Actions at SNC-Lavalin, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) Draw Good Crowds, Crappy Weather, Little Media Interest,
MONDAY, JANUARY 17, 2005, TORONTO -- Over 60 people aged three weeks to their mid-70s joined in a Martin Luther King Day nonviolent action at the Toronto headquarters of SNC-Lavalin, parent company of SNC-TEC, the Quebec-based company which is producing hundreds of millions of bullets for U.S. occupation forces in Iraq.
Almost all Toronto media failed to see why they should haul themselves out to the Etobicoke offices of SNC-Lavalin to do some King Day story about Canadian complicity in American and British war crimes (preferring, as the Toronto Star chose, to do a story about police officers, their guns and night sticks strapped to their belts, addressing school children about King's message of peace, love, and nonviolent conflict resolution!)
But the media absence did not dampen the determination of a group which included a Korean war veteran, WWII veteran, individuals who have in the past few years been on peacemaking missions in Iraq and Palestine, Colombia and Chiapas, and a former Toronto MP who answered the 1965 call from Dr. King to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Members of Homes not Bombs, Christian Peacemaker Teams, The Coalition Against War and Racism, The June 30th Organizing Committee (which focuses on Canadian corporate complicity) and the "We Could Use More Waves" affinity group gathered at the Etobicoke facility, where an open letter had been sent the week before seeking an urgent meeting to discuss disentangling SNC-Lavalin from complicity in war crimes (see letter at http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/openlettersnc.htm )
About 15 police officers and assorted private security roamed the grounds keeping watch as the demonstration began with long-time Science for Peace activist Jon Valleau reading out hundreds of names of Iraqis murdered by the war and occupation forces, while others hung dripping blood money from bare tree branches and affixed copies of the Nuremberg Principles and graphic full-colour images of war casualties.
A police officer who had been at the Homes not Bombs Remembrance Day gathering last November (see story at http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/sncremembrance.htm) re-introduced himself to the group, dispensing with the usual "who's in charge?" question by simply laying out the "ground rules" for the day as he saw them, telling us we were not to trespass on the property and that today's protest was to be peaceful. Apparently, he must have seen our nonviolence guidelines!
But today was Martin Luther King Day, surely not a day to be obedient to the orders of arbitrary authority, so his property parameters were promptly ignored as demonstrators made use of the grassy area and trees, and set up shop at both vehicular entrances to read out the endless lists of names of those murdered.
While some employees ventured out for lunch, most stayed inside on this brutally cold day, as we shivered in sub-zero temperatures accentuated by a breeze off Lake Ontario.
About 12:15 pm, the west entrance was completely blocked as the group re-created a roadside-check massacre as it might occur in Iraq. Murray Lumley of Christian Peacemaker Teams and Homes not Bombs set the scene, describing how in many instances a simple misunderstanding has led to tragic consequences. The west entrance to the parking lot was blocked as an individual dressed as an American soldier whipped out a replica machine gun and began "gunning down" those standing around. Their bodies were chalked in outline as stage blood was splattered around them.
Police who normally might have jumped to clear the area seemed stunned at the sudden, hastily organized die-in, and remained in their cars, not even willing to go through the motions of getting out and preparing an order for people to move.
The group then created a human transformation machine, a tunnel-like mechanism whereby first the soldier and then others went through the human machine, entering with guns and bullets and coming out with transformed items such as peace irons, bicycles, and flowers.
David Milne of Christian Peacemaker Teams then spoke powerfully through a megaphone about his three trips to Iraq, of the people he has met and lived with, and of those who have been killed for the crime of simply being in their homes at a time when U.S. forces have entered firing first and asking questions later. His testimony was a powerful one, and he issued a challenge to SNC-Lavalin to divest itself of SNC or, better yet, to transform the institution into something which does not produce the weapons of terror and mass murder.
Matthew Behrens of Homes not Bombs addressed the police and SNC-Lavalin employees peering out from their office windows, informing them of their rights and responsibilities under Canadian and international law, with specific reference to the Nuremberg Principles. He explained a group trained in nonviolence would now attempt to enter the building to conduct an urgent teach-in with the aim of securing a commitment from SNC-Lavalin to divest itself of its bullet-maker.
As Esther Kern read out some speeches from Martin Luther King, a group of "urgent-teach-in" folks who had agreed prior to the action that they would push things to the point of risking arrest gathered in the driveway and began walking towards the front doors. Police, calling out that we were trespassing, massed at the entrance.
In one of those magical moments, the incessant police warnings about trespassing were ignored not only by the small group which had originally planned to be in a civilly disobedient position but by most of the crowd, which gathered behind the teach-in affinity group.
Police told us that we were not welcome, that SNC was not interested in dialogue, and that we should remove ourselves. The group refused to budge.
"Why are you hiding? What are you afraid of? We have no weapons, we have no guns, we have no bullets!" Milne called out in a thundering voice that, without amplification, could likely be heard in the deepest recesses of the office complex. "I have been in Iraq, that is why I am here, I have seen what happens when you profit off these bullets!" he cried out, his emotional plea clearly affecting the front line of officers and some employees peering through the glass doors.
