By TONY SEED
(Halifax, March 6, 2003) – THROUGHOUT ATLANTIC CANADA between March 4-6, hundreds of Canadians spoke out against the national “dialogue on foreign policy” launched by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in January and denounced Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham for Canada’s conciliation with Iraq war preparations. So-called “town hall meetings” have been held in St. John’s, Charlottetown, Halifax and Saint John. Yet the much-advertised “dialogue” is in crisis. The indignation with and the credibility of the “Canadian position” is such that promised reports on the meetings have not appeared on the department’s own web site – despite repeated claims of “interactivity” to promote citizen involvement – since the inaugural meeting in Winnipeg in February. Similarly, reports on the “dialogue” have evaporated from the monopoly media, while the local media emphasizes Mr Graham’s arrogant lecturing and haranguing of participants as the main content of the “dialogue.”
On March 5, 40 people picketed the meeting at the University of Prince Edward Island. The “dialogue” was such that police forcibly removed a 21-year-old student when he confronted Graham with a protest sign. In an interview with the local newspaper, prior to the incident, the student said simply that he does not want Canada to participate in a war with Iraq under any circumstances. “The reasons for this war are quite ridiculous. We are peacekeepers and the more we become Bush’s lap dog, the more we become Americans and we are not Americans, we are Canadians.”
In the meeting 17 out of 200 people spoke. The majority of the questions were about Canada’s position on Iraq. Brad Deighan of Charlottetown said war is wrong, whether it is sanctioned by the UN or not. “If a war in Iraq is wrong, the war doesn’t change just because the UN sanctions it,” he said. Herb Dickieson of Howlan, a former PEI MLA, said, “The Chrétien government has waffled on the issue as to whether or not we should stand for the United Nations and peace in our world or whether we should simply be lap dogs to the Americans.” He said, “This is an unjust war that the Americans are trying to promote.”
In Halifax, more than 375 hundred people packed the two rooms at Saint Mary’s University set aside for Mr Graham’s “town hall consultation.”
That evening Haligonians vigorously rejected the notion that they should stand on the sidelines while the Chretien government, using the smokescreen of the “Canadian initiative” in the United Nations. not only conciliates with the U.S. drive to wage a war of aggression on Iraq but is actively participating in the war preparations.
Fifteen people intervened. Only one person expressed support for Canada’s foreign policy. It was repeatedly pointed out that it is the duty of every national government to uphold the United Nations Charter and not commit crimes against the peace.
Professor Isaac Saney emphatically stated, to thunderous applause, that these national meetings – being held across Canada – were a “sham and pretence designed to quell and further marginalize the Canadian people, while the decision has already been made behind closed doors to commit Canadian forces to this criminal enterprise, as evidenced by the fact that Canadian ships in the Persian Gulf are already escorting British and American tankers and cargo ships.” He stressed that if a government commits crimes against the peace, and does not represent Canadians, then it must be removed and replaced by a new anti-war government. It is the citizens themselves who have the right and responsibility to set foreign policy and decide what the external and internal threats to security are, he said.
Dr. Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada-Palestine Association, condemned the Chrétien government for not upholding international law and morality by refusing to demand an end to the brutal occupation of Palestinian lands by the State of Israel. Initially the chair conspicuously refused to recognize Dr Zayid and finally did so only after vigorous protests from the audience. Graham’s response that “our government is working hard on the issue” revealed a mindset that only a select few could understand the mysteries of international relations. It was immediately condemned as cowardly and a justification of genocide and ethnic cleansing. By resounding applause for Dr. Zayid, the audience demonstrated their support with the just cause of the Palestinian people.
Many students who have been in the forefront of the anti-war struggle vigorously condemned the duplicity of a government claiming to “consult” Canadians while right in the harbour of Halifax the HMCS Iroquois was preparing to steam to the Persian Gulf under the hoax of “Canada’s contribution to the war against terrorism.”
Indeed, almost invariably the various interveners were determined not to let the Canadian government off the hook. When Mr Graham tried to defend the inhuman policy of sanctions against Iraq and the Iraqi people in denial of objectivity reality, he was drowned out by shouts of “Shame” and “Children are dying.” Time and time again it was declared that Canada, in order to be a genuine factor for peace and justice in the world, must live up to and fulfill its obligations under the UN Charter and resolutely oppose the Bush regime’s drive to war.
Sandra L. Smith, “The Government of Canada’s foreign policy review,” April 11, 2003