June 22, 2011 – Two days before the now-former Senate page Brigette DePape spoke the truth about Canada’s political climate—that we need to build resistance outside of the lifeless chambers of Parliament—her message was already being enacted by a group of war resisters who put together a lengthy June 1st civil resistance action at the CANSEC weapons bazaar.
The protest was not just about CANSEC – Canada’s largest annual weapons fair – but the whole war economy itself. It’s one to which both the majority Tories and the official opposition NDP are devoted, a $23 billion splurge that includes orders of 1,000 new smart bombs at $100,000 apiece. These come complete with the names of Libyan citizens on the receiving end, under the euphemism of collateral damage. If you are homeless tonight, needing shelter from male violence, on a boil-water alert on a First Nations reserve, awaiting health care, locked out of daycare, or suffering from the other maladies affecting Canada, think of what each of those $100,000 smart bombs could have done if they had been turned into smart funds for social needs.
That is the choice of an almost unanimous Parliament, and the message came through loud and clear when everyone save Green Party MP Elizabeth May voted to extend the Canadian bombing of the Libyan people (a most convenient focus for a make- work War Dept. that, drawing down its forces in Afghanistan, needs an excuse to keep bringing in the big bucks). People who view the NDP as a traditional voice for peace – a record certainly not borne out by the facts (see http://homesnotbombs.blogspot.com/2011/05/canadas-massive-military-budget-is-off.html), in the same way that Canada’s mythological status as a peacekeeper cannot stand the scrutiny of its own history – may have been surprised to see the official opposition voting to bomb other human beings (with a few caveats thrown in, of course!). But one can imagine NDP strategists with their eyes on the next election telling their members they must appear to be a “responsible” government in waiting, and idealistic notions like rejecting murder from the air must be discarded. Those are for irrelevant fourth place opposition parties. When you have your eye on eventually getting elected, you have to be prepared to kill with your $23 billion arsenal.
Arming Your Arsenal
And that’s where CANSEC comes in. It’s where you go to get the tools for your arsenal; where foreign governments can sample Canadian weapons systems and components; where paranoid border control enthusiasts can find new means of stopping refugees from finding safety and asylum; and where police forces can sample the latest tools of repression. Whether you are a diplomatic staff member of Syria or Libya or a member of the bloated Canadian War Dept., the free pass through the gates is available for you.
Interestingly, though, Members of Parliament do not have such easy access. Elizabeth May – even though her party’s stand on military spending is slightly less atrocious than the rest – was unable to gain access, something which she later told the rally outside of the weapons bazaar symbolized the manner in which militarism shuts down democracy.
Access was also denied to the members of Spring Nuremberg Action Group, a loose knit coalition that tried to enter the grounds with copies of the Nuremberg Principles as well as dozens of international treaties and covenants that the group showed in a 22-page document were violated by the very existence of a weapons bazaar whose vendors and participants aided and abetted the commission of crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
The June 1 Rally and Direct Action
June 1st was a warm and humid day in Ottawa, and by 6 am, large number of Ottawa police and private security roamed the grounds searching out the protesters. Scads of 10-foot fencing completely surrounded the huge Lansdowne Park exhibition grounds, and every vehicle entering was being checked for a special pass. By 8 am, the nuisance of democracy was present at the three main Bank Street entrances to Lansdowne, with Raging Grannies, Nowar/paix, Homes not Bombs, and Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade members, among others, handing out copies of the Nuremberg Principles to CANSEC attendees, encouraging them to read and then sign a pledge to abide by them, a move which could force them to end their role in profiting from the waging of wars of aggression.
Inside, sniper rifles, attack helicopters, hellfire missiles, and other weapons of war were on display in an exhibition that featured a keynote address from Canada’s top warlord, Walt Natynczyk (who won a special medal for commanding occupation forces in the war against and occupation of Iraq that many continue to believe Canada was not a part of). Warlord Natynczyk declared, perhaps in reference to the fact that CANSEC is controversial, that the greatest weapon for Canadian soldiers is “an open hand and a smile,” something Libyan civilians who were murdered by a NATO bombing on the weekend never saw, because the Canadian warlord running the show overseas said they were in fact part of a key “command and control node”.
Again, the euphemisms are everywhere. Command and control nodes, collateral damage, tool kits. We do not hear about bloodshed, about limbs torn off, eyes burned out, eardrums exploded, the things that happen 10,000 feet below when Canadian pilots “release” their weapons.
An extensive rally organized by Voice of Women and Physicians for Global Survival featured Raging Grannies songs, speeches from numerous CANSEC opponents, a reading out of the names of victims of war, and poetry about the distance between the individuals who press the buttons launching drone attacks and the consequences of those actions.
