When Canada, in league with their NATO partners, went to war and intervened in the Kosovo/Yugoslavia conflict, they made an already bad situation much worse with their bombs, destroying long term conflict transformation work along with civilians and civilian infrastructure (a war crime).
In Hamilton, a group of activists responded to the news of war with weekly anti-war leaflets, handed out at the gates to the James Street Armoury.
Each week a new leaflet was prepared to hand out to passer-by and soldiers, reservists and people using the armoury (including cadets)
The weekly vigils culminated with the Armoury Conversion Project which simply entailed a group of people armed with sidewalk chalk, prepared to write messages of peace on the outer wall of the massive brick structure as an act of public protest and to encourage alternatives to violence.
Canadian elites where divided on the Kosovo conflict and many dissenting voices made it into the corporate media:
"No political solution to this crisis can be reached while the bombing continues"
Senator Douglas Roche
"Rather than ending the human rights abuses, NATO bombs appear to have provoked a larger-scale onslaught and greater misery in Kosovo."
Geoffrey Pearson, United Nations Association V.P.
"With the abandonment of the U.N. charter, we enter a new phase of history that many of us will learn to regret"
James Bissett, former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia
Large numbers of civilians have incontestably been killed, civilian installations targeted on the grounds that they are or could be of military application and NATO remains the sole judge of what is or is not acceptable to bomb...In this situation, the principle of proportionality must be adhered to by those carrying out the bombing campaign to weigh the consequences of their campaign for civilians in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
I do believe we caused collateral damage. I'm certain that we did.
Canadian airforce Colonel Dwight Davies, Canadian task force commander during the Kosovo "campaign". [over 500 civilians killed-- almost 30% of Canadian Smart bombs missed target during the 78 day war: source-Globe and Mail]
Locally, corporate media attempted to create hysteria around the proposed action, with both the Hamilton Spectator and the "Roy Green Show" on local radio station CHML framing the story in terms of outraged veterans versus ungrateful peacenik/vandals (more or less...)
On the big day (Thursday, May 27, 1999) civil society was enlivened as a women's vocal group Women Folk, Food Not Bombs and concerned citizens representing various groups and sectors in Hamilton came together to rally for peace and attempt to symbolically transform or convert the armoury into a public statement for peace.
The weather was beautiful, and despite a large police presence, the demonstrators were able to decorate the front of the building with their message of peace.
The Hamilton Spectator Wednesday, May 26, 1999
Veteran's widow furious about armoury protest
Groups prepared to be arrested for writing 'message of peace' By KEN KILPATRICK
A plan to write peace slogans on the walls of Hamilton James Street North Armoury has Margaret Foster upset.
"That's hallowed property," the 72 year-old widow of a Second World War veteran said yesterday.
"Many young men left from there and never came back. They were dead by the time they were 20."
She was responding to a plan by a group of "freedom painters" to use chalk to create a "message of peace" on the walls at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
Randy Kay, one of the peace activists who have been handing out leaflets opposing the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and Canada's role in it, said yesterday that if people are arrested, "they will be quite happy to suffer the consequences.
"We will be doing this respectfully," he said. "We are hoping to introduce some nonviolence into the mix.
"On Thursday night, we are going to chalk the walls with a message of peace.
We are still trying to come to a consensus on what that message will be. We are taking public space on the outside of the building and reclaiming it for civil society."
He stressed anyone who plans to join in should be trained in nonviolent civil disobedience techniques.
Captain Michael James Pretty, adjutant and operations officer with the armoury, said yesterday he contacted regional police after hearing about the plan.
He said although the military has its own police force, civilian police would handle any demonstration outside the building.
Foster, whose husband Alan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery when he was 19 and spent five years overseas, said: "If they want to march up and down the street, that's OK but I have very vivid memories of friends who left from there and never returned. "I have vivid memories of the troop trains, I think this is wrong."
She said she "went ballistic" when she read about the event.
"I would like to exert my rights on behalf of all those people who fought or gave their lives during the war. Many are not around to speak for themselves."
Sue Markey, a peace activist and member of the singing group Women Folk, said yesterday the Canadian government has not discussed its action with Canadians.
