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Alex May 24, 2012
Here’s an open letter from an old army colleague, a heartfelt appeal, who chooses to remain anonymous for contractual reasons, and therefore asked me to publish this on my blog rather than his Facebook page to protect his organization.
I would like, however, to add my support to his words, and also say that I think these words too and share his opinion.
I would also like to underline that, as I suspect of many of us are, this person has been boiling up for a long time and has been holding himself back, but the desire and the duty to express oneself became more important. When we cease to express ourselves, liberty dies.
Share this freely.
Yes, you, my old brother in arms with whom I wore the uniform in the Canadian army. The khaki or the tan. With whom I suffered, sweated, laughed, cried, and helped out our comrades. You with whom I wore a weapon. With whom I was deployed all over the globe. The ethnic war in Bosnia, the conflict in Afghanistan. Maybe you were also in the Congo, in Sudan, or even went to help the population affected by a dictator in Haïti.
It’s you I’m writing to, and it’s because I’m a bit worried about the situation in Québec right now and your comments on social media platforms alarm me.
You remember why we were over there, “on the other side” as we say in our slang? No? I’ll try to jog your memory.
For fundamental rights and freedoms
For the safety of vulnerable populations
So, for the emergence of democracy and proper governing.
Yes, that’s what they’re trying to make us believe. And whether you like it or not, it’s for these causes, disguised or not, that our brothers in arms lost their lives, their legs, and sometimes, their lucidity. For me, I think I lost a fiancée. For world democracy.
Are you proud of having gone over there so that the Haïtians could sleep at night without being afraid of being killed by the forces of order? Of having gone to assure the safety of three opposing ethnicities in Bosnia, who killed each other and hated even the sight of each other? Of having pushed back the Taliban forces so that Afghan girls could go to school without getting sprayed in the face with acid?
Yeah, me too. I’m happy to have contributed what I could so that better governance, better human rights and certain kind of freedom could emerge in these countries.
It’s for democracy that you went to the other side. To be sure, it was intense over there. The violence, the mines, the bombs, the grenades, the tanks, the checkpoints, the culture shock, the foreign languages, the religions, the starkness, the desert. “Come on, Québec’s not like that, this isn’t Somalia or Afghanistan, the youth are complaining for nothing, we should send them all over to see what it’s like in Afghanistan so they quit complaining.”
Oh yeah? Really? From what I’m seeing, the new generation doesn’t need to go over there to understand that things are messed up here. Neither do the rest of the adults that march with them in groups of 200 000. Three times in 60 days.
Sure, it’s worse elsewhere, for example in Syria and Lybia. So? Because of this reason they should drop it? You know, these people are also fighting for rights. Who are you to dare to compare the importance of the same right in a strange country with our own?
You know that I dropped my weapons and for 4 years I have been living in the third world where human rights are scoffed at. Every day is a struggle to exist just a little bit more. Every country follows its own path. Are we that different, comrade? No. Maybe it’s my outsider’s view on the world and on our society that makes me feel alarmed about the political climate in Québec these days.
You don’t want to hear any more talk about tuition fees? Ok. That’s great, brother, with Law 78 it is no longer just a question about tuition fees. No, now it’s a question of a breach of individual and fundamental rights. A total regression. A breach of freedom of expression. “But the youth who prevent the students from going back to class, that’s a breach of their rights as well!” Ohhhhh, poor little babies who can’t go back to class. They should have stayed together with the others. You know, in a group, in a team like we learned in recruits? When we were in deep shit, we stayed in that shit together… what happened to the ones who didn’t follow? You remember? Yeah, they paid for it…
“Law 78 isn’t as much of a loss of rights as a woman in a burka.” My dear friend, I don’t think there’s any good reason to lose our rights and to surrender further to the forces of order. Especially not in Québec. When I hear “Police State,” my thoughts go all over the world but never stop at home.
Yes, we have both been deployed for the same causes that these people are protesting for in the streets every night. Causes we were scared of losing our lives over. I was scared. I’m not going to say otherwise.
You don’t see the link between democracy here and on the other side? Really? Come on, try a bit harder.
Yeah, I know. Like you, I have a lot of friends who are cops. We all feel connected, the military, the police, the paramedics, the firefighters. And you know what? I don’t blame them individually because like you, I understand a bit of what they’re living. Orders are orders. You remember in Afghanistan how difficult it was mentally? Physically? How many of us were exhausted from marching with our weapons, our flak jackets, our boots, our ammunition, our kevlar helmets.
And damn it was hot, eh? After several rounds of fighting or after we lost a friend, you too wanted to shoot the Afghan, you were fed up. “Dammit I want to kill all these damn Haji with their turbans, fucking terrorists.” You wanted to “get the fuck outta here,” but like me, you were stuck over there, for a long time. Our leaders knew when you had to take a break. “Ok, fatso, you’re not going on patrol today, you need a rest.” But we also continued to shake hands in the communities and we continued to negotiate with the leaders of the towns. Yeah, they look exhausted, our cop friends. And we understand that.
The Use of Force
But for us, there wasn’t a single good reason to break the Rules of Engagement (ROE). It was strict, and you could be taken to court if you broke the ROE or if you violated the international rules of war. To see the clips of the protests, I gotta ask myself if the police of the SPVM and the SQ have any judicial limits. If you had bludgeoned an Afghan the way I have seen them bludgeon some Québecers, you would have been in some pretty hot water. Two years minus one day in prison, at least. A journalist present and you would have been in huge shit: a bad military because you had tortured an Afghan. The protesters are put into the same plastic handcuffs that you put on the Afghan prisoners. That shocked me. Because, exactly — and this is YOUR argument — it’s not Bosnia or ‘stan here. So why are we treating protesters like prisoners of war? I’m exaggerating? Maybe. Maybe not.
