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Destruction or Construction?

A Call for Action
The Housing Not War Declaration

I/we support the demand that the federal government implement a Housing Not War strategy. Canada is at war in Afghanistan. Homelessness remains a national disaster in Canada. Canadian troops should come home, and funding directed towards war and militarism should go towards housing and other peaceful purposes.

As homelessness worsens in Canada, the federal government can no longer justify spending untold billions of dollars on war. We call for the 1% solution – an additional 1% of the federal budget to be allocated towards social housing. This would bring spending to $4 billion per year.

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TDRC 2008 Backgrounder on Canada's War in Afghanistan

The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) and the Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) are asking individuals and organizations to sign the attached declaration stating that they want the Federal government to fund a HOUSING NOT WAR strategy. The Federal government will allot 8.5% ($18.2 billion) of its budget in 2007-2008 to the military. Money is now flowing towards the military at a rate 69% higher than 10 years ago.

This increased military spending comes during Canada’s worst housing crisis since the Great Depression. At present only 1% ($2 billion) of the federal budget is devoted to housing and supports.  We propose the 1% solution: the housing budget should be increased by 1% to 2% ($4 billion) of the federal budget, doubling it. People’s lives depend on this important shift in priority.

We are asking individuals and organizations to endorse the Housing Not War Declaration. We will also strategize to get city councils and mayors across Canada to do the same. We will need your help.

The Homelessness Disaster Worsens

In 1998, the newly formed Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) issued the State of Emergency Declaration, declaring homelessness a National Disaster. The Declaration sparked a national campaign calling for the “1% Solution”, the allocation of an additional 1% of Federal, Provincial and Territorial budgets towards a national housing program. [1]

The Toronto City Council voted 53 to 1 that Homelessness was a National Disaster. The municipalities of Ottawa-Carleton, Vancouver, Victoria, Durham Region, Nepean and Peel passed similar resolutions. The Big City Mayors’ Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities also endorsed the Declaration. Hundreds of organization, including AIDS service organizations, health centres, hospitals, faith organizations, unions, and organizations serving poor people also signed on. Soon after, the United Nations described the situation in Canada as a “national housing emergency.”

These condemnations resulted in the 1999 appointment by the then Prime Minister of a Federal ‘Homelessness Minister’ and in over $1 billion allocated to homelessness relief programs during the past eight years. However, senior levels of government continued to ignore the funding of actual housing.

The results were predictable. Homelessness has increased along with its inevitable outcomes: suffering, the spread of communicable diseases, endemic rates of tuberculosis, and deaths. In 1992, Street Health released the Street Health Report, commended by the World Health Organization for exposing the horrific health status of homeless people in Canada. Fifteen years later, the new Street Health Report 2007 outlines the downward trajectory of homeless peoples’ health. For example, during the study, more than half of the homeless people interviewed reported that they had experienced serious depression; 1 in 10 had attempted suicide; 1 in 5 women had been raped or sexually assaulted; three quarters of the respondents had at least one chronic or ongoing health problem. In addition, homeless people were 20 times as likely to have epilepsy, 29 times as likely to have Hepatitis C, twice as likely to have diabetes, and so forth. [2]

While funding for housing and supports barely increased, major cities such as Toronto fell into financial crisis. In Ontario, housing programs were downloaded from senior levels of government, and the upkeep of existing public housing was not funded.

Unquestionably, this is Canada’s most serious housing crisis since the Great Depression. There is now widespread recognition that the lack of a fully funded national housing program will result in persistent mass homelessness.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, in his press statement outlining his preliminary observations at the end of his recent two-week fact-finding mission to Canada stated:

“Everything that I witnessed on this mission confirms the deep and devastating impact of this national crisis on the lives of women, youth, children and men.” He added:

“The Federal Government needs to commit funding and programmes to realize a comprehensive national housing strategy, and to co-ordinate actions among the provinces and territories, to meet Canada’s housing rights obligations. Canada needs to once again embark on a large scale building of social housing units across the country.”


The only remedy to the 1930s and 40s housing crisis was a national housing program won by popular struggle. The government created the program in response to protests led by World War II veterans who, facing an acute housing shortage upon their return home, campaigned for their right to housing.

However, we no longer live in the 1930s or in a period where we witness the return of thousands of housing-challenged war veterans. Instead, we see our streets filled with homeless people. Single people and families with children are crowded into shelters and unsafe housing. Overall, 1.8 million Canadians cannot afford proper housing. An estimated 300,000 experience homeless during any given year, of whom 60,000 are youth and at least 20,000 are children. First Nations people have often suffered the most, facing housing conditions, both on and off reserve, that are unsafe and overcrowded. Their levels of homelessness are extreme.
 
However, in the period after homelessness was declared a National Disaster, Federal spending on housing and homelessness has remained insignificant, while military spending has significantly increased. The largest increase occurred when Canada marched into Afghanistan to support the U.S. led ‘war on terror’.

