August 11, 2001
In a surprise move, Canadian War Minister Art Eggleton accepted a "peace zucchini" from members of Toronto Homes not Bombs on August 11 during the minister's constituency picnic. And in a nod to the poor of his riding, constantly harassed by members of Toronto police, Eggleton gave those without much money a break by calling out six squad cars and a police van to keep at bay the seven demonstrators who held banners and leafletted passersby. Panhandling north of Finch? No problem, all the cops are watching Homes not Bombs.
In a brief bit of colloquy with Homes not Bombs members Kirsten Romaine and Laurel Smith, Eggleton commented that homes were indeed better than bombs, but that Canada did not have many of the latter. When reminded of the $12 billion (and growing) war budget in Canada and the dropping of Canadian bombs on civilians in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, Eggleton simply said, "Those were to save lives," and harumphed away, clutching his gift zucchini.
But Eggs was unable to escape the ever-present limerick-maker Eldon Comfort, an 87-year-young WWII veteran and tireless social justice activist who ruined Eggleton's one media opportunity. Questioned about the presence of the Homes not Bombs group, Eggs told a cameraman, "We definitely think homes are more important than bombs," to which Comfort asked on camera, "Then why is Canada the only industrialized country in the world without an affordable housing construction program?" Eggleton was again forced to harumph away, although by this time the whereabouts of his zucchini was seriously in question.
The annual picnic is a bizarre means of reminding voters that the man who allegedly represents their interests actually does exist by virtue of his presence at the free dog-and-burger fest. Eggleton's quick pep talk about "keeping in touch" came as a surprise to the majority of those in attendance, whose general view of Art is that he is a slick operator who never listens to his constituents.
Art's hired help fares no better on the humanity scale, from the office workers who constantly tried to persuade media and other cameras from taking our picture, to the use of the child-unfriendly Bonkers the Clown, a scary figure infamous for attempting to disrupt an anti-war-toys protest at the candy store Sugar Sugar. At that protest, which was organized by the Easter Bunny, Bonkers advised children, "Don't listen to the fucking bunny." To now find out that Bonkers is on the payroll of the war minister should prove a warning to any parents seeking hired entertainment for their kids' birthday parties.
The afternoon's DJ also proved a charming individual, yelling, "Dude, dude, dude, don't make me kick your ass," as a demonstrator danced briefly with an Eggleton sign. The DJ's playing of tunes such as Lady is a Tramp and the latest sexual scorcher by Jennifer Lopez reminded us that Eggleton sees himself as quite the ladies' man, and, as readers of Frank magazine know, Eggs is apparently quite the swordsman on the Hill.
The day's cultural highlight was the presence of the Russian Athletic Gymnastic Dancers, a group of delightful 6-8-year-old girls who were immediately adopted by Homes not Bombs den mother and theatre director Laurel Smith and self-proclaimed Homes Not Bombs Babe Kirsten Romaine, who invited the kiddies to use the Homes not Bombs banners to provide a backstage area for their performance. The troupe's director, harried at her inability to find a proper staging area, simply assumed we were part of the picnic, and was ever so grateful when we assured her that the "Canada: Get Out of Space Warfare" banner would be a great backdrop for the girls' performance.
And indeed, as proud parents and other spectators looked on, the girl's performance, featuring what some may have seen as apocalypse-inspired choreography, fit nicely in with the theme of our day.
Each time leafletters moved into the crowd to reach out to newly arrived picnickers, police squad cars inched forward on the grass, ready to pounce in response to any untoward behaviour. But in the end, it was all just another example of an over-policed city in an overly militarized country where the purpose of the armed forces is clear: to suppress dissent at home and abroad.
As Eggleton left the picnic for another year of absence from his riding, it was unclear whether he took the zucchini with him. But since the simplest contact with the special squashes can spark intense thoughts and feelings of peace and justice, the last laugh may be on Eggleton who, as he enjoys his next veggie stir fry, might get some pretty strong urges to beat some swords into ploughshares.
Meantime, members of Homes not Bombs are preparing to descend on DREO, the war research facility in Ottawa which is building components for Star Wars, this November 9. The theme of that day, aimed especially at all the high-tech scientists and engineers at DREO who spend their days figuring out how to blow up the world, with an emphasis on launching laser beams from space, is quite simple: "Build Affordable Housing: It ain't Rocket Science." Stay tuned...
Back to Homes not Bombs History Page