VIPIRG in the news

All-candidates forum to focus on peace & security

Stacy Chappel
Lower Island News
June 2004

Local groups interested in peace have joined together to host an all candidate forum June 21 on Canadian Peace and Security. Candidates will be representing all three ridings of Greater Victoria – with one candidate representing each political party. The forum will be held at 7 pm at the University of Victoria in the Michelle Pujol Room of the Student Union Bldg (SUB).

“In the last two year’s Canadians have participated in the largest demonstrations for peace in world history,” says Freda Knott, one of the organizers, “we think people want to hear about peace, security and military issues in this election.”

Freda is a member of the Council of Canadians, which has identified “deep integration” with US policy on defence, immigration, and trade as a key issue this election. Their election primer argues that maintaining Canadian sovereignty on defence and foreign policy, as well as on environment, agriculture, culture, and social policies, is important to 91% of Canadians even if it reduces trade with the US. The Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG), another sponsor of the event, will be using the all candidate forum to question candidates on Canadian involvement in US plans for missile defence.

“Paul Martin keeps saying he is opposed to weapons in space – even though missile defence definitely includes space weapons, but he doesn’t address the fact that it has other serious consequences too!” says Erik Haensel, VIPIRG volunteer. “Missile Defence is triggering a new arms race and undermining work for disarmament done in the last twenty years. I want Canada to oppose it, and keep out of the program.”

Organizers have approached several local peace groups as endorsers of the forum, and they are joining in with enthusiasm. When asked what issues the forum could tackle, Susan Clarke of the Victoria Peace Coalition quickly rattled off a long list: “Off the top of my head, I would say we want to ask probing questions about deep integration, war on terror and the anti-terror legislation in Canada, immigration and refugees, sharing of Canadian citizen information under the Patriot Act (re: privatized government services), National Missile Defence, and many more issues relating to foreign policy on Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and UN Conventions,” she paused and then added, “What about all these military boats and helicopters constantly parading by Dallas Road? Do they really think we are going to be attacked by Al Qaeda subs? Then there's Nanoose…”.

While the organizers are all peace activists, they are actively reaching out to military groups to include them. “We all want to hear the answers to these questions, even if we sometimes have different opinions,” says Greg Awai, VIPIRG Board member. “Some military groups can’t officially endorse political events, but we hope they will promote it to their members. A diverse audience will make for a more complex debate, and avoid easy or ideological answers to questions.”