Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ottawa: Activists debate other side of Afghan issue

Yesterday there was a debate in the house on the issue of Afghanistan. To see the different sides of the debate however, activists on the outside made the argument to get out of Afghanistan. Inside the house even left-leaning parties such as the NDP did not come out directly against the mission. The NDP raised some concerns about the mission, but didn't oppose it while only a sparse parliament listened. Yet Canadians are split on the issue activist took this up on the steps despite their lack of support in the house.

The night began by a speech by Benoit of Together Against War - Ensemble Contre la Guerre who outlined some of the major issues in both official languages, but due to a conflict he was largely not heard. The next speaker was Paul Dewar MP Ottawa Centre of the NDP who was introduced by Trevor the main organizer of the event. Paul laid out his major concerns about the lack of democratic debate on this issue and that Canadians are concerned about the issue and that concern should be brought to the house.

Following Mr. Dewar was Meera Karunananthan the media officer from the Council of Canadians. "Shame on you Stephen Harper!" she shouted as she outlined the democratic deficit and a need for a vote on the issue. The Council of Canadians media advisory ends with "Stephen Harper talks about promoting democracy in Afghanistan, yet his minority government's failure to hold a vote on this crucial issue despite widespread public oppostion shows contempt for our own democratic processes." The group is demading a vote in the house of commons on the issue however, some see that a vote may just add legitimacy to a mission as no party is outright opposing it.

The next speaker was Steve Staples from the Polaris Institute. The Polaris Institute has taken on many issues in the past including Balistic Missile Defence which was eventually decided against under the Paul Martin government. Staples talked about the issues of warlords controlling most of the country as well as Canadians possibly becoming complicit in torture by handing over detainees to the Karai government who as well as the United States military have been comiting torture on detainees. After speaking he had to rush into Parliament for the debate on Afghanistan.

Next speaker was myself as a representative of the Students Coalition Against War - Coalition Etudients Contre la Guerre. I began with the issue of not viewing the other side of the debate in the media. I then continued to talk about the lack of democracy due to the recent Decima Research poll which said that half of Canadians opposed the mission, but our Parliamentarians are not. If we do not have democracy how can we say that we can help democracy there. Democracy cannot be put in from above by a outside military power it is a contradition in terms. I then continued on the issue of women's rights which are far from respected. For more information on Afghan women's rights see the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan who CBC on November 19th, 2001 called "... arguably the only crdible voice of Afghan women."

The last speaker was Francine Dumas from Rassemblement Outaouais Contre la Guerre. She was the only french speaker and talked about Decima poll as well which said that 59% of Quebecers oppose the mission as well as that 77% of women do not think that the mission is a good idea. She also brought in the Human Rights Watch reports which year after year since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom have highly criticized the US lead coalition as well as the Afghan government. For Human Rights Watch reports and articles on Afghanistan see here.

The demonstration ended by everyone sitting down in a peace symbol facing parliament. In the circle everyone had candles as the names of the lost soldiers were read out as well as the name of a Afghan civilian who was accidentally killed by Canadian soldiers as a symbolic gesture for all the nameless Afghanis. It was a very powerful image.
Images from Yaya Canada

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