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A human peace symbol for disarmament and the people of Egypt, Syria

Halifax says goodbye to long-time peace activist Tamara Lorincz

by Rana Encol

Halifax poet laureate El Jones performs her "Poem for Peace". (Photos: Rana Encol)
Halifax poet laureate El Jones performs her "Poem for Peace". (Photos: Rana Encol)
Kelly B. Schnare, 31, teaches six-year-old William Lorincz about hand signs as they help form a human peace symbol in the Grand Parade.
Kelly B. Schnare, 31, teaches six-year-old William Lorincz about hand signs as they help form a human peace symbol in the Grand Parade.
Mohamed Masalmeh, 36, says he has lost close to 150 relatives over the course of the two-year civil war in Syria.
Mohamed Masalmeh, 36, says he has lost close to 150 relatives over the course of the two-year civil war in Syria.

A bleary-eyed Tamara Lorincz watched Halifax Poet Laureate El Jones deliver her “Poem for Peace” to a crowd of men, women, and children – many of whom were dressed in white – who responded to her fifty-odd verses with a chorus of peace.

“We demand an end to corporations profiting from war,” recited Jones.

“Salaam,” responded the crowd.

“We call for an end to drones and remote control killing.”

“Shalom.”

They gathered around noon to form a human peace symbol at the Grand Parade Square in front of city hall, and to call on Mayor Mike Savage to join over 5,700 mayors who have called for the abolition of nuclear weaponry by 2020.

Over a hundred city mayors have signed in Canada alone, including the mayors of Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.

Mayor Cecil Clarke of Sydney signed in April, along with nine other mayors from Nova Scotia, including the mayors of Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Pictou, Pugwash, Wolfville, and Yarmouth.

“Halifax has already suffered through one devastating war-time explosion in 1917; Halifax could not endure a nuclear attack. We need to eliminate these weapons and mayors must take a stand,” said Lorincz, reading from her letter addressed to the mayor.

Lorincz, 43, is leaving the city after 14 years of environmental and social activism. An active member of the Halifax Peace Coalition, she has critiqued the Free Trade Area of the Americas, worked toward corporate responsibility at Dalhousie University, and helped stage the largest demonstration the province witnessed when President George W. Bush visited in 2004.

“Sam was six months old, then,” she recalled, looking at her son. “I didn't sleep for six days.”

An ardent feminist, Lorincz is a long-time member of the Voice of Women and the Dalhousie Association of Women and Law.

Today was her last demonstration before leaving for England on a Rotary International Peace Fellowship. “We will miss you Tamara – peace,” was the final message from those gathered.

Poets, singers, and academics called on the urgent need for disarmament especially in light of the ongoing civil war in Syria and military coup in Egypt.

Poet Robert Davies read his “Prayer in the Form of Cranes”.

Singer Sandy Greenberg, of the Nova Scotia Voice of Women, performed “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.”

Dr. Jamal A. Badawi, an Egyptian born Canadian professor and writer, hailed the crowd with a “salaam alaikum” and called for peaceful legitimate solutions to the ongoing civil war in Syria and military coup in Egypt.

“I hope that all decent people agree if there is any solution it's got to be through the ballot box and not the bullets,” he said. “Let the people go to the ballot box. Not one person or a few cronies.”

He also demanded the release of all political prisoners and the two Canadians, filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani, who were arrested and detained in Egypt on Friday en route to Gaza for humanitarian work.

Mohamed Masalmeh, 36, held a Syrian flag and a sign that said, “Bashar Al-Assad is a Criminal; he killed 130 of my family.” He said the number was now closer to 150, and included cousins, second cousins, and uncles.

According to activists and photographers on the ground, chemical attacks in the Damascus area last week killed as many as 1,300 lives – making it the deadliest alleged attack during the two-year civil war.

Masalmeh said that when his wife's brother was released from jail he had become a human "ashtray” because of the way he had been treated.

The international community “got involved in Libya and Iraq very quick,” he added. “The humanitarian cause is just a lie they tell. If blood was more expensive than oil we would have seen them there a long time ago.”

But he's not optimistic about intervention in the best interest, either: “Even if we saw boots on the ground, they would just be there to impose their power.”

Lorincz pointed out that many of the Canadian warships stationed in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea launch from the Halifax dockyard.

The federal government is spending $25 billion on the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy at the Irving Shipyard instead of investing in sustainable municipal infrastructure and affordable housing, said Lorincz. The government is also spending $16 billion on fighter jets and $1 billion on armed drones.

Lorincz has silently protested at the shipyards every Wednesday at noon for nine months.

After the rally Lorincz and her two sons, William, 6, and Sam, 9, walked to city hall to hand deliver their letter. The door clerk said the mayor was on vacation but said yes, the letter would reach him.

When the president of Mayors for Peace, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, visited Nova Scotia for the Pugwash conference in 2007, then-mayor Peter Kelly refused to meet with him. Current mayor Mike Savage promised to sign during his election campaign and said he would “investigate” whether or not he could sign in December – but has not moved on this issue since.

“There needs (to be) no further investigation,” said Lorincz.

“The form he has to fill out is one page that says yes, he supports other mayors in saying nuclear weapons should be eliminated. It's so simple.”


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