The campaign against Canada’s planned purchase of violent, expensive and climate-destroying fighter jets is gaining steam. But more support and action are required to force the issue onto the election agenda.
Last week, a remarkable list of public figures signed on to a statement calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt the purchase. Signatories include Canadian musicians Neil Young, Sarah Harmer and Tegan and Sarah, as well as authors Yann Martel, Gabor Maté and Michael Ondaatje. The "No New Fighter Jets for Canada" statement is also signed by environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein, three sitting MPs, four former MPs, a senator, a Nobel peace prize recipient and a former UN ambassador. Prominent international figures like rock legend Roger Waters, actress Daryl Hannah and Professor Noam Chomsky have also endorsed the call.
The open letter garnered front page mentions in the Ottawa Citizen and National Post, and received coverage in columns in the Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and Edmonton Journal as well multiple other online and radio outlets. It is part of a campaign that has been steadily building for a year.
Last July, protests were held at more than 15 MPs’ offices across the country demanding the federal government cancel its planned purchase of 88 new fighter jets. Two months later a second national day of action saw rallies at 25 political offices across the country.
In October the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and World BEYOND War organized a webinar on Canada’s plans for new warplanes. Breaking parliamentary silence on the issue, Green MP Paul Manly, Senator Marilou McPhedran and NDP defence critic Randall Garrison spoke alongside activists El Jones and Tamara Lorincz.
The $19-billion cost of these warplanes is actually just the sticker price. Earlier this year, the No Fighter Jets Coalition released a report estimating the full life-cycle cost of the jets is $77 billion. As the recent public letter points out, “Those resources could be used to eliminate boil water advisories on reserves, build light rail lines across the country and construct thousands of units of social housing.”
In April, 100 people across the country participated in a fast to oppose the warplane purchase. The fast also honoured those who have been killed by Canadian warplanes in Iraq, Serbia, Libya and elsewhere. Most of those who fasted went without food for 48 hours, but Vancouver-based physician Brendan Martin and Canadian Voice of Women coordinator Vanessa Lanteigne undertook a water-only fast for 14 days. Their action garnered greater visibility for the campaign.
In May, a parliamentary petition against the fighter jets quickly garnered the required signatures. MP Manly read it out in the House of Commons. The government has yet to respond.
Both Green MPs supported the recent public letter. NDP MP Leah Gazan also signed on and Hamilton Centre NDP MP Matthew Green tweeted about the letter, but the issue clearly divides the party’s caucus. NDP defence critic Garrison, who represents a riding on Vancouver Island with a naval base, supports the fighter jet procurement with certain stipulations.
The media coverage and an email campaign tied to the public letter has elicited some pushback. Both Garrison and Conservative defence critic James Bezan emailed statements to those who contacted their offices. In the National Post, arch-militarist Matt Gurney criticized the public letter, while on Twitter former defence department analyst Thomas Juneau attacked the letter as “at best, naïve.”
As per the saying, “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win,” Gurney is explicit in his ridicule of the public letter against warplanes. “I wanted to mock it,” he wrote in his column. “Never send these signatories out to buy you a hammer. They’ll refuse on the grounds that hammers make terrible ice-cream scoops.”
While we may be seeing a shift from the “ignore you” to “laugh at you” stage, the campaign will require a great deal more to reach the “fight you” or “win” stage. Forcing the government to scrap the entire 88 fighter jet purchase remains a herculean task. But it appears increasingly possible to compel the government to at least reduce the size of the planned procurement.
Even without this victory, the No Fighter Jets campaign has already helped revitalize antiwar activism while educating many on “fossil fuel militarism” and the role of Canadian fighter jets in U.S. and NATO wars.