The grim reality unfolding right in front of our eyes

An overview of war preparations in Halifax and Canadian ports | TONY SEED*

Second of a series on Canada’s involvement in the Iraq war

(HALIFAX, 13 February 2003) – HOW CAN WE shut our eyes to the grim reality unfolding in front of us?

Preparation for war are “crimes against the peace,” according to principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Nuremburg Trials.

Yet, while the Canadian government postures about defending peace through the UN Security Council by presenting an “alternative” method of “internationalizing” the impending aggression against Iraq, it has already embarked on planning to commit precisely “crimes against the peace.”

We need look no farther than the simmering waters of the harbour for evidence.

Can those claiming to be “liberals” and even some “peace activists” be blind and deny the looming consequences of what the Chrétien Liberals, the great flag wavers, are actually doing there in the name of the high ideals of “negotiating” sovereignty and “human security”?

Can we be blithely and passively told at anti-war demonstrations, “thank you for coming, now go home and write your MPs,” when the four MPs for the Halifax Regional Municipality (one Liberal, three NDP including the party’s leader) endorsed the U.S.-led military aggression in the Persian Gulf War, against Yugoslavia and against Afghanistan? The MPs have never uttered a single word about war preparations within Halifax, the largest military city in Canada, the city designated by the government as its principal NATO port and to be the staging area for its material commitment to both the Iraq and Afghanistan war effort. Anything but open and direct opposition to war preparations means support for them.

As recently as 9 October 2001, just two days after Bush, Blair and Chrétien’s declaration of war against Afghanistan, NDP leader Alexa McDonough (Halifax) and the party’s defence critic, Peter Stoffer (Sackville-Eastern Shore), unilaterally issued a “joint statement” in which they

“completely back the men and women in the Canadian military assigned to the U.S. coalition.” (Brian Underhill, ‘New Democrats muster united front [sic] on war’, The Chronicle Herald/Mail-Star, 10 October 2001)

Far from delivering conciliatory speeches which seek to apologize for aggression, the Halifax MPs should spell out for Canadian soldiers and sailors and their families the danger these U.S.-led adventures pose to world peace and the sovereignty of this country.

Under the new U.S, Northern Command military zone or NorthCom, the combat command responsible for military activity inside the U.S., and in Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Puerto Rico, military control of Canadian ports has been handed to Air Force General Ralph E. Eberhart at Colorado Springs who simultaneously heads the U.S. Homeland Security and NORAD. Listing threats he said NorthCom is preparing for in a recent interview, the General said, “By air or ship or truck or suicide bomber. Medical scenarios: smallpox, you name the disease that we might get involved in in terms of quarantine.”

It is vitally important that we are vigilant to these measures, the invented pretexts and the geopolitical goals lying behind them.

Canada is preparing for war by preparing military legislation, by signing annexationist military treaties with the United States, by staging provocative exercises, by misleading the public and creating panic, and by deploying Canadian troops abroad. This includes the militarization of economic life, port infrastructure and public space.

Canada is preparing for war by preparing military legislation, by signing annexationist military treaties with the United States, by staging provocative exercises, by misleading the public and creating panic, and by deploying Canadian troops abroad. This includes the militarization of economic life, port infrastructure and public space. It involves the criminalization of port workers in strategic harbours such as Halifax to publicly discredit, humiliate and psychologically neutralize them in the event of war in the same fashion as anti-war protestors who are smeared as “terrorists.” These measures totally ignore the opinion of Canadians who are totally opposed to war. It also involves the use of the media and other agencies to divert, violate and soothe this opinion.

The measures are not new, but ongoing. My colleagues and myself have been writing about them and their modus operandi since the 1970s and especially during the 1980s and the Gulf War of 1991. We have produced an entire body of exposés, analysis and literature. But there is a new intensity, a deeper integration with the U.S. Armed Forces, as the following sequence of events reveals:

• On 12 February 2003 Defence Minister John McCallum announced that 2,000 troops would be sent to Afghanistan, a country against which Canada never formally declared war, to replace US troops which could be deployed to Iraq, while the naval zone in the Persian Gulf was not only extended but placed under Canadian Command.

