By Roger Annis
Last Friday, August 24, television news networks were filled with breathless reports in anticipation of a vast pro-Afghanistan war rally to take place in Toronto. CTV News reported the organizers’ prediction that “25,000″ people would show up for the event.
Conditions for such a turnout couldn’t be better. The event received massive advanced publicity. It was to be held in conjunction with the annual Canadian National Exhibition, a ten-day combined agricultural and entertainment festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people each day. The event would feature a star-studded cast of war enthusiasts, including hockey commentator Don Cherry, head of the Canadian armed forces Richard Hillier, and newly-appointed defence minister Peter Mackay.
The one television news report of the event that I saw afterward did not mention how many people turned out. Nor did it show the crowd. It did give a sound bite of the crowd responding to an enthused pro-war appeal from Hillier, and it sure didn’t sound like many people on hand.
A Halifax newspaper report the next day said “hundreds” of people attended the event. No doubt, had the turnout been more respectable, a photo of the rally would have adorned every daily newspaper in the country.
The low turnout at the rally was just one of many “public relations” problems that the Afghanistan war effort in Canada is running into. Polls show that scepticism or downright opposition to the war remains stubbornly high. Opposition is highest in Quebec, and that problem is now worsening as a Quebec-based army regiment has just been rotated into the war front
in Kandahar province. Three soldiers from the regiment were killed in action within days of their arrival.
Canada is losing far more soldiers per capita than any other country waging war in Afghanistan, a result of its very aggressive war posture and the absence of air transport. Canada relies on its partners in crime (so-called “allies”) in Afghanistan for helicopter service and for bombing runs.
The shaky war position of Canada is causing some in the ruling class to voice caution over pro-war campaigning such as the “Support our troops” decal campaign. While Toronto’s mayor and city council backed down from a decision not to place the decals on city police, fire and municipal vehicles, their counterparts in Calgary are sticking to a decision to leave the decals off. The Globe and Mail newspaper editorialized in sympathy with the Calgary decision.
The worry is that if the Afghan war goes from bad to worse, as all signs indicate, then campaigns for future wars will be tarnished with the brush of failure in Afghanistan. Canada is spending billions of dollars on new military hardware, ready to move into action into the next war theatre. If it can’t defeat the Afghan people, who are among the least equipped politically and militarily to fight an imperialist occupation force, what hope do Canada and its “allies” have elsewhere in the region or world?
Another sign of the frailty of the pro-war camp is the recent revelation and widespread condemnation of violence and political spying by Quebec provincial police at the recent protests in Ottawa and Montebello, Quebec. Today in Halifax, a press conference attended by NDP Member of Parliament Howard Epstein and several civil liberties lawyers condemned the police for its actions and called for a full public inquiry into all such police action, including that of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The call for a public inquiry is an important and effective political statement. But it should not be a substitute for necessary
action flowing from the recent revelations, which is that police violence and infiltration is as old as Canada itself and must be countered by effective self-defence of political protests, strikes, and all other forms of working class political action.