No Harbour for War

No harbour for "military zones"

By TONY SEED*


First of a series on Canada's involvement in the Iraq war

HALIFAX (17 January 2003) -- It is a dangerous situation indeed when the Canadian government and major media make themselves instruments of war preparations, repeating outright lies as if they were facts. One of these is that the Canadian government designated by Order-in-Council on 31 October 2002 the harbour of Halifax and the British Columbia naval bases at Nanoose and Esquimalt “military security zones” as a measure to “fight terrorism”. In fact, these zones give extraordinary and unlimited powers to the Minister of Defence and are a prelude towards establishing martial law to protect American warships and troops in Canadian harbours and waters. All the laws of the country and provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are suspended in these zones. And they do not even have to be pubicly announced.

This sweeping declaration is authorized under Bill C-55, the Public Safety Act 2002. The new law replaced Bill C-42 which was withdrawn from the House of Commons order papers on 24 April 2002 after it faced widespread opposition due to the sweeping powers it gave to cabinet ministers, especially to the Minister of National Defence, to declare any area in the country a “military security zone” where everything and everyone would be submitted to military control and could be forcefully moved out of the zone.

Bill C-55 does not allow the government to create military zones over widespread areas, but it instead creates “controlled access military zones” that would be used for the

protection of Canadian Forces and visiting forces personnel and property.

Subsection 260.1 [2] states that it applies to:

"(a) a defence establishment;

"(b) property that is provided for the Canadian Forces or the Department and is situated outside a defence establishment;

"(c) a vessel, aircraft or other property under the control of a visiting force that is legally in Canada by virtue of the Visiting Forces Act or otherwise."

It is under this law that the three harbours have been declared “controlled access military zones”.

Although the dimensions are reportedly being set from 300 to 800 metres into the harbours, their definition is also up to the sole discretion of the Defence Minister. Subsection 260.1[4], states the area is not greater

than is reasonably necessary to ensure the safety and security of any person, thing or property for which the zone is designated.

It is the Defence Minister alone who decides what is “reasonable necessary”.

Whatever the size, these zones will be completely controlled by military personnel. Public access can be restricted without question for any time the Minister deems necessary. There is also the criterion of “reasonably necessary”. What does this mean? This is also discretionary and very dangerous, as precedents have shown. This kind of immense power is given to one person.

The American “homeland” now extends into Canada, and its borders right into Canadian harbours. The CIA has stationed a unit in the port of Halifax in the name of facilitating customs inspections, and the FBI has carte blanche to operate in Canada as well.

Now, according to Bill C-55, closed zones can be established around American warships and troops “visiting” Halifax and the two naval bases on Vancouver Island. Nanoose includes a weapons testing range that is used extensively by the U.S. Navy.

Visits of the U.S. Navy -- including nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers armed with nuclear weapons -- to Halifax and other Canadian ports began to rise dramatically in the 1980s. In fact, both governments recently signed an agreement to allow U.S. troops to also enter Canada and Canadian troops to enter the U.S.

Since September 11, the United States has stepped up its international campaign to impose its dictate under the guise of stopping terrorism. On the one hand, the U.S. and its allies, including Canada, have justified their military actions against Afghanistan in the name of high ideals like “fighting for freedom” and “promoting democracy”. The means justify the end.

This is not about “terror”. Draconian laws such as the U.S. Patriot Act and Canada’s Public Safety Laws place the security forces above the law, concentrate more and more power in the hands of the executive, and put in place a system for targeting minorities as “potential threats”, especially if they are Muslim or of Arab descent. Canadians are deported without due process or access to counsel and a process of secret courts has been installed.

According to sources in the Halifax Muslim community, the RCMP put under surveillance two student youth from Syria who innocently asked directions to go see the Shearwater Air Show. Under this pretext, they tried to invasively penetrate local mosques to gather information on the community and spread fear. In the name of “democracy”, it is the rule of law which is undermined, while a racist hysteria and guilt by association are used to convince people that the threat to the harbour comes not from U.S. annexation of Canada, but rather from “immigrants” or “foreigners” bent on destroying “our way of life”. Meanwhile, the “visits” of U.S. warships are declared “good for business”, welcomed with elaborate media ceremonies, and the despicable “dial-a-sailor” program, which prostitutes our young women and girls in the name of providing “rest and recreation" to the American sailors, is rolled out.

A strategic harbour can only be used as a staging ground for war if the citizens, especially the port workers, are first pacified and deprived of democratic rights. The military zone can be used for reasons of “international relations” to suppress protest against “visiting forces” and to ensure the “security” of the United States. In the 1980s demonstrations against war preparations in Canadian harbours and the visits of U.S. and Soviet warships were met with police arrests and media slander of activists. Internationally, even New Zealand took action to prevent the entry of U.S. nuclear warships into its waters. The militarization of the harbour necessitates criminalizing protest and stifling dissent. Subsection b 260.1 [12] specifies:

’The Canadian Forces may permit, control, restrict or prohibit access to a controlled access military zone.’

