Hall packed for forum on Canadian peace/security

Stacy Chappel, VIPIRG Executive Director

June 2004

Just over 80 people braved the summer heat Monday night in Victoria to hear from federal election candidates on peace and security issues at a forum organized by VIPIRG and the Council of Canadians. The NDP, Green Party and Canada Action Party sent candidates to the forum, while Liberal candidate Keith Martin withdrew just days before, sending a statement instead, and the Conservatives declined to attend.

The federal televised debate had clearly set the tone for the forum, as every candidate in attendance was quick to point out in their opening remarks that they and their party were opposed to weapons in space and Canada joining the US missile defence program. David Turner, NDP candidate for Victoria, told the audience not to be fooled by Paul Martin’s claims missile defence did not include space weapons, pointing to the US budget and encouragement for space weapons contracts in Canada. Ariel Lade, Green Party candidate for Victoria, argued that missile defence is an offensive, not defensive, weapon: “Missile Defence is not a shield, its a sword,” he said.

Often the three candidates agreed with each other. But some questions from the audience brought out their differences. One woman asked, “Everyone has a different definition of security. Tell us what your definition of security for Canada is.” Shawn Giles, Canada Action Party candidate for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, talked about the role of CSIS and the RCMP, and defending Canada from deep integration with US policy, while Turner talked about eliminating poverty and racism. Lade echoed Turner’s assessment and then added concern for environmental security, and pointed to global warming as a threat.

While Giles has a military background and was able to address questions with specific details about military protocol, Turner was able to bring local peace concerns to the fore. In his introductory statement he raised the issue of nuclear ships and insisted “we can just say no.”  At times Turner’s experience as a speaker and knowledge of the issues outshone the other candidates. When asked about Palestine and Israel, Turner quickly rattled off a definition of a just peace, including right of return for Palestinians and withdrawing Israel from the occupied territories.  He was able to give specific, detailed answers to a question about Canadian use of security certificates to detain immigrants in Canada without charges indefinitely. While not as up on this issue, Lade was firm in his opposition to the use of security certificates, which he characterized as “disgusting”. “Canada should be a model,” he said, and abandon the policy. On the question of Israel and Palestine, Lade cautioned against assuming Canadian outsiders “know best” and suggested looking to the pacifist leadership shown by the Greens and others within Israel and Palestine.

Lade showed his confidence on economic questions when asked about the Canada Action Party platform on monetary reform. “You always ask this, and I still think you want to print money!” he laughed. “I’ll have to unlearn 5 years of studying economics before I can agree with you!”

Organizers and some audience members expressed disappointment that the Conservatives and Liberals did not send candidates. Organizers left empty chairs on the platform to symbolize the absent parties.