How can PBI-Canada’s peace education work help create the conditions for peace?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Peace Brigades International was founded at the Peace Education Centre on Grindstone Island (on unceded Algonquin territory in Ontario, Canada) in September 1981.

Its first statement highlighted, “Peace brigades, fashioned to respond to specific needs and appeals, will undertake nonpartisan missions which may include peacemaking initiatives, peacekeeping under a discipline of nonviolence, and humanitarian service.”

PBI’s subsequent Principles and Mandate statement (first approved in 1992) also noted “the task of peace-keeping, peace-making and peace-building” and further recognized “peace education” as part of our work.

To think about peace education in the Canadian context, it may be instructive to explore the size, funding and role of the Canadian military. A few quick facts:

1- The Department of National Defence (DND) has noted that Canada has over 2,000 military personnel deployed on approximately 20 different missions. And Elliot Hughes, a former Director of Policy to the Minister of National Defence, has written, “On any given day, approximately 8,000 troops are involved in some form of deployment – preparing to ship out, actively engaged in theatre, or returning from mission.”

2- The largest Canadian military mission appears to be in Iraq where Canada is part of the Global Coalition against Daesh and NATO Mission Iraq (NMI). In March 2020, journalist Scott Taylor wrote that Canada has “850 military personnel” in Iraq (now temporarily reduced given a redeployment of approximately 400 personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

3- On January 7, 2020, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “Iraq’s parliament voted on Sunday calling for the removal of all foreign troops from the country.” In Taylor’s recent opinion-piece on how the post-2003 invasion landscape has changed into an “inter-factional civil war in Iraq”, he comments, “Canada did not break Iraq. Bring our troops home now.”

4- In June 2017, the Government of Canada released a new defence policy document titled Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE). DND notes, “SSE will grow annual cash defence spending from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27. Total defence spending over 20 years will be $553 billion on a cash basis.”

5- One major upcoming expenditure is the planned purchase of new fighter jets. In July 2019, the Canadian Press reported that Canada launched a procurement process to spend about $19 billion to purchase 88 new fighter jets. The winning bidder will be chosen in 2022 and the first fighters are scheduled to arrive “as early as 2025”.

With Canada set to spend half-a-trillion dollars on the military, expand the size of its regular forces and buy new fighter jets, how do we situate this within PBI’s founding statement and its appeal to “peoples of diverse cultures, religions and social systems ready to contribute in new ways to the nonviolent resolution of conflict”?

In April, Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote an opinion piece titled, “What does ‘national defence’ mean in a pandemic?” In the context of the UK, Monbiot argues that this is no time to buy new fighter jets.

In Canada, defence analyst Elliot Hughes has already observed, “The soaring deficits [associated with COVID-19 spending] will place tremendous pressure on government to reduce its spending in non-COVID-19 areas in favour of healthcare and related priorities.” The suggestion is that the military could see its budget cut.

How do we navigate this moment, as PBI’s founding statement implores, “to preserve human life with dignity, to promote human rights, social justice and self-determination, and to create the conditions of peace.”

These are questions that PBI-Canada’s peace education work hopes to begin to explore. To share your thoughts, please leave a reply in the comment section below this article. You can also write me directly at

Top photo: The Peace Education Centre on Grindstone Island in 1984. PBI was founded in this building just three years prior to this photo. Below: An ad for a PBI-Canada “practical nonviolence orientation weekend” in Toronto in June 2001.


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