Keywords: Canadian peace movement; Canadian government; Pearson; Chretien; Lloyd Axworthy; Responsibility to Protect; Douglas Roche; Paul Martin; Stephen Harper; Rick Hillier; nuclear weapons; Ballistic Missile Defence; war resisters; Muslims; American deserters; World Peace Forum; Lebanon War; terrorism; civil rights; state terrorism; Douglas Roche; Afghanistan; Kandahar; Canadian Peace Alliance; Taliban; cluster bombs; department of peace; militarism and environment.
I intend to give an overview of the current state of peace activism
in Canada. However, I’ll start by portraying Canadian government policies before 9/11 as a baseline for comparison.
Before 2001, the country had been doing a great deal that was right. For example, the government often consulted with citizens and NGOs, and one actually felt heard. Also the government frequently funded NGO conferences and other public peace events. Today, the main remnant of that consultative process is the Ottawa-based Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee, which holds briefing meetings a couple of times a year.
Canadians like to bask in the warm memory of being a great peacekeeping nation. Since the days of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the country had regularly contributed to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. The period 1996-2000 was an especially constructive period, for those are the years when Lloyd Axworthy
served the Liberal Chretien government as Foreign Minister with immense creativity. He elevated “human security” as a principle in foreign policy by assigning priority to the rights of human beings rather than States. He was a strong advocate of Canada's tradition of multilateralism. His greatest success was the Ottawa Treaty
, an international treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines, for which he was rightfully nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He also campaigned against the use of child soldiers and the international trade in light weapons.
Axworthy wanted to formalize international laws defining the conditions under which the international community should intervene militarily in a state that failed to protect its own citizens. He convened a group of specialists who hammered out a doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect
,” which the UN is gradually coming to recognize as the guideline.
And, as concerns Canada’s nuclear policies, the country had deliberately refrained from becoming a nuclear weapon State (though it could have done so) and did not allow other countries to place their nuclear weapons on its soil. Moreover, Canada is the home of the vigorous anti-nuclear-weapons campaigner Douglas Roche
, (see photo) who long served as Ambassador for Disarmament and then as a senator between 1998-2004. In 1998 Roche founded the Middle Powers Initiative, comprising eight international peace organizations, which he continues to chair as the world’s most prominent advocate of nuclear disarmament. Canadians have a lot to be proud of — at least in their recent past.
Then came 9/11. Of course, the tragedy influenced Canada’s government, but even so, many of its subsequent decisions were reasonable. Shocked by the attack on its neighbor, Canada agreed to send troops to Afghanistan to pursue al-Qaeda
. There was no reason to expect that five years later, Canadian forces would still be there, bearing a disproportionate burden, fighting in the Kandahar region to protect the new government from resurgent warlords and Taliban fighters. Since 2002, 44 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the Canadian situation could be worse — and would be if Prime Minister Chretien had not refused President Bush’s requests to send troops to the Iraq war. Chretien wisely argued that his military contributions to Afghanistan were enough, and that Iraq might be an unnecessary war. At the time, his refusal made Canada unpopular in Washington, where the invasion of Iraq was generally applauded. Actually, the Canadian peace movement can hardly claim to have mobilized public opinion against the Iraq invasion, for most citizens decided against it on their own. Chretien could read the polls perfectly well, and had excellent arguments justifying his refusal to participate.
Nor was this the last time when Canada would keep its distance from Bush’s policies. In February of 2005, Paul Martin, Chretien’s successor as prime minister, announced that Canada would not participate in America’s Ballistic Missile Defense
program, a scaled-down version of Reagan’s “Star Wars” project, which is widely considered a first step toward the weaponization of space. Canada’s refusal greatly pleased peace activists everywhere, who had been appalled when Bush essentially tore up the 1972 ABM Treaty.
On the other hand, more recent Canadian governmental trends are less satisfactory to the Canadian public, which continues to take pride in the country’s strong peacekeeping tradition. Since Prime Minister Harper has taken control of the government, and most notably since General Rick Hillier has taken control of the Canadian forces, there has been a decisive shift away from peacekeeping and toward war-fighting. Today, Canada is one of the countries that is contributing the very least to UN peacekeeping operations. There are only about 55 Canadian soldiers overseas today serving in peacekeeping roles, in addition to some civilians and police. Instead, the government boasts of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, where the troops are in the most dangerous zone of the country. Unfortunately, their task is clearly one of combat, not policing. This situation has become a quagmire, stimulating the only serious controversy that is taking place today in Canada among peace activists.