• On February 13 DND deployed the Halifax-based HMCS Iroquois, a command and control destroyer, rather than the originally-scheduled HMCS Fredericton, to the Persian Gulf.

• About 20 Canadian military planners are presently at the US command post in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. These officers arrived last week. Another five will follow soon. The US command post has been set up for a possible war against Iraq. McCallum said the group was only changing location after being stationed in the United States.

• The Halifax reserve army regiment, Princess Louise Fusiliers, was deployed to Virginia for “helicopter training, building-clearing and other exercises … a crucial element of fighting in urban centres and other built-up centres.” (Halifax Mail Star, 14 February 2003) This means house-to-house combat with the civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country far from the shores of Canada, if not within this country.

Keep in mind other dangerous developments over the preceding year on the national and local plane:

New military agreement

In December, 2002 the Canadian and US governments signed an agreement to allow US troops to enter Canada and Canadian troops to enter the US. According to the agreement, US troops would be allowed to enter Canada in response to a “threat, attack or civil emergency” concerning critical infrastructure or to protect “potential targets” such as nuclear power plants or oil and gas pipelines. The agreement is virtually secret, barely reported in the Canadian media. Over 200 military agreements now exist between the U.S. and Canada.

Halifax harbour “controlled access military zones”

On 31 October 2002, through an order-in-council, a federal cabinet decision was issued under the authority of the new Bill C-55, the Public Safety Act, which gave sweeping and despotic powers to the Minister of National Defence to create “controlled access military zones” that would be used for the “protection of Canadian Forces and visiting forces personnel and property.” The decree quickly declared three harbours of Halifax, Nanoose and Esquimalt “controlled access military zones.” Along with strengthening executive power, such “military zones” can be used for reasons of “international relations” to suppress protests against “visiting forces” and to ensure the “security” of the United States. “The key question is defend the ships,” Defence Minister John McCallum said on 31 October. (“Halifax, two other ports now controlled access zones,” Brian Underhill, Halifax Chronicle Herald, 1 November 2002)

The new US Northern Command

On 1 October 2002 the new US Northern Command military zone took over the responsibilities of the Joint Forces Command for “homeland defence.” The area of operations include the US, Canada (including water 500 miles off the East and West coasts), Mexico, parts of the Caribbean including Cuba and Puerto Rico and the contiguous waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The fact that Northcom combines NORAD with US Homeland Defence, with the same US general in charge of both, as well as the Canadian ports, also implicates the Canadian Armed Forces ipso facto. and violates Canadian sovereignty.

This was not even “debated” by the Canadian Parliament, including the “anti war” New Democrats.

At the press conference in Washington, DC announcing the geographical extension of U.S. armed power, presided over by General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, not a single reporter asked a single question about Canada’s involvement, concentrating instead on the “friendly fire” debacle in Afghanistan. It was a Mexican reporter who brought out the geographical and territorial implications of the announcement. Yet U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld described the changes as “the most significant reform of our nation’s military command structure since the first command plan was issued shortly after World War II.”

These “changes” presage the stepwise formation of a continental armed force under the command of the Pentagon, paralleling the Free Trade of the Americas. In a report entitled “A New United States Strategy for Mexico,’’ for the U.S. Army War College first published by the Mexico City daily, El Financiero, Lt.-Col. Joseph Nunez said “a joint North American command would expand as free trade involved more countries in the hemisphere. If, for example, the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas becomes reality, the military command would stretch from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.” It would be initiated with a joint command for American, Mexican and Canadian forces. (“‘NAFTA’ for Military Proposed; U.S. war college report urges joint command with Canada, Mexico,” Linda Diebel, Toronto Star Latin America Bureau, Toronto Star, 7 July 1999)

The sphere of operation of NorthCom raises the spectre of military intervention in public space and military rule. According to the New York Times, daily meetings run by Air Force General Ralph E. Eberhart now include 14 federal agencies “that otherwise rarely answer directly to the Pentagon.” The 14 agencies have permanent representatives to NorthCom. They include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the State Department, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to The Times, they “meet to debate how the Pentagon should respond if terrorists strike again in the United States.” Asked about the legal restrictions on the domestic use of the military, Eberhart said he is sensitive to such concerns, and would only carry out such actions at the express direction of the White House and Pentagon. However, according to the American constitution and rule of law, executive authority does not make military rule in the U.S. either constitutional or legal.

