Canadian crimes against humanity in Africa

Should Africans pursue Stephen Harper for crimes against humanity?

The Africa Progress Report 2015 suggests they may have a solid moral, if not necessarily legal, case.

Led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Africa Progress Panel highlights Canada and Australia as two countries that “have withdrawn entirely from constructive international engagement on climate.” The mainstream group concludes that Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda have shown “far higher level of ambition” to lessen CO2 emissions than Canada.

The report, which was released last week, adds to a significant body of evidence showing that anthropogenic global warming poses a particularly profound threat to Africans. Although hardest hit by climate change, the terrible irony is that Africa, among all continents, is least responsible for the problem.

If nothing is done to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures may rise 7°C in southern Africa and 8°C in the north by century’s end. Reaching nearly twice the global average, this would destabilize human life on large swaths of the continent.

Still, a skeptic might argue, how does this amount to charging Stephen Harper with crimes against humanity? Doesn’t that require some form of mass murder or genocide?

Back in 2012 the Climate Vulnerability Monitor concluded that climate disturbances were responsible for 400,000 deaths per year, mostly in Africa. Nigerian ecologist Nnimmo Bassey has dubbed growing carbon emissions a “death sentence for Africa” while Naomi Klein reports that “African delegates at UN climate summits have begun using words like ‘genocide’ to describe the collective failure to lower emissions.”

Various ecological, economic and social factors explain the continent’s vulnerability. Most Africans are directly dependent on resource sectors – fisheries, forestry and agriculture – that are particularly vulnerable to climate conditions. Between half and two thirds of the continent are subsistence farmers who largely rely on natural rainfall, rather than irrigation, to water their crops. Additionally, large swaths of the continent are arid and a third of Africa’s productive area is already classified as dry land. As such, subsistence farmers’ crop yields and incomes are easily damaged by reduced or intermittent rainfall. According to Tanzanian Minister of State for the Environment Binilith Mahenge, “global warming of 2˚C would put over 50 per cent of the African continent’s population at risk of undernourishment.”

CO2 induced food shortages are not in some far off dystopian future. A study by Britain’s Met Office concluded that global warming sparked a major famine in Somalia in 2011 during which 50,000 Somalis died.

While water shortages represent a threat to many, an excess of this same element poses a hazard elsewhere. A quarter of Africa’s population lives within 100km of the continent’s 38,000 km coastline. Without significant investments to mitigate risks to major metropolises, such as Dar es Salaam, Mombasa and Lagos, the threat of flooding looms.

Carbon can also trigger the taking up of arms. Climate change has spurred violent cattle raids in north-western Kenya and triggered the 2012 Tuareg rebellion in Mali while the mid-2000s violence in Sudan’s Darfur region was dubbed the world’s “first climate change war.” A University of California, Berkeley, study found a statistical link between the hotter temperatures generated by climate change and the risk of armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The Colorado researchers forecast a 54 per cent rise in civil conflict on the continent due to climate change by 2030, causing 393,000 more combat deaths.

Increasing the strain on governance structures, climate change has already exacerbated inequities and ethnic divisions in parts of the continent. Climate change may well propel large areas of Africa into a downward cycle, further undermining the capacity of communities and governments to cope.

But most African governments can contribute little to curtail runaway global warming because their countries’ carbon footprints are negligible compared to the biggest capitalist economies. Per capita emissions in most African countries amount to barely 1% of Canada’s rate. In Uganda, Congo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda and Mozambique, per capita emissions comprise less than 1/150th of Canada’s average. In Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros, The Gambia, Liberia and Zambia per capita emissions are less than 1/80th Canada’s average.

Forward looking comparisons are equally stark. If plans to double tar sands production proceed, by 2030 Alberta’s project will emit as much carbon as most sub-Saharan African countries combined.

