Three Dozen Walkers Brave Cold and Wind to Make Five-Hour Statement Against War, Racism and Repression
The first part of the three-day, 36 kilometre Martin Luther King Walk for Canada's Disappeared got off to strong start today as three dozen people gathered at the Metro West Detention Centre in Etobicoke and proceeded 15 kilometres in high winds and with a -14 wind-chill to the office of War Minister Art Eggleton. Media turnout was heavy and preliminary reports were quite good, with reporters noting accurately the issues of civilian casualties in Afghanistan from U.S.-led bombing and the detention of and repression against people of colour post Sept. 11.
They even picked up on our statements against the repressive new refugee legislation which is likely to send more claimants back to face torture and execution and proposed immigration guidelines under which only 26% of Canadian born men and 20% of Canadian-born women over the age of 18 would qualify under the proposed skilled-workers program.
As they gathered at the detention centre where many individuals of Muslim faith and Arabic or Middle Eastern background have been detained, the walkers read from the writings of Dr. King and discussed how, in the 1960s, King was part of the legendary March Against Fear. In similar fashion, today's walk was a march to end the fear being experienced by so many targetted communities in Canada, a fear which is ever-present, but especially heightened post September 11.
The walkers' first stop was Litton Industries, which made the guidance system for the cruise missile and which continues to supply key parts and systems for U.S. and U.K. military weapons. A 40-foot banner reading: Litton, Stop Making the Weapons of War, was unveiled, and placards reading Thou Shalt Not Kill, Homes not Bombs, and Love Thy Neighbours, Don't Imprison Them, were affixed to the fence as watchful police stood by.
The walk continued on for another four hours, with much leafletting, appreciative honks from passing cars, and smiles from many individuals in areas where the majority of the population is composed of targetted communities.
Police and private security were on hand to greet the walkers at the end of the first day of the walk, even though the doors to Eggleton's offices were shut tight.
The walk continues Monday at 10 am, with walkers meeting at the Wilson subway passenger pickup area. Despite the forecast of some 10 cm of snow, they will proceed to visit Eggleton's office to drop off the University of New Hampshire study "Daily Casualty Count of Afghan Civilians Killed in U.S. Bombing Attacks, which shows over 3,700 confirmed civilian deaths from bombing as of early December, 2001. The walk will proceed to make its way around Canadian Forces Base Downsview, and end up at Nestle's headquarters at Yonge and Sheppard.
Tuesday's walk also begins at 10 am at 4900 Yonge (one block north of Yonge and Sheppard), the Armed Forces Recruiting Centre, and proceeds to the office of Immigration Elinor Caplan, where marchers will demand some answers about how many people have been detained, for what reasons, and why so many have been denied basic legal rights.
(At the entrance to DCIEM, one of five government-run war research facilities in Canada, Day Two)
DAY TWO OF WALK FOR CANADA'S DISAPPEARED: Of Pretzels, Zucchinis, and a Rising Body Count
On the second day of the Walk for Canada's Disappeared, about 15 walkers came out and, accompanied by a half dozen police cruisers (musn't be much crime in the area), proceeded through wind, difficult wind chill and some snow another 15 km on their way to Nestle's corporate headquarters.
The walk started at Wilson subway station and its first stop was the constituency office of War Minister Art Eggleton. Here, an open letter calling for an end to Canada's involvement in the war against Afghanistan was read aloud. The letter noted that numerous family members of World Trade Centre and Pentagon victims had pleaded that the deaths of their loved ones not be used to justify further violence and killing, and noted that some of those bereaved family members actually took part in a peace march for reconciliation in early December.
The group, gathered under the watchful eyes of Metro Police, private security and RCMP, also read aloud a warning to all pretzel manufacturers in light of the George W. Bush choking incident (see full text below). Figuring that if Bush was willing to kill thousands of Afghanis who never, ever posed any threat to him or the U.S., then when a real threat did manifest itself in the form of a pretzel, no manufacturer of these potentially dangerous terror foods would be left unbombed.
The group then moved toward the blocked entrance to Eggleton's building, bearing a list of the documented 3,700 Afghan civilian casualties of the bombing (as of early December, a number now much higher) as well as a peace zucchini, which officials were told was there because Eggleton seemed to enjoy dropping phallic-shaped objects on Afghanistan. Rather than drop the phallic-shaped cruise missiles and other bombs, walkers argued, zucchinis should instead be dropped to address the starvation crisis. Indeed, one pointed out, if a zucchini breaks apart on its way to the ground, the seeds will scatter widely and zucchinis could replace heroin as the major crop.
