by Barry Weisleder / November 2006
Though the turnout was generally lighter than last spring, antiwar protests across Canada on Oct. 28 nonetheless represented an important step forward. It was the first time the broad movement—led by the Canadian Peace Alliance, le Collectif Échec la guerre, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the Canadian Islamic Congress—focused its attention on Canada’s imperialist war in Afghanistan, clearly demanding ‘Troops out now’.
Despite stiff winds and cold, rainy conditions across central and eastern regions, over 1000 demonstrated in Montreal, nearly 1500 in Toronto, and 500 in Ottawa; 150 braved a snowstorm in Edmonton, over 1500 marched in downtown Vancouver, and another 500 rallied in Victoria, B.C. In all, 37 communities across Canada saw protest actions on Oct. 28.
In Toronto anti-imperialist sentiment was reflected in contingents and banners that decried the Canadian state’s anti-democratic role in Haiti and its complicity with Israeli apartheid. War resisters, Muslim groups, labour unions, and student organizations carried their own placards and distributed buttons and flyers.
NDP leader Jack Layton addressed the enthusiastic rally that preceded the march, but his message was neither fully in sync with the crowd nor with his own party’s adopted policy.
Instead of demanding the withdrawal of all Canadian soldiers now, Layton emphasized ending the “combat mission” in what he refers to as the “Kandahar fiasco” in southern Afghanistan.
Instead of reflecting NDP policy, which calls for Canada to leave the NATO alliance, Layton said, “let’s connect with our NATO partners” and “help lead a drive for a political solution to bring lasting peace to the region”. This implies a prolonged stay, not to mention ongoing meddling by today’s foreign occupiers.
Layton projected “a new role for Canada on the ground in Afghanistan, a balanced role whose priorities are security, aid, and reconstruction.”
Unfortunately, this paves the way to a permanent military presence. Finally, Layton’s seemingly innocuous appeal for “building a truly independent foreign policy—not imported from Washington” suggests that the main problem is subservience to the U.S. rather than the substantial material interests of the Canadian imperialist corporate elite—class interests that happen to coincide with those of their U.S. counterparts.
Ever since the Sept. 8-10 federal NDP convention in Quebec City, Layton has been backpedalling on the party’s Afghanistan policy. To hold the leader’s feet to the fire, the NDP Socialist Caucus is circulating the following resolution for debate and vote at NDP and labour gatherings at all levels across the country:
“Whereas the 2006 NDP federal convention voted overwhelmingly for “a safe and immediate” withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan;
“And whereas NDP federal Leader Jack Layton spoke on CBC radio on September 23/06 to ’clarify’ his stand on the issue, indicating that he favours withdrawal of Canadian troops only from the war theatre in Kandahar, and that he supports the continuation of the ‘3D approach of Canadian foreign policy’—which is the policy of the previous Liberal government, ‘Defence, Development and Diplomacy’—in other words, the ongoing foreign occupation and control of the country, arguably designed by the Liberals to secure a pipeline route for Jean Chretien’s friends in the oil patch.
“Therefore Be It Resolved that this body demands that the Federal NDP Leader and Parliamentary Caucus adhere to the convention-adopted ‘troops out of Afghanistan now’ policy;
“And Be It Further Resolved that this body commits itself, and calls on the NDP leadership at all levels, to mobilize for the biggest and broadest possible participation in mass protest actions against the wars of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
While opposition to the disastrous ‘mission’ in Afghanistan grows, along with associated difficulties (NATO’s non-deployment of additional forces in the south, the rising Canadian death toll, and lack of fresh replacements), the Harper government was quick to commit Canada to the developing imperialist campaign against North Korea.
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay said Canada would stand with its allies to ensure that new sanctions against North Korea are enforced.
MacKay said it was too early to suggest whether Canadian warships could be dispatched to enforce the UN embargo on specified forms of trade and travel, plus inspections of all ships arriving and departing with cargo. But he did insist that Canada, as a Pacific Ocean country, has a “direct” interest.
Perhaps this helps to explain the Conservatives’ raising the so-called ‘defence’ budget to $20 billion by 2010 from $14 billion, and boosting the military to 75,000 regular personnel.
Extended and more diverse overseas ‘missions’ are the order of the day for Canada’s ruling class, which wants to have its slice of Empire pie, and eat it too.