Canadian officialdom has done little to regulate tar sands emissions and has, in fact, subsidized its expansion. The Conservative government has campaigned aggressively against any international effort to reduce carbon emissions from fuel sources, which might impact sales of Alberta bitumen. Canadian diplomats worked with feverish determination to undermine the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, a modest bid that would force suppliers to privilege lower-emission fuels. To the south, the Canadian government also lobbied aggressively against any US legislation that might curtail tar sands expansion and in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline to take oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

Despite the rising toll of climate change in Africa, the Canadian government pushed to grow the global “carbon bomb” in international forums. At every turn, Harper’s Conservatives have blocked progress on setting minimally serious targets for reducing CO2 emissions, repeatedly receiving the Colossal Fossil given out by hundreds of environmental groups to the country that did the most to undermine international climate negotiations meetings. At this week’s G7 meeting, Canadian officials reportedly sought to undermine German chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid for a statement committing countries to a low carbon economy by 2050.
Under Conservative government leadership, Canada became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement committing leading industrial economies to reducing GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. (Instead of attaining its 6% reduction target, Canada’s emissions increased 18 per cent.)

In addition to undermining international climate negotiations and the efforts of other nations to reduce GHGs, the Harper government made a mockery of its own commitments. As part of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, Ottawa pledged to reduce carbon emissions 17 per cent by 2020 (from the levels in 2005). Five years later, however, Environment Canada admitted this target would not be reached. In fact, Environment Canada suggested emissions would rise 20% by 2020.

In a sign of Ottawa’s near total indifference to the impact of global warming in Africa, the Conservatives pulled out of an international accord to study the consequences of desertification, a process ravaging parts of the African continent. In 2013, Canada withdrew from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in countries seriously affected by drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

Adopted in 1994, this international convention collects and shares scientific information about drought and ways to curb its spread. By becoming the sole nation outside the convention, Canada saved itself a paltry $300,000 a year. While the savings barely registered in the federal government’s $260 billion budget, the message was clear.

Clearly Harper’s Conservative government has wilfully ignored the interests of Africans and pursued an environmental, economic and political course that has already killed hundreds of thousands.

In a just world a Fulani pastoralist in Burkina Faso would have a forum to pursue Stephen Harper for crimes against humanity.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian

Canada undermines democracy in Burkina Faso

With flagrant disregard for democracy, the Harper Conservatives recently signed a deal with a transition regime to circumscribe future governments’ capacity to regulate Canadian miners. But, those victimized are impoverished Africans so the move elicited little reaction.

In April Harper’s Conservatives signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with the interim government of Burkina Faso. According to the official release, the West African nation was represented at the signing ceremony in Ottawa by Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who was deputy commander of the presidential guard when Blaise Compaore was ousted by popular protest last October. A U.S. and Canadian trained Lieutenant Colonel, Zida is one of five military men in a cabinet overseeing the landlocked country’s transition towards elections after President Compaore’s 27 year rule.

While the caretaker government is supposed to move aside after an election planned for October, the investment treaty will live on for at least 16 years. According to the FIPA, “the termination of this Agreement will be effective one year after notice of termination has been received by the other Party.” The subsequent line, however, reads that “in respect of investments or commitments to invest made prior to the date when the termination of this Agreement becomes effective, Articles 1 to 42 inclusive, as well as paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Article, shall remain in force for a period of 15 years.” In other words, any elected government will be effectively bound by the accord for another decade and a half.

The FIPA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism clearly undermines (forgive the pun) democracy. It gives Canadian corporations the right to sue Burkina Faso’s government – in a private, investor-friendly international tribunal – for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. While Ottawa says the process protects Canadian investors “against discriminatory and arbitrary practices”, it also undermines the public’s ability to determine economic policy.

What is of concern to the Conservatives is the impoverished nation’s mining sector, which is dominated by corporate Canada. Since ousting Compaore, community groups and mine workers have launched a wave of protests against foreign-owned mining companies. After local residents damaged equipment in January, Vancouver’s True Gold Mining shuttered its Karma gold project and an official from Montréal-based Semafo recently told Bloomberg that the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests.

