Ideologies clash over Afghan withdrawal

Protestors divided on strategy, united in opposition

Co-written with Tristan Lapointe

October 30, 2007
The Link

A column of protestors stretching four blocks marched through the streets of downtown Montreal last Saturday, railing against Canada’s participation in the conflict in Afghanistan and the recent involvement of troops from nearby Valcartier base.

A full contingent of Quebec troops left for Afghanistan in June 2007.

Montreal was one of 20 Canadian cities to host a protest part of the Pan-Canadian Day of Action, organized by a loosely aligned coalition of groups led by the Canadian Peace Alliance. The local organizing was primarily overseen by the Quebec-based Collectif échec à la guerre.

Protest groups ranged from the Raging Grannies to the local reps of the Communist International, a broad coalition of groups including the International Marxist Tendency, the Communist Party of Quebec, the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists, Solidarité Québec and Artists For Peace.

Protester Alexandre Michaud of Solidarité Québec articulated his party’s stance. “We’re anti-war because it’s undemocratic. That money could be spent on education, where it’s needed, and not for an illegal war.”

Among those marching in the crowd were local partisans with the New Democratic Party, including the province’s lead organizer, Piper Huggins. “Democracy has to come from within a society and within a culture,” said Huggins. “Canada should play a role that is more supportive of peace process, as opposed to war for the sake of war.”

“It’s impossible to implant democracy through war,” she asserted.

Representing the far left wing, Alexandre Michaud of Solidarité Québec was clear to differentiate his party’s stance on the conflict in Afghanistan from that of his elected compatriots. “It’s undemocratic. That money could be spent on education—where it’s needed—and not for an illegal war.”

Although the Conservative government was noticeably absent from the protest against their own policies, Conservative MP Allen Mackenzie, a self-described pacifist, was willing to speak about the arguments in favour of Canada’s continued presence in Afghanistan. “The Canadian mission in Afghanistan is a humanitarian one. Aside from ousting the Taliban, Canada ought to use their military to help bring social change—namely, the integration of women into roles of power in the country, which to my understanding is one of the best ways of combating religious fundamentalism.”

Discussion about the protest highlighted the already wide divergence of opinion on Montreal’s campuses.

“We’re in Afghanistan so that we don’t have to be in Iraq,” said Julian Schofield, professor of political science at Concordia, who argued that, humanitarian arguments aside, Canada is in Afghanistan to avoid the cost of American retaliation. “Canadians are dying so that we can maintain free trade,” he said.

But McGill political science professor Stephen Saideman remains unconvinced by the demonstrators. “Canada is really a leader in the war. […] The idea of Canada being involved simply to please the U.S. is a bit off. Since Canada relies on its allies, should Canada perhaps be a reliable ally itself?”

“First, Canadians died on 9/11, and terrorism, sponsored by groups operating out of Afghanistan, poses a potential threat for Canada. Second, Canada’s national security relies upon its alliance with NATO, and NATO has committed to Afghanistan.”