Homes not Bombs

Vigil Launched at Moss Park, War Training Interrupted

Tuesday, June 4, 20002

War training by Canadian soldiers and youth at Moss Park Armoury was seriously disrupted this evening as some 20 people showed up to launch the campaign to transform Moss Park from a war training facility to housing for the homeless of Toronto.

From the moment the first three individuals showed up and raised their Homes not Bombs banner, two soldiers were stationed at the driveway entrance to open and close what is normally an unattended gate to the facility. As news media gathered to conduct interviews, hundreds of flyers were distributed to overwhelmingly sympathetic passersby, including numerous homeless individuals, and some army reservists who expressed support for what we were doing.

About a half hour into the 90-minute vigil, a group of half a dozen folks walked to the gate to talk to the soldiers stationed there, then proceeded to the main entrance of the Armoury. Despite all the doors being locked, we could see inside the massive, largely unused space which we are hoping to turn into a 24/7 emergency shelter in the short term and permanent housing for folks on the margins of society in the longer term.

In one of those funny twists of fate, a young cadet came sprinting towards the door, opened it just enough to ask what we wanted (and for us to get in), and ran back to stand erect and call out, "Situation evolving, sir! Situation evolving, sir!"

To our horror, there on the floor of the armoury were two groups of 12-13 year olds, in clear violation of the UN Protocol on the Use of Child Soldiers, being trained for war. As we walked into the very surprised group of youngsters, their squad leader yelled at them to stay in rank and to not move or take our flyers. We then held a mini teach-in on homelessness and its connection to war. During this time, it must have been concluded that practice was over early tonight for these youngsters, who were suddenly ceremoniously paraded out of the armoury into the back parking lot (oh to be a fly on the wall tomorrow when the youngsters tell their classmates what happened during the previous evening's drill!)

We then spoke with a military official and a police services official who was on hand, both of whom stated they had no say in official policy, and that we should get in touch with the 32 Brigade, who had more say in such matters. When we reminded them of their responsibilities under a democracy, they tried to change the subject, with one eventually concluding, "This conversation is really going nowhere." "Au contraire," declared one of the interlopers. "This is just the beginning of getting to know each other, starting up a dialogue, and getting some peace education and housing construction started right here."

Meanwhile, as Homes not Bombs banner-holders placed themselves atop a small embankment in between two ceremonial artillery pieces, a member of the 48th Highlanders unit, whose purpose is to "close with and destroy the enemy," came out and began a long dialogue with us. We invited him to consider our proposal to do some free courses on Gandhi, the suffragists, and the civil rights movement to show that one needn't use machine guns, grenades and smart bombs to keep the peace, and he said he'd consider it.

Finally, a superior officer walked into the vigil and pleaded with him to go back inside to continue training for war.

Interestingly, many of the young soldiers seemed quite bemused by our presence; some spoke of the crappy pay they receive in the military, others of their hope that affordable housing would be made available to them too, as food bank use and substandard housing are an all-too common reality for Canadian soldiers while Ottawa bureaucrats and generals in the top heavy War Dept. live high off the public trough. We would suggest that these soldiers be paid a much more livable wage and redeploy their efforts away from war-making and towards peaceful activities such as building affordable housing.

Homes not Bombs will be holding vigils every Tuesday evening from 7-8:30 pm at the Armoury, with a walk from Fort York Armoury to Moss Park on July 1 at 12 noon.


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