Markham -- while the world waited for the conclusions of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix on Monday, I waited with a group of zucchini-wielding protestors braving temperatures of -24°C at the offices of Defence Minister John McCallum.The plan was simple: a few words, a few songs and the offer of some peace zucchinis to the minister in charge of war. The 15 or so were met, person to person, by an equal number of black-uniformed police officers, including one who took so many photographs of us that the department's film budget must have been overrun, and another who carried a massive canister of pepper spray in case things got ugly.
And, oh, how bad things could have gotten. After all, one of the speakers was 90-year-old second world war veteran Eldon Comfort, who was armed (though police were not able to ascertain this using their surveillance equipment) with his warm sense of humour in the form of a well-concealed limerick on a note card.
Comfort, who walks with a cane, had been ordered not to park in the parking lot of this suburban strip mall where McCallum does his local business. Instead, he should park somewhere else and walk back.
Police told us there was an area already designated for us to hold our protest, behind a series of orange cones. But we chose to gather at the entrance to the office.
Frank Showler, an 83-year-old pacifist who refused to fight in the second world war and has tirelessly worked against war all his life, was there, too. While the media continued with their usual questions (What about the nerve gas? What about the aluminum tubes?), someone responded that the press should start asking real questions: What about the Security Council resolution that called for disarmament across the region, not just in Iraq? What about Canada's $5-billion- a-year weapons industry, and the holders of military stocks who hope to see their dividends go up with the outbreak of war?
And what of the war itself? Will the water and irrigation systems of Iraq again be targeted? The electrical grid, the food processing facilities and warehouses, the housing complexes and hospitals? After all, if you bomb the electrical grid, babies in incubators are certain to die.
Police watched warily as the Raging Grannies belted out anti-war songs. The cops looked particularly concerned as two protestors approached McCallum's door with peace zucchinis. They presented them because the people of Iraq need food, not bombs, and because it's far safer for McCallum and other warriors fixated on phallic symbols like cruise missiles to play with zukes, not nukes.
A constituency worker painstakingly inched his way out the door to speak to us in the sub-zero weather rather than invite us in. He explained that there are a lot of things we "have to understand," but that our message is getting through, since McCallum's office has received almost 1,600 faxes, calls and letters opposing the war in the past few weeks.