Saturday, June 11, 2016

Failure to Comply with the Merchants of Death

Homes Not Bombs occupies Global Affairs and protests against CANSEC weapons show

By Kevin Shimmin
It began with a welcome by Elder Evelyn Commanda, to the unceded and unconquered territory of the Algonquin nation. Her powerful statement reminded us why we were gathered: “We walk on our ancestors. And the dust of my ancestors is being used for war.” Her protection gave us courage to resist the purveyors of war: “I will be laying down tobacco for you today and tomorrow to welcome you to our territory.”

On May 24 to 25, 2016, members of Homes Not Bombs – along with the Ottawa Raging Grannies, Christian Peacemaker Teams, NoWar/Paix, and Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade – utilized a variety of creative means to protest against CANSEC, the annual war and weapons show in Ottawa. CANSEC has been a blight on Mother Earth for 16 years running, bringing together the world’s worst human rights violators with the producers of today’s deadliest weaponry. The return of a Liberal government has in no way altered the wholehearted support of the PMO for CANSEC. No less than six members of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet enthusiastically participated in this year’s glorification of death and destruction. Having recently signed the export permits on Canada’s $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, Trudeau has signalled he is ready to do business with some of the world’s most brutal regimes.   

            Kevin Shimmin is arrested and charged after occupying Global Affairs on May 25.


Indigenous elders teach us that the key to protecting our peoples and our planet from war and annihilation is to wake up. To wake up to the fact that the production of arms is what makes war possible. To wake up to the fact that millions of people are displaced by wars that are fought with weapons made in Canada. To wake up to the fact that the ongoing history of Canada is one of colonialism, imperialism and militarism. From chemical warfare in Vietnam to helicopter gunships in Sri Lanka to cruise missiles in Iraq, it is weapons made in Canada that have continued to make death and destruction possible. Elder Commanda asks us never to forget that it was uranium taken from Algonquin, Dene, Navajo and Hopi lands that was used for the nuclear bombs that killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and left millions permanently maimed by radiation.  

Waking up to the fact that Canada is not a peace-keeping nation, and never has been, can be a hard reality for many to face. To see clearly that our nation was created out of violence and continues to spread violence around the world, is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. The alternative, however, is to continue walking around in a dangerous delusion that actively condones war, torture, insecurity and destruction of the natural environment. Healing is urgently needed. For healing to begin, the practice which continues the trauma must be stopped.

On the second day of protests, eight members of the Homes Not Bombs and Christian Peacemaker Teams crew entered the Office of Global Affairs in Ottawa to demand an immediate end to Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. We asked for a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who signed the export permits for Trudeau. Acknowledging that Dion was with Trudeau in Japan for a G7 meeting that day, we felt it was imperative for him to board the next flight back to Ottawa to address the life-threatening situation posed by the arms deal.

                                    Holding the banner inside Global Affairs created quite a stir
With weapons purchased from its Western partners, Saudi Arabia commits some of the most heinous atrocities in the world today, including torture, beheadings, murder of unarmed demonstrators, and bombings of civilians. The United Nations has condemned the House of Saud for its ongoing war in Yemen, where aerial bombings have targeted civilian neighbourhoods and marketplaces, killing thousands of children, women and men. Video evidence and testimony from dissidents in Saudi Arabia have confirmed that the regime uses LAVs (light armoured vehicles) mounted with machine guns to kill demonstrators – the same type of LAVs that have long been purchased from Canada and a new generation of which is slated to roll off the assembly line in London, Ontario by year’s end. Some of these Western partners, notably Sweden, have been so sickened by Saudi Arabia’s flagrant disregard for human rights that they have halted arms sales to the regime indefinitely.

But not Canada. A few years back, to avoid the scrutiny of congressional oversight in its home country, American weapons giant General Dynamics began lobbying the Canadian government for a lucrative deal with Saudi Arabia. Former war-mongers Stephen Harper and John Baird gleefully obliged. Then, having rid itself of the Harper-Baird brigade in 2015, Canada simply replaced old Conservative war-mongers with new Liberal ones. While the deal was sealed by the previous government, it was the Trudeau-Dion administration that gave the green light to start delivering the next round of LAVs to Saudi Arabia.