According to news sources, NorthCom has already commanded the deployment of RC-7 Army reconnaissance planes in the D.C. area during the sniper attacks last fall. It also commanded naval forces off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where President George W. Bush attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in October. It will command the new U.S.-Canadian agreement allowing U.S. troops into Canada and Canadian troops for use inside the U.S.

Secret “anti-terrorist” exercise in Halifax harbour

On 23 September 2002, well after the fact, it was reported by the Ottawa Citizen that Joint Task Force 2, the covert military commando unit, carried out a secret “anti-terrorist” exercise in Halifax harbour in mid-July.

In the past, the unit has also trained and exchanged information with the US Naval Special Warfare command and the British military’s Special Boat Service. “Over the last several years … the unit has gradually started expanding its maritime operations.”

Units are deployed in Afghanistan and requested for the Iraqi invasion. In Afghanistan, the JTF 2 handed over prisoners directly to the U.S. Armed Forces, who refused to grant them official PoW status.

“Exercise Royal Guard”

This exercise itself was an extension of the unprecedented “Exercise Royal Guard” in Halifax Harbour, which began in mid-March, 2002.

This “mock invasion” of Halifax started with the taking of a beachhead on the south side of harbour. A force of about 700 troops was massed against a force of 180 reservists from throughout the Maritimes playing the “invaders.” This operation was part of a 12-day program that included various actions on DND land and installations throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It was co-ordinated with larger NATO exercises being staged simultaneously in Europe. Media coverage was integral, as we shall see below.

The list of equipment deployed included T-33 Silver Star fighter planes, Griffon helicopters, 56 armoured personnel carriers, seven Coyote tanks and 200 other support vehicles.

Criminalizing ports workers

Ports workers historically in Canada and throughout the world have played a decisive role in frustrating wars of aggression. They are a crucial social force, a human factor, to be demobilized and eliminated in the event of unjust war.

Freely invoking the language of the US “war on terrorism,” the RCMP and the Senate Committee on Defence and National Security headed by Liberal Senator Colin Kenney from Nova Scotia, after private meetings with US Homeland Security, carried out broad psychological propaganda in February and March, 2002 to criminalize longshoremen in Halifax and Vancouver. These ports play a crucial role in the transportation infrastructure, including war materiel.

An “extraordinarily high percentage of port employees have criminal records,” the report said, adding that criminals gravitate to ports because of opportunities to pilfer goods. The Senate and media demanded that “security” be handed over to Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and a system of special ID cards be instituted for all port workers.

The accusations of an “organized crime” presence on Canada’s seaports were so transparent that they were met with derision even from port corporation officials. Crime is not rampant in the Port of Montreal, stated its head, Dominic Taddeo. Halifax Local 269 of the International Longshoremen’s Association replied that it was astounded, the report contained many errors, and appeared to be just an attack on port workers.

US customs agents deployed to the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver

On 25 March 2002 “unarmed” American customs agents were deployed to the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver. It was earlier reported in December, 2001 without contradiction that quite a number of the U.S. personnel sent on assignment to foreign ports are CIA or CIA-trained. The CIA has been active in Halifax for several decades, ostensibly to monitor the “visits” of Soviet fishing vessels.

FBI aims to increase “permanent presence in Canada”

On 16 December 2001 news agencies had also reported “The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has asked Congress for more money to increase its permanent presence in Canada to prevent terrorist attacks and deter cross-border crime.” (Canadian Press Posted at 4:46 PM EST, Sunday, December 16, 2001, emphasis added). FBI agents, euphemistically called “legal attaches,” are stationed in the port cities of Vancouver and Montreal, the US Consulate in Toronto and the US Embassy in Ottawa.