Here I want to discuss eleven aspects of the peace movement’s ongoing work.
1. Nuclear weapons.
This continues to be the ultimate concern of most peace activists, though one might easily become discouraged, for there has been little discernable progress toward disarmament. On this very weekend, Doug Roche’s Middle Powers Initiative is hosting the Fourth Article VI Forum in Vienna, an international governmental and civil society gathering that is trying to save the Non-Proliferation Treaty from continuing violations — not only by non-nuclear States such as Iran, but especially by the Nuclear Weapons States, which have broken their NPT promise to disarm their arsenals. Indeed, the Bush administration keeps trying to go in the opposite direction — toward upgrading US weaponry. Nevertheless, there is new hope that this trend can be halted. For example, four prominent Americans — Sam Nunn, William Perry, Robert McNamara, and Henry Kissinger — have recently published an article insisting that disarmament is required to reduce the risk of obliterating civilization. This nudge from ex-hawks may be helpful.
Moreover, people who speak in public can detect a new readiness in their audiences to hear unpleasant facts. This openness accompanies the extraordinary disdain in Canadian public opinion toward the Bush administration’s conspicuous failings. For example, people are more prepared to recognize the harmful environmental and health effects of depleted uranium, for they have heard about its impact in Iraq. This makes them more open to considering comparable effects here in Canada, where much of the uranium is mined and processed. There is more awareness of the whole nuclear fuel cycle, rather than just focusing on the final uses of fissile material as weapons.
2. Ballistic Missile Defence.
BMD was a topic of intense debate a couple of years ago, and it may not entirely be behind us — at least if the Harper government wins a majority of seats in the next election and gains a free hand to pursue its own agenda. Already, some activists worry that Canada actually is more deeply involved with BMD than Paul Martin’s refusal had suggested.
3. American deserters in Canada.
At present there are probably about 5,000 American military deserters in Canada. About 30 of them have applied for refugee status and are warmly supported by the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRSC), an organization with branches in several local communities. The Canadian government, on the other hand, is less hospitable now than it had been during the Vietnam War, ostensibly because today’s deserters had not been drafted but had enlisted in the military voluntarily. When war resisters have requested refugee status, they have wisely argued that it is an illegal war. Still, they have all been denied refugee status and have not been given official work permits. However, none of them have been deported. If they do manage to stay five years in Canada with a creditable record, they may become landed immigrants. Only a few of them have returned home, and those have not been severely punished. In view of the Iraq War’s unpopularity, the US Army and Air Force generally offer lenient punishments to returning deserters when negotiating with their Canadian lawyers.
4. Anti-war demonstrations.
The days of huge demonstrations are behind us, but significant rallies still occur occasionally, such as on March 17, when thousands marched in Toronto, protesting against both the Iraq War and nuclear weapons. These events are important because they capture the attention of the media. However, in the big cities the organizing is usually done by Marxist (often Trotskyist) anti-war activists who neither offer alternative solutions nor point to the root causes of problems. Instead, their analyses tend do be simplistic, focusing on the culpability of the United States to the exclusion of all other causes. (Actually, however, Canadian demonstrations could be worse. At least they are not organized by such radical but socially conservative movements as the one led by Ramsay Clark in the United States, or the “Respect” coalition led by George Galloway in Britain.)
In smaller Canadian communities, the movement is composed of politically moderate anti-war groups that spontaneously organized or resurrected themselves after a hiatus of years. These are groups in such places as Salt Spring Island, BC; Lethbridge, Alberta; Fort Smith NWT; and the Doukhabors in Grand Forks, B.C. Such local groups often are in dialogue with Muslims — especially moderate sects such as the Ismailis. (In Britain, on the other hand, leftist activists have oddly aligned with the most conservative Muslims.)
5. The World Peace Forum.
Last summer Vancouver put on a big peace conference that lasted all week and attracted over 5,000 people from around the world. Though the city initially agreed to fund it, a new city council reneged, and much of the money came from a private donor, Dr. Jennifer Simons
, a political scientist based at UBC, who generously supports all kinds of peace and disarmament projects.
