Burlington - Our arrival at Wescam, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, Canada's number-one manufacturer of military equipment, on November 20, is met with much muscle: two dozen burly security guards on the grassy grounds and some 15 Halton police officers.
But it's almost like they're not there when we place grave markers in the ground bearing the names of hundreds of civilians and soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq by the likes of technology similar to Wescam's.
The company makes targeting equipment for some of the world's deadliest weapons systems, most notably the Predator, the unmanned aerial vehicle that shoots "fire and forget' Hellfire missiles into homes, schools, weddings and markets.
We 60 Homes Not Bombs folks are here seeking dialogue through non-violent direct action meant to generate consciousness-raising and bring opponents to the table. Our mission: to persuade the company's executives to transform their business to civilian-only production.
While we sing, a team offers inoculations against militarism (which is, after all, a preventable disease) from papier-mâché "peace vaccine' syringes. Wescam execs probably assume we're mooning them when we bend over to receive a healthy dose of the vaccine.
David Milne of Belleville, who has been to Iraq three times with Christian Peacemaker Teams, speaks eloquently about helping the detainees and prisoners' families at Abu Ghraib and the violence he's seen. "I'm here to tell Canadians that we are contributing to the misery of other people through companies like this," he says.
Like five others, he's dressed in the detainee orange jumpsuit and black hood. A sign around his neck reads, "Sami Abbas Al Rawi," the name of an Iraqi plaintiff in a class action suit against L-3 subsidiary Titan, private-contract interrogators.
Some of us line up at the sound system and begin a two-hour reading of the names and ages of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police draw a blue line in front of the building, and a number of our people bob and weave their way through the perimeter and are nabbed and placed under arrest. Others sit in front of the line of officers and refuse to move unless they are granted a meeting with Wescam executives. One by one, they, too, are arrested.
Throughout the day, the atmosphere is calm, determined and sombre, yet hopeful. Police, security and employees are forced to hear the recital of names. Five minutes of this is one thing, two hours quite another. Our refusal to give in to fear or allow ourselves to view the police and Wescam as enemies seems to change the mood dramatically.
Officers' earlier threats of heavy charges and a lawsuit against us slowly give way to smiles. By the time most of us are arrested, we aren't even frisked, just placed in patrol cars to await charges.
It certainly feels like the power of transformative non-violence in action. We note the irony that the police computers in each car are made by L-3 Communications. Does this put Halton police in a potentially awkward conflict-of-interest situation?
Eleven of us are eventually arrested on trespassing charges and end up crammed into the back seats of cruisers.
In one of those magical meetings of art and life, the officer in the car I'm in turns on her radio, which is playing the Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way, about the reaction to their stand against the Iraq war. "Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself."
While the Chicks paid dearly for speaking up in terms of lost airplay and death threats, the cost of our resistance today is very small.
After an hour in custody, we're given notice of a December 19 court appearance to set a trial date and released to fellow resisters who are still reading out the list. As we leave, we wave to police and security. Many of the private security are smiling and flashing peace signs.
And now a word from L-3 Wescam...
The company responds to questioning from NOW: L-3 Wescam supports free speech and peaceful protest, and proudly employs more than 375 highly skilled Canadian professionals. It's important to note that the company's products are used in a wide range of civil, public safety and commercial functions in addition to military use. For example, L-3 Wescam products are relied on by the Toronto police for search and rescue and public safety, by the U.S. Coast Guard, and played a pivotal role in disaster relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.