Only one individual was allowed in to present the group's letter, the zucchini, and the casualty list (normally in a so-called democracy, anyone should be able to visit a member of Parliament, but, well, those rights go down the toilet in war time).
The walk proceeded to go around the perimeter of the huge Canadian Forces Base Downsview, and entered the base near the large battle tank stationed at Sheppard and Keele. Pausing to vigil, the group then proceeded to a local army outfit to present information on the war against Afghanistan and to encourage soldiers not to take part in the killing of any human beings. Two military police vehicles showed up to keep the 15 shivering walkers from really creating a ruckus.
The walk then wound its way past the new consolidated military facility on the base, a $44 million boondoggle whose funds would have been better spent on affordable housing. The group then stopped at the barbed-wire fence enclosed DCIEM, one of five federal war research facilities in Canada. At DCIEM, the specialty is human/machine interface operations and so-called "environmental medicine" (which figures out ways of putting soldiers in the most difficult climatic conditions and allowing them to blow up other people without suffering too much frostbite or fatigue or dehydration), and coming up with solutions like keeping bomber pilots cool when flying over desert areas. After affixing signs reading Thou Shalt Not Kill, Stop War Research at DCIEM and Homes not Bombs to the barbed wire fence, the group walked onto the base, forcing the closing of the gates and a hurried response from a half dozen police cruisers.
One demonstrator managed to get into the security booth and address a number of soldiers, reminding them that their conscience should take priority over any illegal, unjust and immoral order to kill coming from the Canadian government. Interestingly, the soldier in the booth acknowledged the issues, commented that the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan was far higher than any reports he had seen in the media, and assured us that if his conscience was offended by an order to kill, that he would take a release from the forces. We assured him that we would support him and any other soldier who refused to fight, and proceeded along our way.
The walk continued with many positive responses from passersby and motorists, and ended up at Canadian corporate headquarters of Nestlé. The director of security greeted us, along with a phalanx of squad cars and private security, and explained we would not be allowed into the building even though Nestlé knew we were on the way. He said he knew of Nestle's horrid corporate practices and seemed to let on that he was sympathetic to what we were about.
Following a silent vigil for all victims of war, whether by bombing or through the wars of corporate greed, the group broke up and planned to return Tuesday, Jan. 15 (Martin Luther King Day) at 10 am at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station at 4900 Yonge for the final leg of the journey, this time to the office of minister of immigration Elinor Caplan, who is responsible for approving the detention of hundreds of people following Sept. 11. Caplan, who received a letter and list of demands from the walkers, has yet to respond.
Below is the text of the pretzel statement and the letter to Eggleton.
If 4,000 civilians who never posed a threat to George W. Bush and U.S. "national security" have been killed by intense U.S. military bombing, then the pretzel manufacturers of the world should be on guard for the next step in the war against terror.
Indeed, in the greatest threat to his safety since assuming the U.S. Presidency, Bush has choked on a pretzel while watching Sunday afternoon football games.
Key questions arise from this potentially deadly incident. Who made this pretzel, which government harbors the manufacturer, and is there a strong possibility that such pretzels will continue to be produced and distributed in benign looking packages which could carry a deadly punch (much like the U.S. food packages which were the same colour as the cluster bombs in Afghanistan)?
Given that the U.S. is scrambling to find more places to rain down its 15,000-pound fuel air explosives and cluster bombs -- but not having much luck finding the appropriate target -- it might not be too far out of the question to assume that the evil producers of the potentially deadly strain of chokus pretzellus may be next in line.
So to the purveyors and benefactors of North America's favorite bar snack, beware: you're either with George W. or you're against him.
Toronto Action for Social Change
PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0 (416) 651-5800; firstname.lastname@example.org
January 14, 2002
Minister of War
Well, here we are again. We guess the peace zucchini we presented to you over the summer didn't quite have the effect we had hoped for, because you are spending untold billions to help attack and destroy one of the poorest countries on Earth while people die here at home for lack of affordable housing and decent income.
