The recent 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces has captured the attention of the world, highlighting the importance of anti-war organizing and de-escalation on a global scale. While organizers on the Left have long rallied for an end to war in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and beyond, this distinctly European conflict has rekindled Cold War divisions between East and West, exposing both the authoritarian neoliberalism of Putin’s regime and NATO’s role in cementing US imperial dominance across the globe.
Before these recent events unfolded, Sakura Saunders sat down with Rachel Small and Simon Black in August of 2021 to talk about their respective anti-war organizing in Canada. In what follows, Sakura, Rachel, and Simon discuss Canada’s role in global hegemony, the power of workers to develop international anti-war movements, the importance of direct action as a method of intervention, and current work to bridge anti-war movements with struggles for a just transition away from fossil fuels.
Simon Black is a lead organizer with Labour Against the Arms Trade and a professor of Labour Studies at Brock University.
Rachel Small is the Canada organizer with World Beyond War. She has organized in Toronto with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network for the better part of a decade.
Can you say a bit about both of your organizations?
Rachel: World Beyond War (WBW) is a global grassroots movement to abolish war and the military industrial complex and replace it with a just and sustainable peace. We have 23 chapters around the world in 12 countries, with tens of thousands of people across 192 countries who have signed onto our Declaration of Peace, including over 700 organizational pledge signers. We’re a relatively young organization, started in 2014, but we’ve been growing pretty fast. We maintain formal partnerships with 93 affiliates globally and generally work with groups, movements, and coalitions all around the world as long as they align with our vision of abolition.
Simon: Labour Against the Arms Trade (LAAT) is a coalition of peace and labour activists organizing to bring an end to Canada’s participation in the international arms trade. We organize for arms conversion—that is, the conversion of arms industries into socially-useful production—and for a just transition for arms industry workers.
So both organizations are war and weapons abolitionist groups. How do you align yourself with other abolitionist movements, be it prison or police abolition?
Rachel: World Beyond War is an abolitionist project, and we see ourselves as a sibling movement to other abolitionist movements. Movements to abolish police, prisons, and the military are all about building a future and a present beyond violence or state violence, and really, beyond coercive state forces. So we have a natural alliance there.
Abolitionist movements are inherently visionary movements that look beyond what we live in now—what’s assumed to be the way things have to be—and imagine other ways to relate with each other, at the community and city level, at the country level, and internationally.
It’s so important to imagine a future in which prisons, police, war, and colonization are irrelevant and unfathomable. And it’s not a utopia we’re imagining, but a process towards learning and relearning skills and practices of living together in a community and on a planet that are not rooted in violence.
As well, the institutions opposed by abolitionist movements are deeply connected. For instance, the first and primary form of warfare for Canada is colonization. And when it became harder for the Canadian state to pursue colonization through militarized means—attacking and killing Indigenous peoples in their communities—that war has continued as effectively through police violence, where we know Indigenous people are surveilled, overpoliced, and overrepresented in prisons. And there isn’t a clear-cut separation between the police and the military in terms of what equipment is used and how intelligence is shared. Violent state institutions work closely together, so our abolitionist movements need to work together as well. And I think people increasingly realize that, in the same way prisons and policing do not keep people safe (and never have), neither does the military.
Simon: LAAT is a relatively new organization. We formed in 2019 out of a grassroots campaign to push the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to oppose arms exports to Saudi Arabia, and to call for a just transition for arms industry workers impacted by an end to those exports. Our focus is on organizing inside the labour movement. The goal is for LAAT to resemble—in terms of the structure—a trade union with an elected executive and a dues-paying membership. As such, I think it’s too early in the life of LAAT to move beyond the core demands of ending Canada’s participation in the international arms trade, arms conversion, and securing a just transition for arms industry workers. While I may think through our relationships to other social movements, those relationships will be something that’s ultimately determined by the membership of LAAT.
That said, part of our work in the future is raising awareness among rank-and-file trade unionists about how settler colonialism and extractive capitalism are reliant not only on the projection of military might abroad, but on the use of military force within so-called Canada: whether it be the RCMP or the Canadian military that violates Indigenous sovereignty and rights.
What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Rachel: Long-term, WBW is working towards a horizon of abolition, and we carefully evaluate new campaigns and actions to make sure they bring us in that direction. The horizon perspective is an analogy I’m borrowing from prison abolition movements: making sure that as you advocate for prisoners and push for certain reforms, you’re not accidentally advocating for more jails. In our case, this means working to help people here and now who face military violence, while making sure our actions aren’t co-opted or spun to advocate for “better weapons” or “safer wars” and so forth.
