Towards a People’s Summit against War and Militarism

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The anti-war coalition Collectif Échec à la guerre is organizing a People’s Summit against War and Militarism on November 14 -15, 2009, and invites civil society organizations in Québec, as well as citizens concerned about these issues, to begin working on preparing the Summit now.

Why this People’s Summit?

With its new International Policy Statement in 2005, the minority Liberal government under Paul Martin made official – without any public debate – a militaristic shift in Canadian foreign policy that has since been accentuated: combat role for Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan, skyrocketing military spending, the biggest public relations campaigns and recruiting drives for the Canadian armed forces since World War II.

Under Stephen Harper’s two minority governments, the trend has continued and even accelerated, with various disturbing initiatives:
•    an announcement of $490 billion in military spending over the next 20 years;
•    an attempt to cover up the torture of Afghan prisoners;
•    a ban closing Canada’s borders to well-known antiwar activists like British MP George Galloway and retired former U.S. colonel Ann Wright.

In January 2008, the Manley Committee – a group of so-called experts chosen by Stephen Harper – recommended that the government continue Canada’s participation in the war in Afghanistan in defiance of what the majority of the Canadian population wanted and without public hearings. Then in March 2008, the Canadian Parliament dismissed the will of the majority by voting to extend Canada’s military intervention until July 2011. So not only does the government ignore the will of the majority of the population; but its will is not really even reflected in the stands taken by the opposition parties.

By July 2011, the war in Afghanistan will have lasted for almost 10 years. And if the trend observed in the leading “news” media continues, the war will have lasted ten years without any meaningful reporting of information about the realities of the war and its consequences (deaths, casualties, rapes, suffering and destruction) for the Afghan people.

It is high time for all of this to stop! It is high time for democracy to prevail, to put a stop to Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan and to undertake a genuine public debate on Canada’s foreign policy, the role of the Canadian army and its budget.

The Summit’s objectives

The People’s Summit against War and Militarism is a continuation of the work Collectif Échec à la guerre has done more recently to make the voice of the anti-war majority heard. We refer here to the Public hearings for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, where 35 organizations presented written briefs, as well as the publication in October 2008 of an open letter to all federal election candidates under the heading When will we have a democratic decision on the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan?

The purpose of the Summit is to strengthen the movement against war and militarism in Québec by deepening its reflection, clarifying its demands and consolidating its unity in action. It is urgent to do so. As the war of occupation in Afghanistan runs into more and more resistance and is now spilling over into Pakistan, the voices in favour of extending Canada’s military intervention in the region are already starting to be heard.

In this context, the period of preparations for the Summit and the Summit itself will offer a space and tools for further deconstructing the warmongers’ rhetoric and arguments. Canada’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan, a pamphlet in 18 talking points put out by Collectif Échec à la guerre, is still very pertinent. But although opposed to the war in Afghanistan, many Quebecers may feel at a loss when faced with some of the arguments put forward in militarist propaganda, such as:
•    “It’s a UN mission”;
•    “We have to honour our NATO commitments”;
•    “Immediate withdrawal would be irresponsible.”

Countering such arguments requires a more thorough examination of important topics on which people often don’t have much information: the UN, NATO and issues of war and peace in our times. A shared understanding of these major issues becomes a necessity for the citizen-based anti-war movement if it wants to help transform the majority opinion against the war into a force capable of obtaining the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan and questioning the alignment of Canada’s foreign policy on that of the U.S. empire.

It goes without saying that these objectives are in no way specific to the Québec context, and the Collectif Échec à la guerre will work in close collaboration with the Canadian Peace Alliance and its member groups to hold similar summits in other cities across Canada.

Summit preparations

With a view to fostering discussion between now and the Summit, the steering committee Collectif Échec à la guerre’s has begun work on a number of texts that it will make available on the Internet and in print form as well.

The main topics will be:
•    NATO, the military arm of the US empire in the world
•    The UN Security Council and its trampling of international law
•    The militaristic shift in Canada’s foreign policy, military spending and the arms trade
•    Women and war: against the use of women’s rights to justify war

Other documents from various sources are also available on the Collectif’s web site with a view to stimulating thought and analysis in preparation for the Summit.

Draft Joint Declaration

In the next few weeks, a draft Joint Declaration will be made public, taking a stand on the above-mentioned issues. The objective is to have the draft Declaration debated and ratified by as many individuals and organizations as possible between now and the Summit. The draft Declaration will therefore propose a very concrete framework for debate within various organizations, stimulated by the analysis and discussion papers.

And what about the Summit itself?

The Summit will take place in Montréal on November 14-15, 2009. It will be the culmination of all this preparatory work as well as a prime opportunity for sharing information and concerting around these issues.

It is still too early to have a definitive idea of the Summit programme, but it could include the following:
•    a few keynote sessions on topics related to the issues already raised;
•    a plenary session at which the list of individuals and groups who ratify the Common Declaration would be announced;
•    analytical or organizational activities: workshops, talks or panels on general topics such as:
o    meaning and significance of a feminist perspective of opposition to war and militarism;
o    is a country without a standing army an alternative?
o    meaning and significance of an ecological perspective of opposition to war and militarism;
o    the struggle against military recruiting and research in Québec’s education system;
o    unions, jobs and military industries: the issue of conversion.

More specific programming will be announced by the end of Septembe