No mention whatever is made of the rights of Canadians within these zones. Anyone can be forcibly removed from a military zone. They will not be able to sue for damages, loses or injuries. The penalty for contravening a controlled access military zone is a fine or a year in prison. If activists use zodiacs to peacefully protest “visiting forces”, as they did in the 1980s in Vancouver and Halifax, they can be immediately seized by the military, as could any rceational sailor or fishing boat innocently cruising through the zone.

Early on 14 October 2001 military police were deployed between 1:00 a.m. and 1:20 a.m. to trash a peace camp set blocking the main gates of the nayal dockyards at CFB Halifax -- forcing military traffic to use a back entrance. Their aim was to ensure that the impending arrival of the Governor-General and the media to review her troops on Tuesday, 16 October morning would pass without visible opposition. This initiative of youth was aimed at protesting the deployment of Canadian warships to Afghanistan (Operation Apollo). They reported that they were given an ultimatum to either disperse or be subject to pepper spray and the use of "pain compliance holds." (1)

On 14-15 June 2002 police arrested scores of youth demonstrating against a closed meeting of Finance Ministers from the powerful G-8 countries; downtown Halifax was turned into an armed camp by RCMP working under the direction of the Prime Minister's Office. The media called protesters in Halifax, at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City and Kananaskis, Alberta “terrorists”. Since September 11 it is the people’s resistance that is more and more coming under attack from the big powers. A rapid disintegration of the rule of law is under way.

Strenghtening of Executive Power

The new legislation, for instance, gives four individual ministers from the federal cabinet -- overseeing health, transport, fisheries and oceans and the environment -- to issue emergency “interim orders” which would no longer bind them to relevant laws passed by Parliament for a period of up to one year. According to Bill C-55, these orders can be declared

if the minister believes that immediate action is required to deal with a significant risk, direct or indirect, to health or safety.

This means that they could also be used against fishermen who have historically staged mass protests or "sail-ins" fas a method of demonstrating their rights in various harbours, such as Shelburne and St. John’s. It coiuld also be used to protect the foreign fishing fleets which have been legally plundering offshore fishing grounds in the "exclusive 200-mile zone" at the expense of Canadian fishermen.

According to Bill C-55,

“other such zones could be considered on a case-by-case basis, should the security situation dictate”,

that is, by Order-in-Council. The new law (subsection 260.1[3]) defines a “controlled access military zone” as:

"an area of land or water, a portion of airspace, or a structure, or part of one, surrounding a thing referred to in subsection [1] or including it, whether the zone designated is fixed or moves with that thing. The zone automatically includes all corresponding airspace above, and water and land below, the earth’s surface."

Thus, if a warship or coast guard vessel suddenly shows up in Lockeport or Lunenburg, the federal government, according to the provisions of this decree, will have the right to declare the air above, the sea-bed below and all the waters around that particular ship to be "a closed military zone" where federal martial law could apply. That is a frightening provision.

The orders would have to be tabled in Parliament within 15 sitting days. This suggestion of "transparaency" also conceals deception. This provision means that, if Parliament is not in session, the orders would not be tabled until Parliament reopens, somehting which is also at the discretion of the Cabinet. However, even if the orders are ultimately tabled, the bill does not give Parliament the power to veto them.

The issue with the harbour is a political and not a “law and order” issue -- let alone a "security" question.

The “closed military zone” gives the federal ministers despotic powers over the port. It is similar in power to the War Measures Act put forward in 1970 by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. At that time over 2,000 Canadians were thrown in jail without charges under the pretext of opposing “terrorism”. Once again, in the feverish preparation for war, our democratic rights are thrown into the water.

Endnote

(1) Nevertheless the youth announced they would return and in between they prepared the unveiling of an enormous "Peace!" banner from the centre of the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge spanning Halifax Harbour.

The 16 October 2001 Halifax Chronicle Herald and Halifax Daily News were full of a story about a bogus "white powder" scare which caused a shopping mall to shut down in the rural service centre of Bridgewater, 50 miles southwest of Halifax. A few moments after the Peace banner was general news throughout the community, the media announced the evacuation of Purdy's Wharf. Somewhere in this twin-towered skyscraper on Halifax harbour, which looks north to the bridge and now houses the U.S. Consulate, there was reportedly some mysterious substance, immmediately suspected of being anthrax.

Since the announcement of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan on 6 October 2001 almost daily demonstrations had been taking place in Halifax. The real target of this anthrax hysteria was the growing resistance from the forces opposed .

*This article was originally published in Halifax People's Voice, newsletter of the People's Front (Halifax), 17 January 2003



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