Mr. Bush pays a visit
It was a flashback to December 2008 when former president George W. Bush successfully dodged two flying shoes thrown his way by an Iraqi journalist through what has been described as a symbolic attack. This time, it wasn’t just two shoes that went flying but an estimated 250; coincidentally in the same month the Iraqi journalist, Muntadar Al-Zaidi, received three years in prison for his actions.
Numerous Calgarians took part in the indicative imitation, by loading an art piece cannon equipped with bungee cords full of shoes and targeting a George W. Bush cardboard poster — a direct result of the anger and frustration felt by Calgarians of the former president’s visit to Calgary on Tuesday.
The crowd, made up of roughly 300 participants expressed their fury through large banners, signs, chants and costumes. “Go home Bush,” and booming voices declaring him a criminal were heard clearly along Stephen Avenue while a crowd of attendees to the event waited patiently in the -7C weather.
Overall the protest remained peaceful with the exception of four men being taken into custody by Calgary police on various charges. The police service had been contacted by organizers prior to the event and officers on the scene described the protest as mostly peaceful.
Since the announcement of his visit at the beginning of this year, roughly 20 organizers, some from various organizations, put their heads together and began contriving Tuesday’s family-friendly protest. Human rights lawyers and activists wanted the federal government to bar the former president from Canada or have him prosecuted for crimes against humanity and war crimes once he sets foot on the country’s soil — issues that influenced the focus of the rally.
“I think Bush is coming to Calgary because he thinks it’s a safe place, it has the largest population of ex-patriot Americans in the world, we’re a fairly conservative city and some people call us “little Texas” and I think he thinks he’s coming to a safe place where he’s going to be welcomed,” said Collette Lemieux, co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance, a day before the protest. “I think that’s why it’s so important that we give him the welcome he deserves and so we’re going to go out and rally and let him know that he’s a war criminal and that he needs to be held accountable.”
A letter sent to numerous politicians including the PM by Lawyers Against War (LAW), states that Bush is credibly accused of torture, human rights violations, and war crimes, and should be denied entry in concurrence with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Emotions ran high when the doors opened to the line-up of attendees that formed a crowd all the way from Stephen Avenue past Centre Street. Dressed up in business suits, those who made it into the building stood near the windows looking down at the crowd while snapping photos with their cell phones and antagonistically making hand gestures above the warm heaters while smiling at protesters below.
While a few came out to support Bush, via signs and verbal arguments, Derek Rimmer who strongly opposed Bush’s visit conversed with a few to hear their point of view, and got inspired to participate in more protests for justice and law in Canada.
“It gives me hope to be out here, that’s why I came down because you can’t just be indifferent,” Rimmer said. “The fact is that he broke the Geneva Convention … in the memory of all the soldiers that have fought it’s disgusted me ever since. I’ve been preaching and barking to people and family and they’re tired of it, so I thought that instead I’ll come down here and do my thing.”
The event had a countrywide effect when Canadian citizens from Vancouver to Newfoundland send in their shoes in their stead. Students at the U of C, SAIT and Mount Royal were also actively recruiting students by distributing flyers about the event.
Information about the 43rd president’s visit was extremely limited. The private gathering to an expected audience of 1,500 — tickets selling at $400 — was closed off to the media and invitation only. According to executive assistant at the mayor’s office, Leah Zilnik, the mayor did not attend the meeting with the former president.
His speech was one of the first post-White House speeches by the former president and addressed his eight years experience in Oval Office as well as the challenges that are facing the world in the 21st century.