Activists fear war is foregone conclusion
By KEVIN COX, The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
HALIFAX -- As about 100 peace activists gathered outside a Halifax library yesterday, their sombre denunciations of the U.S. war on terrorism were frequently drowned out by the screeching of starlings and the roar of downtown traffic.
Across Canada, those opposed to the use of large-scale military force against countries believed to back the terrorists who killed more than 5,800 people in the United States last week fear that their voices are being lost in the increasingly strident demands for revenge.
Peace groups, churches and students are holding rallies and prayer vigils. They're sending letters and petitions to the federal government demanding Canada not participate in a U.S. strike against Afghanistan.
Yesterday, hundreds of students and teachers at St. Francis Xavier Secondary School in Mississauga began a 24-hour peace vigil outside the U.S. consulate in Toronto. They planned to strike a gong once for each of the terrorists' victims.
The hastily organized Coalition Against War and Racism attracted about 250 demonstrators to a meeting in front of the consulate last night to protest against any military strike and the recent vigilante actions against visible minorities.
In Halifax, protesters carried signs with slogans such as "War does not make peace."
The peace activists fear that an attack in Afghanistan to capture terrorists would result in the deaths of thousands of civilians and create hatred and racism toward Muslims in Canada and the United States.
They realize their message is not popular in either country, where images of jets smashing into the World Trade Center are seared into the public memory.
"As the tide builds towards military rhetoric and military action, many of us are forced to say that this doesn't make any sense on any of the levels, particularly the military one," said Donna Smyth, Nova Scotia spokeswoman for the Voice of Women.
"I think there has to be action to pursue whoever did this, but that doesn't mean military action as much as it does a police action. . . . Revenge is a human reaction, but it is not something we stand for in society. War just feeds hatred and violence," she said.
Sheila Wilmot, one of the organizers of the Toronto rally, said the Canadian government should not be swept up in the U.S. frenzy for revenge and should reject any role in a war in Afghanistan.
"The way the images are being put before the public, the value of American lives is seen to be greater than the value of lives in the Middle East, and that just isn't the case," Ms. Wilmot said.
Betty Peterson, a veteran peace activist in Halifax, said she has heard of Muslim children being beaten in school playgrounds and buses refusing to stop for women wearing traditional Muslim scarves.
She said the peace movement has to make the Canadian government aware that assisting the U.S. war effort will increase racial incidents at home.
The peace movement has to get organized, despite the fact that "the great mass of people probably will be swept up in this war hysteria," she said.