My friend was hit a couple of times in the ribs this week. Nothing too serious, not torture. Little shots to the ribs. What is her recourse? Nothing. Law 78 protects the cops.
You remember on our mission, use of force needed to be equal between both parties. An M72 and and RPG, that was pretty equal. A billiard ball thrown by a protester against a plastic projectile shot at 100/hr, I dunno, but it doesn’t really sound that equal. You’ll have some reasons against it, but I’ll respect your opinion.
I love my police friends and the police in general always helped me when I needed it. But now, they look kind of exhausted. They look like they’re reaching their limits. Because our elected officials let this social crisis go on and on while they buried their heads in the sand. And our police friends, whether they agree or not, respond exhaustedly to the laws of our government, our elected. Those who signed away our individual and fundamental rights.
My police friends, I love you and you know who you are. I think about you and I tell myself that it must be rough in the streets. And even if you act like tough guys, if you don’t give a fuck about public opinion, we know it’s not easy. It was tough for us too when the population wasn’t on our side when we fought in Afghanistan. But take a break if you think you’re going to blow a fuse.
“Law 78 was necessary to bring things back to order.” Seriously? I dare to hope that you get that the government knew very well that the crisis was going to get worse. You remember, in the Canadian Forces when we went to a bunch of trainings on ‘negotiation’ and ‘mediation’ with communities? On the importance of good negotiating in order not to find ourselves in tense situations, angry populations and violent contexts? A negotiation so that both parties left satisfied, even if they didn’t necessarily like each other? I won’t go on, I think you get my point.
“You’ve become such a hippie with your leftist principles, you can’t see clearly now that you’re no longer in our world.” You know, my old friend in arms, I’m neither leftist or rightist. I’m totally for good old-fashioned common sense. And Law 78, well to me, it makes no sense. And I’m not a hippie, I’m a humanitarian aid worker. My role is to develop the governing capacities of unstable countries so you never have to come over here with your guns. And you know what they say in all of these countries, in Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? “Everything starts with education. If there was education, there would be an economy, stability, health infrastructure, less corruption, better governance and a better democracy. We would love to have access to education.” Yeah, education. Education as in “right to education” that you have been hearing for 16 weeks in the papers.
You know, you have everything to gain from this generation being educated and “socially leftist.” Why? Because it’s this generation that will soon be paying the pensions and medicines for all the elders in our society, and there are a lot of them. You think that it’s you who’s getting “fucked over” because you pay for their studies with your taxes? Check out the bill that THEY are going to get with this aging population. It will be too bad for you if this generation is ultra in debt and doesn’t feel like paying for your pills and your hospice. If this generation focuses only on themselves, you’re gonna wish you were dead. But from what I’m seeing in the papers, they want a more equitable society where people stick together, help each other, cooperate, where they form a team, a platoon. Yes my friend, you have everything to gain from this for your future…
The question of tuition fees is first of all a question of debt. Because it’s not everyone who can get their Bachelors from the Royal Military College of Kingston (paid for entirely by taxpayers, by the way!)
You know my old brother in arms, I don’t support the violence and the vandals. Neither violence from protesters nor police officers. It’s tough to see my city all mixed up. I hate the violence and I’m as well-placed as you to hate it. We’ve been through it. But what really depresses me about what you say is that you’re ready to go fight for democracy and good governance everywhere but in your own country. Because it’s so much worse over there. That you call all the youth “spoiled brats” and also those who follow them because they want a more just society, just like the people in the countries where we are deployed. Spoiled brats? When you’re ready to give up your semester for a social cause, you’ve got some fucking guts. Respect. Another thing that bugs me about you is that you aren’t even able to understand that this democracy that you protect elsewhere is in peril at home. It really hurts me. I’m ashamed. Go read article 9 of Law 78. If you don’t get it, I’ll explain it to you.
Buddy, I’m not asking you to fight or protest for it, no. Not even to agree with what I have to say. Anyways, this crisis has already polarized all of us. But it seems to me that you could at least be a little more nuanced in your words and in your social media updates. Because when you insult society today, I’m not sure that it’s the best direction for us and for our children. Unless you’re navel gazing or you only went to the other side for tax credits and adrenalin. If that’s the case, I’ve got no argument for you. You’re a just a pawn.
Whether you agree with me or not, I kind of don’t care. I didn’t write this thing so you would respond to me, but more because I wanted to express myself. Expression. One of the rights I still have today, I think, a right that our ancestors won for us. Our courageous veterans went overseas in those neverending wars and our hippie parents were revolutionaries in the public square of our province. Expression without fear, a right that my friends who are Haïtian, Afghan, Chadian and Sudanese don’t have. A right under threat for our future. A right that you still have, even when wearing your uniform.
My old brother in arms…
Yeah, things are moving fast. Tensions are high and I have a feeling that you could be deployed. The analysts say no, but nothing surprises me here. If you’re called to stabilize Montréal and Québec, my old brother-in-arms, please look out for us. Because when the mission is over, you’ll be at home this time. And the wounds might take a long time to heal…
With respect and friendship,
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.