Monday, March 19, 2007

Canadian Anti-War Movement Holds March and Forum in Windsor

Canadian Anti-War Movement Holds March and Forum in Windsor on March 17

MECAWI representatives share panel with activists across the border

Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

WINDSOR, Ontario-Canada, 17 March, 2007 (PANW)--Right across the border from Detroit, the sister city of Windsor, Ontario was the scene of a march and public meeting on the continuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.

The same day that tens of thousands of people demonstrated at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, anti-war manifestations were held in many other cities throughout the United States and the international community.

In Canada demonstrations were held in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Windsor and other cities. In Windsor, an industrial as well as tourists and entertainment center located five minutes on the other side of the Detroit River, has experienced the growth of a vibrant anti-war movement that recognizes the impact of United States economic and military policy on the working people of the country.

On March 17, the Windsor Peace Coalition (WPC) called for a rally and march throughout the city, which culminated with a four hour public forum that examined a number of the important issues impacting the people of Canada.

This forum was held at the College Avenue Community Centre and was co-sponsored by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Locals 200 and 440. The event enjoyed the participation of youth, trade unionists, academics, immigrants and senior citizens.

At the public forum held after the march and rally under the theme of "Canada's Role in Imperialist War: Building Our Opposition," a series of panels explored the changing foreign and domestic policies in the country which is particpating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) occupation of Afghanistan and the United Nations Peacekeeping forces controlling the Caribbean nation of Haiti.

The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), which is based in Detroit, had organized a delegation of over 100 people that traveled to Washington, D.C. for the march on the Pentagon. At the same time members of the Windsor Peace Coalition, who have worked with MECAWI and spoken at its rallies over the last two years, extended an invitation to the organization to appear on the lead panel for the public forum which took place in the immediate aftermath of the march and rally.

Andrea Hackett, a member of MECAWI and the mother of an American servicewoman who served in Iraq during 2004-2005, along with this writer, Abayomi Azikiwe, made presentations on the current developments in the anti-war movement in the United States.

In a panel entitled: "U.S. Out of the Middle East" and on the topic of: "Can the U.S. Anti-War Movement Really Stop the War?", both Andrea Hackett and this writer, spoke to the close links between the growing military budget in the United States and the declining living conditions of working and poor people in Michigan and throughout the country.

During the presentation, I discussed the ongoing struggle around the war budget in the United States Congress and how the current level of proposed annual military spending by the American government, which has been estimated to be between $615 Billion and $720 Billion, exceeds the total of all other military budgets combined throughout the world.

As MECAWI has emphasized, the social impact of this military spending is heavily responsible for the deepening economic crises in cities like Detroit, whose municipal government and public school board has laid off thousands of public servants, teachers and social workers, in order to compensate for the loss of tax revenue that is diverted to finance the growing war machine and to pay interests on the debt to the financial sector.

"American capitalism is in a terminal crisis, I said. "They see no other way out other than increasing military spending which robs working people and the poor of tax revenue that is used to feed the multi-national corporations that receive huge contracts from the Defense Department ."

I then stressed that the draconian security laws are designed to prevent working and oppressed people from organizing against the monumental efforts of the ruling class interests to reverse the gains made by the labor and other social movements of the last seven decades. These repressive laws are even making it harder for the people of Detroit and Windsor to visit each other, because the United States has imposed strict guidelines on those who travel to Canada and return through customs at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge.

By 2008, people will be required to hold a passport if they fly into the country from Canada. These new policies along with stepped-up interogations of American and Canadian citizens as well as permanent residents of both Canada and United States, has discouraged travel between the two borders, which for decades has been relatively open and unimpeded.

It has never been a requirement in recent decades for American citizens to show a passport before re-entering the country on the Detroit-Windosr border. All of this is changing rapidly as a result of the so-called "war on terrorism" launched by the Bush administration.

"The so-called 'war on terrorism' has also been represented by the growing probems of police brutality and overall repression against everyone living in the country," I said.

The Patriot Act and other repressive laws passed since 2001, have been used not just against Muslims, immigrant communities and foreign nationals, but are being utilized against those who are legally considered American citizens.

With the sharp rise in racist repression, political surveillance and other forms of discrimination, proves that the programs that purportedly are directed against recent immigrant communities also impact those who the government is claiming to protect.

Andrea Hackett of MECAWI then spoke to the capacity audience at the forum about the effect of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan on the parents of military personnel. "As mothers we are commited to protecting our children. This war is endangering the youth of the United States," Hackett said.

Andrea, who has been a leading member of MECAWI for nearly three years, is also a co-founder of the Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME), an organization which does counter-recruitment work in the schools of Detroit.

Hackett then reviewed the recent history of American foreign policy in the Middle-East, pointing out that successive administrations have sought to dominate the areas around Iraq and Iran which has lead to the current occupation.

The Canadian Anti-War Movement

In Canada, the Windsor Peace Coalition has been a staunch critic of the current Tory (Conservative) government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which has deliberately sought to build closer political and military ties to the Bush administration. The Windsor Peace Coalition is an affiliate of the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Collectif Echec a la guerre.

