Department of peace: Not just a pipe dream
an article by Ray Cunnington, Hamilton Spectator
It may not be here yet, but its supporters are determined
click on photo to enlarge
Canadians have a long attachment to peace and peacekeeping. So there is a good deal of interest in Bill C-373 that calls for Canada’s government to establish a federal department of peace.
The sponsors of this legislation, the Canadian Peace Initiative, decided to invite national comment and criticism of the bill by holding public meetings in major cities across the country before the legislation goes for second reading. Hamilton was picked as the first location to host such an event.
On a Saturday in February, a group of some 70 people gathered in the downtown Freeway Café to hear presentations before a distinguished panel that included Scarborough Agincourt MP Jim Karygannis, (a co-seconder of C-373); and three local Peace Commissioners, chosen for their special knowledge about peace issues: Dr. Anne Pearson, Dr. Gary Warner, and Dr. Graeme MacQueen.
A department of peace is by no means a new idea. It has been proposed in several countries including the U.S., and although it may not be adopted now, many people are seeking non-violent ways to resolve conflict. Judging by history in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, war isn’t as profitable as it used to be — at least for the world’s 99 per cent.
The new proposal calls for the establishment of a Canadian Department of Peace, a body that would “hold peace as an organizing principle in society, co-ordinating service with every level of Canadian society.” The ministry would establish a Civilian Peace Service, and develop peace education programs in elementary, secondary, university and postgraduate levels of education.
Because there are many ways to look at proposals of this kind, a succession of speakers expressed their views for almost an hour, often linking Canada to a growing number of peace activities around the world.
For example, attendee Paul Dekar congratulated the organizers saying “by joining this modest gathering we are joining the largest social movement in history, the thousands upon thousands who gathered last month in Brazil at the World Social Forum.” He noted that creating a civilian peace service was similar to international efforts such as Italy’s White Helmets, the Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, or War Child.
Dekar contrasted negative peace (the absence of war) with positive peace (the presence of justice). He quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s description of a culture of peace. One day, King said, “youngsters will learn words they will not understand. Children from India will ask, ‘What is hunger?’ Children from Alabama will ask, ‘What is racial segregation?’ Children from Hiroshima will ask ‘What is the Atomic Bomb?’ Children at school will ask ‘What is war?’”
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Speaking as a member of Voice of Women, Joy Warner welcomed the proposed legislation, reminding her listeners that women and children are particularly vulnerable in times of war, and that sexual and gender-based violence have become “weapons of war.” She quoted a recent symposium in Nagoya, Japan, that supported the Santiago declaration of the “human right to peace.” She said a Department Of Peace should pursue the Right to Peace as a serious policy objective, and “ensure that women make up 50 per cent of all positions at every level of the new ministry.”
Don Woodside, of Conscience Canada, noted that a previous speaker had already said “if only 2 per cent of citizens refused to fight, that wars would cease, since the jails would all be full.” He challenged the audience to take a personal stand by redirecting their military taxes to peace.
Bert Wreford drew attention to the massive study by Harvard professor Stephen Pinker, which shows world violence gradually declining. By pulling together scores of studies about wars, riots and insurrections, Pinker shows that the public is becoming less and less accepting of violence.
Other speakers called for “a law against war,” reminding the audience that slavery has been abolished and “another world is possible.” One speaker quoted U.S. research indicating that preventing a war is 60 times cheaper than fighting it.
The full text of Bill C-373 can be found at departmentofpeace.ca. Comments can be submitted by email to email@example.com until March 31st.
Ray Cunnington is a member of the Hamilton peace community. He lives in Dundas.