“Officials were tight-lipped about the number of extra agents they’re requesting for Canadian postings. They also refused to reveal the exact number of staff members currently working in Canada.” (Ibid.)

What is at stake clearly goes beyond any single port or group of ports or the so-called pretext of “terrorism.”

The media steps to the plate

Meanwhile the role played by the media has been incredibly disingenuous, reduplicating the entire arsenal of disinformation of the Bush and Blair administrations and contemptuous of the anti war movement. Its reporting and the ideological themes developed form a psychological part of the war preparations, to project an anti-conscious imagery to dull vigilance.

• The report in the Halifax Mail Star / Chronicle Herald on the youth being sent to Virginia for urban warfare training was titled “There’s No Life Like It … Armed Forces reservists say.” “No Life Like It” has been the main recruiting slogan of the Canadian Armed Forces for the past twenty years or more.

• CBC Television in Halifax on 28 February gave over its supper-time half-hour news programming to “The War Games,” taking out prominent ads in province-wide print media to shamelessly promote the spectacle. The army itself urged the public to come and watch. Newspaper coverage during the exercise highlighted the Coyote tanks, which the U.S. specifically requested Canada send to Afghanistan, as a “babe magnet” to popularize the major military recruitment campaign which has been under way among Canadian youth since the new year. (“More Canadians off to Afghanistan,” 8 January 2002, Tim Naumetz, Southam Newspapers)

• On the other hand, the secret mid-July exercise in Halifax harbour was not reported in the Halifax Chronicle Herald or the Mail Star until 23 September 2002, two months after the fact. (The CP report printed actually originated from the Ottawa Citizen, whose defence reporter, David Pugliese, specializes on the role of the JTF-2.)

• On the other hand, the military is being integrated in U.S. “homeland defence” and Canada is participating in these precedent-setting changes without the government or the media bringing their significance to the attention of public opinion, let alone for its consent.

• On the other hand, the tabloid media inflates every baseless “terrorist” sighting without question, sensationalizes fake anthrax stories, promoting an incessant climate of fear, hysteria and terror, to force the people to accept the unacceptable, the unjust – war and military rule.

These developments are a clear admission that what the Chrétien government and its conciliators are saying about peace and transparency are just eye wash and deception:

• They totally ignore the opinion of Canadians who are opposed to war. The Government of Canada does not have the consent of the people to participate in the war preparations of the United States in the harbour of Halifax or off the coasts of Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

• All these measures were carried out by executive power above the rule of law. When the “Public Safety” law did not exist to serve the aim of war preparations and militarization, it changed the law. The Chrétien Liberals set an agenda that Canadians did not participate in setting.

Today it is clear that only those who have a clear conscience can take the kind of decisive stands the situation requires. No matter what the warmongering forces do and say, they will fail so long as their aim is to repress Canadians at home and keep them as a reserve for war, or more so, adopt and implement George Bush’s doctrine, “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

No amount of disinformation or double-talk will rescue the government and the media. Its crisis of justification will continue to deepen because it is the existence of the U.S., and other big powers as oppressors, occupiers, and warmongers which is the problem, not “terrorism,” not a desperate “organized” attack on the port by Arab dhows. These powers are the greatest “organized crime ring” mankind has ever faced.

The high road of civilization belongs to the people of the Halifax and other Canadian harbours and ports. It is up to us to take decisive actions.

No Harbour for War!


*  Similar propaganda, also invoking the language of the US “war on terrorism,” was carried out last summer against the strike of the 10,500 longshoremen on the U.S. West Coast by Tom Ridge, head of Homeland Security and John Ashcroft, Attorney General. Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld also involved himself in direct negotiations with the union. The issues for the union involved the union hiring hall, health and pension benefits and outsourcing. “Homeland security is being used by the PMA as a pretext to create a crisis so the government will intervene,” said ILWU Legislative Director Lindsay McLaughlin. Declaring that the strike was not in the military and national security, the US government invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to kill the workers’ struggle.

*This article was originally published in Halifax People’s Voice, newsletter of the Halifax People’s Front (Halifax), 13 February 2003 and has been slightly edited and revised.

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