George W. Bush is making an official visit to Canada November 30-December 1, in what will mark both his first trip to our capital — thatâ€™s Ottawa, not Toronto, as I assume someone has briefed George — and one of his first international visits since the November 2 election. People across the country are looking forward to giving the American President the welcome that he deserves. Hopefully we can make it a welcome worthy of the memory of the tens of thousands of Iraqis and one thousand plus American soldiers whose lives have been taken by Bush’s immoral war for oil.
Earlier this month, reports speculated that Bushâ€™s visit would take place in early January, shortly before his inauguration. The reason for the scant notice of the official visit â€“ barely two weeks â€“ is pretty clear. John Ibbitson, writing in the November 17 Globe and Mail (â€œCan PM silence Parrishâ€), notes the cynical reason for the timing while taking a cynical shot of his own at anti-war activists:
One reason for the rushed announcement might be to limit the ability of social and peace activists to mobilize. With only a fortnight to prepare, and with the temperatures getting nippy, the various coalitions in solidarity with each other will have a difficult time putting together anything truly impressive.
Despite Ibbitsonâ€™s sneering implication, the various grassroots anti-war coalitions are clearly representative of public opinion in Canada, both towards Bush and towards the war in Iraq. Activists across the country have already set about making plans for an impressive mobilization. (I donâ€™t know about truly impressive, though, since Ibbitson fails to define what he hopes we fail to do.) The Ottawa No to Bush Committee put out a call within hours, casting a wide net indeed, rallying under the slogan, â€œFreedom, Justice, Equality: No to Bush!â€ The Canadian Peace Alliance has put out a call for actions in cities across the country, and in Toronto at least, buses are already being organized to get people up to Ottawa.
Perhaps the desire to minimize protest was the reasoning behind not only the short notice, but also behind the choice to make Canada an early post-election foreign visit for Bush. One could imagine that a visit to a European or Latin American capital might be likely to generate a more vociferous protest. For instance, this weekâ€™s APEC summit in Chile, which Bush is attending, is being greeted with mass protest and the accompanying state repression. Despite the tendency of the North American Right to rail against Canada as a socialistic holdout (and a tendency of a good chunk of the Left to glorify our relative egalitarianism and tolerance), we lag sadly behind much of Europe and our brothers and sisters in the South in terms of an oppositional political culture.
We also have a tendency to hold U.S. administrations to closer scrutiny than our own regimes in Ottawa. While Jean Chretienâ€™s announcement that Canada would not send troops to Iraq was widely applauded, ongoing Canadian involvement in the occupations of Haiti and Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly ignored and unreported. Hopefully, then, the demonstrations that accompany Bushâ€™s visit will also be aimed at the war-making policies explicitly or tacitly supported by Paul Martin and the Liberal government. And the issue of Canadaâ€™s participation in the misnamed National Missile Defence program — rather than being denounced in isolation as leading to dangerous â€œStar Warsâ€ weaponization of space — should be linked to the overall strategy and efforts of the U.S. empire-builders to wield first-strike nuclear capability as part of their drive to maintain unrivalled military (and thereby economic) dominance.
And so the anti-war movement in Canada faces an important challenge and responsibility. The world will be watching for us to make a strong, principled, and visible stand against Bush and against the daily outrages that are being perpetrated in Iraq. The latest crime, of course, is seen in the appalling footage of a U.S. soldier killing a wounded and helpless Iraqi, caught by the cameras of NBC and now broadcast throughout the world. Like with Abu Ghraib, we can imagine that the camera has only shown us the tip of the iceberg.
The war in Iraq was rejected by world public opinion, and this was reflected with millions in the streets before the war. The occupation, with all the now absolutely routine atrocities, torture and death it has engendered, deserves to be rejected with equal force throughout the world. And what better opportunity to get back in the streets than George Bushâ€™s first official visit to Ottawa. Welcome George. The U.S. election may be over, but the war in Iraq isnâ€™t. And Canadaâ€™s demonstrations will only be the tip of the iceberg.
Derrick Oâ€™Keefe is a founding editor of the weekly on-line journal www.SevenOaksMag.com and a member of Vancouverâ€™s StopWar coalition.
For a full listing of demonstrations in Canada, visit the Canadian Peace Alliance site at www.acp-cpa.ca.