Part of Canada’s collective self esteem hinges on the perception that we are a noble nation of peacekeepers who have resisted the militaristic tendencies of our American peers.
This delusional notion may explain the ominous silence that greeted Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s announcement that the federal government is increasing the size of the Canadian Forces by 13,000 regular and 10,000 reserves personnel.
This naïve belief in our moral purity flourishes despite the atrocities Human Rights Watch has documented in the activities NATO troops have carried out under "Operation Enduring Freedom" against the Afghani people.
Far from being the benevolent saviors of Afghanistan, our troops have been party to a troubling array of human rights abuses ranging from arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, mistreatment of detainees, and calling in aerial bombings that have resulted in enormous civilian casualties.
When General Rick Hillier, the head of our armed forces, brayed about Afghan insurgents being "detestable murderers and scumbags," adding they "detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties," it should have given us pause.
Surely we lack the moral authority to preach about the thirst for freedom to civilians who risk their lives protesting the atrocities of allied soldiers.
Surely we cannot flaunt our free media to a nation whose thousands of civilian casualties we cannot be bothered to count and shamefully fail to report.
Though a mass murderer himself, Stalin was right when he pointed out that one death is a tragedy, while a million deaths are a statistic.
The Canadian soldiers who have died during the invasion have all rightly had faces, names, families, and a public who mourned them. It is hardly surprising that an embedded media who eats, sleeps, and identifies with our soldiers was capable of humanizing their deaths.
Yet Arabs are never portrayed with quite the same level of humanity. They more often flashed across our television screens as angry, chanting mobs, whose histories of occupation are ignored.
It was stunning that Americans expected to be greeted as liberators in the same Iraq we had all engaged in bombing a decade earlier and subjected to sanctions that took a million lives.
In a similar vein, we have shown a similar willful ignorance in remembering why a terrorized civilian population that has fought off successive occupations over the past century is resistant to our invasion.
When Captain Nichola Goddard was killed, Canadian troops called in a U.S. B-1 bomber that killed an estimated 15 to 20 people.
In what is becoming an alarming pattern of disregard, the Canadian media largely ignored the 28 civilians reported dead at Nabo Aka. It has similarly failed to properly amplify repeated admonishments by Afghanistan’s own government to halt air strikes that have killed untold numbers of civilians in violation of the Geneva conventions.
Nor has the media properly questioned why we are spending billions to support a misogynist, corrupt government of former war lords.
Local women’s organizations report that women are more insecure today than they were even under the Taliban, and Human Rights Watch notes that violence against Afghan women remains endemic six years after the war for their supposed liberation.
Our bombing campaigns and poppy eradication policies coupled with our failure to invest substantively in aid have kept Afghanistan perpetually on the brink of famine.
In addition to our country having the dubious distinction of being the sixth-largest arms manufacturer in the world, Canadian citizens have collectively invested $2.55 billion in arms dealers through the Canadian Pension Plan.
In this climate, our campuses are increasingly reflecting our national march to war.
The Department of National Defence has embarked on a mammoth recruitment campaign in an effort to build Canada its very own military-industrial complex.
Across the nation campuses such as Ryerson’s have seen an infusion of military recruitment ads in student newspapers, in bathroom stalls, and at career fairs.
While virtually all francophone student newspapers have refused to run the DND ads, and about 25 CEGEP student unions have opposed the militarization of their schools, resistance outside of Quebec has been more muted.
Proponents of the ads paint those who oppose them as suppressers of free speech.
To be clear, the freedom to pay for advertisements is not an entrenched Charter right. On the contrary, the additional $13 billion that the federal government has allocated to our military gives them a substantively louder voice than Afghani or Haitian civilians who bear the brunt of our occupations.
If we are to speak about rights in a meaningful way, why should the military’s right to buy ads trump the right of impoverished Afghanis to avoid bombings, crop fumigations, humiliating daily house raids, and torture?
Joining the military is not a morally neutral job like any other. Hillier himself confirms 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."
Nor are all Canadians being asked to kill and die equally.
Whereas racialized communities are disproportionately represented in the 4,000 soldiers who have come back in body bags from the Iraq war, in Canada it is the poor who are the most likely to enlist.
It is no coincidence that Canada’s four poorest provinces have the highest rates of enlistment in Canada. Conversely, the four most affluent provinces have the lowest number of new recruits.
It is disconcerting that not a single Ryerson student has ever complained about military advertisements in our campus press.
If truth is the first casualty of war, it is incumbent on us as critically engaged students to ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be used as pawns in an unending war against a people who are not our enemy.
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