On what seemed like the first mild, sunny day in Toronto in months, about two hundred people gathered across the street from the U.S. Consulate on April 22 to protest the recent missile attack on Syria by the United States, Britain and France. The protesters, including over a hundred refugees waving Syrian flags and carrying placards with the slogan “Hands Off Syria”, disputed the claim by Washington, Ottawa and allied forces that the government in Damascus rained chemical weapons on its own people. Speakers at the Toronto rally noted that the missile strike against Syria took place just hours before international inspectors were to enter Douma to investigate whether poison gas was employed, and if so, by whom.
Organizers of the rally, primarily the Communist Party of Canada, the Canadian Peace Congress and associated groups, limited speaking rights to their political friends. Thus, Socialist Action, which days earlier endorsed the Sunday protest, and which anchored a similar rally at the U.S. Consulate eight days before, held an impromptu speak out at the conclusion of the CP-backed event.
Socialist Action speakers emphasized the criminal role of the Canadian state in imperialist military interventions in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Libya. It condemned Justin Trudeau’s decision to maintain the stationing of Canadian troops to back the right wing regime in Ukraine and police to occupy Haiti, selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, and now sending war helicopters and soldiers to Mali.
Through the SA megaphone campaigners spoke for boycott of apartheid Israel, and for international human rights. The crowd chanted at the finale “Canada Out of NATO, NATO out of the Middle East”, “Imperialist Hands Off Syria” and “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Trudeau, Trump have got to go.”
The SA statement and leaflet for the event can be found here.
Immediately after two Canadian Forces soldiers were killed in separate incidents on October 20 and 22, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the assailants ‘terrorists’. Leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, disagreed, citing a blend of factors, psychological and political.
Harper seized on the gun fight in a hallway of Parliament, in which a deranged man with a rifle fell in a hail of police bullets, to step up his assault on civil liberties. Mulcair and the labour-based NDP opposed Harper’s words, but should oppose his direction on principle, not just on semantic grounds.
Against a backdrop of widespread grief for the dead soldiers and their families, Harper and the business media stoked the fires of patriotism, which spilled over into Islamophobic acts across the country.
The assailants, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau, recent converts to Islam, were not linked to ISIS. What is not known is whether they lashed out for political or personal reasons. Thus, their actions can be seen as an indictment of Canada’s faltering mental health care system. Or they can be cited as ‘blow-back’ from western military intervention in the Middle East. Or both.
In any event, the context of the attack on the soldiers, and the Conservative government’s rhetoric in response to it, reveal another crack in the myth that Canada is a peace-keeping state.
In early October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper commited fighter jets, pilots and ground crew to join the U.S.-led bombing campaign in war-torn Iraq and Syria. That came on the heels of 13 years of Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan, and Ottawa’s involvement in NATO wars in the former Yugoslavia, in the Persian Gulf, Libya, and Somalia. This is not to mention Harper’s brash support for the Israeli apartheid state, and for its brutal summer 2014 onslaught against the people of Gaza.
Conservative foreign policy makes many enemies at home and abroad, but individual attacks against military personnel on Canadian soil play directly into the hands of the capitalist rulers, fanning the flames of pro-war sentiment, racism and jingoism. Stephen Harper and his collaborators, by their engagement in military interventions in the East, have certainly outraged peoples there, fanning the flames of their discontent with the West. Every bomb dropped by Canadian, American and allied fighter jets on Iraq and Syria brings fresh recruits to ISIS.
And the context of intervention goes back much further.
In this centennial year of World War 1 it is timely to recall Canada’s contribution to the sad legacy of big power nationalism and imperialism as it continues to plague the peoples of the Middle East. Canada joined WWI at Britain’s behest to fight for the class interests of the Triple Entente rulers against those of the Central Powers. Arms producers became obscenely rich, while millions of workers died in trenches, at sea, and by aerial bombardment.
That conflagration was sparked by an assasination in Sarajevo that detonated an already tense situation. For the Arab and Kurdish peoples then living in the countries now under attack, it meant the drawing of artificial borders along lines beneficial to the British and French colonial powers. The foreign rulers called that infamous arrangement the Sykes-Picot Agreement. It is no surprise that the current prime target of the Western rulers, the Islamic State, pledges to abolish the borders imposd by Sykes-Picot.
Prime Minister Harper, in the wake of the Ottawa shootings, made an emotive speech that was broadcast live. In it, he condemned any and all who attack Canadian soldiers as somehow attacking all “Canadians as a free and democratic people”, and he doubled down on his “national security” plans. But one is hard pressed to recall the Prime Minister making such a hardline speech regarding the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women. He continues to refuse to launch an inquiry into that ongoing tragedy.
In the face of Conservative plans to legislate U.S. Patriot Act-style infringements on civil liberties, progressive and working class people should stand up to the government and its insidious plans. We should expose the big lies – the false claims that the Canadian state has a duty or right to interfere militarily in the Middle East, that the Canadian Forces are serving to protect all, rather than uphold the interests of corporate Canada, and that we should accept the expansion of the surveillance state for our own good.
Instead, the streets should be filled with demonstrators demanding: Canada out of NATO! Ottawa, Washington, London and allies, Out of the Middle East!