The broader alliance had issued an appeal asking the people of Canada and Quebec to "reject the war policies of the Harper government and to participate in a Canada-wide day of actions on March 17th against the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In a statement published in "The Scoop" newspaper's March 2007 issue, the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Collectif Echec a la guerre says that it "refuses to buy the deceitful message of the 'war on terror' and so-called support of the Iraqi and Afghan peoples towards democracy and reconstruction in their countries. What we are dealing with is foreign control imposed by force led by the United States government and supported by Canadian economic and political elites to secure control of the resources of the Middle East and Central Asia."

Margaret Villamizar, the Chairperson of the Windsor Peace Coalition, welcomed the MECAWI representatives from Detroit and pointed out that it was important to receive first hand reports on the anti-war movement in the United States.

Later in the opening panel that MECAWI spoke on, Joe Emersberger of Haiti Solidarity Windsor, reported on the role of Canada in the overthrow of the government of President Jean Bertrande Aristide in February of 2004. According to Emersberger, "the Canadian government has funded humanitarian aid organization to carry out its foreign policy in Haiti. Groups that claim to uphold human rights, are ignoring the will of the Haitian people and justify the overthrow of the democratically elected government in the country three years ago."

Enver Villamizar, a member of the Windsor Peace Coalition and the Windsor West Marxist-Leninist Party Club, talked about the increased efforts on the part of the Canadian military to recruit youth into the army. The military budget of the country has been doubled and massive recruitment efforts are underway focusing heavily on immigrant youth.

This is taking place amid the rise in unemployment in Canada, which has close economic ties with the United States. Many American-based automotive and other industrial production facilities are downsizing and closing in Windsor and throughout Ontario, amid this new effort to increase the size of the Canadian military.

Canada, unlike the United States, has a national health insurance program. However, activists pointed out that the government is attempting to privatize key aspects of this system.

Rob Spring of the Windsor Peace Coalition, spoke on the panel entitled: "Money For Our Communities--Not For Bombs," illustrating that the efforts leading to the increased militarization of Canadian society are eroding the social programs inside the country.

In addition to the presentations involving changes within the Canadian social system and increased militarization, two young people made a presentation on their involvement in an alternative spring break project which took them to New Orleans to work in support of the communities affected by the American government's failure to reconstruct the Gulf region.

These two women students from London, Ontario, just two hours north of Windsor, showed photographs of the devastation still prevalent in New Orleans. They had worked for a week gutting homes and doing environmental surveys of the largely African-American neighborhoods that were destroyed as a result of the Bush administration's negligence.

As it relates to national security issues, it appears that Canada is also enacting policies to intensify social control and political surveillance. Cathy Owen of the Windsor Peace Coalition discussed a petition drive to repeal the policy of Secret Trial Security Certificates which allows the continued use of sections 9, 76-87 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, that provides for the imprisonment in Canada of refugees and permanent residents under the authority of a "Security Certificate."

According to the petition, people are being "imprisoned indefinitely on secret evidence, though no charges have been laid against them; tried in unfair trials where the evidence is not disclosed to the detainee or their lawyer and denied the right to appeal when the certificate is upheld in a process that uses the lowest standard of proof of any court in Canada; and that such policies could lead to subjects being deported even when they face unfair imprisonment, torture and death."

Other literature circulated at the anti-war forum pointed to the existence of a "Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America" which was signed in March of 2005 by Canada, Mexico and the United States. This pact is similar to the North American Security and Prosperity Agenda launched in January of 2003 by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), Canada's big-business lobby groups.

"Security, Canadians are being told, trumps all other concerns; if we want the border to stay open, we will have to help build a security perimeter around North America and support the U.S.'s military, energy and economic interests abroad. The pact signed in Waco, Texas, is, in effect, the political goodhousekeeping seal of approval for a new 'big idea' engineered to please the corporate sector of all three countries. It contains no concrete action to improve the lives of the continent's ordinary citizens," a statement circulated at the public forum pointed out.

In another panel, Fadi Ibrahim of the Arab Canadian Integration Assembly, expressed the organization's concern about the closer identification of the Canadian government with the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

In addition, Vito Signorile of the Windsor Peace Coalition, discussed the increased efforts by the United States to isolate Iran and create the conditions for a military attack on this Middle-Eastern oil-rich nation.

"The same arguments used to justify the occupation of Iraq are now being used against Iran," Signorile said.

In regard to the Bush administration's claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons technology, a statement passed out during Signorile's presentation, states that: "Re-enrichment (of uranium) involves running the depleted uranium through the enrichment process once again. Needless to say, this involves considerably more input than the first run with raw ore. Futhermore, the immensity of the physical layout required for a weapons-grade enrichment facility would make it almost impossible to conceal, especially from on-the-ground inspections as praticed under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regime."

Consequently, the foreign policy imperatives of the United States are having a tremendous impact on working people and immigrant communities in Canada. MECAWI representatives emphasized the need to forward the anti-war forum's resolutions to peace groups in the United States as well as the leadership of committees within the United States Congress.

The resolutions affirmed the determination of the Canadian peace movement to work towards the ending of the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti and to build closer ties with anti-war forces in the United States and internationally.

For more information on the Windsor Peace Coalition and the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) just log on to the following web sites:

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