Nanaimo Branch of WILPF Canada

May 2014

Our Nanaimo branch, which began in 2005, is a small group of five older women who meet regularly and take on tasks that support the ideals of WILPF but have short time frames.

Being a small group, we have learned to take on only what we know we can follow through with. We have also learned that it is important to work with other like-minded groups. Our greatest success is in keeping the name of WILPF out there. This is primarily due to members who will set up a table whenever we are invited somewhere, bake muffins to sell and pass out WILPF information.

Nanaimo is a medium-size city on Vancouver Island off the west coast of British Columbia. The name is derived from the Coast Salish, Snuneymuxw, or “a place to meet.”

The event we put the most energy into is our annual Hiroshima Lantern ceremony on August 6th. This is held yearly on our waterfront.

We begin by writing to Nanaimo City Council asking the Mayor to declare August 6th Hiroshima Day in Nanaimo and invite the city to attend. The Council votes to do this and so the invitation is televised at the regular council meeting where they vote

We always have a statement from our MP Jean Crowder and she attends when she can, in person. Our MLA Leonard Krog also attends and speaks every year. Our mayor has attended in recent years and speaks on behalf of the city. We often have speakers who are visiting in the area from Japan.

In 2012 and 2013, we had Japanese folk dances as part of the program. Several years ago we had a large dove puppet which people carried around the waterfront all evening. One year we released live doves at a certain point in the evening.

Early in July we host lantern-making workshops in preparation for the event. Since the lanterns are attached together, it takes thirty-five people walking together very slowly and lowering them into the water at just the right time. A kayak pulls them around the lagoon. Then it takes all these people acting in tandem to get them back out.

We have been doing this every year for the past twelve years. There is often very good press and coloured pictures in the papers each year so even if people don’t get to attend, they hear about it. We invite a community choir to perform at the ceremony so we are guaranteed at least forty people from that group alone. Usually we have about 200 people attend.

In 2014 our WILPF group was accepted as “Commenter” for National Energy Board hearings about the Trans Mountain Pipeline proposed to be built from the Alberta Tar Sands to our shores. We are urging them to reject this plan that could potentially ruin our coastline if there were a spill from increased tanker traffic.

We have initiated International Women’s Day potluck and celebrations, free and accessible to all women and their children. After these became very successful with 180 women showing up each year, we asked the women’s centre here to take over the organizing as it is too much for us. We work with them, paying for the venue and pitching in to help.

Each year we contribute funds to the local Miners Picnic for art supplies for the children’s program.

One of our members, Robyn Sherling, prepares cards each year and creates a display for their sale at the Global Village store. The sale of these cards augments our income as a group.

This year, 2014, one of our projects was to lobby the City to put back the signs that used to grace our city entrances announcing that “Nanaimo is a Nuclear Weapons-free Zone.” The signs were put in place after our presentations to Council.

In 2013 our members were active in the Idle No More movement and we published a statement of support for this important movement.

In past years when we had more members, we hosted Remembrance Day peace gatherings at the gates of CFMTR, the Nanoose naval base just north of Nanaimo. These gatherings were attended by people throughout the mid-island. In 2006 on Mothers’ Day we hosted a Code Pink action there where women dressed in pink and planted pink primulas around the gates. We also initiated peace rallies in coalition with other local groups over Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 200 we did a War Toys Campaign, interviewing local stores that sold toys and checking out their shelves. We then put out a press release with our results and gave awards to two stores that carried no war toys.

When it was brought to our attention that our local police were using male guards to guard female prisoners, we worked with another women’s group to convince the city to hire women. This meant that male police could no longer sit in front of videos upstairs watching young women change their clothes or use the toilet as they were filmed in their cells.

We also brought attention to the issue of Security Certificates introduced in Canada after the incident of the Twin Towers in the USA. These are measures that allow the Canadian government to detain people they suspect to be terrorists and hold them without bail, without legal representation and without being told why they are being held. They are taken to a jail near Kingston Ontario which has been dubbed “Guantanamo North.” Several men were held for a number of years there, Mohammed Harkat being released only recently. In Nanaimo in 2007 we hosted a letter-writing workshop about this and invited the press.

This is still an important issue for Canadians as these men have not been allowed the opportunity to clear their names and as long as these laws are in place, it can happen to others.

Our group feels the most important issue for us as Canadian women is the situation for Indigenous women as they are doubly exploited. The Missing Women from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and the murdered women along the Highway of Tears in Northern B.C. are mainly Indigenous women.

Dyane Brown

Nanaimo Branch, WILPF Canada