Currently we’re working on a number of more short-term campaigns focused on ending the most egregiously violent ways that Canada participates in militarism. So, like LAAT, we’re working to stop Canada from sending arms to Saudi Arabia where we know they’re being used to commit war crimes in the horrific war in Yemen, but also against civilians in Saudi Arabia as well. We’re also trying to stop Canada from purchasing 88 new fighter jets whose only purpose is to drop bombs in US- and NATO-led wars. These are winnable campaigns, so another short-term goal of ours is to show ourselves that we have power: that we, as part of a broader movement, can affect change against the military industrial complex.
And we’re working to challenge the narrative of Canada as a peacekeeper or a legitimate state and to broaden the public’s understanding of colonization as an ongoing war.
Simon, are there any groups of workers that you work with who are assembling weapons? How are you working with these groups to stop weapons production?
Simon: A good example is the campaign to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The bulk of current exports to Saudi are light armoured vehicles (LAVs), which are manufactured in London, Ontario, at General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS), a subsidiary of General Dynamics, a massive defence company, which is really part of the military industrial complex that spans the Canadian-US border.
The workers at General Dynamics are unionized, represented by Local 27, Unit 66 of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. The logo of Unit 66 is a red Canadian maple leaf superimposed on a light armoured vehicle, with “Unifor Local 27 Unit 66” in a military font. It’s clear that these workers take pride in the work that they do and closely identify with the product they are making. The union’s website has photos of LAVs doing combat exercises, seemingly in far-flung locations—definitely not Canada judging by the terrain. So there’s this interplay of militarism, imperialism, nationalism or patriotism, and pride in one’s work right there in the logo and on the union website. As Rachel has mentioned, these LAVs are being deployed in the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen. So how do we begin to raise consciousness among the workers about this reality, how do we begin to foster an anti-militarism, anti-imperialist politics? It’s not easy, but we’ve tried to make connections with these workers through three entry points.
One has been to push the Canadian Labour Congress to very publicly condemn arms sales to Saudi, which they now have done. But this isn’t just a condemnation from the CLC, but a statement expressing the need for a just transition for arms industry workers, so that the workers at GDLS feel confident that the broader labour movement doesn’t just want to end arms exports, but wants to ensure workers’ livelihoods are secure, and that the labour movement will mobilize for public investment in arms conversion for green peaceful production. The second entry point has been to pressure the leadership of Unifor to take a similar position. This has been less successful. Unifor has taken a principled position around arms exports and imports from the State of Israel, supporting a two-way arms embargo in solidarity with the Palestinian people. But this stance is inconsistent with their silence around arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And that’s because they are very narrowly trying to protect the interests of their members in London. So, we’ve been unsuccessful in making the case to Unifor, despite contact with the national leadership. The third entry point is with the rank and file. We’ve spoken to Unifor members at the plant in London and hope to do political education around what a just transition could look like for them. But workers are not stupid. They know that without the backing of their local and national union, and without a commitment from the state, the idea of a “just transition” is little more than a slogan.
In the absence of a state committed to some form of planning, to an industrial strategy or even nationalization, and to the conversion of arms manufacturing to socially-useful production, a just transition for arms industry workers is a limited vision. In this limited vision of a just transition, we are talking about measures to assist workers in the arms industry to access new job opportunities in clean energy, green transportation, efficient buildings, conservation, and green infrastructure. So this looks like robust social programs that support workers in retraining or public investments to create good jobs to replace ones that are lost, and not arms conversion. But we have a stronger vision than this and know that General Dynamics is not going to turn around and say, “enough with the highly profitable production of weapons and the military industrial complex, we are going to make solar panels or high-speed rail infrastructure.” So what LAAT can do is political education to build support from the ground up to put pressure on the leadership of the local union, and the national, to at least start these conversations about a just transition and arms conversion. Without the support of Unifor, this political education is informal and can happen in community spaces but not at the union hall, where it should be happening.
And what would, or could, they be manufacturing instead?
