From our archives: ten years ago today, Canadians massively responded as part of the powerful determination of the world’s people to condemn and oppose the Anglo-American war of aggression against Iraq. This Global Day of Action involved over fifteen million people worldwide, including over 50,000 in Toronto and over 200,000 people in Montreal – “an ocean of people against the war” – at the time the largest political demonstration in the history of Québec and larger than any demonstration in the United States.
By TONY SEED
(Halifax, March 22, 2003) – ON MARCH 22, the people of Halifax joined people across Canada and around the world to demand that the U.S.-led aggression against Iraq be stopped immediately. More than 3,000 people from all walks of life gathered at the Halifax Commons before marching through the streets of the provincial capital to the U.S. consulate. The flags of Palestine and Iraq were held high and cheered by the crowds as people chanted slogans in support of the growing global revolt against the American war machine. In the heart of the march, behind a giant Iraqi flag proudly held aloft by Iraqi Canadians, different political groups and their supporters gathered together on the basis of Unity in Action to vigorously shout anti-imperialist, anti-war slogans as one.
In front of the U.S. consulate at Purdy’s Wharf, different speeches were given. For the first time since October 2001 a representative of the Palestinian people in Canada, Dr. Ismail Zayid, was invited to speak. Dr Zayid militantly denounced the U.S. disinformation about “weapons of mass destruction” as Bush’s causus belli, pointing out that the Zionist state of Israel, which could not last a minute without U.S. support, possessed well over 200 nuclear weapons. He further pointed out that the Canadian government is conciliating with the violation of international law with the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is totally unacceptable that the Canadian government is silent about the illegal occupation of Historic Palestine or tolerates this violation of fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people, he stressed. Dr Zayid underlined that the steadfast liberation struggle of the Palestinian people for their homeland, and the resistance of the Lebanese people, the Iraqi people and the Afghan people were a factor for peace, and not the source of violence in the Middle East.
The Halifax march was predominantly composed of youth, which has been the case around the world and is proof positive that the next generation is leaving nothing up to chance and is taking up the cause of building a bright future for themselves. At the same time it is clear that increasingly workers are participating from all sectors of the economy, both individually and as an organized collective force to be part of this movement for a future without war. More and more, people are realizing that the U.S. is single-handedly dragging the world into anarchy and chaos and must meet maximum opposition so that the U.S. does not go unchallenged. The people of Halifax are rejecting the notion that they are fighting a lost cause now that the war has “already started” and are refusing to stay at home and feel helpless and leave the fate of the world in the hands of the U.S. imperialist aggressors and lackey Canadian governments. Haligonians are also refusing to capitulate to the political and economic blackmail to “support our troops” and “jobs” because the port has been made dependent on militarization and war, being the headquarters of Maritime Command and a strategic port of the U.S.-led NATO bloc: they are affirming the dignity of Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians as an independent-thinking people. While people were relieved that the war was not to be waged “in our name,” they were dissatisfied with the stand of the Chrétien Liberals about Canada’s so-called non-participation in the Anglo-American “coalition of the willing,”and suspicious of their motives. Little-known facts of how Canada was actively participating in the invasion of Iraq, suppressed by the media and the established political parties, were discussed by people who demanded to be informed, not disinformed.
People who had never met before discussed together what the movement of the people could do to end the war. The most prevalent political demand was that the United Nations censure the U.S. for its aggression, and for the Canadian government to not just stay out of the war, but also denounce the crimes being committed against humanity. If Canada was genuinely to be a factor for peace, the government must cease making its territory available for flights of the U.S. Air Force ferrying American troops to Iraq through Newfoundland airports, and withdraw its warships from the Persian Gulf and its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq – the demand for an anti-war government expressed in the No Harbour for War programme. People strongly opposed the self-serving justifications given for aggression – that by bombing Iraq the U.S. would bring peace, or that the aim of occupation and war was to liberate the Iraqi people.
CPC(M-L) has pointed out that no force which is participating in this war or refused to condemn it on a principled basis will survive on the old basis. In this regard, it is noteworthy that while some prominent NDP MLAs such as Maureen MacDonald (Halifax Needham) participated in the Halifax rally, they did so on an individual basis. In Ottawa, the NDP parliamentary caucus had risen to its feet as one in the House of Commons with the Liberal caucus to applaud Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s two-faced declaration on March 17th. Just five days later, its abandonment of the just cause of the anti-war movement to make Canada a factor for peace with the illusory pretext that “the peace movement has kept Canada out of the war” was too clear. On March 22nd, the Nova Scotia NDP conveniently held a provincial caucus meeting elsewheres in the province. Far from becoming a lobby group of parliament, this illustrates the necessity for the anti-war movement to keep hitting at the source of war, no matter which party in Ottawa (or Washington) is in power. It is both a matter of principle, and a matter of the future of humanity.
