While hooded and chained ‘prisoners’ knelt on the steps of the Elijah Smith building in downtown Whitehorse on Wednesday, real Canadian hostages were about to be rescued, half a world away.
The anti-war demonstration organized by the Yukon Peace Coalition marked the end of week-long international protests against three years of US-led occupation in Iraq.
About 50 demonstrators — roughly half of them high school students, mostly from Vanier Catholic Secondary School — marched from city hall down Main Street to the Elijah Smith building.
Some of them carried rainbow banners marked with doves.
Some were dressed as prisoners from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, where allegations of torture and abuse of detainees has led to the arrest and conviction of several US soldiers.
Some of them carried placards with modified slogans. For example, the familiar question, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ was replaced by new rhetoric: “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”
Since the US-led invasion on March 19, 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, as have more than 2,300 US soldiers, said organizer Greg Garcia.
“You are in solidarity today with a worldwide community that is raising its voice and saying this is wrong,” Garcia, a US citizen, told the group of demonstrators gathered outside city hall.
“Torture has become a central part of US policy,” he said.
“This is not civilized behaviour, and part of what we are doing here today is demonstrating that torture is morally wrong.
“War is not a good way to solve conflicts between nations.”
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, three hostages from the international Christian Peacemakers Teams were about to be rescued by a team of US, British and Canadian soldiers that included members of the RCMP.
“We got the news at about 2 a.m.,” said Dwyer Sullivan, a Christian Peacemakers Teams member who attended the Whitehorse rally.
Sullivan is a personal friend of 41-year-old James Loney, one of the three hostages to survive the November 26 kidnapping.
Four Christian Peacemakers Teams members were kidnapped by an Islamic group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. It demanded the release of all Iraqi detainees being held by US forces Iraq.
The kidnappers threatened to kill all four hostages.
Sullivan’s family got the call that Loney had been released early Thursday morning.
“We’ve been up since then,” said Sullivan.
“We’ve gone on either a hunting or canoeing trip with Jim each of the last six or seven summers, so we know him really well, sat around a lot of campfires.
“I’m sure he built relationships with his captors. It doesn’t surprise me at all to find out that the captors were, I would guess, partly in on their release. I don’t think they would be left unattended unintentionally.
“Nobody has said that, but that’s my own thinking. You couldn’t help but be with Jim for that long and not like him.
“It’s been a very joyous occasion for us.”
But not for the family and friends of Tom Fox, the 54-year-old American member of the Christian Peacemakers Teams who was the only one of the four hostages to be killed.
The other two hostages — 33-year-old Harmeet Singh Sooden of Canada and 74-year-old Norman Kember of the United Kingdom — are both safe, according to media reports.
“I was with (Christian Peacemakers Teams) two weeks ago when we got news of Tom Fox’s assassination,” said Sullivan.
“The hope then, besides the sadness for Tom’s death, was that, perhaps, this may have fulfilled (the kidnappers’) commitment to execute people if detainees weren’t released.
“The (Christian Peacemakers Teams’) hope was that this may be all they need to do, and the others may be able to be released.”
The other hostages’ release was possibly assisted by willingness within the Muslim community in Iraq.
Muslim clerics from both the Shiite and Sunni camps in Iraq spoke publicly in favour of the hostages, said Mark Connell, a Vanier teacher and friend of Loney’s who helped co-ordinate Wednesday’s demonstration.
“Al-Jazeera has been absolutely fantastic at airing tapes that (Christian Peacemaker Teams) has been sending over,” said Connell.
“It’s all speculation. But I think the international awareness that happened about the work of (Christian Peacemakers Teams) counts for something.”