From the Ottawa Citizen
Green Party leader wants peace conference cancelled
The leader of the Green Party of Canada wants a group of current and former party candidates to cancel a conference on peace in Ottawa Thursday tonight that features a roster of Iranian speakers.
“This is not a happy event,” Elizabeth May said in an interview Wednesday. “If they’re not aware that they’ve put together a conference which is unbalanced, then they’re not paying attention. I hope they’ll cancel.”
The conference on “just and sustainable peace” at the Government Conference Centre includes three academics from Tehran University, including keynote speaker Saeid Ameli, dean of the faculty of global studies.
Another panelist is Davood Ameri, director general of the Islamic World Peace Forum, an Tehran-based NGO whose website postings closely mirror the views of the Iranian regime.
Martin Rudner, former director of Carleton University’s Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, said the event is “merely a floor show, a one-sided propaganda forum for an Iranian perspective on international affairs.
“It’s very one-sided,” he said. “There’s no other side.”
May stressed that the conference was not a sanctioned Green party event. “There’s no entity of the Green party involved. There’s not even a local riding association involved.”
If the Green party were to organize such a conference, May said, “we would not for a moment allow any potential for whitewashing of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad or the Iranian regime.
“We’re right now in the midst of pressing Iran to stop barbaric practices and show trials,” she said. “This is hardly the time to be holding an event which in any way allows the Iranian regime to have any form of cover.”
One surprising attendee tonight will be RCMP Cst. Wayne Russett, aboriginal and ethnic liaison officer at A-Division in Ottawa.
“The RCMP’s role is to have a good understanding of the communities we serve, and that means listening to different points of view,” explained RCMP spokesman Marc Ménard.
“It doesn’t mean we’re promoting this, it doesn’t mean we’re speaking there,” he said. “It’s about sharing information and staying connected with the various communities we serve. That is all. Nothing more.”
The conference was organized by the “Ottawa Group of Four” — two current and two former Green candidates in Ottawa-area ridings.
The current candidates are Paul Maillet in Ottawa-Orléans and Qais Ghanem in Ottawa South. The other two, Akbar Manoussi and Sylvie Lemieux, ran in 2008.
Maillet said the four organized the event in an attempt to build “an alternative approach to conflict that doesn’t lead you down the path of violence.
“We were able to get some academics from the University of Tehran, and we thought that this was a good place to start.”
Maillet said the invitees were recruited by Manoussi, who attended a government-sponsored conference in Tehran in the past year.
“It was an art-of-the-possible thing. It would have been nice if we could have got Ahmadinejad or someone, but I think he’s booked,” he joked.
The objective is to ask panel members and attendees to do what they can to advance the cause of peace through non-violent means, Maillet said.
“There’s no naming and blaming,” he said. “It’s all about what you can do in your country. If we can save one life, do one small thing, we would consider it successful.”
Organizers understand that the event could become an Iranian propaganda exercise, Maillet acknowledged.
To prevent that, they plan to instruct participants to talk only about what they’re prepared to do as individuals to resolve conflict and promote peace.
“This is what we want from these people,” he said. “If they’re going to speak otherwise, then they’re going to be fair game.”
Though he said he wasn’t “100 per cent sure” the Iranian participants are aligned with the regime, Maillet agreed “they are under some constraints.
“If one spoke out against the regime, that probably would not be looked kindly upon,” he said, adding: “We’ll see what kind of courage they have.”
But Rudner said the Iranians “wouldn’t dare speak their minds. Their lives would be at risk.”
Just last week, Rudner said, the Ahmadinejad regime shut down every social science department in Iranian universities because they’re regarded as centres of Western influence.
“They’ve clamped down very strictly on freedom of thought, let alone freedom of expression,” he said. “I worry about four Iranians who cannot speak freely and, by definition, have to push an agenda.”
May said the organizers either allowed themselves to be manipulated or didn’t adequately consider the implications of their actions. “I can’t imagine what they were thinking.”
Their intentions “may have been good,” she said, noting that some other speakers are well-respected. “But the fatal failure is in having those particular supporters of the current Iranian regime without balance.”
But Maillet said he and his fellow organizers weren’t interested in having a “group hug.
“A professional peacekeeper does not choose to have conferences with his friends. He chooses to have dialogue and discussion with people with whom he has differences. That is the place you can make gains.”
However, said May, “You can’t have a dialogue if you don’t have balance. You can’t be naive about these things.”
Asked if the party might revoke Maillet and Ghanem’s nominations, May said there was “nothing at the moment” that suggested that would happen.
“If they’re duly nominated by their local riding association and if they recognize that they made a mistake and they didn’t have a balanced event, I don’t think we plan to punish them,” she said.
However, “if we have a candidate who puts forward unacceptable views or anti-Semitic views, they will not be a candidate. I can say that full stop. There’s a line you can’t cross.”