Right-wing Ukrainians Block Canadian Antiwar Meeting

April 23rd, 2023 - by Roger Jordan, Keith Jones / World Socialist Web Site

Far-right Ukrainian Nationalists Force
Cancellation of Montreal Antiwar Meeting
— This Brazen Act of Censorship Must Not Go Unchallenged

Roger Jordan, Keith Jones / World Socialist Web Site 

(April 18, 2023) — The World Socialist Web Site unequivocally condemns the reactionary decision of Montreal’s Centre St. Pierre to cancel a public meeting against the US-NATO war on Russia in Ukraine organized by the Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix, le Parti Vert (Green Party) du Québec, and other anti-war groups.

The cancellation of the meeting is anti-democratic, sets a dangerous precedent, and serves to strengthen Canadian imperialism in its predatory war against Russia.

In cancelling the meeting, the directors of the Centre St. Pierre — a venue long used by trade unions, community and left-wing groups — capitulated to the campaign that the far-right Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) is mounting, with the support of the Justin Trudeau-led federal Liberal government, to censor and suppress all antiwar voices and actions.

The April 15 meeting, “What is the truth about the war in Ukraine,” was to have featured radical journalist Yves Engler as a panelist, as well as Université de Montréal History Professor Samir Saul.

A long-standing critic of Canadian foreign policy, including its participation in an uninterrupted series of US-led wars over recent decades, Engler has become a prime target of the virulently nationalist UCC. It supporters have smeared him as being pro-Russian, a mouthpiece for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and violent.

In fact Engler is a leading member of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, which argues the Canadian government and state can be pressured into playing a “progressive” or altruistic role in world affairs, including by pushing for peace talks with Russia to end the current conflict. He has spoken at several anti-war events, including one at Ottawa’s Carleton University earlier this year alongside former Green Party leadership candidate Dmitri Lascaris that UCC supporters urged the university to cancel and subsequently disrupted.

In attempting to justify its arbitrary decision to cancel the April 15 meeting, the Roman Catholic Church-affiliated Centre St. Pierre said it had received complaints about the “comments and behaviour” of several of the meeting’s panelists and sponsors, especially those of Engler. It also cited a threatened counter-protest, which given the UCC’s politics would no doubt have involved far-right forces capable of acts of violence.

In its brief letter announcing the meeting’s cancellation, the Centre St. Pierre made the outrageous claim that this blatant act of censorship was in accordance with its “mission (and) values—notably respect and democracy.” Adding insult to injury, it further declared that if the Centre were to proceed with the rental of a room for the antiwar meeting it would “damage its reputation.”

It has since refused to provide any further explanation of its decision to shut down the meeting or any substantiation of its accusations against meeting panelists and sponsors. When contacted by a WSWS reporter, the Centre’s director-general, Charles Fillion, claimed the Centre had researched the complaints and found them warranted. But when asked, he refused to detail what they were or provide any substantiation of them, although he claimed that they were part of the public record.

“The Centre St. Pierre has made insinuations about the Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix (MQP), which has consistently opposed war and favors free debate at all our meetings,” MQP executive board member John Philpot told the WSWS. “And it has made allusions about the behaviour of some of our speakers.

“The Centre has a long history of encouraging free speech, supporting unions, social justice and religious freedom. But it has succumbed to pressure and veiled threats and in so doing failed to defend the right of free speech and its own mission.”

Workers and young people across Canada and internationally must oppose this outrageous acts of censorship. Notwithstanding our well-documented political differences with Engler and the MQP, who argue that it is possible to pressure imperialist powers like Canada to peacefully settle a war that is rooted in the irresolvable contradictions of the capitalist profit system, the WSWS unreservedly supports their right to hold public meetings to develop opposition to the war in Ukraine.

The censoring of the April 15 meeting must not be allowed to pass unchallenged. It sets a dangerous precedent whereby any anti-war meeting can be shut down by smearing panelists or organizers, or making threats of violence.

Fillion claimed to be unaware of the UCC campaign to silence those who challenge its and the Canadian government’s narrative of an “unprovoked” war being waged by Canada and its NATO allies to defend Ukrainian “democracy” and sovereignty. He said those who brought pressure to bear on the Centre to cancel the meeting had not identified themselves as being connected to the UCC.

This may well be true. It prefers to act in the shadows, in keeping with its anti-democratic aims.

Don S — This reminds me of the cancellation of Meda Benjamin’s book tour events at the University of Washington Bookstore in Seattle last month and at a nearby church that is often used for progressive events.