Simon: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Lucas Plan, but it was a document produced by workers at Lucas Aerospace in the UK in the 1970s. Lucas was an aerospace and weapons manufacturer supplying the British military. The workers were faced with layoffs and the closure of a number of plants. They formed a committee, which brought together union shop stewards from across the workplace and met with the communities in which Lucas’s 17 plants were located. From this process they determined what the community’s needs were and how they could use their knowledge, skills, and experience to meet these needs. And they worked to develop an alternative corporate plan for Lucas from the bottom up, from the shop floor. The workers came up with wind turbines, hybrid power packs for cars, all sorts of green technologies that were relatively unheard of in the 1970s. So when you speak to workers in General Dynamics, and you talk about the climate crisis, they immediately turn to thinking about these kinds of products as well. The plant that used to be next door to General Dynamics was Electro-Motive Diesel of General Motors, which produced railway diesel locomotives. The company was taken over by Caterpillar, and despite a Unifor campaign to keep the plant open, it was shuttered and moved to a right-to-work state in 2012. Workers at General Dynamics know this history and know that there are alternative products, such as high-speed rail, that they could be producing. But there’s also a history of an employer closing up shop and leaving workers high and dry. This then leads to the question of public investment, and of public ownership, and production for social need, not production for profit. These are the sorts of questions that we need to be raising with arms industry workers in London and elsewhere.
Rachel: Another important question to ask is “what are the actual advanced vehicles that Canada needs?” We have a shocking lack of planes and on-the-ground vehicles that can effectively fight forest fires, which is not a hypothetical security question based on some imagined future NATO war, but rather these vehicles are needed right now in Northern Ontario and BC. These are not so difficult to build; there’s just a lack of political will, funding, and factories dedicated to creating the machines we need. And this is linked to a broader internationalist politics about what Canada could be exporting. Canada could be exporting search-and-rescue vehicles, tools the world will need to confront fires, droughts, and flooding, the known impacts of irreversible climate change.
But rather than work proactively to mitigate climate change, the Canadian state uses the climate crisis to justify increasing militarism by emphasizing the so-called war on our borders, i.e., the coming climate refugee crisis. We must challenge this racist militarist narrative.
The anti-war movement has long roots within imperialist countries like the United States and Canada, from resistance to World War One and the Vietnam War, to mobilizations against the invasion of Iraq. How has your work built upon this history?
Simon: Our organizing around Canada’s role in the international arms trade is an entry point into building or revitalizing a kind of anti-war, anti-militarism, and anti-imperialist politics within the Canadian labour movement, which has become pretty moribund. There hasn’t been much anti-war organizing within the Canadian labour movement since the mass mobilization against the war in Iraq, which provided a lightning rod for this organizing partly, I think, because of the widespread public opposition to the US-led invasion and occupation. But unions were only one part of that organizing, which included anti-war activists within the labour movement and from outside the labour movement who pushed unions to organize and mobilize their membership to oppose the war.
Using the arms industry and the arms trade as an entry point into building that kind of politics in the labour movement is something that we need to do. And part of that work is teaching trade unionists about their own history, their movement’s own history, and the role that unions have played in anti-war efforts, and how that role could be built upon and reinvigorated.
Rachel: WBW is a pretty young organization, but one of the real joys of my work is getting to organize with people whose entire life has been struggling towards the end of militarism. Some folks have been a part of anti-war movements for over 70 years. For instance, we just marked the 76th anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing and I worked with Setsuko Thurlow, herself a survivor, who has spent her entire life working for nuclear abolition, as well as with Alice Slater, who watched the bombing as a breaking news update in a New York movie theatre when she was a kid, and has been working nonstop for nuclear disarmament ever since. It’s important to work with that historical memory and to build upon the existing movement connections. Some of the direct actions that we’ve organized—like recent actions where we spilled gallons of red paint on the places that benefit from and perpetrate the arms trade—takes inspiration from this legacy and the work of other organizations like the Plowshares movement.
But I’ve also noticed that people who have been organizing in the anti-war movement for 40 plus years are really excited about trying new tactics and about learning from, for example, the environmental justice movement and the approaches that have been used in police abolition organizing. People feel like we can’t keep just doing the same things that we’ve been doing for decades; we need to constantly be evolving and changing, and that includes expanding the tactics that we can use, or in some cases, looking back to the tactics that were used 30 years ago and reimagining how we might use them in different ways now. Sending letters and petitions to decision-makers and organizing big city marches are classic movement tactics that have been used for ages and will continue to be used, but how they can happen and look now is really different than even 20 years ago. And then we are also thinking about how we escalate beyond that in ways that draw on movement history, from sit-ins and citizens’ arrests to boycotts and fasts, but also drawing on newer approaches, whether that’s through high tech tools like drones, projections, and online disruptions, or just different approaches like a rejection of respectability politics, or a deep commitment to decolonization and a solidarity that centres those most harmed by the war machine.
