By Murray Lumley
(Murray is a Dundas, Ontario-based activist extraordinaire who is involved in more issues and campaigns than one could count. He is active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, Homes not Bombs, Hamilton Action for Social Change, and the "grandparents who are proud of their grandkids" affinity group)
Friday March 19, 2004 for about one hour of the afternoon I attended the vigil at L-3 Wescam along with five others from Burlington, Hamilton and Oakville. Gail and Doris of Burlington-Oakville have maintained a regular Friday vigil there since the first one on December 10, 2002 when three individuals were arrested for trespassing while trying to peacefully speak to Wescam management about how their products are used. The individuals were acquitted in a court hearing.
The Burlington-based Wescam was purchased months ago by the U.S. L-3 Communicatons, a supplier of surveillance equipment to the Pentagon. The bright red logo on their building at 649 North Service Rd. W. Burlington can be clearly seen.
The Hamilton Action for Social Change (HASC) web site http://www.hwcn.org/link/hasc/weScam.html states: "By their own admission, three quarters of their business is in "government systems," a euphemism for Colombian and Canadian navy boats, US Marines attack helicopters, and US missile-carrying unmanned aerial vehicles. The "payload" Wescam provides these attack machines makes military domination and repression easier for those who want to pay for it. Wescam's products have very likely been, and very likely are being used in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia and god knows where else."
Additionally, L-3's web site http://www.l-3com.com/divisions/ says about its Wescam division: "The WESCAM MX Series: The best imaging technology for airborne visual intelligence: the most advanced gyro-stabilization, large-aperture optics and multi-spectral sensors. Create a seamlessly integrated visual information system from camera to command center with advanced EO/IR payloads and WISARD -- WESCAM's digital microwave transmission and reception system."
L-3's (the owner of Wescam) strategy to maximize business as a defence contractor can be clearly read at their web site at http://www.l-3com.com/about_l3/business_strategy/
So the purpose of these vigils is to try to expose a Canadian company that profits from war and the misery of the victims of war including those in Iraq while our government says that it stayed out of the Iraq war.
Gail has produced many signs which ask for peace instead of war and which state clearly that L-3 Wescam is a weapons manufacturer. On this day I brought along my own sign which read "Due Process for Iraqi Detainees", referring to the campaign of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) -- with a team in Baghdad -- to make the world aware that up to 18,000 Iraqi men are being held incommunicado after being scooped up in home and street raids by coalition (U.S.) forces without any formal charges or due process -- in violation of international law and even the new Iraqi constitution. CPT tries to help families obtain information about the whereabouts and conditions of their loved ones.
Some of us stood in one place at the entrance road to Wescam while others walked up and down the side of the service road waving at drivers during the rush hour traffic. The time -- 4 pm to just after 5 pm -- is chosen to coincide with the end of the work day. Gail has made a double-sided banner that identifies L-3 Wescam as an arms manufacturer that we hung on the wire fence so that the message faced the service road across from the entrance as well as facing the increasingly jammed highway #403 traffic. Gail wonders if at a future vigil we might move the banner further east and closer to the #403 so that the bored drivers will have something to read.
Many drivers honked favourably at our vigil, I assume recognizing the significance of this date or perhaps having seen Gail and Doris there before. Others made hand signals or facial expressions of disapproval at our presence and message. One driver pulled off the road to ask what we were doing and was quite sympathetic. Before he drove on he said that President Bush should be asked which regiment or division his daughters are members of -- referring of course to the fact that Mr. Bush is sending other young Americans to their deaths in Iraq in their hundreds and sentencing Iraqi people to death in the thousands.
While driving ourselves back home, David and I had the same thought about standing next to a roaring, full highway with many cars having only one driver, for more than an hour -- what a mess we have created with the private automobile -- its appetite for fuel and our appetite for consumer goods being the prime reason for the Iraq conflict. And we are willing to sacrifice more and more agricultural and forested lands to satisfy our need to pave land for roads and subdivisions so we can live ever further from our work.
Another vigil is planned for later in April. Watch for announcements.
Then I attended the Peace rally in Toronto on Saturday, travelling on a bus kindly supplied by the November 16 Coalition and the United Steel Workers Local 1005 which was an inspiring event with all of the speeches for peace and against war including Jeremy Hinzman, U.S. war objector. He quoted U.S. bureaucrat Paul Wolfowitz who incredibly admitted that the reason the U.S. was in Iraq and not North Korea was because Iraq is "floating on a sea of oil". Others are reporting on that event so I will just mention one impression. While walking with the large crowd up Yonge Street toward Dundas Street in the rain with Joanna from Dundas I told her I was struck by a jarring reality. The overly bright jumbotron of Dundas Square, along with many other neon signs were all trying to sell us something and remind us that this is private corporate space. Yet here we were of all ages and many backgrounds, making the street a public space free of automobile traffic if only for a few minutes. And the Iraq war is largely about privatizing a nation to create markets and raw materials (oil) for the large corporations that are following on the heels of the military occupation.
Sunday I went to hear Matthew Behrens of Toronto Action for Social Change (TASC) and Homes Not Bombs, speak at East Plains United Church -- Gail and Doris's church -- as part of the KAIROS Ecumenical Justice Initiatives Sunday. Matthew spoke and led a discussion session on the growing injustice to immigrants in Canada, particularly Muslims who are being deported or held in Canadian prisons by CSIS -- Canada's combination of CIA and FBI -- using Security Certificates that allow for indefinite incarceration with no evidence being presented or any charges being laid, preventing a defence preparation by their lawyers.
Matthew has been working closely with five men and their families to try to obtain justice and have the men released. Last week one of the men who has been in solitary confinement for 30 months and had been on a hunger strike in a Toronto jail just to get shoes and blankets to keep warm, was refused bail as a "security risk" for which no evidence can be released, if it exists, for security reasons. This all seems to be tied to U.S. pressure to force Canada to align our security policing with theirs in their ill-conceived war on terror, which the invasion and occupation of Iraq is supposed to be a part. Matthew is speaking to church people about the possibility of expanding the "sanctuary movement" for immigrants and refugees that are increasingly being ordered deported.
The Bush administration will likely "find" Osama Bin Laden in time for the Presidential election, delivering a Bush win. A Peace Studies Professor from Bradford University, England said on CBC radio this morning that this is just what the decentralized Al Quaeda - which will continue, particularly with the martyrdom of Bin Laden - wants to happen. Just as President Bush was quoted as saying "Bring it on" -- referring to U.S. reaction to the daily bombings that are taking lives in Iraq as well as in Spain and several other nations, his Al Quaeda opposition mirror that response because it will bring U.S. military and support personnel to their turf where they can attack them, as is presently occurring in Iraq.
We all have very much to do to break this cycle of violence. Our only hope is that a growing number of people around the globe -- the second superpower - will stand up to be counted and refuse to cooperate with this sickening war. A great deal of sacrifice is required for our survival.