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Peace Camp nears first anniversary

Roy McFarlane — February 1984

OTTAWA – The Parliament Hill Peace Camp, pitched near the steps leading to the Centre Block of Parliament,’ has been alternately praised and criticised since its founding in April of 1982. Presently three people, Stephanie Cae, Dave Savage and Jonathan Levitte, maintain the Camp. Through the winter, they have slept nightly under a snow-covered tarpaulin. To give it some comfort, two Coleman heaters were donated to them, one from Greenpeace, Vancouver, the other from Peaceworks, an Ottawa group.

Skip Hambling, one of the organisers of, the October 1982 ‘Refuse the Cruise’ rally, now an assistant to NDP Member of Parliament Simon de Jong, and a founding member of Peaceworks, described the Camp as “the single most effective effort the peace movement has made in Canada.” He said that he and other New Democratic assistants who work on the Hill give the campers full marks for their perseverance, courage, stamina and conviction.

Doug Anguish, an NDP MP whose riding will be the site of the cruise missile tests, has been the most helpful of all MPs, according to Stephanie Coe. He’s allowed them access to his phone and receives their incoTning mail through his House of Commons office.

Aside from these particular instances, the campers are unanimously disappointed with the lack of support coming from local peace groups and parliamentary aides, particularly from the NOP. “So many times we’ve been at the point of closing the Camp,” said Dave Savage.

The crux of the problem has been appearance. A number of people, supporters and detractors, point to the disheveled look the Camp had through the summer and fall. The Camp was often untidy, creating a concern, on the part of some members of local peace groups, about the image it gave of the peace movement.

Eric Nielson, during his term as acting Conservative leader prior to the PC convention, raised the issue in the Commons shortly before the visit of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He described the Camp as an ‘eyesore.’

The campers don’t deny that the camp was untidy, but point out that the issue of cruise testing is what people should be examining. Despite the image problem, the campers feel that they have been an asset to the peace movement.

David Crenna, an assistant to Pierre Trudeau, arranged a meeting between Stephanie Cqe and the Prime Minister in late September. He acknowledged that “the Camp is a daily reminder to all Members of Parliament of the concern across the country.” According to Crenna, the meeting with Trudeau was arranged at Coe’s request. Coe, on a couple of occasions, had stopped Trudeau outside Parliament to speak with him. Crenna explained that the Prime Minister had increased his attention to the peace issue especially after the downing of the Korean airliner.

Coe recalls the meeting fondly. Karen Harrison, who was in the midst of a lengthy fast, attended it as well. (The Camp had originated as a result of an earlier fast Karen conducted.)

The meeting was held in Trudeau’s Langevin Block office. The three talked about the strategy of suffocation. Coe asked about the cruise tests. She says the Prime Minister looked away, and quietly said “Oh, the cruise.?’ He then briefly defended the tests as being part of the commitment to NATO. The meeting lasted ten minutes.

Towards the end, Trudeau said “There’s nothing I can do aboui it,” referring to the cruise tests, says Coe. He gave them no’ indication of his as yet undisclosed plans for a peace mission. After the meeting, Coe and Harrison went back to the Camp. Harrison has since ended her fast and has returned to Toronto.

Coe wonders now if their meeting affected the Prime Minister. David Crenna down plays its significance, mentioning that Trudeau meets with different people often, citing a January 16th luncheon meeting held with Dennis McDermott, president of the CLC; Norman Alcock, fOrmer president of the Canadian Peace Research Institute; and James Stark, president of Operation Dismantle, at which peace issues were discussed. Still, Coe is optimistic.. “I don’t know, I hope it did – ir helps morale.”

The Camp is now a few months away from its first amliversary. “I would like to see it continue,” says Savage. Both he and Cae have decided to leave in the spring. Cae is going to travel to Europe at the end of February. Savage is staying until the first of the cruise tests in March. Jonathan Levitte is uncertain about his own plans. “I can’t continue the Camp by myself.” Even though a meeting with the Prime Minister is a part of their history, the lack of support, moral and financial, may, soon take its toll.