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June 16, 2010

Ottawa's protesters greet merchants of death

Reuel S. Amdur

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Several hundred people staged a protest on June 2 in front of the CANSEC arms show at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

The exhibition was organized by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. 

Demonstrators were ecumenical, with people present who identified themselves as Anglican, Unitarian, Catholic, and Buddhist, to list affiliations that were displayed.

Unitarian minister Rev. John Marsh told the crowd that the tools promoted at the exhibition are tools of death. 

“Death itself is not the enemy,” he said.  “We all die, but the message here is that other human beings are not of worth.” 

On the same theme, Father Gary Hauch, an Anglican priest, remarked that the first casualty in war is not the truth.  Rather, “it is the human face of the other.”  Using the language of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, he said that war puts us in an I-it relationship, as opposed to the intimate I-thou relationship.

There were many banners and placards. We will see them interspersed throughout this report. 

For a start, one man held his sign: “How is losing to the Taliban working for Ya?”

Richard Sanders, of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, spoke about where the weapons were going, with most to the United States for their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Weapons are also headed to Israel for repression of the Palestinians.  It is not just about following the money, he remarked.  Also, “Follow the weapons.” 

Hanging on the fence: “Murder Marketplace.”

City Councilor Diane Holmes spoke, noting that she was part of the Ottawa City Council in 1989 that voted to keep military exhibitions off city property.

Dr.  Qais Ghanem said that those inside the exhibition are in the business of destroying life and limb.  He, on the other hand, is part of Physicians for Global Survival, dedicated to preserving life and limb. 

Placard of the Student Christian Movement: “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”

This gathering was the occasion for a good deal of poetry reading, much of it of a surprisingly good literary quality.  Among the poets was Susan McMaster, widely recognized for her work.

A poster: “War is expensive.  Peace is priceless.”

Various organizations were in attendance. 

Veterans Against Nuclear Arms had their banner, as did the Council of Canadians. 

Just Voices, an unaffiliated social justice choir, performed a few pieces.  So did singer-song writer Tony Turner, both solo and with three strumming friends. 

Développement et Paix had a poster on the fence, and Soeur Hélène Le Brun was there holding a doll-size crucified Jesus.  She had worked for some years in Peru.

“Buy Sell Kill,” a poster.

Adam Balsam and Alfonso Ibarra were among the speakers. 

Balsam denounced “the inhumanity of using state-of-the-art weaponry against predominantly unarmed civilians, using the same technologies being sold in this building, including those produced by Canadians, produced by many companies in this city, produced by our criminal Mayor Larry O’Brien.”

Ibarra raised his voice in opposition to the establishment of seven U.S. military bases in Columbia, his country.  These bases reduce the Columbian predicament to one of armed confrontation, “thus denying the political and social nature of the Columbian conflict.” 

He said that the U.S. wanted to prop up a corrupt government in a region that is turning to the left, contrary to the wishes and interests of the people of Columbia.  He also condemned the Harper government’s desire to sign a free trade agreement with Columbia, “a country that does not respect human rights.”

The Raging Grannies were the most colorful group there, with grannies not only from Ottawa but also from Montreal and Toronto.  They were all decked out with outlandish hats, ribbons and bows, and a mass of political buttons.  Grannies entertained with a few musical ditties.

Maureen Adelman is a Raging Granny who came from Montreal to take part.  When asked what brought her to Ottawa, she replied, “For 20 years Ottawa had something to be proud of because it had no arms fairs.  That was mainly because of your former mayor Marion Dewar. I was devastated that it’s back again, because of Stephen Harper.”

She said that she cornered some of those going in and asked them to complete a sentence: “Peace is the absence of . . . .”  Most ignored her, but one man replied, “I suppose you mean that peace is the absence of war.”  “No, she replied.  Peace is the absence of fear.”  “That’s what Ursula Franklin said,” she noted.

The policing role at the exhibition was noteworthy. 

A handful of demonstrators gathered at the automotive exit to berate attendees as they were leaving.  One driver tried to speed up and bull his way through.  A policewoman went to the driver’s side and read him the riot act.  On this occasion the police were keeping order, not . . . disturbing the peace.

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