Christmas Eve Open Letter to Brigadier-General Walter Holmes and Major Stéphane Grenier, Canadian Armed Forces
Re: Turning Fort York Armoury over to Toronto Action for Social Change for Construction of Affordable Housing
December 24, 1999
Brigadier-General Walter Holmes
Major Stéphane Grenier
Land Forces Central Area
Canadian Armed Forces
5775 Yonge St, P.O. Box 17
North York, ON M2M 4J1
Mssrs Holmes and Grenier,
We are writing to you on what is for many one of the most significant days of the year, Christmas Eve, a full 9 days after you closed the doors of the Fort York Armoury to the homeless people who had nowhere else to go to escape winter's bitter cold.
You wanted this armoury closed to the homeless because, according to the Globe and Mail, you preferred that the space be used to train cadets in target practice and learning how to mount an attack.
We agree that using the Armoury as a homeless shelter is inappropriate, but only because shelters are not the answer. However, this does not excuse your actions in closing the Armoury to the homeless.
Instead of returning the Armoury to military use, we propose that this space be used for affordable housing as part of a permanent solution to the growing crisis of homelessness.
Therefore, we are writing with a simple seasonal request: that you turn over Fort York Armoury to Toronto Action for Social Change (TASC) for the construction of affordable housing. There is much space on the land for the creation of a community which would help ease Canada's national disaster of homelessness. TASC is a long-time community group rooted in the community-building practices of nonviolent action, with a good deal of experience in resisting the roots of poverty. We have the resources and the contacts in the community to ensure this would be a successful project.
During the spring bombing of the Balkans, Canada spent $482,500,000 in blowing up the civil society structures of Yugoslavia (houses, hospitals, sanitation, schools, trains, bridges) and $0 to build new affordable housing to address the national disaster of homelessness here at home.
That money could have built over 12,000 affordable housing units (and begs the question: where were all those funds when the nonviolent resistance to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans needed support the most?)
This a message hundreds of our friends in Homes not Bombs brought to Ottawa on Friday Nov. 12 when they attempted to convert the War Dept. to the Housing Dept., thereby bringing the building in line with Canada's obligations to the U.N and international law.
Unfortunately, the Canadian government saw things differently and arrested 54 of our colleagues, charging them with criminal mischief and obstruction.
We, however, remain unintimidated by such responses, and are carrying on our efforts to make Canada a country that builds homes, but doesn't blow them up.
Which brings us to Christmas Eve, 1999, as some 200,000 homeless people face the uphill task of finding a warm place to sleep tonight. Earlier this year, Major Stéphane Grenier of thje Canadian Forces stated on the issue of homelessness: "We don't recognize this is an emergency situation," yet the mayors of the largest Canadian cities as well as thousands of groups and individuals recognize that homelessness is a national disaster.
Perhaps if you were able to see homelessness for the disaster that it is, the Armoury would still be open. Better yet, the Armoury would be turned over to groups who perform socially useful functions such as the construction of affordable housing.
Perhaps you are not aware of the real story of Christmas, the one which has not been desecrated by the commercialism of our time. If not, we can remind you of it.
A homeless couple, Mary and Joseph, are forced to take refuge in a manger because there is no room at the inn. And there is born Jesus Christ, a homeless baby to a homeless family.
Christ will grow to be a young man who preaches, "Blessed are the peacemakers," a statement which, among many, leads to his persecution and death at the hands of the government of the day.
Closing the armoury as a shelter to the homeless means there is still no room at the inn for far too many; refusing to turn the Armoury into something socially useful, such as affordable housing, perpetuates the barriers faced by those with little or no money.
Tonight, as you go to bed, we ask that you think over the actions you have taken and to consider the thousands of people in this country who remain homeless because our country devotes 500% more to the military than it does to affordable housing. There is no room at the inn because we continue down the path of increased war preparation instead of peace preparation.
Christ would tell you that you cannot keep the peace with a gun. He would also remind you how the gentle and meek are those who are blessed, not those who would lift up swords against one another. The prophet Isaiah commands us to turn swords into ploughshares, a command Canada has ignored for too long.
Ultimately, this letter is a gentle, nonviolent request that you relinquish control of the Fort York Armoury so that it may be put to socially useful purposes. As it stands, the purposes for which it is used stand Canada in violation of international laws against the preparation for wars of aggression (like the ones your forces waged recently in Yugoslavia and Iraq).
The closing of the Armoury to the homeless further places your forces in contravention of the following conventions: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (guaranteeing everyone's right to "an adequate standard of living...including adequate food, clothing and housing, " as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which is "Concerned that in situations of poverty women have the least access to food, health, education, training and opportunities for employment and other needs," and which affirms "that the strengthening of international peace and security, relaxation of international tension, mutual co-operation among all States irrespective of their social and economic systems, general and complete disarmament, and in particular nuclear disarmament" are requirements for compliance under this covenant. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Nuremberg Principles, and numerous other facets of international law come into play here.
As such, we are calling on you, in the truest spirit of the season, to turn over the Fort York Armoury and all adjacent lands to Toronto Action for Social Change which, with its friends in Homes not Bombs, will undertake renovation plans to build affordable housing on the site.
Our world, which has seen the deaths of over 110 million people in wars this century, can afford to study war no more. Your CF-18s which drop cluster bombs and fire 6,000 rounds a minute have no place in a just and peaceful world.
We are happy to meet with you to discuss this peaceful transfer of ownership and purpose. However, since time is tight for the homeless and soon-to-be-homeless in our midst, we also have a specific deadline. The Armoury must be turned over either to TASC or its non-profit affordable housing arm on or before Monday, January 17, 2000 (Martin Luther King Day)
If you do not turn the Armoury over to us, we will have no choice but to peacefully reclaim it ourselves through an act of nonviolence resistance, which we will indeed carry out on January 17, and begin renovation plans to bring this structure in line with Canada's international commitments top house, clothe and feed all of its residents.
We want you to know that, should we have to engage in this action on January 17, all participants will have been trained in nonviolence, and there will be no harm to you or any other human beings on site that day. We also will give you plenty of warning about our impending visit, as the sounds of construction and renovation will no doubt be disruptive to you.
Legally, our position is sound. Just as one may break the law of trespass to save someone from a burning building, one may also break the law of trespass to try and enter a warm site and bring in people who would otherwise freeze on the street.
We would ask that cadets in your command be offered the chance to join us in renovating the Armouries into a more socially useful purpose. Materials which show Canada has a legal obligation to build homes, not blow them up, are readily available upon request.
The birthday of Martin Luther King has been chosen because of King's legacy of work for peace and social justice. In the last years of his life, King pointed out, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on the military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
We look forward to starting the year 2000 on a positive note. Your transfer of the Armoury into socially-useful hands will be a good step for the new millennium.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible on this urgent matter.
Matthew Behrens and Laurel Smith
for TASC, Homes not Bombs (Toronto)
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