STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR Audrey Tobias, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and peace activist, could go to jail for refusing to sign her 2011 census form because Lockheed Martin, which produces cluster bombs and other weaponry, processes census information for Ottawa.
Audrey Tobias passed the war memorial on her careful walk up the snowy stone steps of Old City Hall on Wednesday morning.
She is 88 and a war veteran. She came to court to fight for peace and answer for her crime: refusing to fill out the 2011 census form.
How are the two related?
The census was processed with “optic recognition” software supplied by Lockheed Martin, the same company that produces cluster bombs and Trident missiles and those mysteriously priced F-35 fighter jets.
“It is shameful,” Tobias says. “Lockheed Martin is the largest manufacturer of military weapons in the world and I am committed to peaceful positions.”
Tobias is the type of Harold and Maude grandmother who fills you with awe. She is spry, active, full of zing. She dyes her hair the colour of papayas and whips to three exercise classes a week.
She has recreated herself many times: as a looper in a knitting wool factory, a high school teacher, a librarian, a part-time bookkeeping prof at Ryerson.
“The trick,” she says, “is to land on your feet when you are on your head.”
If you peel back her charm, though, you’ll find an iron-dipped nervous system.
Tobias lived through World War II, working in Halifax on a “landship” as part of a team simulating naval battles for officers.
Then, in 1949, she toured Eastern Europe as a delegate of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.
She visited the Warsaw ghetto. “It was literally deathly silence. There was not an insect, there was not a bird.”
In recent years, she helped run the group Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, marching in her white beret before the American embassy as its government rumbled towards war in Iraq, and handing out leaflets against the CNE air show as F-16 Fighting Falcons screeched overhead.
So, when she read that Lockheed Martin had secured about $81 million of Canadian tax money — including hers — to provide the processing software to scan and automate the 2006 and 2011 census forms that had been mailed in, she balked. She wouldn’t budge no matter how many Statistics Canada employees knocked politely at her door.
““They came in and had a cup of tea,” Tobias says. “They were all smiley and agreeable. Nobody argufied.
“I told them I’m a veteran. I want to be proud of my country. And I am ashamed of my prime minister and his cabinet.”
Then came her summons to court. Tobias is one of 54 Canadians being prosecuted for violating the Statistics Act: refusing or neglecting to fill in and return the census of population.
A precedent is still making its way through the court system. Former Saskatchewan Green Party leader Sandra Finley was found guilty, although the judge gave her an absolute discharge. Still, she appealed on moral grounds and her case was heard last November by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. Although her main objection was in line with Tobias, her lawyer based her case on breech of privacy.
Tobias doesn’t plan to follow that route. She brought a gift to court for her lawyer, Peter Rosenthal. It was a paperback copy of William Hartung’s Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
The census is chump change for the company, which netted $46.5 billion in 2011. But, according to its annual report of that year, information systems make up 20 per cent of its business. With those F-35 fighter contracts going stale, Lockheed Martin needs to diversify.
And this is about principle.
This is the same government that vilifies activists as dangerous radicals, even terrorists.
““I have no armaments,” Tobias says. “Why aren’t they afraid of Lockheed Martin? The contradiction is striking.”
The penalty for being found guilty of contravening the Statistics Act is a fine of $500 or three months in jail, or both.
“If they fine me, I won’t pay it,” Tobias says. “That would be an admission of guilt.”
Her case was pushed off another month. Rosenthal says it is unlikely to be heard in full until the summer.
Catherine Porter’s column usually appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.