Resisting the Warmakers

By Mary Boite and Matthew Behrens

ARMX89, the largest weapons fair in Canadian history, is now behind us. Though the buyers and dealers of military hardware, software, and accessories had attended the show, it wasn't business as usual. The death merchants could hardly have foreseen what awaited them. Some of them (like junkies in search of a weapons fix) tried to scale the 10-foot-high, barbed wire-topped fences to avoid a women's blockade at one of the gates, thereby ripping their expensive suits.

Pratt and Whitney dealers were delayed 20 minutes by another human blockade at the main gate, where a protester explained how the company's products were being used in the wars against the Salvadoran and Guatemalan peoples.

As a result, the war industry was forced to go public with its "private affair," thanks to the popular resistance campaign, whose objective was simple: to stop ARMX '89, the symbol of Canada's involvement in the international weapons trade.

ARMX's future is now in serious jeopardy, due to the well-integrated campaign organized by Alliance for Nonviolent Action (ANVA), which had been the main force behind the largest Ottawa peace rally during the 1982 Refuse-the-Cruise protests. The aim of ANVA's successful, country-wide letter-writing campaign was to ascertain the guest list from the Toronto-based ARMX organizers, Baxter Publishing.

Both Baxter and the federal government were embarrassed by a volley of questions about the issue in the House of Commons and the Ontario legislature, plus Ottawa City Council's decision to ban future ARMXs on the city's property. They also felt a lot of heat over keeping over 100 people in jail while criminals from South Africa and El Salvador wined, dined, and examined the latest developments in Canadian and foreign war technology. This is a far cry from the lonely vigil of 20 people that protested ARMX in 1987!

Canada's war industry now feels defeated. A letter by a retired navy commander urged the industry to mount a propaganda campaign to regain its "credibility" with Canadians.

It appears the key to resisting ARMX and generating widespread support was a no-punches-pulled approach that had organizers of this National Home Show of Weaponry on the defensive. For eight months ANVA focussed on the issue of exports of military products and the presence of human rights violators at ARMX. In the end, both Baxter and Joe Clark conceded that South Africans, Salvadorans, Chileans, and representatives of other pariah states would not be denied entry to the exhibition. Baxter's claim that ARMX was nothing but a second-rate sporting goods show was demolished by media coverage of battle tanks, rocket launchers, and machine guns capable of firing 3,000 rounds per minute.

The people who participated in the nonviolent direct action took a stronger view that that of moderate peace activists, who call for an international arms registry to monitor the arms trade. Instead, the prevalent view is that "simulating warfare" and "training for defence" must be resisted for what they are: euphemisms for "practicing to kill," and "training for war."

Such issues were clearly addressed during the action, which was relatively small, tightly-organized, and effective in surrounding Lansdowne Park. The wide range of participants in the action refuted the argument that civil resistance is only for an elite group. All the gates of the exhibition were either locked with kryptonite by demonstrators or blocked by human bodies. For an hour and a half, no one got in or out of the premises, except for the odd businessmen climbing fences.

The Canadian government showed its intent to keep the arms race going by throwing all of us into jail. Those who refused to sign a statement of conditional release requiring us to stay away from ARMX were sent in leg irons and chains to the Regional Detention Centre and will face trial late this year or early next year. But our sense of purpose remains intact. At one point, a man in jail for fraud asked why so many people were in jail that day. We explained and apologized that our presence would delay his bail hearing.

"Ah hell," he replied. "I don't mind waiting a few extra hours for you guys. It's for a good cause."

The authors are members of Alliance for Non-Violent Action (ANVA).

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989

Peace Magazine Aug-Sep 1989, page 9. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Mary Boite here
Search for other articles by Matthew Behrens here

Peace Magazine homepage