent in the name of "Homeland Security" (the L-3 2005 report proudly shows a line of heavily armed riot cops outfitted with their gizmos.)
A major source of their funding, though, remains programs promoting the UAVs. According to the U.S. Air Force's strategic vision planning document, the future of warfare is the use of UAVs, naming the Predator as a system that "evolved into a formidable combat support and was involved in every major military operation" between 1996 and 2004. Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Predator is described as "one of the military's most requested systems, assisting in the execution of the global war on terror by finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging, and assessing suspected terrorist locations."
The Predator was implicated in the 2002 extra-judicial execution of six individuals driving in Yemen, who were obliterated by Hellfire missiles. No arrests, no charges, no trial, just a summary execution from the silence of the skies. They never knew what hit them. Recent news from Afghanistan and Pakistan reports houses blown away and civilians obliterated by UAV-fired missiles. We do not hear about the victims of such gross outrages, other than that they must have been the "enemy."
The UAV is viewed as "a major component of the Army Future Combat System," especially since unmanned vehicles mean increased air time, hovering time, and an ability to operate in "environments contaminated by chemical, biological, or radioactive agents." The Pentagon admits that politically, using UAV's piloted with video screens based in the US cuts the domestic cost created by bodies coming home.
And the best is yet to come. "Arming the RQ-1 Predator with Hellfire missiles can be compared to the mounting of guns on biplanes early in the last century," gushes the USAF document.
SEEKING A DIALOGUE
Out of a concern for this continued growth in military production at L-3 Wescam, members of the Mothers Day Coalition for Peace, Hamilton Action for Social Change, and Homes not Bombs have repeatedly demonstrated at L-3's entrance, including a nonviolent direct action there in December, 2002.
Today's direct action was motivated by a strong desire to force the issue of dialogue on transforming the technology and genius of Wescam employees into something socially constructive, like creating microscopic targetting probes to zap coronary heart disease or better forms of weather prediction.
"All we want is to speak to the people inside. We have been trying to get inside for the past three and a half years," explained Gail Lorimer, who has vigiled consistently at the entrance to the facility. Those arrested were Lorimer and Ed Babb of Burlington, Barney Barningham of Durham, Gary Connally and Steve MacIsaac of Brampton, and Kirsten Romaine, Maggie Panter, Matthew Behrens, and Murray Lumley of Toronto.
The civil resistance action capped two days of nonviolent protests at Wescam, which yesterday featured a rally of 50 enthusiastic students, teachers, and other community members reclaiming the original intent of Mothers Day as it was founded in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe -- as a day to call for disarmament.
MASS GRAVE SITE AND A DIE-IN
Members of the group made a huge grave site with the names of hundreds of Afghanis and Iraqis killed, many likely by technology produced directly by L-3 Wescam or by one of L-3's many subsidiaries. One Burlington student dressed as Howe to read the original Mothers Day Proclamation, and also sang songs of peace while other students shared powerful reflections on the need to seek peace and justice. Poetry and personal stories about war resistance were also part of the rally. Sunday's rally closed with a "die-in" that blocked the exit driveway of Wescam, accompanied by the reading of hundreds of additional names of those killed in the ongoing wars and occupations.
"The die-in was very empowering," explained one student. "As I lay there looking at the heavens and hearing all those names, I wondered if they were looking down on us and feeling thankful that they were being remembered, that their lives were not forgotten."
EMPLOYEES TOLD "DON'T TALK TO THE DEMONSTRATORS!"
L-3 Wescam, which owns a major chunk of land (including a private helicopter landing pad), seemed particularly security conscious throughout the Sunday and Monday rallies. One woman remarked that despite the Sunday rally beginning at 2:30 pm, she saw security standing guard on the grassy knoll on the way to Wescam at 8 am on Sunday morning. The security presence was also quite obvious from early Monday morning, when Gail Lorimer placed banners calling for peace on the fence opposite the entrance to L-3 at 5:30 am to catch the first shift. The gentleman in charge of security at the plant (who wore a huge "security manager" medallion reminiscent of the badge of courage worn by the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz) informed Gail that employees had been told of the demonstration and to refuse to open their windows to receive leaflets.
Today's rally began much like Sunday's, with the reconstruction of the mass graveyard (names facing those leaving and entering the site in front of a large stone edifice engraved with the corporate name) and the reading of thousands upon thousands of names of those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and of Canadian soldiers who have been killed as well. After some reflections and song, about a dozen people began walking up the long, hilly driveway to try and enter the main facility to begin their dialogue, but were repeatedly grabbed and told to turn around by private security.
