Peace activists target cenotaph

Published September 1, 1998

Like the prophet Isaiah, former Toronto New Democrat MP and anti-war activist Rev. Dan Heap wants to turn swords into ploughshares. His target is the cenotaph outside St. Paul’s, Toronto’s largest Anglican church.

Mr. Heap believes the sword embedded in a stone cross in the war memorial should be changed to a ploughshare.

“There are a few of us who feel that the symbolism of the sword on the cross is no longer appropriate,” he said. “From a Christian point of view it’s much better that it should be a ploughshare.”

Mr. Heap and his two supporters spoke with St. Paul’s rector and wardens last spring about a makeover. Their idea was rejected.

But the men intend to hold monthly protests on the sidewalk near the cenotaph starting Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, through April 2, Good Friday.

“I don’t think very much of what he’s doing,” says Cliff Chadderton, chairman of the National Council of Veteran Associations and head of the War Amps of Canada. The Second World War veteran said it doesn’t make sense to remove the sword. “You can’t take the implement of war out of a war memorial.

“If you look at a war memorial, it’s a memorial to those who gave their lives. That’s what a war memorial is. If you took away the sword and replaced it with a ploughshare, that would be a pretty hollow gesture to those who gave up their lives.”

Mr. Heap’s campaign has also been raising eyebrows among those who attend St. Paul’s but the rector, Rev. Barry Parker, says there will be no attempt to prevent picketing near the cenotaph.

“Even though we are not changing the cross of sacrifice to serve his request, the monument stands as a reminder that he has the right and privilege of protest,” Mr. Parker said.

Mr. Heap is prepared to take full advantage of that right.

“The church has to consider what message it’s giving with a very prominent monument that puts the sword and the cross together,” he said. The monument is on a busy location on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, visible to thousands of passersby.

“War is not justifiable now with modern weapons. There are no circumstances that would justify any war … because of the circumstances that lead up to it and the things that follow it,” he said.

Mr. Heap said he became a dedicated pacifist after watching the events of the Gulf War in 1991, when the United States bombed Iraq after it invaded Kuwait.

“There were a great deal of injustices that arose out of it,” Mr. Heap said. “Babies born after the war died because of the poor conditions in Iraq.”

He believes war is not justified, even against a dictator. “Jesus taught us to love our enemies, not kill them.”

Those beliefs are what led Mr. Heap and the other two members of his group, Rev. Bob Holmes and Mr. Leonard Desroches, to stand outside St. Paul’s in May, handing out leaflets explaining their idea to change the cenotaph.

“People’s reaction to us was mixed,” Mr. Heap said. “Some sympathized with us and others did not, which is what we would expect.”

Mr. Chadderton said he doesn’t understand why Mr. Heap and his friends don’t simply erect their own memorial, instead of altering the one that’s already there. “Erect a memorial to peace right beside it,” he suggested. Mr. Chadderton said the cenotaph must remain the same so young people understand that war is not pretty.

“You don’t get young people’s attention by flying the white flag or talking about the dove of peace. The way you get their attention is to show them how horrible the war was.”

Mr. Heap himself almost became a war vet. He enlisted in 1944 but never made it overseas, the war being almost over. At the time, he believed in the war effort enough to join up but said even then, he had a sense of “uneasiness” about war.


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