CANADA: Movement not sidetracked by Chretien's ploy



TORONTO — Sizeable demonstrations against the US attack on Iraq were held in cities across Canada on March 20. At least 5000 people in Toronto faced off with riot cops, mounted police and attack dogs. More than 400 took to the streets in Calgary, the heartland of conservatism in Canada and centre of the Canadian oil industry. In Halifax, several protesters were arrested after police attacked. There were also protests in Vancouver and Ottawa.

The short-notice actions suggest that the anti-war movement in Canada is maintaining its momentum. Significantly, some activists have begun to confront capitalist peace as well as capitalist war. A Toronto rally on March 15 saw 20,000 people descend on an armoury building demanding that the government convert it into affordable housing.

Clearly, the anti-war movements have had an impact on the Canadian federal government. On March 17, Prime Minister Jean Chretien surprised many by announcing in parliament that Canada would not participate in any attack on Iraq without UN backing.

On the surface, Chretien's decision seemed to represent a break with longstanding practice of Canadian governments to capitulate to US wishes. However, the Canadian state is providing more material support to the US military than many members of the so-called "Coalition of the willing".

Canadian troops will continue to serve on US warships as part of an exchange program between the two armed forces. As well, Canadian navy vessels will remain in the Gulf to carry out operations in the ongoing "war against terrorism". Furthermore, the government has already sent all available troops to Afghanistan, a move that allowed the US to free up its killing resources for deployment elsewhere. The Canadian government managed to stay out of one US war by committing itself to greater participation in other US wars.

Still, there was some concern that Chretien's decision would take away some of the momentum out of from the growing anti-war movement. Indeed, the evening after Chretien's announcement, the prime minister's office received over 35,000 emails thanking Chretien for "keeping Canada out" of the Iraq war.

However, the size and passion of the March 17 emergency protests are sign that the momentum has not been lost. Demonstrations are planned across Canada on March 22 and 23.

In a key development, Canadian waterside workers on March 17 declared military cargo to Iraq to be "hot" and refused to handle it.

From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.

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