Under the FIPA a Canadian mining firm could sue if the central government listened to a community opposed to a mine. Canadian companies have already used investment treaties to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Latin American countries that withdrew mining licenses after stiff local resistance.

A company could also sue if a new government required a certain level of domestic purchasing. The accord explicitly precludes “domestic content” requirements or any effort to “accord a preference to a good produced or service provided in its territory.”

At a broader level, the aim of the FIPA is to counter a resurgence of “resource nationalism”. Having received a free hand during the last decade of Compaore’s rule, Canadian companies fear a reversal of these policies. So, they seek rights to sue the country if a new government expropriates a concession, changes investment rules or requires value added production in the country.

Over the past decade Canada has become a mining superpower in Africa and the Conservatives have aggressively pushed the industry’s agenda. To protect $31 billion in Canadian mining investment from policy shifts, the federal government has signed or negotiated FIPAs with 15 African countries and officials have sent a message that aid is more likely to flow to a government that signs a FIPA.

The Conservatives are undermining African democracy in their haste to defend mining companies. It is unjust to persuade an elected government to concede power to an international investment tribunal and simply indefensible to sign a deal with an unelected transition administration that binds future governments.

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Good for business, bad for Africans

Sometimes what is good for business can be bad for people. Most Canadians understand this and cherish their right to protest “bad deals” and to elect new governments willing to reverse so-called “business-friendly” policies. This is called democracy.

So what do we call it when Ottawa signs a deal with an unelected regime that would prevent any future elected government in a small African nation from changing its laws regulating Canadian-owned mines for almost two decades?

In April Harper’s Conservatives signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with the interim government of Burkina Faso. According to the official release, the West African nation was represented at the signing ceremony in Ottawa by Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who was deputy commander of the presidential guard when Blaise Compaore was ousted by popular protest last October. A U.S. and Canadian trained Lieutenant Colonel, Zida is one of five military men in a cabinet overseeing the landlocked country’s transition towards elections after President Compaore’s 27 year rule.

While the caretaker government is supposed to move aside after an election planned for October, the investment treaty will live on for at least 16 years. According to the FIPA, “the termination of this Agreement will be effective one year after notice of termination has been received by the other Party.” The subsequent line, however, reads that “in respect of investments or commitments to invest made prior to the date when the termination of this Agreement becomes effective, Articles 1 to 42 inclusive, as well as paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Article, shall remain in force for a period of 15 years.” In other words, any elected government will be effectively bound by the accord for another decade and a half.

The FIPA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism clearly undermines (forgive the pun) democracy. It gives Canadian corporations the right to sue Burkina Faso’s government – in a private, investor-friendly international tribunal – for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. While Ottawa says the process protects Canadian investors “against discriminatory and arbitrary practices”, it also undermines the public’s ability to determine economic policy.

What is of concern to the Conservatives is the impoverished nation’s mining sector, which is dominated by corporate Canada. Since ousting Compaore, community groups and mine workers have launched a wave of protests against foreign-owned mining companies. After local residents damaged equipment in January, Vancouver’s True Gold Mining shuttered its Karma gold project and an official from Montréal-based Semafo recently told Bloomberg that the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests.

Under the FIPA a Canadian mining firm could sue if the central government listened to a community opposed to a mine. Canadian companies have already used investment treaties to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Latin American countries that withdrew mining licenses after stiff local resistance.

A company could also sue if a new government required a certain level of domestic purchasing. The accord explicitly precludes “domestic content” requirements or any effort to “accord a preference to a good produced or service provided in its territory.”

At a broader level, the aim of the FIPA is to counter a resurgence of “resource nationalism”. Having received a free hand during the last decade of Compaore’s rule, Canadian companies fear a reversal of these policies. So, they seek rights to sue the country if a new government expropriates a concession, changes investment rules or requires value added production in the country.