Canada’s military spending will reach $18.2 billion in 2007-08, the highest annual amount since World War II. Much of this is being spent on military equipment intended for the war in Afghanistan, like the $3.4 billion for four military transport planes and $1.3 billion for 100 battle tanks. That $4.7 billion for arms could have provided at least 30,000 affordable homes for homeless families. The military budget now represents 8.5% of all Federal spending. This flies in the face of housing activists’ long-time demand that an additional 1% of the Federal budget be put towards a new national housing program to end homelessness.

Homeless and underhoused people in Canada are increasingly forced to tighten their belts to help finance military ventures that a majority of Canadians do not support.

Canada at War

Canada is at war in Afghanistan. Since 2001, Canadian Forces have fighting a war that has now lasted longer than World War II. Not since the Korean War have so many Canadian soldiers been deployed to combat. Canadian government spending on war and militarism is now higher than at any time since World War II. [3]

Meanwhile, public opposition to the war continues to grow across Canada. A clear majority wants the troops to come home now, or by 2009 at the latest. [4]

Despite this opposition, Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed in the October 2007 Throne Speech that Canadian troops stay in Afghanistan until 2011. Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier suggests they’re needed much longer. [5]

In the war so far, Canadian troops have suffered one of the highest casualty rates of all NATO countries involved. Thousands of Afghans have been killed. Many more have been injured, made homeless, or displaced. [6]

Six years after the invasion began, Afghans’ situation is no better than before the war. Few Afghans have access to clean water and electricity; poverty and unemployment severe; hundreds of millions of aid dollars have gone missing; reconstruction projects have been abandoned; opium production is at record levels; women have little safety. [7]

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is dominated by warlords and drug lords, who continue to commit widespread human rights abuses. According to Kathy Gannon, an Associated Press reporter for nearly 20 years in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Karzai government is “the biggest collection of mass murderers you’ll ever get in one place”. [8]

The NATO forces are propping up this government and providing it with arms. Ordinary Afghans, on the other hand, would prefer to see the warlords disarmed and brought to justice for their war crimes committed during the last twenty years. Instead, President Karzai has granted them immunity. [9]

These facts reveal a stark contrast between the rosy and optimistic claims made by Harper and Hillier about Afghanistan and the dire and deteriorating situation on the ground.

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the largest trade union federation in Canada, questioned the Canadian government’s claims in September 2006:

At the moment, our military isn’t fighting the forces of corruption, violence and the heroin trade. We’re supporting them, and this is not told to the thousands of Canadian soldiers sent to the battlegrounds of Kandahar. […] Prime Minister, I fully support our troops; that’s why I don’t want them engaged in a fight that only benefits a government chock full of despots and heroine runners. [10]

Malalai Joya, a young woman member of the Afghan Parliament, is an outspoken human rights advocate. She was elected in September 2005 with the second highest vote in Farah province. According to Joya:

The situation in Afghanistan and conditions for women will not change positively until the warlords have been disarmed and both the pro-US and anti-US terrorists are removed from the political scene in Afghanistan. And it is the responsibility of the Afghan people to accomplish this goal. [11]

As a result of her outspoken criticism of warlords and drug lords in the central government, Joya has faced numerous assassination attempts. On May 21, 2007, because of her public criticism of her co-parliamentarians’ human rights abuses, Joya was expelled from parliament. Our government claims to support democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan. Yet Harper made no comment about Joya’s case. [12]

Opposition to the NATO mission is widespread in Afghanistan, and resistance to foreign occupation is growing. The Senlis Council, an international policy think tank, revealed in September 2006 that support for the Taliban was on the rise – largely due to the behaviour of occupying troops. Other organizations – including Womenkind Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Afghan human rights groups – have also criticized the role of NATO forces. [13]

One recent poll that claims to prove that a majority of Afghans support the NATO mission has been widely publicized in an attempt to rationalize continued Canadian involvement in the war. But this poll was conducted by a firm, D3 Systems, that has also claimed that most Iraqis support the occupation of their country. It raised more questions than it answered and produced contradictory results. [14]

NATO forces’ increasingly aggressive tactics in Afghanistan reflect the fact that more and more Afghans are opposed to the occupation and are now more actively resisting it. NATO is now using more overt military means to try to impose control over the country.

In the last six months of 2006, NATO warplanes dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than during the war up until then. Increasing civilian deaths have prompted widespread demonstrations and strikes in Afghanistan. Lord Ashdown, the former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, told the NATO summit in Noordwijk, Holland that “We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely”. [15]

Even the Canadian Senate, in a report released in February 2007, has argued that claims that the mission is making progress in Afghanistan are untrue: “Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognizable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor”. [16]

Statements like these have added momentum to the call to withdraw Canadian troops from the NATO mission now. Criticism now comes from all quarters: the peace movement, human rights groups, NGOs, government agencies, military personnel and, most important, Afghans themselves.

The war in Afghanistan is part of the broader US-led “war on terror”. NATO troops in Afghanistan are using the same tactics and fighting the same war as the US and its allies in Iraq. The vast majority of people around the world, including in the United States, are not deceived by the war propaganda and want the troops out. 

