On Wednesday Nov. 11, students active in the Demilitarize McGill campaign unravelled a banner from the roof of the McLennan-Redpath Library Complex during the Remembrance Day Ceremony held by the Royal Canadian Legion on McGill’s Lower Field.
“Canada kills: Colonialism here, imperialism abroad. End occupation, resist Canada,” read the banner, which failed to completely unfurl, but was widely visible before being removed by McGill security.
Demilitarize McGill issued an official statement on its website, citing Canadian colonialism and imperialism as the impetus for the banner.
“The ceremony is designed to manufacture sympathy for the Canadian Forces despite their inherently imperialist and colonialist missions and their continued perpetration of atrocities and genocide both here and abroad,” the statement reads.
The ceremony, which was held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., included a military parade and helicopter flyover. Local and national dignitaries laid wreaths at a temporary memorial and the Act of Remembrance, a stanza from the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, was read. A 21-gun salute was fired throughout the proceedings.
Chelsea Cureé, Montreal resident, attended the event to reflect on what it represented.
“I think it’s important to think about something bigger than ourselves and to think about the sacrifices that were made for our freedom,” said Cureé.
Ken Helfer, a Montreal resident whose son marched in the parade, agreed with Cureé.
“I thought it was a great ceremony,” said Helfer. “It’s fantastic to commemorate both those who are with us and those who are no longer with us, and I think it should be done every year.”
While objecting to the demonstration itself, Helfer additionally defended the activists’ right to protest.
“Everyone is allowed to express their opinion; however, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate at a time when you’re commemorating the people who have given their lives for their right to do that,” Helfer said.
Responding to accusations of disrespect, Isaac Stethem, a student invovled with Demilitarize McGill, said that the limited focus of Remembrance Day ignores those outside of the military who have lost their lives in battle.
“The absence of the victims of Canada’s colonial and imperial violence from Remembrance Day—and official discourse as whole— is not only disrespectful, but a denial of history,” Stetham wrote in a statement to the Tribune. “Our objection is not to the mourning of individuals that have [been] lost in wars, but to the selectiveness of whose memory is worthy of official commemoration, and in what context.”
Master Corporal Jack Milly, who was involved in logistics for the ceremony, defended Demilitarize McGill’s right to undertake these actions.
“I believe in freedom of speech, and if people have messages they want to put out [then they should be able to],” said Milly.
In its statement, Demilitarize McGill specified a number of issues that the organization sees as ignored.
“By dropping a banner [the activists] seek to highlight the histories and voices absent and forgotten in nationalist Remembrance Day ceremonies,” the statement reads. “These include the Indigenous women and girls who have been disappeared, murdered, and/or sexually assaulted, the theft from the Kanien’kehá:ka of the lands on which McGill is located, and of the waters into which the City of Montreal, with federal government approval, now wish to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage. These also include those affected by Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, by Canada’s […] support of Israel’s apartheid regime, and by […] Canadian mining companies across Latin America.”
Students active within the Demilitarize McGill campaign have undertaken similar actions in the past. During last year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, the organization held a rally on the steps of Redpath Museum which provoked controversy in the McGill community, with some arguing that the rally discredited the organization whose primary goal is to oppose and disrupt military research at the university.
This article was updated on Nov. 17.