Co-ordinator Trip Report - Canada
12-21 October, 2004
From: Bruce Gagnon
This report covers the period of October 12-21 on my recent speaking tour of Nova Scotia, Canada. The tour was organized by Global Network board member Tamara Lorincz who is a leader in the Halifax Peace Coalition that sponsored my trip.
Mary Beth (MB) Sullivan and I made the 10-hour drive from Maine to Halifax where the tour began. Tamara arranged for an op-ed I wrote about Canadian participation in "missile defense" to be placed in the Halifax Daily News and the Cape Breton Post before I arrived. The Canadian government, under intense pressure from the Bush administration and their own aerospace industry, is on the verge of making a decision about participation in the U.S. Star Wars program. Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin (Liberal party) has publicly stated that Canada would not participate in the program if it led to the weaponization of space and maintains that the present "missile defense" program would be strictly defensive. The Canadian peace movement is doing an admirable job of creating national debate and pressure on their government to stay out of the program. During our recent Keep Space for Peace Week there were more than 30 protests across Canada.
Tamara arranged for me to speak in Halifax, Wolfville, Annapolis Royal, Sydney and Truro. This included talks at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, University College of Cape Breton, and the Nova Scotia Community College. On the student union building marquee at Dalhousie, my talk was advertised as "U.S. World Domination."
One highlight of my Halifax visit was a live one-hour radio talk show interview on CJCH, which broadcasts across the province of Nova Scotia. I reminded listeners that the primary reasons behind U.S. pressure on Canada to join Star Wars were: (1) To help the U.S. pay for the very expensive program (2) To use Canada's good name and reputation as a neutral nation to bring legitimacy to Star Wars and (3) To bring Canada's aerospace industry into the effort thus ensuring Canadian government support. All of the eight callers that phoned in were opposed to their country joining the U.S. space domination effort.
As we prepared to leave Halifax we got an invitation to have tea with the matriarch of the Canadian peace movement, 96 year old Muriel Duckworth and Quaker activist Betty Peterson. Ever sharp Muriel told stories of her first days of creating a national women's peace organization and opposition to the Vietnam war. Betty, a former American citizen,one of many we would meet during the trip, was following the U.S. election closely and was particularly interested in talking about the growing strength of the Christian fundamentalist movement. As it turned out Betty had been at a space center protest I organized in 1987 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The visit with these women was quite special and will be treasured by MB and I.
Our next stop was Wolfville and on the way MB and I stopped at Grand Pre national historic site, the place where the French Acadian population had been rounded up and expelled by the conquering British in 1755. Over 6,000 Acadians were deported and their villages were burned to the ground. It was hard not to see that the same things are still happening today as people are pushed off their lands in Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and other countries across the globe.
In Wolfville we were hosted by Janet and Peter Eaton. Janet is a wonderful multi-issue activist and professor at Acadia University. Her home saw a constant flow of visitors and one of the most exciting for us was Colin Bernhardt, the director of the Acadia University Theatre Company. For over an hour Colin enchanted us with his vision of using theater to help expand the public consciousness around political issues. For me it was like attending church, the spiritual sparks were flying in every direction as Colin rose from his chair and began performing for us as we sipped tea. It was particularly encouraging for me as I now chair the Action Committee of Peace Action Maine and we have just undertaken the task of organizing a multi-year campaign in our state on the need to convert the war industry to peaceful production. One of our first strategies will be to enlist the artistic community to help create a campaign in our state to use all forms of art to help people "see" the conversion message.
After a talk in Annapolis Royal, one of the most beautiful spots on the trip, MB had to return to Maine for work. She was taken by a local peace person to Yarmouth where she boarded the Scotia Prince for a rough ten hour sea journey back to Portland. I then made the six hour drive to my next talk in Sydney, located on Cape Breton.
Tamara scheduled a day off for me on so I could drive the incredible Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Full of fall colors and rocky coastline, I was dazzled as I made each winding turn on the day long trip. Now and then I would stop, collect beautiful rocks from the shore for my garden back home. At Ingonish I took a one-hour hike out to the rock cliff point where I saw a whale. Just south of Cheticamp I parked along the water and listened as the wind howled all around me. Nearby I watched the sleek tall white windmill slowly turn wind into electricity, remembering that weapons production facilities could be building these rather than instruments of death and destruction.
That evening I was to have the pleasure to stay in the home of Maria and Brian Peters in the Margaree Valley. Brian had come to the valley 30 years before from Ontario to live in a "hippie" commune and was the only one to stay. He married the local Maria and they built their own lovely home in the woods where today they use water from the mountain stream to power their electricity. They use a composting toilet. Brian builds all their own furniture from the wood on their land, and they grow most of their own food. Maria, a public health nurse, had just returned from several wrenching months delivering health care to the victims of a collapsing Haiti. Her sad stories again brought back the pain of knowing that U.S. foreign policy in that nation has done everything to obstruct real solutions to their difficult existence.
My last stop on the trip was in Truro where I was hosted by the Rev. Margaret Sagar from the United Church of Canada. Margaret just ran for parliament in the last election in the New Democratic Party (NDP), a progressive party that has been a leader in opposition to Canada's participation in Star Wars. She arranged for a local reporter to interview me before my talk at the community college that was attended by students and local community folk.
The eight-hour drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on this trip that ended up being 2,000 miles long. I was quite proud to be a bit of help to the dedicated Canadian peace movement that is working so hard to keep their country from jumping into the dangerous and destabilizing space arms race. As I was leaving Canada I learned that Prime Minister Martin was calling for a debate in Parliament on the issue, but was instructing his Liberal party members that they had to follow him in voting for participation with the U.S. in "missile defense." The peace movement response was immediate and demanded public hearings all across the nation so that the public could have input.
As always, I leave another region where good people go above and beyond in their efforts to educate the public, and to vigorously participate as fully engaged citizens demanding democracy. The Canadian peace movement is proud of its efforts to prevent its government from supporting the U.S in its war with Iraq. The movement to reject Canada's participation in Star Wars is growing stronger every day.