Undeterred, the group kept going forward, walking around the guards and holding signs with grim pictures of what happens to people on the other end of Wescam's targetting technology along with names taken from the graveyard. "I want to know why Royama, a 3-year-old girl, has her name here in this graveyard, and is not instead living a happy life like the children in the school located next to Wescam," explained one of the demonstrators. "Does Wescam technology have something to do with her death?"
Others explained that a refusal to leave the property if dialogue was denied was the least they could do to honour the memories of all those whose names graced the front lawn of Wescam, and those which were read out over the lunch hour by high school students from Caledon East.
AMAZING GRACE BRINGS TEARS TO SECURITY OFFICERS' EYES
After numerous stops and starts as the group maneuvered their way though security, we finally wound up at the front doors, where we were informed that the whole site was on lockdown, and that no one would be going in or coming out. The group then joined hands to sing Amazing Grace and We Shall Overcome, bringing tears to the eyes of some of the security guards who, by all accounts, appeared to wish they were anywhere but here, blocking our access, on this day. Each attempt to move around the building was blocked, and at one point, the building manager and head of security grabbed one of the dialogue-seekers and dragged him a fair distance, combining their rigorous physical effort with a fair amount of verbal abuse.
Private security attempted to physically remove one woman from the area as well, but they were cautioned by the demonstrators that private security are not police officers and do not have the power of arrest. This came as such a surprise to the private security that they let go of her.
At this point, a sergeant with Halton Police finally stepped in and tried to offer to go inside to see if HE could set up a meeting in the hopes we might disappear. However, after 15 minutes of waiting, he came out and told us management was not interested in meeting and that, in the interests of sanctifying the right of private property, he would have to ask us to vacate the premises.
"What about the interests of the property that gets bombed with Wescam targetting equipment," asked one of the group. "What about the human rights of those who are maimed and murdered?"
The officer continued pleading with the group, trying to convince them that their protest was drawing away much-needed police resources from speeding drivers near schools and other criminal acts taking place in the city.
"But what about the criminal acts taking place in this building? Who stands up for the rights of those affected by what goes on here?" came the reply.
"Are you willing to leave the property peacefully?" the sergeant then asked each individually.
"I'm willing to stay here peacefully," came the answer before each person was taken off, patted down, placed in handcuffs, and put in the back of patrol cars for the trip to the police station. In one of the police cars, arrestees noted that the police computers are made by another military manufacturer where they have been arrested numerous times, Toronto's Litton Systems, since bought out by Northrup-Grumman and then by L-3. The officer explained that new L-3 logos would be replacing the Litton models.
ARE YOU GONNA WATCH PRISON BREAK TONIGHT?
Once at the police station, the group were issued trespass tickets while they continued their dialogue with the police about the need to disarm Wescam.
"Some of you guys are teachers, what kind of message are you sending to your students?" the desk officer asked.
"That you need to stand up for justice, and sometimes you have to break a small law to prevent a greater harm," came the response.
Just before being released, one of those arrested sidled up to the front desk and asked with great sincerity, "Are you planning to watch the season finale of 'Prison Break' tonight?"
The officer looked up from the desk, confused that a pacifist would be interested in such a show.
"But they show such creative ideas for busting out of joints like this," came the reply.
The group was held only briefly before being released and heading to the local court to file requests for trials, likely to occur in four to six months time. Meanwhile, it is hoped that Canadians across this country will similarly confront the many local war manufacturers which dot our landscape. Stopping the wars where they start (in the factories of the war profiteers) is one of the most direct actions we can take to end the misery and suffering experienced by those halfway around the world when "made in Canada" military technology is put to its deadly uses.
In the meantime, efforts to get a dialogue going continue. If you would like to encourage Wescam, consider faxing or emailing L-3 Wescam executives, urging them to sit down and dialogue with the coalition: Send a quick note calling on L-3 Wescam to end its war business and make socially useful products to John Dehne, President, Fax: (905) 633-4100, or send an email from the following site: http://www.wescam.com/contacts_1_sales.asp)
And stay in touch! www.homesnotbombs.ca
(some pictures of the actions are available at http://www.hwcn.org/link/hasc/weScam.html
Further shots from the Monday action will soon be available on the Hamilton Action for Social Change website as well.
BACK TO HOME PAGE