October 2, 2001
500 cheer Thobani's critique
Jane Taber, with files from Joe Brean
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - A leading voice of feminism in Canada told 500 cheering women
at a conference yesterday that U.S. foreign policy is "soaked in blood"
and only a fool would fail to examine the power of the United States in
the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Sunera Thobani, a women's studies professor at the University of
British Columbia, said the United States is "the most dangerous and
powerful global force unleashing horrific levels of violence.
"From Chile to El Salvador to Nicaragua to Iraq, the path of U.S.
foreign policy is soaked in blood," said Ms. Thobani, a former
president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
Ottawa contributed $80,000 to the three-day conference.
The conference is called Women's Resistance: From Victimization to
Criminalization. One of the conference organizers characterized Ms.
Thobani as a popular speaker and an important intellectual voice in the
Ms. Thobani said she felt the pain of the victims of the Sept. 11
attacks, but wondered who is feeling the pain of "the victims of U.S.
She added: "U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood. And other countries
of the West -- including, shamefully, Canada -- cannot line up fast
enough behind it.
"But the people, the American nation that Bush is invoking, is a people
which is bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood. They don't care
whose blood it is, they want blood. And that has to be confronted."
The women in the audience -- academics, union members, mental health
workers and advocates for female inmates, embraced her anti-American
rhetoric, repeatedly interrupting her with cheers and standing ovations.
Hedy Fry, the federal Secretary of State for the Status of Women, and
Landon Pearson, a Liberal Senator and the daughter-in-law of the late
prime minister Lester B. Pearson, sat on the podium with Ms. Thobani.
Neither immediately denounced the speech, but neither stood or
applauded when Ms. Thobani received a standing ovation.
Ms. Pearson could not be reached for comment.
Later, Ms. Fry told the House of Commons: "People in this country are
allowed to say what they want. I did not support it. I did not applaud
it. I got up and left immediately following. I stand in the House right
now and say that I condemn the speech." Ms. Fry said she had expected
the conference to deal exclusively with the subject of violence against
John Manley, the Foreign Affairs Minister, told the House: "Mr.
Speaker, we have made it repeatedly plain that we view any kind of
attempt to create moral equivalency between anyone's policies and what
happened on Sept. 11 to be utterly unthinkable, outrageous and
Joe Clark, the Tory leader, described Ms. Fry as a "continuing running
embarrassment" to the government and country. Last spring, Ms. Fry
incorrectly said crosses were being burned on the lawns of Prince
Mr. Clark said Ms. Fry should have walked away immediately, while
Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance leader, said: "For a minister of
the Crown to sit on that stage and not disavow those remarks [at the
time] was equally horrendous."
Another speaker at the conference, professor Julie Sudbury, from Mills
College in Oakland, Calif., said: "Sept. 11 has created a blank slate
for global domination of the Bush agenda of militarism and global
capitalism ... He's no longer the Texas hangman. He appears to have
become the global hangman."
Lee Lakeman, of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, and
one of the conference organizers, said she supported Ms. Thobani's
"I can certainly assure you from the floor it was perfectly obvious
that the majority of the room wants to call for peace and wants us to
have supportive attitudes toward the Third World and the aspirations of
the third world," she said, adding she considered the $80,000 donated by
the federal government to be inadequate.
Copyright 2001 National Post Online
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