Peace demo's cold comfort
Before a nearly silent crowd outside the U.S. Consulate, members of Christian Peacemaker Teams underscore the nature of occupation by reciting from a questionnaire their workers give to those released from military prisons in Baghdad.
"Were you beaten by stick or rod? Were you dragged by rope or belt? Were you threatened with dogs? Were you burned? Were you raped? Were you told your family would die?'
It's against the matter-of-factness of such questions that 2,000 people rally on March 18 on University to mark the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
With Canada's own role in warfare shifting to the explicit, formerly fringe questions about our foreign policy are moving from nagging to urgent. And as "Troops out of Afghanistan" placards flow through the streets, people seem relieved to see each other.
At a youth and student rally earlier in the day, Isabel Macdonald of the Toronto-Haiti Action Coalition speaks of a danger to Canada more menacing than WMDs: WMB.
"We're seeing the return of 'the white man's burden,'' she says to the gathering of 200 or so, "the idea that we need to go into so-called failed states and protect the people from the governments they elect."
U.S. war resister Patrick Hart strikes a similar note at the main rally. "My enemy is domestic.' A sign stating simply, "War is failure" catches the sunlight as Hart steps down to immense applause.
Are marchers afraid of being seen as domestic enemies themselves? Matthew Behrens, campaigning against secret trials, points out that the federal court building behind him recently ruled deportations to torture legal.
A later speaker mentions Nasrat Ali Hassan, the unarmed taxi driver shot dead by Canadian troops in Afghanistan on March 14. The media have reported that a gift for his family has been arranged by military commanders, who "also warned that former Taliban and other insurgents are eager to exploit any incident to incite violence against coalition troops."
These are self-serving condolences: "We are sorry for your loss, and we are also sorry that people who look and act like you might be terrorists." Warms the cockles.
Vigil targets police shooting
Flickering candles and fierce words lit up police headquarters on College during the Justice For Jeffrey Reodica vigil on Wednesday, March 15.
About 100 people took part in the vigil to remember 17-year-old Reodica, who was shot in the back and killed nearly two years ago in an altercation with an undercover Toronto police officer. The provincial Special Investigations Unit cleared the officer, who alleges that Reodica pulled a knife, of any wrongdoing.
For the family, however, who have finally been granted a coroner's inquest set to begin May 8, lots of questions remain. There were conflicting witness accounts of whether Reodica had a knife.
Says Joel Reodica, Jeffrey's older brother, "We need to revamp the current system and have true civilian oversight."
Because there is no protocol to track the number and nature of violent incidents involving Toronto police, many cases go unreported, says Toronto Police Accountability Coalition member John Sewell. "The police maintain they are doing nothing wrong, so why would they change anything?"
For the Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance, the Reodica case also highlights the larger issue of police racial profiling (the shooting occurred after an altercation between white youths and Asians), which Alliance member Debbie Celis says "endangers our safety and makes us potential targets of harassment and brutality by those whose duty is to serve and protect."
"Youth right now don't trust the police," says Reodica. "Jeffrey will be remembered for standing up for young people and bringing more awareness."
Toronto Police Services spokesperson Mark Pugash says efforts over the last three months to put more officers on the street and engage the public in dialogue are receiving positive public feedback. He says people feel safer discussing a variety of issues with police.
"The reality is there's an enormous amount of work going on, with a clear public commitment to all communities in the city," says Pugash.
Mandela's man denied visa
Citizenship and Immigration Canada apparently feels safer welcoming George W. Bush into the country than a former associate of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.
Ahmed Kathrada, a former leader of the African National Congress (ANC), was recently forced to cancel his trip here next month to promote his new autobiography, Memoirs, after CIC denied him a visa because of his involvement in South Africa's liberation struggle and years as a political prisoner.
Under the Immigration And Refugee Protection Act, a visa can be denied to anyone for being "a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe engages, has engaged or will engage in acts of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process."
It's unclear what in Kathrada's past kept him from receiving permission to visit Canada. He visited with Mandela on a special visa in 1998 and was most recently in the U.S. promoting his book.
When someone is denied a visa for security reasons, he or she can apply for a temporary resident permit for a very short visit. Canadian Security and Intelligence spokesperson Barbara Campion says Kathrada could have asked for clearance at the Canadian High Commission in South Africa, and if Immigration had a problem with it CSIS "would provide an assessment."
Refugee lawyer Raoul Boulakia points out that Canada supported the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa and invited the ANC to open a shadow embassy in Toronto. But at the same time, the RCMP and CSIS monitored and treated anti-apartheid activists in Canada as security risks.