Western Canada will celebrate, and help to build, a culture of peacefulness at the end of June and early July by hosting three different, outstanding international peace conferences, one after the other.
This remarkable celebration of nonviolence will start in Vancouver on June 23 when the first World Peace Forum opens. The mission of the forum, “to create a global culture of peace,” will include such objectives as crafting a statement on building a culture of peace and sustainability, creating a continuing series of biennial forums to carry on the work, and building an atmosphere in which war and violence are abhorrent.
The ambitious program of events includes sessions on the abolition of nuclear weapons, the social and environmental impacts of militarism, the landmines treaty, mindfulness training with children, and the “Cities for Peace” program. Peace concerts, peace religious services, peace marches, and peace songs will mix with a rich program of papers, speeches and panel sessions with many intriguing titles such as “A Day in the Life of a Child in Sierra Leone.”
The 25-page PDF Draft Program is very well thought out, ambitious, and filled with details about interesting events. Concepts such as reconciliation, dialog, envisioning, engaging, educating, and restoring occur frequently among the many hundreds of sessions and speeches.
Topics include the very general, such as “Investing in a Peaceful Future,” “Kindness as a Path to Peace,” and “Women: Peace and Sustainability.” These are balanced by highly specific titles such as “What Is the Relationship between Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine,” “Militarism—an African Perspective,” “Reconciliation and Peace in North-Eastern Asia,” “Redress for Asian Canadians,” and “ Kashmir: Beyond Borders.”
The Forum adjourns on June 28, but the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) biennial conference begins the next day in Calgary, 582 miles east—9.5 hours of driving time—across the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. IPRA, founded in 1964, is the major international association for peace researchers and educators. Its conferences are held around the world, and the 2006 conference will only be the second time it will meet in North America—both times in Canada.
The Calgary conference, “Patterns of Conflict, Paths to Peace,” will be held from June 29 to July 3. The conference will include themes such as “Aboriginal Canadians on Peace,” “Peace and the Environment,” “’Professionalism’ in Violence Prevention and Peace Building,” “Security with a Human Face,” and “Sustainable Peace Building Architecture.”
The Association announced on April 13 that while the full program is not yet available, speakers such as Lloyd Axworthy, Stephen Lewis, Johan Galtung, Vandana Shiva, and Mel Duncan have been confirmed. Peacebuilding, non-violence, human rights, and numerous other topics will be featured in about 120 sessions during the conference. The complete list of sessions with subject areas and participants will be posted on the IPRA website as soon as it is available.
The third peace conference begins a few days later, so peace aficionados can take a few days to travel back across the Rocky Mountains, 385 miles from Calgary to the Nelson/Castlegar, British Columbia, area where the Our Way Home Reunion is being held from July 6 to 9. The focus of the conference is on the American resisters to the War in Vietnam who emigrated to this area of Canada rather than serve in the U.S. armed forces over 30 years ago.
Some background is necessary to clarify the reason this conference will be in the Nelson/Castlegar area in early July. The region already had a history of resistance to war dating from the immigration of the Doukhobors, a pacifist sect that moved there from Russia in the late 19th century. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the area again welcomed pacifists: American war resisters, many thousands of whom stayed permanently after the war in Vietnam was over.
A proposal by a peace activist named Isaac Romano, who moved to Nelson in 2001, brought international fame (and notoriety) to the area in 2004. Mr. Romano suggested that the town erect a monument to the American pacifists who had fled to the area more than 30 years before, since they had so enriched the life of the town. The proposal attracted attention in the major American media.
The idea that people who were opposed to war should be honored by a statue, even in another country, provoked outrage by super-patriotic American groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “I’ve talked to people who lost fathers, brothers in Vietnam,” said one man. “The very idea that you would celebrate this is beyond … comprehension.”
The controversy apparently discouraged enough citizens in the Nelson area that Mr. Romano backed away from his proposal to erect a monument, at least in that town. But he stuck with his proposal that a festival for the war resisters should be organized for the summer of 2006. The upcoming “Our Way Home” will be the result of the ferment and planning.
The mission of the Reunion is not only to honor the war resisters, but also to pay tribute to those who have helped them, such as the Mennonites, Quakers, Unitarians, Doukhobors, and thousands of other Canadians who supported those who oppose war. The event will also honor people who currently are resisting the current US war in Iraq by seeking safety in Canada.
One of the most interesting aspects of the event is the melding of the war resisters with a planned counter demonstration by Vietnam Veterans into one, reconciliation, event. The organizers plan to provide “an opportunity to promote healing and reconciliation between war resisters and Vietnam Veterans in Canada,” according to the website.
The event includes numerous workshops, panel discussions, films, theater presentations, and concerts. The four day Reunion will feature many prominent speakers such as Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tom Hayden, Maude Barlow, George McGovern, Arun Ghandi, and Kim Phuc. Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ronnie Gilbert, Holly Near, Bill King, and others will perform and entertain.
Western Canada, to judge by the websites for all three conferences, apparently has a strong peace community, willing to work hard to organize three different, but mutually supportive, conferences. Clearly, they all seek to foster peaceful societies where justice, pro-social behavior, and avoiding violence and warfare are normative.