13 years and counting: Anti-war group rallies against security forum

Members of No Harbour for War were active before the forum, but organized in response to it.

As long as there’s been the International Security Forum in Halifax, there’s been a group protesting against it.

No Harbour for War, a small anti-war movement based in Halifax, organized and held their 13th rally against the annual security forum on Saturday. The group co-ordinated the rally with NS Voice of Women for Peace (NSVOW), a women’s rights group that is also based in the city.

The groups rallied against the International Security Forum, an annual security conference that has taken place in the city since 2009. At 1 p.m, around 20 people met at Halifax Peace and Friendship Park, waving red signs with gold lettering, carrying wreaths, and wearing white poppies.

Kathrin Winkler was one of them. She’s an active member of the NSVOW.

“We’re here to express our utter dismay that the war machine has gathered here in this unceded territory,” Winkler said.

“I believe that conversation of peace has to come from the grassroots, and from the people who want to protect one another.”

Wreaths and banners from the NSVOW were laid out Saturday in Halifax’s Peace and Friendship Park.   John Marshall

While they convened, around 300 delegates from over 80 countries met at the Westin Hotel, across the park from the rally. Inside, the delegates discussed NATO obligations and co-ordinated policies for mutual defence.

In the eyes of No Harbour for War, the security forum serves as a platform to promote war and conflict. No Harbour for War spokesperson Allan Bezanson says the forum always “beats the war-drums” for U.S. imperialism.

“It’s almost totally financed by the Department of National Defence, so we think it’s quite insulting that an American think tank can organize such a provocative forum using our tax dollars,” Bezanson said.

The security forum describes itself as the “foremost security conference” for democracies. Despite calling Halifax home, the conference’s leadership is based in Washington D.C., and receives support and funding from the Canadian government. Since 2009, the Canadian government has contributed $25 million.

Two demonstrators hold a sign calling for Canada to leave NATO.   John Marshall

The International Security Forum was started through the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy think tank based in the U.S. The website for the security forum says that it is “dedicated to strengthening strategic co-operation among democratic nations.”

For Winkler, the rally is a challenge to the militaristic perspective she says is offered at the security conference.

“We can’t be looking at killing others on the one hand and calling it protection … and the culture that needs to change in the military, the sexual misconduct, racism, misogyny; it can change if the goal becomes true protection, which is not a militaristic view of the world,” Winkler said.

The group stops to acknowledge that Saturday’s rally is taking place on unceded Mi’kmaw territory.   John Marshall

No Harbour for War has persistently organized against the security forum since it began. The rally has never received any formal acknowledgement from the forum. The conference continues to operate each year in Halifax, despite the group’s continuous opposition.

Bezanson says that many in the group were active before the forum arrived.

“We were a group beforehand, not as organized … we used to be called the Halifax committee against war preparations. Ever since 2009 we’ve taken the opposition to it on a large scale,” Bezanson said.

Many of the demonstrators at this year’s event were at previous rallies organized by No Harbour for War. One person held a sign marked 2020 from last year’s rally.

It’s the spirit of the people who show up that matters, Bezanson said.

A man’s jacket emblazoned with a call to make Canada a zone for peace.   John Marshall

Public response to the rallies has been mixed. Bezanson says the rallies tend to be quite small, though some years have fared better.

“A couple years, particularly when Israel was attacking Gaza, there was a couple hundred people. It’s more a picket than a rally, you know,” Bezanson said.

While public support has differed throughout the years, the core of the group remains active and dedicated. Bezanson says this won’t change.

“There’s no shortage of provocations by the government and by industry. War is extremely profitable for some elements … As long as the provocations continue, we’re going to continue,” Bezanson said.

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