6. The Lebanon War and Relations with Israel.
Because last summer’s war occurred quickly, there was not enough time for Canadian activists to get into full swing opposing it. The new Harper government unequivocally supported Israel, though Canada has a number of strong ties to Lebanon. This government reaction means that Canada can no longer function as an honest broker in the Middle East. Among Canadian peace activists, there is considerable sympathy for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
7. Civil Rights and Terrorism.
Although initially sympathetic to Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. public opinion in Canada is less preoccupied with terrorism than in the United States. Still, peace activists have generally sought to defend civil liberties against the government’s anti-terrorist actions. Of course, all Canadians have come to recognize that the shameful case of Maher Arar was totally inexcusable. Though he was a Canadian citizen, the US government deported him to his native Syria, where he was tortured and eventually released. Although the Canadian government has apologized and offered compensation to Arar, the Bush administration still refuses to do so.
Since 1991 there has been legislation allowing the government to detain indefinitely and/or deport foreign nationals who are deemed threats to national security. Six such individuals were held on so-called “security certificates
” for up to nine years in a special prison near Kingston. Conditions there were far better than in, say, Guantanamo Bay, but the Canadian supreme court has ruled that such prolonged detentions are illegal, so the detainees have been freed, except two, who are under house arrest.
There has not really been a debate among peace activists about the proper conduct of States against violent non-State actors, such a militias in civil wars and terrorist networks. Many activists cling to the simplistic notion that “State terrorism” is the main source of violence in the world, whereas in reality almost all wars now are civil wars that may even include actions by suicide bombers. Clearly it is essential to attack the “root causes” of these extremist movements by rectifying social injustice and by respecting the human security of oppressed people. Clearly too, the best way to handle terrorists is through good policing. However, no proper debate about methods has taken place.
8. Canada’s Military Role in Afghanistan.
Of all foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Canadian troops have been experiencing the strongest resistance. The area around Kandahar, which they are attempting to defend, is populated largely by Pashtuns. Although the Pashtuns constitute only about one-third of the Afghan population, they are the group most sympathetic to the Talibans. In Baluchistan, inside Pakistan, Talibans openly maintain offices, though they operate only clandestinely in Afghanistan proper, in the border area and around Kandahar. Musharraf’s government does not acknowledge that the Talibans function so freely in Pakistan, and it may be possible to push him to subdue them.
In any case, the debate within Canada concerns the duration and appropriate nature of military commitment to the Afghanistan mission. Canadian troops are definitely fighting a war, and not really winning it. Most activists, including the main umbrella organization, the Canadian Peace Alliance, demand that the troops be brought home now, but parliament has endorsed an extension of their mission until 2009.
On the other hand, a significant number of Canadian activists (and I am among them) would rather see the Canadian mission returned to its traditional peacekeeping role. This would involve a policing function to protect vulnerable citizens in Afghanistan. Warlords and Taliban fighters would be caught and prosecuted as criminals, but not pursued as enemy combatants. Canada’s contribution would involve more economic and social development projects, plus a leadership role in offering new mediation initiatives to the war’s losers, who are excluded from any power-sharing within the government. One Afghan-Canadian, Dr. Siddiq Weera, is in his home country making exactly such contacts. He reports that the insurgent groups are willing and eager to negotiate instead of fighting against what is essentially a Northern Alliance regime. There was a good discussion of this policy last summer in Vancouver’s World Peace Forum, but a clear majority of Canadian activists still prefer a “troops out now” policy.
9. Cluster bombs.
Canada took the leadership several years ago in establishing a treaty against landmines. Demining operations around the world have already made considerable progress. Now a number of NGOs, notably Mines Action Canada, have been meeting, planning an initiative to ban cluster bombs as well. Such bombs were used by Israel and Hezbollah during the recent war in Lebanon. An initial conference took place in February at the invitation of Norway’s government, and we can expect the campaign to increase during the next year or so.
10. Department of Peace.
Activists in several countries, including Canada, are now demanding that, instead of dispersing peace-related activities in a number of ministries, as at present, a new Department of Peace be created, with cabinet-level power comparable to other ministries, such as Defence and Environment. The US movement has already made quite a splash on that issue.
11. Financing militarism.
The world’s annual military budget has now reached the greatest amount in history — $1.14 trillion. Canadians activists have always questioned expenditures for heavy weaponry and increasingly now they oppose buying equipment that pollutes the environment. There is a growing awareness that militarism
is a major source of greenhouse gases. I predict that in the near future, peace activists will work closely with environmental activists. By emphasizing the linkage between these two issues, we have a good chance of making progress, for today the threat of climate change is the top political issue. My own activities will be directed along those lines.
Labels: Canadian peace movement; Afghanistan; foreign policy