In the months before the United States launched its war of aggression against Iraq, the world anti-war movement went into action, holding demonstrations and rallies at U.S. embassies and consulates and other symbolic locations. Anti-war actions were held regularly in Halifax, throughout Atlantic Canada and around the world from January 17-19, 2003 on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the first Gulf War. On February 15, over thirteen million people worldwide gave a resounding No! to the U.S. war plans in demonstrations in more than 660 cities and towns, including the participation of hundreds of thousands in Canada, who rallied despite freezing temperatures. Scores of youth demonstrated at CFB Stadacona immediately the Chrétien government deployed the HMCS Iroquois to the Persian Gulf on February 24th, as well as at the offices of Lockheed Martin in Dartmouth. Tens of thousands of students participated in a Student Global Day of Action on March 5. On March 8, International Women’s Day 2003, women held militant actions against imperialist war and in defence of rights. On March 20, thousands demonstrated on the first day of the war. The Halifax Political Forums have been convened on a weekly basis on the overall theme, “Peace & Nations in the 21st Century: Understanding the Causes of War” to create a space and “a converging point for all those concerned with questions of peace, war and nation-building.” On the South Shore, activists have launched a film-and-discussion series in Mahone Bay. The next Halifax anti-war rally will be held on March 29 at 1:00 pm in front of the Halifax Commons.
The following brief reports are excerpted from TML Daily, March 23, 2003 to highlight the breadth of the opposition of Canadians to the Anglo-American war against Iraq.
Montreal: An ocean of people against the war
In Montreal, over 200,000 demonstrators took to the streets and said NO to the American and British warmongers. This was the first large mobilization since the launching of war against Iraq. So many people were there that René Lévesque Boulevard, from Peel Street in the west to St. Lawrence Street in the east, was an ocean of people. The police refused to give an estimate of the number of demonstrators, under the pretext that there were so many people that it was impossible to give a count. In front of the U.S. Consulate, riot police brutally attacked demonstrators with pepper spray and batons, making several arrests.
Joining with people of the rest of Canada and around the world, more than 8,000 people from Ottawa-Hull, the national capital region, gathered on Parliament Hill on March 22 to hear speakers denounce the illegal, unjust and immoral war declared by the U.S. and Britain against Iraq. After the speeches, the crowd gathered behind the banners of Nowar-Paix and Outaouais contre la guerre and took to the streets in the direction of the British High Commission on Elgin Street to denounce the crimes committed by the British ruling circles as well. Then they headed toward the U.S. Embassy. All the way they were chanting slogans demanding the end of the war “Non to War, Yes to Peace,” Bush, Blair, War Criminals,” “Down, down USA.”
The demonstration was militant. At the U.S. Embassy, the people expressed their anger at the Bush administration by throwing snowballs and red paint at the building to symbolize the blood U.S. imperialism has on its hands. They wrote slogans on the barricades surrounding it and burned a U.S. flag. When RCMP arrested a young protestor, the crowd immediately demanded the police let him go, that he was no criminal, that the criminal was Bush and by arresting the youth, they were supporting Bush.
With one voice, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Toronto on March 22 to demand “Stop the War!” and denounce the illegal aggression by Bush and his allies against the people of Iraq. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 50,000 to 100,000. People gathered at the U.S. consulate angry and determined. Angry at the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Bush and his allies, and the disinformation presented in the monopoly media; determined to continue to make their voices heard, to find a way to put a stop to the U.S. aggression. As wave upon wave of people joined the rally from subway stations at the north and south end, the participation of large numbers of youth, students from high schools and younger children was outstanding, along with individual workers and the flags of their collectives and people of all ages, walks of life and national origins. a contingent of youth from a St Catharines private school participated, as did another from London, Ontario.
From the start of the rally there was a large police presence, including police on horseback and riot police guarding the Consulate, and a large presence of plainclothes cops. Right from the outset, police harassed members of CPC(M-L) carrying flags, suggesting that the poles might be used as weapons, and demanded to know what literature they were distributing. They were circulating rumours that part of the march was “violent” and that police harassment was justified to avert “problems.” The people opposes this attempt to criminalize dissent and detract from the demand of humanity to stop the war.
Determined to show opposition to Bush’s illegal war, thousands of Calgarians streamed into Olympic Plaza. Long before the Rally began, huge banners and placards filled the Plaza with messages such as “War is Not the Answer,” “How Much Shock and Awe Can One Planet Take?” “Klein, You Don’t Speak for Me,” “Stop Bush Now!” and “Canadians Say No to Bush’s War!” a choir led the entire gathering in the singing of peace songs. Over 7000 Calgarians then marched from Olympic Plaza to the U.S. Consulate, where youth and artists spread red paint symbolizing the blood being shed by the Iraqi people.
On March 22, some 18,000 people came out in Edmonton to demand an immediate end to the war against Iraq. Judy Darcy, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees told the rally that CUPE stood firmly against war. She called on the Chrétien government to immediately withdraw all troops from the Gulf, to condemn the war as illegal and to speak out against the humanitarian crisis which is rapidly developing in Iraq. Peace, she said, is a workers’ issue. Janice Williamson of Women in Black expressed the sentiments of everyone that Ralph Klein, who had sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Paul Celluci supporting the aggression against Iraq, does not speak in the name of Albertans. Speakers also opposed the statement made by Mayor Bill Smith, that Canada’s refusal to join the war will have an “economic impact.”