On this, the eve of the birthdate of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., we have a question for you: why do you think it's right to kill people to prove that killing people is wrong, especially since the civilians in Afghanistan had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
We're also here to demand that you bring home all Canadian troops involved in the war against Afghanistan and in sanctions against Iraq, both of which violate international law and Canadian law. Indeed, the sanctions represent the use of starvation as a means of waging war, a crime by any humanitarian standard. Massive bombing of Afghanistan -- the use of massive violence against a civilian populace to achieve a political, religious, social or religious goal -- is an act of terrorism, and we would hate to see you tried under the horrible new anti-civil liberties legislation, C-36, as a terrorist because you supported the bombing of children with cluster bombs and fuel air explosives (BLU-82)
According to one British Army expert: "Within the blast effect radius of the BLU-82 (fuel air explosives, or Daisycutters), lethality is 100 per cent" - which is military speak for saying anyone caught by the explosion dies.
These weapons are a combination of warheads, which first explode and spread a fine kerosene vapour into the atmosphere. A secondary explosion then ignites the fuel vapour, creating a massive pressure wave. Anyone caught in the conflagration is incinerated and the blast wave sucks out oxygen behind it, creating a vacuum that ruptures lungs. "People near the ignition point are obliterated," added the expert. "Those on the fringes are likely to suffer internal injuries - burst ear drums, crushed organs, ruptured lungs, severe concussion and possibly blindness." How does the support for and use of these weapons, we ask, differ in any way from the crashing of airplanes into civilian buildings or the Pentagon?
Today, we present to you a documented study which shows that well over 3,700 civilians have been murdered in Afghanistan. For what, we ask. You may claim this has something to do with achieving some sort of justice for what happened last year in the U.S., yet are you not aware that many family members of the victims at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon have in fact spoken out against the war, and asked that their personal tragedies not be used as an excuse to wage war against a desperately poor, war-ravaged country?
For example, Amber Amundson, whose husband Craig was killed in the attack on the Pentagon, wrote shortly after the attack, "I call on our national leaders to find the courage to break the cycle of violence." She and other families who lost loved ones in the attacks took part in a walk for peace and reconciliation in December from New York to Washington, DC.
The parents of another victim, Greg Rodriguez, wrote to Pres. Bush and the New York Times that violence and war "is not the way to go. It will not avenge our son's death. Not in our son's name. Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purpose. Let us grieve. Let us reflect and pray. Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times."
We would ask that you heed the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who took great risks for peace, far greater than you have to this point. As the mayor of Toronto who oversaw the construction of the Peace Garden, who was on the founding board of directors of Peace Magazine, we call on you to show real courage, the courage not to kill.
In the words of Rev. King, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may ,murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
We call on you to be a person of conscience, to say no to war, and to stop promoting violence as a means of solving conflict. We further call on you to transform the Ministry of War into the Ministry of Affordable Housing and Equality for ALL. That would serve a far better purpose than its current mandate: preparation for and participation in the murder of innocents abroad and here at home.
We await your response, and hope it does not take eight months, as it did when last we wrote regarding the imminent danger to the people of Iraq from Canadian bombers.
the Folks at TASC and Homes not Bombs: Canada should build homes, not blow them up
DAY THREE OF THE WALK TO RELEASE CANADA'S DISAPPEARED
Well, we still do not know the names and numbers of those who have been detained in Canada since Sept. 11, nor do we know how many more innocents will have to languish behind bars, often in solitary confinement, because Canada's Immigration Minister, responsible for imprisoning so many of them, refuses to talk.
And so the third and final leg of the Walk for Canada's Disappeared ended in a most symbolic fashion on January 15, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.: the door to the constituency office of Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan was slammed shut on the group of 15 people who walked the final 6 km of the 38 km trek, just as prison doors are slammed shut on detainees and Canada's borders are slammed shut to new refugee claimants and potential immigrants.
The day began amidst the sticky and slippery wet snows (more Liberal Party metaphors??) which had begun overnight and continued throughout the day. Walkers gathered at the armed forces recruitng centre in North York and, as anxious RCMP and Metro police looked on, headed north on Yonge Street to Thornhill.
By the time they reached the office of Caplan, the walkers were soaked and cold, but nonetheless eager to hear the minister's response to the list of demands which had been sent to her last week (Caplan was moved out of the portfolio earlier in the day, but we nonetheless felt she had to answer for some of the repressive decisions she had made--see letter below).
