Calls for Homes not Bombs Met by Heavy Police Presence in Frigid Markham
Toronto, January 27, 2003--If you were a planning on committing a criminal act in the city of Markham, north of Toronto, you couldn't have picked a better day than January 27, the day the world waited for the conclusions of UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix.
It's not that the police were glued to their television sets watching the dreary proceedings. No, it was because most of the area police seemed to have congregated at the office of War Minister John McCallum, lined up in formation to protect his territory against a small group of zucchini-wielding Canadians who braved temperatures hovering near 24 degrees below zero to make a plea for peace.
Shortly before this small demonstration, Blix delivered his report at the UN, during which he chided Iraqis who refused to be interviewed without the presence of government officials.
One wonders what he would think of the same situation occurring in a self-styled "democratic" country such as Canada. Indeed, it increasingly seems that residents of this country are barred from seeking accountability from government officials by locked doors and lines of heavily armed police. And anytime we try and publicly meet with government officials, they call in the police, the RCMP, the CSIS, who take notes, record our faces, and build thick files.
Such was the situation again today, January 27, as a group of 15 people gathered at War Minister John McCallum's Markham constituency in bitter sub-zero temperatures to express their opposition to the ongoing war against the people of Iraq and to report on their own searches for weapons of mass human destruction here in Canada.
The plan was simple: a few words, a few songs, and the offer of some peace zucchinis to the war minister. But the local constabulary would have none of it.
The 15 or so were met, person to person, by an equal number of black-uniformed police officers, one of them taking so many photographs of us that the dept.'s film budget must have been overrun, and another carrying a massive canister of pepper spray in case things got ugly.
And oh how they could have gotten bad. After all, one of the speakers was 90-year-old WWII veteran Eldon Comfort, who in pleading for peace stated, "War is terrorism." . Comfort was armed with his warm sense of humour and, though police were not able to identify it using their surveillance equipment, a well concealed limerick on a note card.
Comfort, though walking with a cane, had been ordered out of the parking lot when he first arrived, told he should park somewhere else and walk back. He was not allowed into McCallum's office. Comfort's own sacrifices for democracy 60 years ago don't hold much weight with officers of the law defending suburban strip malls from men of his caliber.
Media representatives arriving in the strip mall parking lot were also told to back off and park somewhere else by the armed contingent assigned to keep the citizenry from the government representative. As we approached the parking lot, police told us there was an area already designated for us to hold our protest, behind a series of orange cones. Their orders fell on deaf ears, though, as we gathered at the entrance to McCallum's office with our pleas for peace.
83-year-old Frank Showler, a pacifist who refused to fight in World War II and who has tirelessly worked against war all his life, was there too. A vicious media barrage of questions--what if this, what if that-- was met with a dignified response that war can never be the answer to solving conflict. One man pointed out that the next time the media asks what we think if they DO find something in Iraq, we should simply state, "Snap out of it, folks, you are hysterical!"
Indeed, in the array of facts outlined by UN inspectors today, not one person referred to the real statistics of shame and horror in Iraq: the over 1 million people who have died as a result of Canadian-enforced sanctions; the horrific rates of cancer and childhood leukemia as a result of Canadian mined, processed, and exported depleted uranium munitions, over 300 tonnes of which were exploded over Iraq in 1991; the millions whose lives remain at risk if the war escalates and sanctions continue.
And while the media continued with their usual questions--what about the nerve gas, what about the aluminum tubes--someone responded that the media should start asking real questions, such as : what about the weapons of mass destruction possessed by dozens of nations; what about the Security Council Resolution which called for disarmament across the region, not just in Iraq; what about Canada's $5 billion per year weapons industry, and the holders of military stocks who hope to see their dividends go up with the imminent escalation?
And what of the new escalation planned? Will the water and irrigation systems of Iraq again be targeted, the electrical grid, the food processing facilities and warehouses, the housing complexes and hospitals? After all, if you bomb the electrical grid, babies in incubators are certain to die.
Police stood wary watch as Raging Grannies Brand Dolling, Gail Lorimer and Jackie Graham, among others, belted out anti-war songs. They looked particularly concerned as Kirsten Romaine and Christian Peacemaker Murray Lumley approached the door with peace zucchinis. Peace zucchinis were presented, Romaine, pointed out, because the people of Iraq need food, not bombs, and because if McCallum and other warriors seem fixated on phallic symbols such as cruise missiles, it is far safer for them to play with zukes, not nukes.
"Where are you John?" Romaine called out? "We need to speak with you, why won't you come out?"
No one from the office would meet us, so the zucchinis were placed with pleas for peace at the feet of the officers blockading the door.
We explained to reporters that in our own efforts to conduct weapons inspections, we have been met with arrests time and again, whether at Burlington's Wescam or Toronto's Litton/Northrop Grumman. But they had their clips and took off before they could reflect on the sheer hypocrisy of it all.
After we broke for lunch, a group of us returned to the office, hoping we could talk to the constituency workers about our concerns. One of them refused to allow us into the office, and painstakingly inched his way out the door and said he would speak to us in the sub zero temperatures, rather than invite us in. He explained that there are a lot of things that we "have to understand," but despite his condescension he did say that our message is getting through, as McCallum's office has received almost 1,600 faxes, calls and letters opposing the war in the past few weeks.
Why did he call the police in the first place, we asked. He said he didn't. But sure enough, as we spoke, two cruisers returned, and one officer asked, "are you the guy who called for us?' to which the office manager meekly replied, caught in a lie, yup.
We eventually concluded our conversation, as it was going nowhere fast and our toes were getting numb. We informed the office worker that we would be meeting his boss on February 14 in Ottawa, as people from across the province converge on the War Dept. to demand a change of heart, and to surround the place with the power or love.
Unsure of how to respond, he assured us that he would communicate our concerns to the minister. (report from Matthew Behrens, Homes not Bombs)
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