02/09/2017 01:21 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 01:23 EST

Fellow Canadians, Let's Show The World That Peace Matters In 2017

The whole world is watching Donald Trump now that he has assumed the position of most powerful man on earth. As we ponder what the future will bring, it's worth reflecting on two facts. Last year the British people finally learned about the web of deceit that surrounded Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq; while in the U.S. Donald Trump was elected with a pledge to be the retaliator-in-chief against any country who dares challenge American supremacy. In a world with too much violence -- and the possibility of far more -- it's worth knowing why peace matters.

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(Photo: Mihajlo Maricic via Getty Images)

Back in 2003 the people of Toronto joined millions of others in the global demonstrations against the planned invasion of Iraq. We knew the so-called weapons of mass destruction were either a ruse or a convenient excuse to invade an oil-rich country that failed to fall in line with the Bush doctrine. We knew that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Bin Laden and those who destroyed the World Trade Centre. In our hearts, we also knew that nobody could predict how this saga would unfold.

Hundreds of thousands of lives later, with a country in ruins and suffering from ongoing turmoil, the consequences are obvious. The massive oil reserves, second largest in the world, have been effectively privatized for American and European energy giants. The U.S.-imposed regime in Iraq alienated huge sections of the population, plunging the country into vicious civil war. Eventually that dynamic gave rise to the group known as Daesh, which has brought so much grief to the Middle East and Europe.

U.S. foreign policy then supported regime change in Libya and Syria, with dramatic impact on the entire world. It was not just politics at play. A terrible drought linked to climate change forced millions of Syrians off the countryside and into cities that soon became cauldrons of dissent. The Assad regime responded to unrest with brutal force. Civil war engulfed the region, with foreign interests deeply involved. Sadly the chain of events connects directly to the surge of refugees into Europe and the rise of extremist anti-immigrant parties whose rhetoric echoes that of Donald Trump.

Canadians have a proud history of standing for peace and solidarity.

Canadians may have been astounded by the tone of the American election, but vitriol and xenophobia has become a shameful new norm. Many observers credit the Brexit vote and Trump's success to the anger of a white working class betrayed by global restructuring. The billionaire class left millions unemployed and communities in crisis, while right-wing populism blames immigrants and Muslims for the problems instead of the real culprits.

Canadians have a proud history of standing for peace and solidarity, including supporting refugees who refuse to serve in unjust wars. Not all Canadians, of course -- Steven Harper would have taken us into Iraq, applauded militarism and pursued the deportation of U.S. war resisters.

When I was a TV spokesperson for the peace marches in 2003, there were callers who insisted that I could never have also served as an infantry sergeant in Canada's military reserve. What they could not understand was that the labour movement was out in full force in those marches, with hundreds of union flags among the crowds.

We were there because we understood that war can be unjust, and unjust wars can have immense consequences. The world is still paying the price for the arrogance of individual leaders and the ignorance of too many others. Those lessons need to be reviewed today, at a time when wedges are being driven daily between people due to race, religion and nationality.

In the year 2017, all of us need to reach out to our families and neighbours who feel uneasy about the changing world, and patiently challenge prejudice or intolerance whenever it appears. If the worst happens south of the border and the drums of war and belligerence beat more loudly, the future of the world will be at risk. We need to build bridges between all communities and work hard to affirm our shared humanity in the face of adversity. We owe that and much more to the next generation.

John Cartwright is the President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.

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