Upon our arrival, we found the doors locked and RCMP and York Regional police both inside and outside the office. After discussing through a speakerphone with someone inside the office our request for dialogue, the office manager eventually came to the door and opened it with the RCMP officers by her side (as activists who have often visited such offices, we were surprised to see for the first time RCMP at these offices, which are normally the jurisdiction of local police forces.)
A number of individuals attempted to enter the office to set up a dialogue but were pushed back by the officers. One sat down and was hauled out into the snow. When we attempted to escort 89-year old WWII veteran and longtime peace activist Eldon Comfort into the office, the door was closed on him, too. Perhaps realizing the horrid PR gaffe they had committed, they eventually decided to allow Comfort in, but only if he could show proof of his Thornhill residency. What, we asked, are we now living under, an apartheid-style pass-card state?
While Comfort sat in the lobby with the office manager, RCMP officers took copious notes of what was supposed to be a meeting between an office rep and a constituent: perhaps the Mounties have now placed Comfort under the title of security threat too, for he is known for devastatingly funny limericks.
The clearly flustered manager, who originally denied having received our list of demands and an invitation for Caplan to join our walk for justice, eventually conceded that she did recognize our letter, but nonetheless refused to allow us in to discuss the complex issues involved. She simply said she would re-fax the letter to Caplan and that someone would get back to us.
After it became clear that the office manager would not discuss the issues with us, we requested that she make a call to Caplan, as we had yet to hear a response from the minister. The manager explained that it would be very difficult, but when we pressed her with the urgency of the situation--the hundreds detained behind Canadian bars--she was still refusing that simple request.
"Can you not, in support of all those behind bars and separated from loved ones, and in support of the families who are suffering, do this common courtesy so we can get this issue front and centre where it belongs?" we asked. She refused.
We explained that it was King's birthday,. and the manager replied, in what is an all-too common refrain these days, "Oh, well, yes, he was a great man, I was part of that generation." We reminded her that she still is a part of that generation, and asked if she would refuse King entry to the office if he had been here to press these same demands. "I will not comment on that," she said, and quickly slammed the door shut on the activists who had walked 38 km to the office over the past three days. (some members of Parliament justify the bombings of Afghanistan by saying they opposed the Vietnam War...go figure.)
Seeing no other way in, the group decided to share readings from ML King and sang a version of the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby called Elinor Caplan, asking, through the refrain, "All of the detainees, why are they held so long?"
The group stayed on for some 90-minutes before departing, pledging to organize similar walks through other parts of the greater GTA and southern Ontario.
Toronto Action for Social Change
Building Community Through Nonviolent Action
PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON M6C 1C0
(416) 651-5800, email@example.com
January 8, 2002
OPEN LETTER TO ELINOR CAPLAN
RE: THE WALK FOR CANADA'S DISAPPEARED
Dear Elinor Caplan,
We are writing to invite you to join the nonviolent Martin Luther King Walk for Canada's Disappeared, January 13-15. It will begin at the Metro West Detention Centre in Etobicoke and wind its way over three days to your constituency office in Thornhill. It is there we will celebrate the legacy of King and the civil rights movement's cherished goals of human equality, peace, and justice for all, regardless of economic background, country of origin or "constituency" status.
By the "disappeared," we mean specifically the hundreds of people who have been jailed in your name, in the name of the Solicitor General, and in the name of all Canadians. These individuals have been arbitrarily thrown behind bars on trumped up charges or no charges at all because they allegedly threatened that catch-all excuse for doing very repressive things: national security. We are dismayed to note that almost all of them are individuals of Arabic, Middle Eastern, Asian and/or Muslim background.
The Toronto Star and other sources show that in the past few months have seen cases of individuals released after adjudicators declared their treatment at the hands of CSIS, RCMP and immigration officials "deplorable." One of the purposes of this walk is to determine, once and for all, who has been placed behind bars, and why. How many more innocents must wait two, three, even more months in solitary confinement, cut off from family members and contact with lawyers, enduring the abuse of racist guards, before they too are declared the unfortunate victims of a hyperactive "security" service and immigration and refugee bureaucracy?
Even the Toronto Star has called for an open accounting of this nightmare, declaring in an editorial "Canadian police and immigration officers have been conducting 'major sweeps'...while the Chretien government has been quick to arm itself with sweeping new powers to track down, interrogate and detain people, it seems to feel scant obligation to report the results."
