War Free Schools

Here’s a nice thought for public education – let’s put automatic weapons into children’s hands, and let’s show them how to use them. Even better – let’s pay them $600 a week for the training. Sounds a bit wrong? Well, since 2006 it’s been the policy of the Toronto District Public School Board.[1] One other point – the students actually get credit for this, their placement with the military being done through the Army Reserve Cooperative Education Program.

A similar program existed in the 1990s, but was terminated in 2002. In this earlier program, when placed with the military as part of their “experiential” learning, students were not paid, as is the case with every other placement. In 2002, the Canadian Armed Forces terminated the program “since the army reserve in June 2002 determined that first they must pay students and second that they could not afford to pay.”[2]

But in 2005, talks opened up between the School Board and the Army Reserve leading to a revival of the program – this time with the students – who “actually become members of the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve” – being paid a salary equivalent to about $600 per week. In 2005-2006 there were 14 Toronto school children taking part in this program – one just 16 years old, three others just 17 – along with 104 others from “boards such as York Region, Peel, and Toronto Catholic School Boards.”[3]

This is being sold as a way of building character. “The military is great for time-management skills” said Martin Boreczek a corporal in the Reserve now attending York University. “A lot of things need to get done on time, which is something procrastinating university students could learn and apply.” But the real reason has more to do with war than study skills. Boreczek, for instance, was a soldier in Afghanistan from 2004-2005.[4] It is the needs of the war machine – now committed to fighting in that country until 2011 – which is behind the intrusion of war-making into the school system.

In response, Educators for Peace and Justice (EPJ) have launched a “War Free Schools” campaign. A fund-raiser to launch the campaign was held June 19 in the East End of Toronto. Teachers and students from high schools and universities listened to a presentation from Dylan Penner of Operation Objection, who made the case for getting the military out of our classrooms. Playing in the background were images from the War Free Schools Organizing Kit – a Backgrounder and a Handbook available from their web site, www.operationobjection.org.

Canada has a reputation as being a peacekeeper, but it is clear that this peacekeeping moment is now over. In 1991, Canada was a full participant in the first Gulf War. Its 1993 intervention in Somalia looked to the Somalis more like occupation than peacekeeping.[5] In 1999 it was one of the principal contributors to NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. And from 2001 to the present, it has been a central component of the war in Afghanistan. This has been accompanied by initiatives from both Liberal and Conservative governments to increase spending on the military. Most recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government announced a plan for a significant expansion of Canada’s military. In May, the National Post gave a “sneak preview” of the plans.

Over the next 20 years, the Tories want to commit Ottawa to spending $30-billion more on the military. Mr. Harper foresees an expansion of our Forces to 100,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen. Troop strength will include 70,000 regular forces, up from 65,000 today, while the reserves will expand from 24,000 to 30,000. Ageing warships will be replaced, and new transport aircraft and armoured vehicles will be purchased. New medium-lift helicopters will be bought immediately to ferry our troops over and around roadside bombs and snipers in Afghanistan.[6]

This was confirmed while the fund-raiser was in progress. On the evening of Thursday June 19, 2008 – “the night before Parliament adjourns for the summer”[7] – a major document appeared on the National Defence web site, announcing a 20 year, $490-billion “Canada First” Defence Strategy to steadily upgrade Canada’s military capacity over a generation.[8]

This is being accompanied by a serious intensification to recruit young people into the Canadian military. In February 2006, then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hiller, launched “Operation Connection” whose goal was to enlist all the uniformed personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces into the recruitment effort, saying: “I expect every sailor, soldier, airman and airwoman to recognize their role as a potential CF recruiter, effectively spreading the load from the shoulders of recruiting centre personnel to the shoulders of all Regular and Reserve personnel.” The effect would be to enlist 85,000 uniformed personnel as active recruiters to the armed forces.[9]

This pressure to pull young people into the service of Canada’s wars abroad is not going to end anytime soon. Building a movement to get the troops out of Afghanistan, is going to require building a movement to get the military out of our schools. No blood for oil, no youth for the killing fields.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “Briefing Note: Cooperative Education and the Canadian Armed Forces,” Toronto District School Board, June 5, 2006
[2] “Briefing Note”
[3] “Briefing Note”
[4] “Military co-op opens door to a career,” ylife: York’s Weekly Newsletter for Students, October 2, 2006
[5] Sherene H. Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping and the New Imperialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)
[6] “Bolstering our Forces,” National Post, May 14, 2008
[7] David Pugliese, “Parliament in the dark on major weapons purchase,” Canwest News Services, June 19, 2008
[8] “Canada First Defence Strategy,” National Defense, Canada, June 18, 2008
[9] “Op CONNECTION: Reaching out and touching Canadians,” National Defense, Canada March 9, 2006. For the response of the anti-war movement, see Dylan Penner, ed., War Free Schools: The Rise of the Counter-Recruitment Movement (Toronto: Act for the Earth, 2006)