The weaving together of a national celebration with glorifying war has a long tradition in Canada. From Warriors’ Day, focusing on veterans, to military air shows to active military recruiting, it is hard to separate what is claimed to be an annual event to celebrate what is possible in Canada [the core ideal of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE)] from the glorification of war. Indeed, this year included a special pro-war Salute to the Troops day, a clear statement that the CNE is not a celebratory place for all but a potentially dismal space, one where those opposed to war are not truly welcomed. The militarism of the CNE this year is much more blatant than in recent years, but certainly not a new phenomena.
Perhaps I am more aware of what is happening at the CNE this year because the media seems to be devoting a fair bit of positive attention to the military presence at the CNE. As much of mainstream media these days show a jingoistic approach to covering Canadian’s support for military escapades, this is not surprising.
Woven into the CNE is the annual Labour Day Parade in Toronto. On Labour Day thousands of union members are welcomed to the CNE—all those that march in the parade get in free. Tens of thousands of dollars flow from the pockets of labour union members and supporters to vendors, midway attractions and others businesses that find the final day of the CNE a most profitable day. And by its presence, the labour movement clearly shows support for what CNE has become.
Over its many decades of existence the Labour Council of Toronto has passed multiple resolutions in opposition to war and in support of various peace initiatives. Yet, every year the Labour Council gives legitimacy to the military focus of the CNE by actively encouraging members to go the CNE as the conclusion of labour day focuses.
One can’t help wondering if there is a true voice for peace in the labour movement. If there was, the trade union movement in Toronto would not be marching en mass into the CNE this year.
It would be great to have the march end just at the entrance to the CNE. In a gesture of solidarity with the victims of war around the world, trade unions in Toronto could put their hands in their pockets, turn around and go home. Next year, if the CNE continued to be so pro-war, the union movement could help community based peace activists leaflet the CNE, organise a boycott, pressure government and corporate funders to withdraw their dollars until the CNE agrees to be a place of peace and dreams.
More militantly, labour leaders could enter the CNE grounds and blockade the military displays, disrupt recruiting initiatives, pass out pictures of the victims of war to all that approach the military displays. This would probably result in arrests—but it would also draw substantial attention to the cause of peace, a cause that the labour council is on record of supporting.
Unfortunately, neither of these options will likely be chosen. The labour movement in Toronto is like those churches that call for peace but provide moral legitimacy to war by providing chaplains to the military. It is hard to hear the positive voices over the sounds of their actions.