Harper’s insatiable appetite for escalating military spending has been accompanied by a parallel push towards the militarization of Canadian campuses and communities.
From yellow ribbons on emergency vehicles, to expanding military research budgets, to unprecedented funding for recruitment in high school, colleges, universities and cultural events – the government seems intent on building Canada its very own military industrial complex.
While students, the sick, the poor and the elderly bear the brunt of perennial government underfunding, the Conservative government has pledged a staggering $490 billion increase in military spending over the next two decades to fund our country’s expansionist efforts.
From Mount Allison University where the military brought tanks with machine guns on campus in a bid to recruit students, to attempts to bar the forces access to Simon Fraser’s student centre, students are standing against such efforts.
THE RISE OF THE COUNTER RECRUITMENT MOVEMENT
The Canadian Forces’ aggressive new recruitment strategy dubbed Operation Connection has met with resistance from organizations like Operation Objection, spearheaded by ACT for the Earth organizer Dylan Penner.
“Increasingly, counter-recruitment is becoming a centrepiece of the peace movement as an expression of people’s opposition to the war in Afghanistan,” said Penner.
In Quebec, where 76 percent of citizens oppose the war on Afghanistan, the counter-recruitment movement has led to widespread mobilizations. Actions ranging from monthly pickets outside of military recruitment centres to the resolutions of nearly 30 CEGEPs to oppose military recruitment on campus have continue to gain momentum.
In English Canada, the drive against recruitment has been slower, in part because the war in Afghanistan has been more successfully sold to the public under a discourse of liberation and women’s emancipation.
However, public support for the mission is steadily declining as it becomes clear that the new regime in Afghanistan consists of former warlords who have been linked to drug smuggling, torture, corruption, thuggery and the privatization of the public’s scarce resources.
Three years ago at York, students essentially expelled the military from campus. Then the Guelph Students’ Association rejected military research and recruitment.
York Federation of Students’ President and former Grassroots Anti-Imperialist Network member, Hamid Osman says that the campus has been virtually military-free for three years, following mobilizations to show recruiters they were not welcome on campus. A majority of students on the student centre committee removed military recruitment ads from all bathroom stalls.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH, FREEDOM TO KILL
Student newspapers have not been immune to the debate; 180 students turned out to the University of Ottawa student paper’s annual general meetingand successfully voted against the paper running military recruitment ads.
The argument that military recruiters should be welcomed on campus, just like any other business or government organization, is patently misleading.
Recently retired General of the Canadian Forces, Rick Hillier has acknowledged the difference best when he noted that the military, “is not the public service of Canada. We’re not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.”
And to be killed, as Canada inches closer to the sad commemoration of the hundredth Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan, at the time of writing. The number of civilian deaths remains uncounted, but the recent bombing deaths of 60 Afghani civilians and children by allied forces should have given us all pause. Various estimates put the civilian death toll in Afghanistan in the tens of thousands since the war began in 2001.
Osman takes issue with those who claim the debate about whether the military should be allowed in schoolsis a freedom of speech issue. He notes the military targets poor students who cannot afford tuition and aren’t presented with enough information about the realities of serving in the army.
He also notes that anti-war groups don’t have the same economic resources to run ads with alternate viewpoints across all university campuses.
Penner says, “Those who advocate it as free speech issue tend to on the one hand say we should support the troops. But those are the troops who support the war. What about supporting the soldiers who are saying no to the war?”
Penner added that Canadian soldiers who speak out vocally against the war and refuse to fight can face up to seven years in jail for using “disloyal words” under the National Defence Act . “It’s not military recruiters, but the soldiers who are against the war, who are having their free speech infringed. This needs to change”
RECRUITMENT ADS: MISLEADING ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN
The military’s tendency to prey on economically disadvantaged groups coupled with its tendency to misrepresent Canadian Forces work as disaster relief and not armed conflict is troubling to activists.
Recent stories have also surfaced about soldiers returning from their missions in Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to receive timely counselling for their condition.
This disturbing pattern of recruiters using bait and switch sales pitches is not unique to Canada.
Similar stories exist within the United States where soldiers who were promised a free university education ended up not having the time or energy to take courses after the exhaustion of long days spent working full time in the military.
The increasing reality that less affluent Canadians are signing up to kill and die for an immoral occupation just to receive an education, is generating increasing opposition from student groups.
Shelley Melanson was astounded by the proliferation of ads in bathrooms targeting student debt as she travelled the province in her capacity as Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario.
Melanson found that campuses in Northern Ontario were getting hit most aggressively with the ads, which speaks to students from lower economic brackets being targeted by what has been termed the poverty draft.
Promises of free tuition and health benefits are increasingly being contested.
Francisco Juarez, the first Canadian soldier to publicly refuse deployment to Afghanistan originally enlisted because he was promised that 100 percent of his tuition would be covered. When he started vocalising his concerns about the occupation, he was told that none of his tuition would be covered by the military. He was then threatened with a court martial after he left the Forces.
PRIORITISING WAR SPENDING OVER EDUCATION
Melanson says the shift in spending priorities towards militarism and away from investments in post-secondary education is economically puzzling as Canada is on the brink of a recession. Education can sustain a knowledge based economy.
Osman hopes that “as we approach federal election, I believe Canadian citizens will rise up in a genuine resistance movement… Not in our name, you cannot kill all these people with our tax dollars.”
Ultimately the goal of the movement, as Penner says, is to grind military recruitment to a halt and end the war in Afghanistan. This needs to be done because successive governments have not listened to consistent polls which reveal the majority of Canadians oppose the war in Afghanistan.
Penner says that Harper’s announcement that Canada will withdraw its Forces in 2011 is not fooling people, as they made similar promises in 2007 and 2009 and later asked for extensions on the deployment each time.