Making Peace Vigil

Standing up for peace

Archive for August, 2014


Posted by strattof on August 30, 2014

US warplanes have been launching airstrikes in northern Iraq since August 8. The stated goal of the bombing is to save innocent civilians from massacre by ISIS, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that has taken over large portions of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Canada did not support the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. We are, however, backing current US military action, including providing planes to transport US weapons to northern Iraq to be used by Kurdish forces fighting ISIS. In the words of Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Canada will not stand idly by while ISIL continues its murder of innocent civilians and religious minorities.”

War is carnage and calamity. It inflicts suffering on soldiers and civilians alike. Peace can prevail. We need to foster it.


ISIS is the creation of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. It developed out of an al-Qaida affiliate that came into existence in reaction to the American invasion. It includes former military leaders from Saddam’s army who lost their positions under the US military occupation.

Under Saddam, Sunnis held all key positions in the Iraqi government and military. After toppling Saddam, the US removed all Saddam appointees from power and replaced them with Shia politicians and military leaders. Then, after the 2006 elections, the US threw its support behind the Shia dominated government of Nouri al Malaki and its policy of Sunni marginalization. Owing to this policy, ISIS grew significantly.

Thanks also to the US, ISIS has very sophisticated weaponry. It captured hundreds of millions of dollars of US military equipment from the Iraqi Security Forces. It also has weapons supplied by the US to rebels in Syria trying to overthrow the Assad regime.


Obama and Harper justify dropping bombs in northern Iraq by claiming humanitarian ends: saving “innocent civilians.” There are problems with this justification:

  1. In modern warfare, there are always many more civilian deaths than military deaths.
  2. Often we do “stand idly by” when civilians are being killed. South Sudan is a current example. Even worse, we sometimes lend support to those who are most endangering civilian lives. For example, the US has given Israel $3.1 billion in military aid so far this year; and Canada protests at the UN every time Israel is criticized.

What, then, are the real reasons for making more war in Iraq?

OIL: For months, ISIS has been taking over parts of Iraq. It wasn’t until it threatened to take control of the oil fields in northern Iraq that Obama ordered military action.

INSTABILITY: The outcome of US policy in Iraq over the past 11 years is instability. Instability is a way of maintaining control.


Obama is the fourth consecutive US president to authorize military action in Iraq. Who benefits from this never-ending war?

War is big business. It is very profitable for US and Canadian armaments industries.

There is an all-too-cozy mutually beneficial relationship between governments and armaments industries, a relationship that includes donations to political parties, on one hand, and approval of military spending on the other.

Who loses?

Ordinary citizens everywhere.


There is no military solution in Iraq. Indeed, military action is a major part of the problem.

What can Canada do to stop the killing and foster peace?

  • Call for and support an immediate arms embargo on all sides. That means not transporting US arms to Iraq. It also means not selling any arms destined for the Middle East to the US.
  • Engage with the US to put pressure on the Iraqi government to end its discrimination against Sunnis and to be inclusive of all.
  • Call on the United Nations to organize international negotia-tions for a political solution to the crisis in both Iraq and Syria.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees created by the wars in Iraq and Syria.

(These points are adapted from Phyllis Bennis’s “Don’t Go Back to Iraq! Five Steps the US Can Take in Iraq Without Going Back to War.”


Last week, ISIS killed James Foley, an American journalist, by beheading him. It was a brutal and barbarous act. But is it any worse than dropping bombs on people? The 2003 US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq killed 7,500 Iraqi civilians.

When simplistic notions of good and evil drive policy decisions, war is inevitable.

 “The world could use more diplomacy.”  ‒ Lieutenant-General Stuart Beare, the general in charge of all Canadian military operations

“You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb the world to peace.” Michael Franti


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Posted by strattof on August 21, 2014

The global arms trade is big business, and Canada is a major exporter of military hardware.

Currently, the worldwide trade in arms is estimated at between $60 billion and $85 billion annually.

  • In 2011, the Vancouver Sun reported that Canada had jumped from the 15th to the 12th largest military exporter in the world.
  • In 2013, CBC reported a surge in sales of Canadian guns and ammunition to countries where internal conflicts are raging, including Algeria and Iraq.

The trend of increasing military exports has only continued.


  • In the latest fiscal year on record, the United States ordered over half a billion dollars’ worth of military hardware from Canada.
  • In June of this year, researchers at Project Ploughshares reported on a multi-year $15-billion deal to send armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

The federal Crown Corporation charged with reporting this data on Canada’s trade in arms says it also placed contracts with Canadian companies for the following amounts and countries:

  • $36.2-million to Mexico
  • $18.8-million to Argentina
  • $10.9-million to Peru
  • $2.3-million to Norway.


Why is the Canadian government working so hard to allow billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to be sent around the world?

Walter Dorn, Professor of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College, has said, “The danger is that the almighty dollar may become the predominant motivator in trade deals and therefore weapons are more easily shipped.”