Over the past decade Canada has become a mining superpower in Africa and the Conservatives have aggressively pushed the industry’s agenda. To protect $31 billion in Canadian mining investment from policy shifts, the federal government has signed or negotiated FIPAs with 15 African countries and officials have sent a message that aid is more likely to flow to a government that signs a FIPA.

The Conservatives are undermining African democracy in their haste to defend mining companies. It is unjust to persuade an elected government to concede power to an international investment tribunal and simply indefensible to sign a deal with an unelected transition administration that binds future governments.

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Filed under Canada in Africa

Glorifying a very bad war

In their bid to brand Canada a “warrior nation,” Stephen Harper’s Conservatives seek to glorify Canadian military history, regardless of its horrors.

On Saturday Canada’s Minister of Veteran Affairs released a statement to mark “113 years since the end of the South African war.” Erin O’Toole said, “Canada commemorates all those who served in South Africa, contributing to our proud military history.”

But the Boer War was a brutal conflict to strengthen British colonial authority in Africa, which ultimately led to racial apartheid. In the late 1800s the Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, increasingly found themselves at odds with British interests in southern Africa. Large quantities of gold were found thirty miles south of the Boer capital, Pretoria, in 1886 and the Prime Minister of UK’s Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, and other British miners wanted to get their hands on more of the loot. There was also a geostrategic calculation. The Boer gold and diamond fields in the Orange Free State and Transvaal were drawing the economic heart of southern Africa away from the main British colonies on the coast. If this continued London feared that the four southern African colonies might unite, but outside of the British orbit, which threatened its control of an important shipping lane.

Between 1898 and 1902 London launched a vicious war against the Boer. With Cecil Rhodes’ Imperial South African Association promoting anti-Boer sentiment in this country, some 7,400 Canadians fought to strengthen Britain’s position in southern Africa.

The war was devastating for the Boers. As part of a scorched-earth campaign the British-led forces burned their crops and homesteads and poisoned their wells. About 200,000 Boer were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Twenty-eight thousand (mostly children) died of disease, starvation and exposure in these camps.

In Another Kind of Justice: Canadian Military Law from Confederation to SomaliaChris Madsen points out that, “Canadian troops became intimately involved in the nastier aspects of the South African war.” Whole columns of troops participated in search, expel and burn missions. Looting was common. One Canadian soldier wrote home “I tell you there is some fun in it. We ride up to a house and commandeer anything you set your eyes on. We are living pretty well now.” There are also numerous documented instances of Canadian troops raping and killing innocent civilians.

As with the Boer, the war was devastating for many Africans. Over 100,000 blackswere held in concentration camps but the British failed to keep a tally of their deaths so it’s not known how many died of disease or starvation. Some estimate that as many as 20,000 Africans were worked to death in camps during the war.

Unlike the Boer, the blacks’ plight didn’t improve much after the war. In Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902 Carman Miller notes, “Although imperialists had made much of the Boer maltreatment of the Blacks, the British did little after the war to remedy their injustices.” In fact, the war reinforced white/British dominance over the region’s indigenous population.

The peace agreement with the Boer included a guarantee that Africans would not be granted the right to vote before the two defeated republics gained independence. In The History of Britain in Africa John Charles Hatch explains: “By the time that self-government was restored in 1906 and 1907, they [the Boer] were able to reestablish the racial foundations of their states on the traditional principle of ‘No equality in church or state.'” Blacks and mixed race people were excluded from voting in the postwar elections and would not gain full civil rights for nine decades.

For Harper’s Conservatives the details of the Boer War are barely relevant. What matters is that Canadians traveled to a distant land to do battle beside a great empire. That’s the “warrior” they seek to re-create.