We nonetheless would welcome your presence, because we think you need to hear the voices of angry and scared community members who wonder if, under the new repressive legislation which has been passed recently, they will be the next to go behind bars. Perhaps when you see the faces of family members who cry each night for missing their loved ones, you will see the all too human cost of your signature on the bottom of "security" certificates.
The walk begins at a site that "houses" those internees unfortunate enough to have their name on a security certificate signed by yourself, and will continue from Etobicoke to Weston, North York, and Thornhill. At some point during the walk or at its conclusion at your office, we would like you to explain how, exactly, you will meet our demands, as listed below.
As nonviolent revolutionaries, we would obviously expect you to commit to a complete social and economic transformation of this country into one which prizes homes, not bombs, equal distribution and sharing of resources, prison abolition (if you've never spent time in one, you wouldn't understand...), free education and health care, and a clean environment. However, seeing that you might need more than a week to get the wheels rolling (hey, no one knows better than social justice volunteers that it's a tough slog) on these broader demands, we do have a set of more specific demands which we feel you are more than capable of meeting for January 15, King's birthday.
We recognize that you may well feel trapped in your privileged position as a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, but nonetheless, we would hope that you would recall the true courage of Dr. King, who risked his very life for the principles of love and justice. He is remembered for that courage, and you yourself could be too, for it is never too late to admit when you have erred in judgment and action, and to take actions to correct the injustices.
1. We demand to know how many people have been interned since Sept. 11 because they allegedly posed a security "threat." We demand to know their names, their current place of internment, what charges are pending against them, whether they have had access to lawyers and family members, and how their immediate release might be expedited.
We also demand to know who has been imprisoned prior to Sept. 11 on security certificates. Few realize the extent to which these defendants have no chance when their hearing comes up, for they are not allowed to see the secret evidence against them (nor are their lawyers, if they are actually able to retain one before a secret trial and a secret deportation), yet we are expected to trust the word of CSIS which, like its predecessor the RCMP Security Service, thrives on hypocrisy, lies, and violence precisely because the public is not allowed to see the extent of their deception as they hide behind the veil of "national security." Indeed, we know of one case of a father of six who, despite being found innocent of CSIS allegations by a federal court, was nonetheless re-arrested in August and still sits behind bars awaiting justice.
2. We demand an end to the secret trials which your department has overseen since 1990, in which individual defendants and their lawyers are not allowed to see the evidence against them because it allegedly affects "national security." We also demand an end to the racial profiling which sits at the core of these cases. If racial profiling were not behind the current situation, why then are the jails not also filled to overflowing with white business executives and government ministers, whose corporate malpractices and horrid policies (unsafe products and working conditions, pollution, mass downsizing, cancellation of affordable housing construction, related threats to people's security) have killed thousands?
3. We demand an end to the secret trials taking place at the jails, and an accounting for any individual who has been deported as a result of these trials. We also demand an end to the reckless deportation of individuals back to countries where they risk imprisonment, torture and death.
4. We demand to see the list which Citizenship and Immigration Canada has received from CSIS of "suspect" countries, visitors or refugees from which are to receive "special attention" upon their arrival in Canada.
5. We demand that you speak out against and work to repeal the "Suspension of Canadian Civil Liberties Act " (C-36), the "None is Too Many Refugee Rejection Act (C-11), which Amnesty International has said is of great concern because they believe "there may be some people who are not protected from return to situations where they may be arbitrarily detained, tortured, disappeared or executed," and the "Canadian Anytime, Anywhere Martial Law Act" (C-42). We think you should also repeal the Protection of State Terrorists Act (C-35), which grants immunity to the likes of Henry Kissinger, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and any other state official who has been involved in aiding, abetting, or direct participation in crimes against peace and humanity. We would also demand that you withdraw the harsh new immigration guidelines, which will make it even more difficult for so many who desperately have no choice to reach our country
6. We demand that you speak out against war and sanctions against Afghanistan and Iraq, and that you call on the government to direct monies currently gushing into military coffers into meeting real human needs.
We hope you will seriously consider joining us or, at the very least, meeting with us at the end of the walk, for this project addresses some serious issues which demand immediate solutions to end what has been, for many individuals and families, a state of terror imposed on them since September 11 by individuals such as yourself.
If you do plan on walking with us, a good pair of warm runners will likely do the trick, and the bagels are on us!
The folks at Toronto Action for Social Change
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