I also think several other movements on Turtle Island, while they may not all talk explicitly about war, are aligned with our organizing. For instance, the Palestinian Solidarity Movement is an anti-war movement that confronts the war machine and the military industrial complex. So, we’re in an interesting phase right now where, on one hand, we have access to all this movement history, and on the other hand, like any movement we have to reinvent ourselves, and we have to connect the dots so people see how climate justice, anti-racism work, and international solidarity movements are a part of a common struggle, and need to include an analysis of anti-militarism.
What is the role of unions and working-class people in the anti-war movement?
Simon: Because of their position within the social relations of production, under capitalism workers have tremendous—but often unrealized—power. It’s simple to say, but if workers refuse to fight and if workers refuse to produce weapons of war, then there can be no war. It’s not the ruling class that fights wars, and it’s not the capitalist class that is on the shop floor, manufacturing a light armoured vehicle at GDLS or a laser-guided bomb at Lockheed Martin. But the history of anti-war struggles within both the working class and the socialist movement and broader Left is a complicated one. There’s a history of working-class militancy and trade union militancy around war, but then there’s also history of capitulation to war and participation in war.
We, as an organization, are not pacifists in our orientation, and of course there’s a rich history of workers in the Global South fighting in wars of liberation from colonial powers. But the history of workers in the anti-war movement in the imperialist core offers only glimmers of hope in regard to working-class resistance to war.
So you have this kind of history of both rank-and-file workers and unions taking action, say against the Iraq War in 2003, and then also a history—a less valiant history—of unions and rank-and-file workers being very much caught up in patriotism and nationalism. But I also think it’s important to contextualize this history with concrete examples that demonstrate the barriers to labour resistance to the arms trade and war more generally.
International Longshoremen’s Association Local 273 is a union of dockworkers in Saint John, New Brunswick. In the 1970s, there was a campaign to stop the export of nuclear power components to the military junta in Argentina. It was to be used in the CANDU nuclear reactor Canada had sold to Argentina in 1973. There was a concerted effort by peace and solidarity activists to get the dockworkers on board with that campaign and refuse to handle these materials and declare them “hot cargo.” At the time, the military junta was torturing, murdering, and “disappearing” thousands of leftists, journalists, trade unionists, and feminists. The NO CANDU campaign aimed to pressure the Argentine government to release 17 political prisoners, most of whom were trade unionists. Port workers later refused to cross a picket line at the Saint John harbour when workers were supposed to ship a load of heavy water to Argentina for the CANDU nuclear reactor. Heavy water is a component necessary for nuclear reactors. As a result of this pressure, 11 of the 17 political prisoners were released and three sent into exile. Local 273 were later honoured in 2010 by the government of Argentina for this act of solidarity.
Now if you fast forward to 2018, peace activists gathered outside of the port of Saint John when a Saudi ship was in the port to collect light armoured vehicles—that are manufactured in London—to take them to Saudi Arabia. A ship from a Saudi national shipping company came into port and peace activists put up a picket, and in the morning of December 22, the dockworkers, members of Local 273, refused to cross the picket line. And for one day, and one day only, those armoured vehicles weren’t loaded onto that ship. As a result, the local was taken before the Canadian Industrial Relations Board by the company that operates the port of Saint John and hit with a very heavy fine for engaging in what was effectively a political strike, which under Canadian labour law is illegal. No other union ran to Local 273’s defence. There was no solidarity campaign launched by the CLC or the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. Another example is what happened in the port of Prince Rupert in BC around Palestinian solidarity. But again, that union has now been hung out to dry. Workers there were given three days off of work, without pay.
Looking to examples like the port of Genoa in Italy, where dock workers have refused to load arms onto Saudi ships, is important. But we also need to realize that in places like Italy or France, labour laws are much more progressive, and that there are serious institutional constraints on Canadian workers and unions engaging in these kinds of militant actions. Pushing for labour law reforms that allow workers to engage in legal solidarity strikes and legal political strikes that would then empower workers to actually win bigger and broader campaigns that throw sand in the gears of the war machine has to be a priority for not only labour, but the anti-war and peace movements.
