500 cheer Thobani's critique
October 2, 2001
Jane Taber, with files from Joe Brean
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 country.
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. aggression?"
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 women.
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 indefensible."
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 George, B.C.
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 remarks.
"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.