War Minister Declares Toronto Armouries Needed as War Training Camps, Not as Shelters and Housing for the Homeless

Statement caps a summer of military lies, scurrying politicians, and ongoing deaths on the streets


As members of Homes not Bombs began their fourth month of weekly vigils at Moss Park Armoury Tuesday, September 3, they received their second official response on the idea of transforming the armouries from war training camps into housing for the homeless (the first was the declaration of Moss Park as a Military Security Zone in June.)

In an August 28 letter as crass as it is direct, War Minister John McCallum states that "the provision of Canadian Forces armouries for use as homeless shelters interferes with military training, and this has an adverse effect on operational readiness." In other words, people must continue to die on our streets so that Canadian soldiers can be trained to kill people abroad. McCallum states such shelter assistance is only available "if the needs arising from an emergency exceed municipal and provincial resources and the request is made by the respective premiers." (Municipalities are not headed by premiers, but being a federal politician does not necessitate an understanding of the political system).

McCallum ignores the fact that Toronto City Council has called on the federal government to open the armouries, that homelessness has been a declared national emergency for three years in Canada, and that Homes not Bombs is more than happy to interfere with the operational readiness of an armed force which, by the published admission of ex-General Lewis Mackenzie, has only one purpose:"to kill as efficiently as possible." Indeed, we have offered Canadian soldiers FREE trainings in nonviolent conflict resolution which is justice based, not something which springs from the barrel of a machinegun or the bomb bay of a CF-18 fighter jet.

A day after we learned that a homeless man who'd been beaten in Allan Gardens died in hospital, we reflected on the fact that throughout July and August, the massive structure at Jarvis and Queen has sat virtually empty and unused, save for the staff which is kept on to monitor our vigils. The only occupancy we saw this summer was from World Youth Day delegates.

Last week, a couple of vigil members walked into the armoury itself, only to discover a number of men standing around, shooting the breeze (better to shoot that than a rifle!). They insisted we leave immediately, but we started asking them questions instead, all the whole noting that the massive armoury auditorium sat dark, empty, and fairly cool.

"We are on parade every night," the commander of the 48th Highlanders informed us. This was news to us, for each Tuesday evening, when we are at the armoury, we look inside and see little if any activity taking place (mainly marching band practice for a small group, who usually take it outside given the noise of bagpipes.) The commander also informed us that the vigil is "costing us", as they need to station extra people at the armoury to watch over the facility whenever we are outside (once again, the federal response to homelessness is to put in place more guards to prevent us from ending homelessness).

Since the second week in June, when Moss Park was declared a military security zone because of our weekly presence, we have been told by the Canadian military that it needs Moss Park to train soldiers to kill (are there any other end results that come from machine-gun courses?). Soldiers were stationed at the entrance checking the I.D. of people going on each Tuesday evening, with the explanation that such measures had been in place since Sept. 11, 2001.

We knew this to be a lie, since a number of us had walked in unaccosted to view soldiers training to aim their assault rifles last March of 2002. We also know this is untrue because we have gone by the armoury at all times of day and night and found the gates wide open, save for on Tuesday night.

The response from the military is not unexpected. War and violence are built on a foundation of lies, and the people who inhabit the structure take up the game of dishonesty.

On a political level, the campaign to have a simple process take place (getting municipal leaders and people who speak a lot about the homeless to talk to federal counterparts to finish off a process that has already begun -- the declaration of Moss Park as a surplus federal property and its subsequent transfer to the city of Toronto and then into the hands of folks who would build housing for the homeless) has met with nothing but stonewalls.

Some city councillors who have made good careers as spokespeople for the voiceless have said, in response to our requests for support, that they do not interfere with issues in other wards (which has not prevented them from voting on other related issues, such as the shelter bylaw, the motion to open Fort York Armoury as a shelter, the motion to support the Pope Squat's demands for truly affordable housing), while others have shamelessly refused to respond to a stream of letters,. phone calls, faxes and e-mails.

Federally, appeals for dialogue have been ignored by the War Minister (who, despite his three months-late correspondence, states he is unable to meet with us "due to prior engagements"), Bill Graham, MP, and the 32 Brigade of the military.

As we gear up for the fall, Homes not Bombs is planning acts of civil resistance at the Moss Park site. We sincerely hope people would find the provision of housing far more important than the provision of war training. It is our intention, as the weather turns colder, to begin the physical process of transforming the site. We hope the ongoing "cost" of our presence is high and growing, and that our efforts can in some way lessen the violence of our economic system by opening up the armouries first as shelters and then as longer term, truly affordable housing. If this happens, perhaps we really can have, as McCallum states, an adverse effect on the Canadian Forces, and thus help restrain or even prevent them from exercising the deadly military violence currently at their disposal.

We have slated the morning of Monday, November 4 as the date for stepping up our nonviolent resistance. Please mark your calendars!

Among our fall plans is the idea of starting up a Food Not Bombs contingent who would be able to join us on Tuesday evenings to provide free servings of nutritious food in front of the war training camp. If you are interested in such an effort, please contact us.


Homes not Bombs

PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West

Toronto, ON M6C 1C0

(416) 651-5800


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