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Why it's important to protest Dick Cheney's visit to Canada

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The effort to protest the upcoming visit to Canada of war criminal Dick Cheney has picked up steam in recent days. On Friday, we held a press conference in Vancouver where, among others, Opposition Immigration critic Don Davies called for Cheney to be denied entry to Canada. Yesterday Human Rights Watch joined in, calling on Canada to investigate Cheney for torture.

Here is a rough sketch of my remarks to Friday's press conference, explaining why the anti-war movement here feels it's important to protest Cheney.

Dick Cheney is a war criminal. We intend to organize a "welcome" for him here in Vancouver befitting a person with such a record. We do this not just for catharsis or out of our own anger at the policies that Cheney carried out while he was in power with the Bush administration, but also we do this out of a sense of responsibility to international law and historical justice.

An injury to one is truly an injury to all. That is a slogan that motivates our actions here in Vancouver in protesting Cheney's upcoming presence. And Cheney has caused significant injuries, to say the least. His record includes hundreds of thousands dead in an illegal war in Iraq, and countless thousands tortured.

A familiar talking point of the current U.S. administration tells us "look forward, not backward" to justify their failure to prosecute Cheney and other criminals from the Bush administration. But looking backward honestly and fully is the very basis of law, of justice, and of a self-respecting society. Therefore we also seek to hold Cheney accountable because it will help the fight for a more just society in the United States.

In our effort to hold Cheney to account and have him arrested for war crimes, the peace movement wishes to address a few different audiences:

First, to Dick Cheney, we say: Rethink your visit to Vancouver. This really is not your kind of town -- in the 1980s we had hundreds of thousands marching against nuclear weapons, and in the lead up to the Iraq war we had monthly marches of tens of thousands of people. This is not a wise place for you to make your first trip outside of the United States on this book tour. People here are steadfast in their opposition to war and torture, and to demanding that you are arrested for war crimes.

To the organizers of this book club event with Dick Cheney, which will be taking place on Monday, Sept. 26 at the Vancouver Club: you call yourselves "le bon mot" book club, but there is nothing witty about your name. Le mot juste for your honoured guest is criminal. We know that the founder of your book club, Leah Costello, is an active member of the West Vancouver Electoral District Association of the Conservative Party of Canada. We feel that the local Conservatives and indeed the governing party in Canada should be made to answer serious questions about their hosting and welcoming Dick Cheney. Is Dick Cheney a figure that Conservatives in Canada are proud to host? Perhaps he is, but that should concern us all.

To all elected officials in Vancouver, at the provincial level and at the federal level: Canadian law is clear, and international law is clear. You have a responsibility to act and to bar Cheney or -- better yet, I would say -- to arrest him here in Canada.

To our fellow citizens of Vancouver: Let's not quietly allow this city and this country to become a safe haven for war criminals. Let's not quietly allow Cheney to waltz into town to have his book event.

Irene MacInnes, one of the founders of the StopWar Coalition and the Vancouver Peace Citizen of the Year in 2003, summed up our responsibility well in a letter she send to Vancouver's mayor and city council.

"It is not a frivolous request asking you as Mayor of Vancouver to arrest Dick Cheney for war crimes. The terrible suffering he caused the Iraqi people by his push to go to war based on lies does indeed make him a war criminal. Sending people to be tortured in Guantanamo and his advocacy for waterboarding again add to his crimes. Because he was the Vice President of our allies the U.S. this should not exempt him from arrest. Vancouver took a principled stand against going to war with Iraq. We must now take a principled stand again."

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