PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Statistics Canada and Lockheed Martin by peaceprobe
June 11, 2008, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Militarism, Nonviolence

The email published here with permission highlights the journey that people on the road to peacemaking encounter within themselves and from the outside. The author’s main concern is Lockheed Martin  the largest U.S. Defence Department contractor and also the supplier of Statistics Canada’s technology for census.  

Hello Gene,

You don’t know me, but I check in on your blog from time to time. I’m in need of some advice. I decided to withhold my census in 2006 due to Lockheed Martin technology used to count the census. My wife and I envisioned this protest as part of our Christian witness.  Then after 6 months my wife and I decided to return it after defacing its bar codes with the hope that Lockheed Martin would no longer be able to count it, along with a letter explaining our position and our disappointment with Statscan (Statistics Canada). 

Then about a month ago I received a summons from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) asking me to appear in court on June 6th as I was charged by the Justice Department for withholding my census. I was approached by an activist who also was charged who told me only 63 of thousands of people who withheld their census were actually charged, including many thousand of Native Canadians, none of whom were charged (thank God).

This activist and some of the people at Vive Le Canada (vivelecanada.ca) and Count Me Out (countmeout.ca) [groups advocating greater Canadian control in the age of globalization] would like me to plead not guilty, begin the court process, and involve the media. I talked to a scholar friend of mine who said he had not heard of anyone making this sort of civil disobedience, but that in my situation he would in fact plead not guilty and seek to make the case public. I have started in this direction. But what bothers me is I am not finding any other Christians who are also withholding their census. 

I am wondering if this is the hill I want to die on. I am new to peacemaking, and very naive. When I started this whole process, I thought I was heading down the right track, now I have less confidence, especially as the Crown, the judge, and other legal staff didn’t seem to care whether I plead guilty or not, as they felt it would do little good either way. Without really knowing any Canadian peace movement types, I struggle with what to do. So… I thought I’d ask you since we share the same province, I live in Kingston, Ontario. The other activist who has been charged is in Saskatchewan.  God Bless,

Todd Patrick Stelmach

Todd, My wife is Canadian and I am American.  We have lived here in Fort Frances since I left Christian Peacemaker Teams. Dorothy has been verbally interviewed by census workers on a couple of occasions and the reference to Lockheed Martin was news to her. We are pleased to be alerted to this item. I am thrilled with your witness. I believe that the advice to plead not guilty has merit. 

The choice to plead not guilty is usually the only way that the legal system allows you to challenge the official policy. If you plead not guilty I hope that you can make a statement in court clearly stating your reasons for your action.  If you are found guilty and there is a fine you will have to decide what to do about it and how it can be used for further witness.  Court cases are time consuming and can be expensive depending upon what you do about legal representation.  However the cost need not be measured in dollars only.  Each piece of the process provides a step to enlarge the public discussion about your action.  Your bottom line is your inward knowing of what you want to communicate.  

On January 26, 2006 a group of us vigiled in front of Lockheed Martin headquarters as part of our Shine the Light presence in the Washington area.  See my blog report. 

A public trial of this nature opens space for others to think and reflect on their lives and how the conduct of their lives has definite implications for the whole earth and people everywhere. Different people will consider your witness from very different stances. Here are some things to think about. 

1. Canadian Christians will be alerted to the fact that there are people whose lives are rooted in the Gospel of Peace. Some will feel jolted. Others may be confused. Still others will say it is silly and ineffective or even think you have lost your good sense.  A few will be challenged or encouraged to read their census forms much more carefully. Most of all you send a signal that the Gospel of Peace crosses all boundaries and intersects inconveniently with otherwise useful and innocent activities of governments. 

2. Being alone when you take on wedge issues like this is hard. You will need a support team. 

3. The process of discussing it with people and the public can bring a great wall of silence or advice like the dismissive comments of the judge and other legal staff. You will find responses like this in church and throughout society.  I choose to interpret these criticisms positively.  Someone is listening but the listener would prefer that the moral dilemma or attendant discomfort your decision poses for them would just go away. All of us do that some time. 

4. You will need to do homework on Lockheed Martin because people will want to know a little more about this vast corporate structure with 135,000 employees in 56 nations. Canadians will want to know why Statistics Canada, a body that collects important information for policy planning including defence has contracted with an American defence giant to crunch its numbers and information. I wonder why Lockheed Martin is in this business at all and how the reach into Canadian statistics is related to U.S. defence planning. I doubt that you will get the answer to this from their WEB site but it is a legitimate question for Canadians to ask. 

5. “Wondering if this is the hill I want to die on.” You said it perfectly. When you set out to intersect with a boundary like this something dies within you. It becomes part of your record, your resume. Some of those good corporate, government or even church jobs you might have been thinking about now may be more remote. And the conversations at Christmas gatherings and festive events may become a bit dicey. When you examine an issue for yourself without the props of social approval and find your heart nudging you away from the mainstream in a way that engages your body and mind there is death and new life.  New life is planted, something that feels more like the breath of God that can nurture the planet and make all things new. 

6. “I am finding no other Christians who are also withholding their census.” This is a lonely journey sometimes but your witness will create new space where there was no space before. You will not be alone in your action because others will come forward to listen to your explanation and research. Others will connect to your fresh notion of the life of faith. Others will be outraged or just irritated. But, the space you are creating will be a gift and the loneliness will be swallowed up by the content of the hope towards which your faith and action point. 

You are not naive. You have already begun to find allies and others will appear.  Still others will be quietly encouraged.  

Gene Stoltzfus

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