A Die-in Leads to Direct Action
Then a die-in was held, during which participants, their chalked outlines drawn on the sidewalk and driveway entrance to CANSEC, were reminded that though, in their role as the victims of a bombing raid, they had been in school or hospital or attending a wedding, the Pentagon and War Dept. press releases would state that they were suspected al-Qaeda militants, and only if news got out about their murder would restrained expressions of regret be issued with the caveat that the “enemy”, or “them,” always put civilians in harm’s way. (The placement of Canada’s War Department right in downtown Ottawa on a major thoroughfare, next to the always busy shipping centre a mere 50 feet across the street, is of course different—we do not have the enemy’s “different morality,” we are not barbaric beasts.)
Groups at the entrances to CANSEC had spent four hours handing out the Nuremberg Principles, inviting attendees to sign on and work towards ending their complicity in the preparation for war. Many CANSEC-ees simply refused to see the faces of the protesters or the pictures of the victims. Others replied with the standard “I’m good,” while some tried to speed their way through, straining not to see the protesters with the same effort they they refuse to see the victims of their products. We must be invisible. Why would anyone oppose what they do for a living?
Similarly, the whole concept of Nuremberg, a cornerstone of international law following the Second World War, was treated like a quaint concept, perhaps even something invented by the group of 70-100 people who spent the day at the protest. Indeed, “The Nuremberg principles, as they call them,” was how one TV reporter described what the SNAG group were carrying. Perhaps an unintended reference to something no one else wanted to see – that there ARE laws, albeit written by the victors of wars, that are supposed to aid in ending the international war system, but which are signed onto and then ignored or blatantly defied.
As the SNAG folks made their way to the south fence entrance following the die-in, the gate quickly closed and the group sat in front of the gate. People sang anti-war songs, and while an effort to speak with a CANSEC representative proved fruitless – he refused to talk or even take our documentation, saying it was all a big speech – police threatened the group with arrest for blocking a gate which they had already closed.
When it appeared we were not moving, police came and placed their own lock on the gate. One down, more to go, and so the group moved north to another gate, where large numbers of delegates headed for the Bank Street restaurants for lunch. Larger numbers of police showed up and formed a phalanx that tried to prevent us from closing off that entrance or from entering.
A small group wandered further north to a gate where there were only two private security and, getting onto the grounds such that the moveable fence could not be closed, created yet another “situation evolving,” as it was described on police walkie talkies. More resisters showed up and prevented a bus of CANSEC visitors from getting in, and bit by bit more police came through and formed a new line. Again, threats of arrest were made, but as before, the police eventually backed off.
The group continued going from fence to fence for over two hours, eventually concluding that ironically, it was CANSEC itself that day that found itself in prison, behind the bars of its own making. As a final act, the group stated that if they could not get onto the grounds with the Nuremberg Principles and other international laws, they would at least get their documents onto the grounds, and with that, one by one, the 22-page documents were placed underneath the fence on the hot asphalt, where the wind picked up and started blowing copies about.
No Laws Can be Allowed on the Grounds!
Worried CANSEC organizers scurried about, not in the interest of cleaning the environment of litter, for the military is the single largest polluter on the planet – but perhaps more because they still did not want their folks to see what was here. One CANSEC organizer said he would present this material to his bosses (though it was not clear if this would be done in the spirit of “I kept this from the exhibitors” or “Perhaps we should consider the fact we may one day be in the docket of an international war crimes tribunal, just like the German industrialists of yesteryear”).
Like Brigette DePape, resisters at CANSEC were pretty much dismissed by the respectable organs of the media as a cute nuisance. Everyone has the right, of course, to protest, we are told in a patronizing fashion. But that same attitude will no doubt change as larger numbers of people who believe and act on the fact that war is a crime, that war is stupid (in the words of Voice of Women founder Kay MacPherson) and that war is terrorism, organize to end the CANSEC bazaar.
Unsurprisingly, since early June and the subsequent House of Commons call to extend war, no apologies or regrets have emerged from CANSEC exhibitors about the role of their products in illegal activities that kill people.
And following last weekend’s attack on a Libyan apartment building, there do not appear to have been any NDP press conferences featuring former anti-war punk rockers who are now MPs saying they are having second thoughts about supporting this bombing campaign.
CANSEC 2012 is already being planned at a remote new location near the Ottawa airport. The war industry has not paused. And neither should we.
Plans are already underway to have larger numbers of folks trained in nonviolence to confront the warmakers in 2012. From members of Homes not Bombs and Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade and Nowar/paix to Quakers and Raging Grannies and Radical Relics, the nonviolent conspiracy for an end to war is growing.