"We woke up one morning and were told NATO was bombing the former Yugoslavia.
"We are extremely concerned about this. There are nonviolent ways of resolving this conflict."
She said the main role of her group during tomorrow's demonstration will be "to create a warm, friendly atmosphere and provide support for those who are doing the chalking."
Markey expected a number of groups would be represented, including steelworkers, students, members of the Quaker and Mennonite churches and the Peace Research Institute in Dundas.
"Canada has an international peace-keeping reputation and now Canada is directly at war," she said.
"We expect a large number of people to come out and support us."
Foster - whose husband fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany before volunteering to serve in Japan - said although he was not physically injured, he suffered from memories that caused nightmares.
"For a long time, he didn't talk about the war.
"Only in later years, some of the things he saw came back to haunt him."
He died of heart disease at 58.
- - - -
The Hamilton Spectator. Friday, May 28, 1999
Peace protesters leave their mark
By PAUL LEGALL Crime reporter, The Spectator
Police stood by and watched as protesters chalked anti-war slogans on one of Hamilton's most revered military shrines last night
The demonstrators said they were trying to convert the James Street North armoury into a symbol of peace. By the end of the evening, operation Armoury Conversion Project had the whole front of the building covered with peace signs, biblical exhortations against killing, and slogans condemning Canada's involvement in the Kosovo bombings."
But in typical Canadina fashion, the protesters had phoned in advance to warn police and military of what they would be doing. They said they used chalk to deliver their message - instead of paint - because they didn't want to permanently deface the building. Earlier this week, 72-year-old war widow Margaret Foster described the building as "hallowed property." "Many young men left from there and never came back," she said.
But the protesters stressed they didn't mean to show any disrespect to anybody who might have sentimental attachments with the building.
We're respecting one another," said Kevin Shimmin, who handed out literature during the one-hour protest. "It's non-violent civil-disobedience. We notified everybody in advance." He respected veterans who fought in the Second World War and Korea because they were fighting for democracy. By contrast, he said Canadian pilots are bombing innocent victims in Kosovo
Almost a dozen uniformed policemen, including members of the mountain bike unit, looked on impassively as the handful of chalk-wielding artists - who called themselves freedom painters - worked their way across the front of the building.
Other protesters made speeches and sang peace songs and cheered the artists as they went about their business.
A number of soldiers remained quietly inside the building and made no effort to stop the protest. One soldier had a terse "no comment" when approached by a reporter.
But the officers stepped in and stopped the slogan-writing when the chalkers started scrawling on the north side of the structure. After a brief discussion, the protesters agreed to confine their activities to the front, as they had previously agreed.
About 50 protesters of all ages attended the event, including seasoned anti-war activists like Annie MacDonald.
MacDonald, 49, said she got caught up in the protest movement while she was living in the United States in the 1960s.
Now crippled with a rare genetic disease, she laid flowers at the front of the armoury in memory of her grandfather who had died of a battle-related medical condition after the First World War. She wore a red, white and black bandana around her head. The red was for the blood spilled in war, black to mourn the victims of war, and white to symbolize the white dove of peace.
Protester Bryer Manwell, 24, believes the most direct road to peace is through the belly. As part of her campaign called Food Not Bombs, she handed out freshly-baked low-fat vegetarian muffins to policemen and protesters alike.
"They contain zucchini, raisins, and walnuts - no hash brownies," she promised as she handed a muffin to Hamilton-Wentworth Police Inspector Vince DeMascio.
"Fantastic," DeMascio proclaimed as he bit into the offering. "What other protest do you get a muffin and a damned good muffin," he said.
Text of photo captions included in newspaper:
1 (front page) - Hamilton-Wentworth police officers keep a close eye on a gathering of protesters at the James Street Armoury yesterday. The protesters expressed their displeasure with the war in Yugoslavia by using coloured chalk to scribble anti-NATO slogans on the downtown building's outer walls.
2. Police Inspector Vince DeMascio and protester Bryer Manwell shared muffins, not angry words, last night.
3. Annie MacDonald, 49, laid flowers at the armoury in memory of her grandfather who died of a battle-related medical condition after the First World War.