A few months back, Dion had a choice. With pen in hand, he stared ominously at three little boxes on the export permits – Yes, No, or Call for Review. Since everyone and their mother seem to know about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, one would assume Dion would check the No box, or, perhaps having a temporary lapse of reason, at least call for a review. Yet, defying all assumptions, defying all of the Liberals’ “sunny ways” proclamations about feminism and gender-parity, the foreign minister checked the yes box for an arms deal with one of the most misogynist regimes in the world. All in a day’s work for Canada’s new leading spokesmen for the arms industry.

So now on this sunny day in May, we were more than willing to wait it out until Dion arrived back in his office, and get this arms deal canceled once and for all. In doing so, Dion could perhaps salvage his own reputation, as he now found himself in the company of war criminals. The opening line of our letter to him offered this olive branch: “we request to meet with you immediately to bring about an end to your complicity in war crimes”. While waiting for Dion, we proceeded to hand out copies of the letter to the hundreds of office workers streaming through the enormous lobby of Global Affairs. Many took the letter with a smile, saying “I know why you’re here” in an unmistakable tone of agreement that the arms deal was an abomination.
General Chaos welcoming his friends from the arms industry, as survivors of war zones try to transform his way of thinking

Noticing that many more workers were looking on curiously from behind glassed-in security areas, we unfurled our homemade banner with the direct and concise demand: No More Arms Deals. You see, the deal with Saudi Arabia is a flashpoint, an example of a deeper, underlying problem. No matter which country Canada chooses to sell weapons to – whether it’s the United States or Saudi Arabia – we know that weapons and armoured vehicles are used for one thing and one thing only: to suppress dissent and to kill people. Within Canada itself, the situation offers little difference. Terradyne, a weapons manufacturer in Richmond Hill destined to be a benefactor of the deal with Saudi Arabia, boasts of selling LAVs to the police in Mexico, Colombia...and Winnipeg. Infamous for human rights crimes against Indigenous peoples, it is more than likely the Winnipeg police will use their shiny new armoured vehicle to exclusively oppress poor, racialized communities.

So, selling arms to countries which purportedly abide by human rights law was a non-starter for us. Our demand for an end to the arms deal with Saudi Arabia represented a beginning, not an end. The cancellation would be an important step towards transforming Canada from a militarized economy to a green and sustainable one. It is a vision of society which most people undoubtedly want for themselves and future generations. As the RCMP and Ottawa police descended on the three of us who were holding our banner of peace and handing out letters, even the guy from Dion’s office appeared to be experiencing a bit of a moral dilemma. While calling on the police for our immediate removal, he quietly whispered to us something quite revealing: “I understand why you are here. It’s a horrible deal. What can I do though? I have to do my job”.

No – you don’t have to do your job. You don’t have to condone and actively participate in the blood-soaked arms industry. You don’t have to repeat the lies of your government. It is not about jobs. It is not about foreign relations. It’s about merchants of death and our active complicity in allowing them to profit from the murder of people at home and around the world. The weapons industry can indeed be stopped – by the act of non-cooperation. It took only three people being arrested and five people supporting us to shut down the Department of Global Affairs and jam the system on May 25. A small committed group of people posed a threat so serious to the government that the lobby was sealed shut after only 45 minutes of us conversing with the department’s workers.
                 Kirsten Romaine, arrested and charged after occupying Global Affairs on May 25.

As this goes to press, we are learning that Boeing has met with Global Affairs no less than 10 times this year, in an effort to help the government buy new fighter jets to the tune of $75 million apiece. This, despite the fact that such a purchase is entirely unnecessary for the next decade, according to even the staunchest military analysts. This, despite the fact that new fighter jets would be used for one solitary purpose, as anyone in Syria, Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan can attest to – murdering people from above. By ejecting peace activists, yet welcoming weapons manufacturers with open arms (and behind closed doors), it is clear where the government stands: the demand for peace is simply unbearable to the Trudeau arms brigade. And it demonstrates what can lead to a world that is ultimately free from the clutches of the merchants of death – consistent and spirited nonviolent civil disobedience!

Kevin Shimmin is a union organizer and a founding member of Homes not Bombs.      

                 David Milne, arrested and charged after occupying Global Affairs on May 25.