INGRID PERITZ - Anti-war protesters will confront Afghanistan-bound troops in Quebec City Friday as a sign of the tension in Canada's most anti-war province.
Organizers plan a countermarch to oppose what is intended to be a high-profile send-off parade by the Royal 22nd Regiment at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier.
More than 2,000 soldiers of the Vandoos and other regiments are to take part in a support-the-troops parade as part of a public-relations offensive to try to win the hearts of Quebeckers, who consistently show the lowest level of support for the Afghan mission.
But not everyone has been persuaded. Last week, anti-war protesters sent 3,000 letters to Valcartier military families, urging soldiers to reject their deployment and resist becoming "cannon fodder" for the war. On Friday, the demonstrators will protest along a parallel route to the soldiers.
"We are not aiming for confrontation, but you can't predict what every individual will do," said Mathilde Forest-Rivière, a spokeswoman for the War on War Coalition.
[For some, the conflict is personal. Francis Dupuis-Déri->7225], a political science professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal, will be on the protesters' side of the barricades. His younger sister, Captain Catherine Déri, will be marching with her regiment on the other side.
"I love my sister, so I'm very troubled and worried that she's being deployed to Afghanistan, even if it's her personal choice," Prof. Dupuis-Déri said in an interview yesterday. "My sister will be on the other side of the police line on Friday."
The professor calls the Afghan mission an unjust war and says he believes Canada is doing the bidding of the White House by sending troops. He wrote an open letter to his sister in Quebec newspapers last week, asking her and other Canadian soldiers how many would return home in coffins.
The Friday event "is to make the soldiers look like family men and sympathetic people, while they're going over to make the situation worse. Their presence will cause deaths and support a corrupt regime. We want to counter the army's marketing operation," he said.
For her part, Capt. Déri said she respects her brother's viewpoint but supports the Canadian mission's goals.
"I'm all for difference of opinion and my brother sharing his views. It's very democratic, and Canadians are flying around the world so that others have the same freedom," Capt. Déri said in an interview.
Friday's march is part of a blitz by the Armed Forces to boost troop morale and bolster support for the mission on the eve of the Quebec regiments' departure.
On Thursday, 1,700 soldiers in their desert-coloured uniforms will attend a CFL pre-season game between the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts at Montreal's Molson Stadium.
Soldiers are also heading to 18 cities and towns across Quebec to hand out flags representing the Afghan mission, as part of a goodwill gesture, Lieutenant-Commander Hubert Genest said.
"We often have to explain the work we're doing," he said, calling the mission noble and saying it coincides with Quebeckers' priorities of peace and stability.
"We're trying to engage people so they understand there's a difference between the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan is for a good cause," he said.
The $125,000 send-off on Friday is the final public event for the troops before they deploy at the end of next month.
It begins with a gathering for soldiers and their families at the Quebec City Convention Centre. Original plans called for the parading troops, under the eye of politicians and dignitaries, to parade down Quebec City's Grande Allée and past the Quebec National Assembly. But the Armed Forces are in talks with police about possibly changing the route, another army spokesman said.
A poll published in the current issue of Policy Options, a Canadian public-policy magazine, found that only 38 per cent of Quebeckers thought the Afghan mission enhanced Canada's reputation, 10 points below the national average.