  • In May of this year, Project Ploughshares reported that a proposed $790 million US sale of 24 military aircraft to Iraq would include engines and electronic systems from companies in Quebec and Ontario.
  • Canada’s military trade with Israel rose to $1.8 million in 2013, according to Industry Canada, “including Bombs, Grenades, Torpedoes, Mines, Etc.”

Canada should stand for peace, not for selling weapons.

According to Oxfam, “Every day, millions of people suffer from the consequences of armed violence. This violence is fuelled by unregulated global trade in arms and ammunition‒enabling weapons to fall into the hands of dictators, criminals, drug traffickers and terrorists.”


One step Canadians can take to restrict the global trade in arms is to call on the government to sign the Arms Trade Treaty.

Nearly seventy countries signed the treaty in June of last year, but the Canadian government has resisted signing.

The treaty is aimed at restricting the global arms trade, and our MPs need to know that we want Canada to sign.

Canada should stand for peace, not for selling weapons.

E-mail your MP to say that you believe Canada should sign the Arms Trade Treaty and should start spreading peace and stop selling weapons around the world.

Ray Boughen:

Ralph Goodale:

Tom Lukiwski:

Andrew Scheer:

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Posted by strattof on August 16, 2014

Since 2006, the Harper government has passed a slate of tough-on-crime legislation as part of its US-style law-and-order agenda. This legislation creates new mandatory prison sentences, limits the use of house arrest, and requires adult sentences for some young offenders.


  • More Canadians are spending more time in prison.
  • More prisons are being built, at taxpayers’ expense, to accommodate the increase in prison population.

It does not mean that Canadian communites are any safer. Study after study has shown that increased rates of incarceration do not decrease crime or act as a deterrent to it.

Canada’s crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 22 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973 (see Statistics Canada graph above). At the same time, the number of federal prisoners has, since 2006, been steadily rising. GO FIGURE!


  1. When the Harper government gained power in 2006, there were 12,671 people in federal prisons. By 2013, the number had jumped to 15,276, a 21% increase.
  2. Over the same period, the crime rate in Canada decreased by 23%.
  3. While Regina’s crime rate is still the highest in the country, it fell by 8% from the previous year and by 46% over the last decade.
  4. Between 2006 and 2012, spending on Canada’s criminal justice system increased from less than $15 billion to $20.3 billion, a 23% increase.
  5. While Ottawa sets the policy, the provinces bear most of the cost. In 2012, it was a 27% to 73% split. The provinces will also have to pay for the building of new provincial facilities, estimated to cost $2.724 billion.


While Canada is imposing increasingly harsher sentences, the US is backing away from its tough-on-crime agenda. Why?

  • Cost: Since 1985, US corrections spending rose from $6.7 billion to $53.2 billion annually.
  • Effectiveness: Tough-on-crime policies do not work. Study after study has shown that harsher sentences do not decrease crime. What does reduce crime is investment in job-training, anti-poverty initiatives, and mental healthcare.

The prison population in the US is now decreasing. If Canada must copy the US, we should, at the very least, adopt the latest, most up-to-date US model!


Private companies are the major beneficiaries. They get to build new facilities and to add extensions to existing ones.

Private companies do especially well when prison expansion is accompanied by an increase in the privatization of prison services ‒ as is happening in Saskatchewan jails where two services have  recently been privatized:

The phone system: A long distance call now costs $1 for the initial connection and 30 cents a minute. Many prisoners cannot afford to keep in contact with family and friends.

Food services: Not surprisingly, the privatization of food services in US prisons led to a decline in the quality of food and hence to prison unrest. Quality jobs are also lost to privatization. 


How just is Canada’s justice system? “Not very” is the answer to this question. Here are three examples of injustice in Canada’s justice system.

  1. 81% of the prison population in Saskatchewan is Indigenous, compared to 11% of the province’s population. Tough-on-crime legislation does not get big-time criminals off the street. Nor does it tackle white-collar crime or middle- or upper-class drug-related offences. Rather, it targets minor drug-related offences committed by those who are economically and politically marginalized and hence already under police surveillance.
  2. The use of solitary confinement is growing in Canadian prisons. Indigenous, African Canadian, and female prisoners are disproportionately represented in segregation. Many mentally ill prisoners also end up in segregation rather than receiving treatment. Cases of self-harm by prisoners has nearly tripled.
  3. Canadian prisons are so crowded that 25% of prisoners are double-bunked. Double-bunking breeds violence, endangering both prisoners and staff. Prison rape is on the rise in Canada.

AUGUST IS PRISONERS’ JUSTICE MONTH  a time to reflect on Canada’s judicial and prison systems. 

There is no rationale or excuse for confining those who are not physically dangerous nor for reducing their access to treatment, which is cheaper, more effective, and more humane than prison. ‒ Conrad Black 

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones. ‒ Nelson Mandela

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