SUPA - Student Union for Peace Action

SUPA (Student Union for Peace Action) was a national organization founded in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1964. The organization emerged out of the remains of the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND). SUPA quickly established a nationwide organization operating on university campuses, coordinating community projects, alternative publications and summer youth programs. The group existed from 1964 to 1967 with branches in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and other regions. Many individuals involved with SUPA went on to join other organizations such as the CYC (Company of Young Canadians) the CUS (Canadian Union of Students) and the SDU (Students for a Democratic University) among several others.

Comprised mainly of young Canadians, SUPA sought to establish a grass roots initiative focusing on important social and political issues. Described by Stanley Gray in Democracy and Social Change, an article released through SUPA’s Research, Information and Publications Project (RIPP), the organization supported the concept of Participatory Democracy, “a system where individuals, in all the social, economic and political spheres of society, participate actively and continuously in the basic decisions which affect their lives (Gray, 9).” SUPA expressed the view that democracy in Canada is a process involving only a select few of individuals, leaving the majority of Canadians outside of the decision making process. Leaders of Canadian banks and corporations were seen as individuals working outside of the parliamentary process yet wielding a disproportionate amount of power and influence. SUPA wanted to form “a society where power is organized from the bottom up, where everyone can play an active, creative, independent role in making decisions of public consequence”(Gray, 9). Dimitrios Roussopoulos, author of The New Left in Canada and a former member of SUPA, believes that “One political point was clear to the SUPA youth – Canada’s international role could not be changed until basic social and political change took place in our society” (Roussopolous 10). At the height of the cold war and the civil rights movement, SUPA intended to unite young individuals determined to alter the political landscape of Canadian society.

SUPA’s mandate was broad, stretching over a wide array of social and political concerns. Described by Myrna Kostash in A Long Way From Home, “SUPA grandly, even grandiosely, committed itself to the panoramic aim of working toward the fundamental changes in institutions and attitudes that would abolish war, racism, poverty, undemocratic political and technological procedures, and bellicose and belligerent values” (Kostash,6). SUPA staged sit-ins, protests, demonstrations and organized community events to voice their opinions and objections. Fighting against nuclear weapons at Canadian bases in Quebec and British Columbia, holding candle light vigils for Viet Nam, helping publish stories from the civil rights march in Selma and coordinating summer projects in Native communities and poor districts across the country, SUPA was involved in a multitude of social activist programs, national and international.

Concerned with the role of the Canadian government in both domestic and foreign affairs, SUPA initiated the Research, Information and Publications Project to spread awareness of important issues. RIPP released several articles discussing a multitude of issues troubling Canadian society and Canadian involvement in foreign countries. Jim Harding’s “Canada’s Indians”, L.C and F.W Park’s “Canadian Neocolonialism in Latin America”, B. Roy Lemoine’s “Quebec, A Double Revolution” and Stanley Gray’s “Democracy and Social Change” highlight a few of the articles released through the RIPP. Within these articles, SUPA members expressed discontent with Western society and called for the need to revolutionize the systems of governance. They believed “it is not through piecemeal reform or electoral manipulation but through grass-roots organizing that a relevant and radical movement for participatory democracy and world peace can develop in Canada” (Gray, 10). SUPA’s commitment to reform attracted young Canadians disillusioned with their government’s domestic and foreign policies.

An article, titled “The Quiet Radicals Search for Truth”, in The Peterborough Examiner from September 1965 highlights the excitement and energy of the SUPA movement in its early stage. “SUPA” the author writes, “is concerned with something more than getting people to adjust to existing conditions. The power structure, as they call it, must in their opinion be changed in order to allow depressed groups to come into their rightful heritage. This heritage includes the right to participate democratically in the making of public decisions affecting the character of community life. Most SUPA projects are designed to enable students and the people they work with to discover the most effective methods of handling social and political power democratically. Many students are not satisfied simply to become the quiescent beneficiaries of the affluent society. They are concerned that their society will be a truly human community in which dignity and the well being of every individual and group will receive effective recognition. It should be a matter of general satisfaction that so many of our ablest young people are combining youthful idealism with thoughtful programmes of action. Perhaps the quiet revolution will not be confined to the Province of Quebec” (The Quiet Radicals Search for Truth by Rev. Jack Adam, The Peterborough Examiner. Saturday, September 18, 1965).

Disputes between SUPA branches across the country eventually led to the dissolution of the organization, leaving former members to continue their work with similar associations and government run youth programs.

“By the end of 1967” writes Kostash, “CYC [Company of Young Canadians] had absorbed most of SUPA’s Toronto-based leadership in staff or consultants jobs, had hired half its project workers into its own volunteer groups, and hooked up with most of SUPA’s extant projects. By the end of 1967, SUPA was dead and the chance to mature politically was forfeited (Kotash, 28).” While SUPA failed to achieve many of its objectives, its role as one of the first national youth-run political organizations inspired many socially conscious Canadians to involve themselves with similar projects. The RIPP publications and SUPA’s community improvement experiments laid the groundwork for future organizations to build upon their achievements. Since the late 1960s, several youth organizations have played an important role directing grassroots political movements and creating awareness around important social issues. SUPA’s role as a national organization helped to reach out to Canadians dissatisfied with their nation’s social and political objectives and work towards creating a society where individuals use the power of democracy and community to improve the lives of the citizens and fight for social justice.

Further Reading
Gray, Stanley. Democracy and Social Change
Harding, James. Canada’s Indians
Kostash, Myrna. A Long Way from Home
Park, L.C. and F.W. Canadian Neocolonialism in Latin America
B. Roy Lemoine, B. Roy. Quebec, A Double Revolution
Roussopoulos, Dimitrios. The New Left in Canada
Company of Young Canadians

Related Topics
New LeftParticipatory DemocracyPeace MovementSixtiesYouth Activism