And the Wars Drag On...
Report from the Montly Anti-War Vigil at War Minister Bill Graham's Office
JANUARY 3, 2006 -- The monthly "Say No To War" vigil in front of Canadian War Minister Billy Graham's Toronto constituency office drew today its usual assortment of Metro police officers, private security, and members of the RCMP's "VIP" squad.
It's certainly a fine day when the RCMP considers peace agitators very important people, but they insisted the appellation belonged only to Graham himself, a low-rent evangelist for war and supplication before the U.S. empire who explained in 2004 that "we owe it to them" when justifying his support for the U.S. space wars scheme.
The ongoing presence of clusters of Metro police shows, once again, that adding to the $700 million-plus Toronto police budget will do nothing to end gun violence on the streets, since so many of them are employed in monitoring vigils such as today's, which drew its usual intimidating numbers (about 15).
When queried why they need to be here every month, an RCMP VIP squad member explained that, well, things aren't like they used to be, what with "all this terrorism going on." It is unclear what he meant by "all this terrorism" given that lightning kills more people every year than acts of non-state terrorism, but no one has declared a war against lightning.
When one of the group explains that Homes not Bombs is a group dedicated to nonviolent resistance, the Mountie responds that "well, you never know." The implication here is clear. Every day, thousands of anonymous people walk by the building that houses Graham's sky-high office in downtown Toronto, yet the only ones the Mounties feel might pose a "you never know" terrorist threat are the ones who show up with placards and banners promoting an end to war.
This should not be surprising, given that Canada's spy agency, CSIS, considers just about everyone in Canada a terrorist threat, listing, among others, Sunni Muslims, anti-globalization protesters, animal rights proponents, and First Nations activists on their spectrum of threats to Canadian national security. It is these threats, folks like Graham claim, that we must guard against with the ever-growing Canadian war budget, soon to top over $20 billion (thanks to the "NDP budget" passed last spring).
Normalizing the presence of the military in Canadian life is part of the Graham effort. Hence, readers of the Toronto Star were recently treated to a photo of the military "preparing" for a national disaster such as a flu outbreak, battling it out with soldiers posing as regular citizens. And later this year, Winnipeg has announced it will be host to a military occupation to allow Canadian troops to hone their urban warfare skills in preparation, we are told, for placement in Afghanistan and Iraq, much as the city of Sherbrooke did last year. What they don't mention is that this is an opportunity to practice one of the military's least discussed roles, domestic repression, usually reserved in this country for First Nations communities.
Just say the tanks in the street are designed to help us help others, and it should be no problem, right?
The monthly vigils on Bloor Street are a good opportunity to discuss these issues, and they have drawn a particularly visceral response from passersby. For a group that is more than used to the cold shoulder of folks who have better things to do than think about the role Canada plays in worldwide warfare, these vigils have been a pleasant exception, drawing strong praise from busy lunchtime crowds who stop and dialogue, 90% of whom have expressed support for what we are doing. It's only the odd individual who stops to sneer and say, as one did yesterday, "Bomb the crap out of them."
He did not stop to analyze who "them" was, but a worldview that assumes there IS an "us" and a "them" also assumes everyone knows who is who.
But such moments are soon forgotten as others stop to say hello. "I am from Iraq," one woman said yesterday. "Thank you for being here."
"Did you know that millions of Canadian bullets are being used in the war against the Iraqi people?" we asked.
"This saddens me," she says, scanning a placard which relates to the bullet production of SNC-TEC, the Quebec-based subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin. "Thank you for being here," she says again as she walks away.
Another woman identifies herself as an employee of the building that houses Graham's office. She is originally from Afghanistan. We ask what she thinks of Graham's endless pronouncements that the people of Afghanistan want more Canadian troops patrolling their country.
"I would like to protest Mr. Graham too!" she says. We talk about the survey conducted in Afghanistan which revealed most Afghanis would like stronger security against warlordism and violence, but they would like to see that security handled by their own Afghani police forces and army, and not by invading U.S.-led forces that are implicated in severe human rights abuses including arbitrary detention, torture, and murder. They would also like an end to the impunity which allows warlords complicit in serious criminality to sit as members of the Afghani government.
Later this month, many Canadian troops will join "coalition" forces, led by the U.S., as they hunt alleged Taliban and Al-Qaeda members. It is unlikely that independent human rights monitors will be along to prevent arbitrary mass sweeps of villages, beatings of detainees, and transfer of "suspects" to Guantanamo Bay. And neither is it clear that Canadian troops will protect Afghanis getting married, celebrations which tend to provide excellent bombing opportunities for U.S. warplanes using Canadian-made targetting and navigational equipment.
One of those at the vigil discusses the atrocious role the Canadian government has played in the coup against the democratically elected government of Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, while some members of the group hold placards demanding the release of all who are held captive, from the Christian Peacemaker Team members in Iraq to the tens of thousands of "security" detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Towards the end of the vigil, a young man, visibly upset, comes to speak with us. He looks familiar, having stopped earlier and asked what we were doing. After reading our flyer, he decided to go upstairs and see if he could talk to someone at Graham's office about his concerns.
Unfortunately, he was met with police and the Mounties, who threatened to have him arrested if he did not leave immediately from the outside of Graham's rather inaccessible office. His plans for the day did not include incarceration, so he came back downstairs.
A country which increasingly celebrates militarism loses, by equal degrees, the vestiges of democracy that may once have existed. The intertwining of the bloated military budget and the myths about terror threats are a potent combination that are not being discussed during the election, save for a few candidates (such as the NDP's Michael Shapcott, who is running a spirited campaign to unseat Graham that IS discussing the overseas wars, the Canadian complicity in torture, the secret trials).
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, CSIS head Jim Judd (who, like a certain Joe McCarthy before him, tells us that he knows of hundreds of security threats in Canada but he cannot tell us how many, who they are, or their whereabouts) continues to spin tales of threats to security which will require increased spending on the war budget. It is a good fit for Judd, who, in his former job, was a deputy minister of war charged with helping create a new strategy to come up with justifications for the continued high funding of the Canadian military.
The vigils will continue the first Tuesday of every month. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.homesnotbombs.ca
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