Similarly, people in Canada realize that, far from its claims about democracy, women’s rights, reconstruction and aid, the Federal government has other reasons for a continued presence in Afghanistan. The Caspian Sea region of Central Asia has been the site of countless struggles among international powers for political and economic control. The region’s rich oil, gas and mineral deposits have attracted Western corporations for decades, often leading to military conflicts.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British saw thousands of their troops killed in their efforts to occupy Afghanistan, and were forced to withdraw in defeat. At the end of the century, the Soviet Union fought a similar failed war. These former wars devastated Afghanistan and exacted even higher death tolls on the Afghan people. Why should we expect a different outcome from the present war?

The Canadian government should heed the lessons of history, lest we repeat it.

What We Can Do

People and organizations across Canada are coming together to act on the realization that the Federal government cannot justifiably continue to spend billions on waging a destructive, faraway war in Afghanistan which the majority of      Canadians oppose, while homelessness remains a national disaster in our country.

You can help by committing yourself to the struggle to redirect government funding from the waste and expenditure of this war to the social productivity of peace in both Canada and Afghanistan.

We believe that we can stop relying on military arms and trust in the strong arms of builders and carpenters in Canada and Afghanistan. Canada should send aid, not arms, for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Our troops should come home to a country where a national housing program provides homes for all.

Finally, we believe that by coming together around this issue, we can push our government to act.

Sign the declaration and demand a Housing Not War strategy now!

•    Individuals and organizations are encouraged to sign.

•    The declaration can be signed online, or downloaded and printed out and mailed back to TDRC.

•    Spread the word: get your friends, family, co-workers and peers to sign.

•    Be prepared to help to get the declaration passed by cities and municipalities across Canada.


You are also welcome to contact the Housing Not War campaign to find out how else you can get directly involved. Please email  housingnotwar@gmail.com

BACKGROUND SOURCES:

[1]
“State of Emergency Declaration”. Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. Oct. 1998

[2]
Ambrosio, Baker, Crowe, Hardill & Jordan. “The Street Health Report”. May 1992
“The Street Health Report 2007”. Street Health. Sept. 2007

[3]
Staples, Steve & Robinson, Bill. “More Than The Cold War: Canada’s Military Spending 2007-08”. Foreign Policy Series 2.3 (2007)

[4]
Canadian Press. “Canadians still want Canada out of Afghanistan”. CTV.ca News. Nov. 4, 2007
“Canadians Want Troops Out of Afghanistan”. Angus Reid Global Monitor. Apr. 26, 2007

[5]
“Afghan military needs 10 years before it's ready to go it alone: Hillier”. Canadian Press. Oct. 25, 2007

[6]
Challands, Sarah. “Cdns bearing brunt of Afghan coalition casualties”. CTV.ca News. Sept. 18, 2006
“Afghanistan death toll rising”. Aljazeera.net News. Oct. 4, 2007
“Air war costs NATO Afghan supporters”. Christian Science Monitor. Dec. 18, 2006

[7]
Associated Press. “Afghanistan five years later: poverty, violence, misery”. Seattle Times. Oct. 7, 2006
Chamberlain, Gethin. “US military: Afghan leaders steal half of all aid”. Sunday Telegraph. Jan. 29, 2007
Blackwell, Tom. “State of the Afghan Nation: Opium”. National Post. Nov. 10, 2007
Senlis Council. “Canada in Kandahar: No Peace to Keep - A Case Study of the Military Coalitions in Southern Afghanistan”. 2006

[8]
Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2007: Afghanistan”. Jan.. 2007
Human Rights Watch. “Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords”. Jun. 2002
Campbell, Duncan. “Afghan warlords ‘bigger threat than Taliban’”. Guardian. Jul. 13, 2004

[9]
Human Rights Watch. “Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity”. 2005
“Afghan bill gives amnesty to Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar”. The Nation. Feb. 2, 2007


[10]
Georgetti, Ken. “Who Are We Defending in Afghanistan?”. Canadian Labour Congress online. Sep. 8, 2006

[11]
Georgetti, Ken. “Who Are We Defending in Afghanistan?” Canadian Labour Congress online Sep. 8, 2006

[12]
Sengupta, Kim. “Afghan MP expelled for calling parliament ‘worse than a zoo’”. Independent. May 22, 2007

[13]
Senlis Council. “Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban”. 2006

[14]
“Polling Afghanistan: Questions and Contradictions”. Canadian Peace Alliance statement. Oct. 22, 2007

[15]
Morajee, Rachel. “Air War Costs NATO Afghan Supporters”. Christian Science Monitor. Dec. 17, 2006
Rahman, Noor. “Fresh anti-US protest over Afghan civilian deaths”. Reuters. May 1, 2007
Coghlan, Tom. “Afghanistan is lost, says Lord Ashdown”. Telegraph. Oct. 29, 2007

[16]
Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. “Canadian Troops in Afghanistan: Taking a Hard Look at a Hard Mission”. 2007