HALIFAX -- The December 3rd demonstration at the Hotel Nova Scotian in Halifax was sparked by an article in the local press entitled "Canada Has Shot at US Military Dollar." The Chronicle Herald article revealed some disturbing facts: about twenty Pentagon officials would be meeting with Canadian businessmen to discuss greater participation in the production of weapons and support products for use by the US military, the major justification was creation, and the sessions would closed to the public.
A core of people from the activist community generated interest in staging an event to draw public attention to the meeting, which provided an opportunity to make broad connections between the profits available to weapons producers, the increasing economic emphasis on weapons manufacture, oppression suffered by the majority of the world's population and the secrecy surrounding the meeting of politicians and businessmen and politicians. In only a week and a half, an ad hoc coalition of groups, "People for Peace," organized the event.
Picketers stationed at the different entrances of the hotel greeted the Pentagon officials and Canadian businessmen as they entered. Later in the morning, the "Never Again Affinity Group" (a women's group calling themselves the Nags) performed street theatre. Dressed as military officers, they distributed bloodstained money to businessmen and other passersby. On the slightly enlarged photocopied bills were the faces of Mulroney and Reagan replacing the Queen. Information on weapons production was outlined on the other side.
After a morning press conference in the hotel to explain the purpose of the event over one hundred people gathered in the park directly facing the hotel for a noon hour rally. Speakers included Giff Gifford of Veterans for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Alexa MeDonough, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP.
Towards the end of the rally, a group which had previously planned to make their statement in the form of an act of civil disobedience, congregated at the entrance to the businessmen's conference. While the men inside ate lunch. the group sat in a circle, linked arms, wove themselves together with yarn and sang songs of resistance.
both the organizers who were hosting the meeting with Pentagon officials and the hotel management. Consequently tempers ran high. Exercising personal restraint and other skills learned in nonviolence training, the CD participants remained calm. With the arrival of police, the fourteen remaining participants were dragged away.
Of the fourteen arrested, all but one have decided to plead not guilty. No matter what the verdict in their April 17th trial, expenses are being incurred and fundraising is an on-going concern. Support in this area would be appreciated.
The December 3rd event was a breakthrough to the peace movement in Halifax and Nova Scotia, and some of its most significant aspects were identified in an evaluation meeting held the following Saturday: the entire event was organized in one and a half weeks; it functioned to communicate using a variety of means through its range of events; it was not only anti-nuclear; it reflected a growing awareness and analysis of a militarized economy as an obstacle to peace. In making contact with the people directly involved in the production of weapons, the event also brought to the surface an aspect of militarism previously not recognized as such by the general public.
Media coverage was extensive, but predictably focused on potentially sensational aspects of the day. Controversy continued in the local papers for several weeks in the form of follow-up articles and letters to the editor, and there were many radio interviews.
A new phase of work is underway in Halifax and the surrounding region as we choose where to focus our dissent. A trident submarine pier has been quietly built (one of nine in the world) and will soon be operational. A fleet of warships will parade through Halifax harbour this summer, and manufacturers of weapons components are moving in: Pratt-Whitney definitely, with others to follow. We are not short of issues to address here on the East coast.
Although many peace activists were aware of the tour by Pentagon officials before the events in Halifax. it was the action there which provided the impetus for activities across the country.
After the December 3rd opening in Halifax, the Defence seminars moved on to Montréal, where about 35 people picketed and performed street theatre outside the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Passersby were also leafletted on why military spending does not create jobs.
On December 7, the tour came to Toronto, where it was met by Sinclair Stevens, the Minister for Regional Industrial Expansion (whose ministry sponsored the tour) and over 100 protesters who converged on the Metro Convention Centre to show their opposition.
In Vancouver, about one hundred people attended a vigil and leafletted outside the hotel where the briefing was taking place. Four people were arrested when they later attempted to get into the hotel through a back door.
The Calgary Disarmament Coalition organized a picket of about 20 people when the tour began its final swing across the prairies, and in Saskatoon a coalition of 27 groups had a press conference focussing on economics of the arms race and the fallacy that military spending creates jobs.
According to Ellen Gould, who works for Project Ploughshares in Saskatoon, a few peace activists were able to get into the briefings. 'Despite what people are saying, it's not just nuts and bolts we're bidding on, but components for major weapons systems like the 13-I bomber," she said, also noting, however, what many peace activists felt -- that we should not be making components for any weapon.
The keynote speaker for the Saskatoon seminar was Don Ravis, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Saskatoon East. Mr. Ravis created an uproar by suggesting that it might be a good idea to convert the agricultural machinery industry in Saskatchewan to military production.
These remarks were overshadowed later in the week when the tour reached its final destination in Winnipeg on December 14th. Minister of Defence Robert Coates was clearly irked and embarrassed by the opposition to the two-week tour. He remarked that the small gatherings which greeted the tour on every stop were a reflection of the fact that "the peace movement is in bad shape, and I think that is only right and proper because what we're talking about is the kind of defence that is going to guarantee a continuance of the peace that we've now enjoyed for about 40 years." Coates went on to joke about those arrested in Halifax and even said he had mentioned the arrests to US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
Martin Zeilig, who works for the Winnipeg Coordinating Committee for Disarmament, was one of the 75 people who protested outside the downtown Winnipeg hotel. He said that he felt the comments indicated "an attitude that the government has generally -- profits before people."
One thing is certain. The visit to Canada by officials of the US Department of Defence clearly showed that many Canadian won't take lightly plans for increased military spending and production.