So historical context is important for understanding labour’s role in the anti-war and peace movements. The labour movement has been in a 40-year retreat in terms of its power, with neoliberal governments and employers beating back the gains that were made in previous decades, including undermining and constraining workers’ right to strike. So there are serious constraints on unions, and on the rank and file of any union, in terms of engaging in militant action around the arms trade or around the war industry, more generally, that have to be confronted. And part of what we in LAAT want to do is rebuild the power of labour so that workers can push back against the legal constraints and the internal constraints—the ideological constraints within their own unions—so that they are emboldened to take action, and know that they will have the support of the broader labour movement if they do.
Rachel: The response to some of the actions to interrupt weapons transfers that Simon and I have been working on has been, frankly, much bigger than I expected and had an international media pickup. People have forgotten that the military industrial complex—or even Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia—isn’t something that just happens in Trudeau’s office or on the ground in Saudi Arabia, but rather happens on a nondescript suburban street in Hamilton when a trucking company picks up this or that, and it happens in a software office in Ottawa in a computer company that works on a number of things, one of which is the software for a drone product. That workers across Canada who ship supplies, who build electronics, and so on, are also a part of war campaigns and can end their part in this industry at any moment needs to be explored.
It’s fundamentally empowering to realize, on one hand, that what is happening in our own local community is literally killing people in Yemen, but on the other hand, the power that we can have to stand up to it.
What is Canada’s role in the perpetuation of war?
Rachel: The Canadian military is currently involved in a couple dozen missions, with troops on the ground everywhere from the West Bank—where they’re suppressing protests against Israel’s violence—to Ukraine and Latvia where Canada’s deployment of hundreds of troops on the Russian border is about escalating tension and conflict. Not to mention Canada’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of these missions can be called “defence” by any stretch of the imagination. As well, Canada’s role in supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia is war profiteering. If you build up an arms industry that relies on increased weapons sales to remain viable and to turn a profit, then you are banking on continued global conflicts.
Interestingly, public surveys repeatedly show that while people are in some ways sympathetic to the military, when you ask what the military should be doing, overwhelmingly people say disaster relief and peacekeeping. But that’s not what military efforts are focused on, and it’s certainly not where military spending is. And when you ask the Canadian public about their priorities on federal spending, the military is always at the bottom. So, the image of Canada as peacekeeping is reflective of what Canadians want; it’s just not what the Canadian military is doing.
Simon: The myth of Canada as peacekeeper no longer has the hold on the public imagination that it once did. When was Canada’s last major peacekeeping mission? Because Canada isn’t actively involved in peacekeeping, or engaged in “humanitarian intervention”—which is actually imperialism by a different name—the true nature of Canada’s role in the world is on display.
It has become increasingly hard for Canada’s ruling class to defend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and defend its support for the State of Israel as it bombs the open-air prison that is Gaza. With the fig leaf of peacekeeping gone, this provides the anti-war movement with a unique opportunity to raise awareness of Canadian foreign policy, Canada’s role in the world, and what a progressive foreign policy might look like. We can push for reforms, such as respecting commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty, signing the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty, a moratorium on the purchase of new fighter jets, and of course ending arms exports to Saudi Arabia. These are not particularly radical demands, but I think there is a growing political space to advance them.
Rachel: I echo what Simon said about peacekeeping being imperialism with a different name. For instance, Canada’s role in supporting the US overthrow of the democratically-elected Aristide government in Haiti was actively portrayed as a peacekeeping mission. In this case, “keeping the peace” meant keeping the people of Haiti from exercising their right to self-determination.
There are, of course, different models of peacekeeping that involve people who are not armed, but trained in things like disaster relief and meeting people’s immediate needs. These forms of intervention are much more aligned with our goals as an organization, but this is not what Canada has been involved in historically or in the present.
How do you choose your targets for campaign pressure? Do you act differently to pressure weapons manufacturers versus governments?
Simon: We distinguish between a primary target, a secondary target who can put pressure on that primary target, and in some cases a tertiary target who can pressure both. Considering we’re an under-resourced grassroots movement built within the labour movement, our first target is not weapons manufacturers, or the government, but unions, because unions have the resources that we don’t have: a wide base of membership, large working budgets, and communications operations that can mount more powerful and coordinated pressure campaigns.
So we encourage unions to add their names and resources to campaigns. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t engage in direct action in partnership with other civil society organizations like WBW to directly pressure businesses and elected officials.
