Protests launch campaign to stop war on Iran

A series of anti-war demonstrations took place across Canada last week that marked the beginning of a co-ordinated campaign to oppose sanctions and war on Iran. A total of seven actions were organized in Toronto, Ottawa, London and Vancouver, including rallies, marches, information pickets and a "die-in," with support from the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA). The protests coincided with a three-day visit to Canada by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Ottawa on March 2 to drum up support for an Israeli attack on Iran. Netanyahu's stopover in Canada was followed by his meeting in Washington with Barack Obama to press the case for war.

The first action was on February 23, when the Ottawa Peace Assembly (OPA) held a march and die-in to challenge the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA), a gathering of war profiteers, Harper government cabinet ministers, and military commanders (from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.) that is co-sponsored by NATO. The CDA, little known outside Ottawa, is an influential umbrella lobby group for the arms industry that is lobbying for war on Iran, just as it supported Canadian military participation in Afghanistan.

On March 2, OPA picketed a media conference of Netanyahu and Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill. In Vancouver, StopWar.ca hosted a solidarity picket during the Ottawa action, distributing information leaflets and displaying anti-war banners outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. StopWar.ca is mobilizing for a city-wide rally on March 17.

In London the same day, activists from a variety of local grassroots social justice campaigns held a picket at the constituency office of Susan Truppe, the Conservative Member of Parliament for London North Centre. The picket included a die-in, to make the point about the massive number of casualties that would likely result from any kind of military attack on Iran, and to draw attention to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

David Heap, a London-based solidarity activist, and Ehab Lotayef (who travelled from Montreal to speak at the March 4 rally in Ottawa), used the occasion of Netanyahu's visit to call on Stephen Harper to press for the release of the Canadian Boat to Gaza, which was seized by Israel earlier this year as it attempted to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza.

"The Tahrir was bought with Canadian funds collected from people and organizations from coast to coast to coast," Heap said in a media release. "Israel has never found, nor even claimed to find, anything dangerous or prohibited on board." You can read the full statement here.

In Kelowna on March 3, dozens rallied at The Sails in Kerry Park at an action organized by the Kelowna Peace Group. Among the participants were the Council of Canadians, student groups and seniors. The rally raised the slogan "Don't attack Iran," but also opposed military intervention in Syria and called for a nuclear-free Middle East.

"Our message today is that we oppose any NATO intervention in Syria and we are totally opposed to an attack on Iran -- supposedly to disable its nuclear capacities," said Anne-Marie Brun, an organizer. "If we somewhat agree that Iran should be submitted to inspections about its capacity to develop nuclear armament, we are asking that Israel openly admit that it has a nuclear arsenal, because double standards don't stand with us."

In Ottawa on March 4, the OPA hosted a downtown rally at the Human Rights Monument, attracting over 100 supporters from the labour movement, Jewish organizations, local student groups and other peace and social justice campaigns, while Netanyahu was still in Ottawa pushing for war.

In Toronto on March 4, several hundred people rallied outside the U.S. Consulate at a demonstration organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War with allies in the Iranian community, faith groups and students. Peace activists James Loney of Christian Peacemakers Team, Judith Deutsch of Independent Jewish Voices and Walied Khogali of the Canadian Arab Federation addressed the crowd, before the rally marched through the downtown to the Israeli Consulate. More actions are being planned for the weeks ahead.

These actions represent the beginning of a more concerted effort to build opposition across the country to Canada's likely participation in an attack on Iran, should Israel launch one. During Netanyahu's visit, Harper claimed to support a "peaceful resolution" to the situation in the Middle East, apparently signalling a retreat from any kind of military intervention. But Harper and the Conservatives have long established their reputation, both at home and abroad, as uncritical supporters of Israeli foreign policy -- from Israel's war on Lebanon and Gaza to its opposition to Palestinian statehood to its expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian territory.

In October 2011, the Canadian Peace Alliance discussed the urgency of building a campaign to stop sanctions and war on Iran during its bi-annual convention, passing a series of new resolutions to update its policy. In the weeks ahead, member groups of the CPA will likely be organizing public forums to discuss the next steps in the campaign, including future demonstrations. Stay tuned for more actions in a city or town near you! As OPA has been saying, "They lied about Iraq. They're lying about Iran. Don't let them do it again."

For more information or to get involved, please email the CPA: .

James Clark is a member of the steering committee of the Canadian Peace Alliance and an anti-war and solidarity activist in Toronto. Follow him and the CPA on Twitter: @2JamesClark and @CanadianPeace.

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