Police continued their refusal to allow anyone in, and, after pushing us back at a number of intervals, stood silently, trying not to look into our eyes as we held pictures of those who have been maimed and killed and copies of the Nuremberg Principles. Maggie Panter, Kirsten Romaine, Barney Barningham and Ed Babb began writing out the Nuremberg principles on the ground in front of the officers while others chalked slogans on the front walk. A picture of a police officer sternly observing the chalked slogan "SNC Kills" is available at the Hamilton indymedia site at http://hamilton.indymedia.org/media/index.php?function=browse&category=all&submit=Browse
(Further demonstration shots will shortly be available at http://johnb.smugmug.com, where you click on the Journalism link to find photos of numerous demonstrations taken by the wonderful photographer John Bonnar. They will also be at http://www.torontothebetter.net/2davidentry.htm, taken by veteran chronicler of Canadian social movements David Smiley).
This standoff was followed by a walk around the building's perimeter so that all who work there could see us, with flyers placed on the windshields of the hundreds of cars. We tried the back entrance, and were able to address some workers in the smoking area, but they refused to look at us or engage in dialogue.
"We know you are good people, but the problem now is not the clamour of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people, just as Martin Luther King explained," someone called out. "You have families, just like the people of Iraq have families. We are all part of one another."
Towards 1 pm, the group decided to close up the rally after one more attempt at entry through the front doors. Seeing we were getting nowhere, we committed to coming back again, singing We Shall Overcome with the final verse, "We'll be back again", and we will (likely during the March days of protest against the occupation).
Rabea Murtaza gathered folks together and asked us to imagine the kind of world where SNC-Lavalin was transformed. "What would YOU like to see the company producing instead of bullets?" she called out, to which many answers returned, everything from ping pong balls and breastfeeding pillows to "a building that's easier to get into!"
As on many days, today was about choices. The people inside SNC-Lavalin have choices. They can enter a dialogue on ending complicity in war crimes or, if they are afraid to do anything publicly, they can quietly divest themselves of company stock. The police officers too have choices; they can follow the Nuremberg Principles and, rather than acting as an agent for power and privilege, stand aside and let us in, or they can violate the law, as they did today, knowing of war crimes being committed but preventing us from taking positive action to stop them.
But to see the faces of the police was to see conflicted emotions; some looked at the ground, others were clearly holding back some major emotion, especially having heard the first-hand testimonies from Iraq and the wonderful words of Martin Luther King.
Some officers appeared shocked, when, at the conclusion of the demo, we went and shook their hands, wishing them a happy King Day and assuring them that we would be back and that perhaps, next time, they would have a better understanding of the law as well and allow us in, the same hope we shared for SNC-Lavalin.
The demonstration owed major thanks to all participants who braved the freezing cold, to the great folks from the Ontario Common Front Legal Collective, who arranged back-up support and stayed close to the demo at every stage, and the individuals from a variety of groups and cities (London, Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas, Durham, Kitchener, Belleville) who made the journey in to join the protest.
Among those present were the steadfast Burlington/Oakville duo of Gail Lorimer and Doris Cassidy, who continue to maintain a vigil at Burlington's Wescam, a major military manufacturer (targetting equipment) owned by Pentagon powerhouse L-3 Communications (they plan an anti-war gathering there for Friday, May 13, 3 pm, mark your calendars!)
Also present were folks who have been involved in the campaign to stop the militarization of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), including the indefatigable Ivona Vujica, who coordinates People Against the Militarization of OISE (PAMO, about which you can find more information at http://www.homesnotbombs.ca/oiseprotest.htm) .
On January 11, some 60-70 people gathered outside OISE, braving miserable weather to hand out flyers and hear discussions about why OISE and all universities in Canada should cut their ties to the military and war corporations.
Last fall, Atlantis Systems, a war simulation and training corporation, announced a partnership with OISE that also involves Canada's War Dept., Toronto junior public schools and Hamilton Health Sciences.
The demonstration raised important questions about the role of any research conducted by OISE: are Toronto school children being observed with the aim of making training for war more efficient and deadly? Why is a Hamilton hospital part of a research project of great interest to a military corporation? What are the guidelines for research contracts and sharing of research? What role does OISE research play in simulation and training projects which lead to improved "kill ratios and bombs-on-target" metrics, things which were discussed at a major simulation conference Atlantis attended in December, 2004?
The contract has spurred a great deal of debate in the University of Toronto community, and People Against the Militarization of OISE are committed to continuing the work to cancel this contract and end the militarization of OISE and educational institutions across Canada.
In the meantime, as peace groups prepare for international days of action against the occupation in Iraq this March, they certainly have a few more places to focus on as we resist the roots of war right here at home. It is far too easy for Canadians (from politicians on down) to feel smug about what is going on in Iraq and say, "we are not part of it," since Bush makes such an easy target for people's anti-war sentiment. But the bigger challenge is to expose and end the hundreds of ways in which Canada directly participates in these war crimes.
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