For instance, in London, Ontario we worked with WBW and People for Peace to block the rail lines outside of General Dynamics. And we’ve worked with WBW to blockade a shipping company in Hamilton, which has a contract with General Dynamics to ship light armoured vehicles on flatbed trucks to the port of Baltimore, where they are loaded onto Saudi ships. So we do engage in campaigns targeting weapons manufacturers and businesses in the logistics chain, and we also push unions and labour federations to join our campaigns. And we put pressure on the government. We’ve held actions outside Liberal MP constituency offices as part of the campaign for “Canada Stop Arming Saudi.”
LAAT also engages in a broad spectrum of actions from letter-writing to the Prime Minister, to working with big coalitions of civil society organizations. As a small organization we choose targets strategically to maximize our resources and punch above our weight.
Rachel: At WBW we split our time between organizing using a direct action model and public education campaigns. As an organizer I’m focused on direct action, and our orienting framework is to ask: what are the concrete improvements in people’s lives that we can win, and how can we build people power through our organizing efforts? Other important questions in this work are: how are we skilling up in our movements, how are we, every time, expanding the circle of people who see themselves as agents of change, and when we’re organizing in solidarity with others, how do we make sure we’re in our lane? What we’re working on is our struggle, never speaking for others, but we’re building power here because the military industrial complex has power here.
Concretely, it doesn’t have to look like civil disobedience, but sometimes it makes sense to be literally standing in front of weapons shipments because that’s a space where we have power and where we can actually interrupt the war machine in a concrete way.
Even this week, with our actions that involved painting blood red tank tracks on Liberal constituency offices, and leading up to the CEO of GDLS’ house, and the weapons plant itself, we may not have been able to directly interrupt the flow of weapons to Saudi Arabia, but we did disrupt the Trudeau government’s narrative that Canada has nothing to do with the violence in Yemen. These actions also actively build up people’s willingness to confront power.
At the same time, as an organization we’re not opposed to meeting with politicians, launching petitions, and doing more traditional advocacy work, but we only engage in these forums when it’s strategic and so long as they don’t betray our own values.
What are the connections between anti-war organizing and other movements for climate justice, decolonization, and beyond?
Rachel: Across movements in Canada, there’s an increasing awareness specifically around the connections between climate justice movements and anti-war movements. The Canadian military is an outrageous emitter of greenhouse gasses—by far the largest source of all government emissions—while at the same time exempted from all of Canada’s national greenhouse gas reduction targets. So, many of the targets for greenhouse emissions that Trudeau will say they’re on their way to meeting exclude the federal government’s biggest emitter, which is military and security.
But beyond that, if you look deeper, there’s devastating extraction of materials for war machines, so everything that’s being used on the ground in a war zone started at, for example, a uranium mine or rare earth element mine. Then there’s the toxic mine waste that’s produced at those mine sites, as well as the terrible destruction of ecological systems caused by the war initiatives themselves. So at a very basic level the military is incredibly ecologically destructive, but also the Canadian military is used to attacking those who are taking a stand at the climate front lines, everywhere and—notably—within Canada itself.
I feel like we’re only glimpsing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what military surveillance actually looks like. We know that military surveillance happens in conjunction with police surveillance, which collaborates with immigration and also works with CSIS, which also works directly with fossil fuel companies, and in some cases they’re all sharing information. And so much of it is about criminalizing or causing violence to Indigenous communities.
Usually we’re talking about this in the context of land defence, often at the site of a mine or pipeline. But even in Toronto, just a few weeks ago, watching the way that encampments—whose residents are disproportionately Indigenous people on their own land—were evicted by police, it looked like a paramilitary operation. I’ve seen a lot of Toronto Police operations and this looked like something different: they are increasingly acting in military formations, with militarized tools. It reminded me of watching military operations in Guatemala, which I’ve witnessed in person, the way they were marching in formation with their weapons out; it was very striking.
There are many examples of the ways that Indigenous peoples are attacked and surveilled by the Canadian military; militarized police forces are enacting terrible violence from coast to coast against racialized communities, especially when they stand up to resource extraction or when they stand for climate justice. In 2016 natural resources minister Jim Carr said that the military might be deployed to stop protests against the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline—which is set to cross Secwepemc territory without consent. So he was straight up threatening that the Canadian military would be used to force sovereign Indigenous nations—at the barrel of a gun—to allow a pipeline to take over their territory. Police have continued to enact that violence and that colonization. I think it was really notable that the military was threatened in that way domestically, and reflective of the role it plays overseas. For climate movements to succeed, we need to get beyond just the conversation of the military as a direct barrier because of its emissions, but talk about it in terms of the ways that it is used to suppress dissent and defend the fossil fuel industry at all costs. *