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Conservatives promote Canada as arms dealer

Psst. Looking for arms? Guns, ammunition, high tech supplies, armoured vehicles, and more, all quality Canadian made. Background check? We can get around that. Not democratic? No worries. Tools of repression? Sounds good to us.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are working to expand Canadian arms exports and the focus is Middle Eastern monarchies entangled in a great deal of violence.

At the start of last year the Conservatives announced Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement. Over the next 10 to 13 years General Dynamics Land Systems Canada will supply $14.8 billion worth of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military.

Ottawa pushed this deal, which is expected to top 1,000 combat vehicles, even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. That year the Conservatives approved arms export licences worth $4 billion to this bulwark of religious and political conservatism in the Middle East. Domestically, the House of Saud has outlawed labour unions, stifled independent media and ruthlessly suppressed dissent. One could reasonably argue that the Saudi monarchy is the worst regime in the world. (The U.S., of course, is responsible for far more violence but it is relatively free domestically. North Korea is as repressive but its foreign policy is benign compared to Saudi Arabia’s.)

General Dynamics isn’t just selling the LAVs to Saudi Arabia. An industry analyst speculates that about half of the $15 billion sale is for the equipment while the other half of the money is for training Saudi troops and maintaining the vehicles. A Canadian colonel, Mark E.K. Campbell, leads General Dynamics Land Systems Saudi Arabian LAV support program.

It’s not clear if this sale — or previous ones to Saudi Arabia — are actually legal under existing arms control measures. Ottawa is supposed to restrict arms deliveries to “governments [that] have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens” unless they conclude there’s no “reasonable risk” the weaponry will be used against civilians.

But federal government involvement in the sale goes beyond simply allowing it. A slew of ministers have visited Saudi Arabia in recent years and a Crown Corporation signed the LAV contracts. The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) is responsible for the $14.8 billion sale with the Saudis while General Dynamics has a separate agreement to fulfill the Canadian government’s terms.

 The CCC, whose board is appointed by the federal government, has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. According to a June 2011 Embassy article, “the Canadian Commercial Corporation has been transformed from a low-profile Canadian intermediary agency to a major player in promoting Canadian global arms sales.” Traditionally, the CCC sold Canadian weaponry to the U.S. Department of Defense under the 1956 Defence Production Sharing Agreement but during the Conservative government it began emulating some aspects of the U.S. defence department’s Foreign Military Sales program, which facilitates that country’s global arms sales. In June 2012 Embassy noted: “In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.” According to CCC president Marc Whittingham, who wrote in a May 2010 issue of Hill Times that “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission,” the agency is “partnering with government ministers to get the job done.”

Ottawa has helped arms manufacturers in numerous other ways: Last February they announced the creation of a Defence Analytics Institute to study trends in the global arms market; Over the past four years the list of countries eligible to receive Canadian automatic weapons (Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List) has increased from 20 to 34 states and Ottawa is looking to add a number of other countries; To help companies navigate arms export regulations the federal government embedded a trade commissioner with the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI); Ottawa has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to the arms industry’s main lobby group.

CADSI has also benefited from direct political support. In December 2011 senior representatives from the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Forces, Foreign Affairs and the CCC participated in a CADSI trade mission to Kuwait. According to the official press release, they “discussed with Kuwaiti government and military leaders how Canadian and Kuwaiti businesses in the defence and security sector can work together effectively in Kuwait and more generally in the Gulf.” CADSI president Tim Page applauded what he described as the Conservatives “whole of government effort” with the Kuwaiti monarchy. CADSI’s costs for the mission were partly covered by the Global Opportunities for Associations program. The government-backed corporate lobby group also led trade missions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the previous year.

In February of last year, 25 Canadian companies flogged their wares at IDEX 2013, the largest arms fair in the Middle East and North Africa. “We’re excited to see such a large number of Canadian exhibitors,” said Arif Lalani, Canada’s ambassador to the UAE, where arms bazaar was held. “These companies represent the best Canadian capabilities and technologies in a number of areas of the defence and security sector.” As part of their effort to promote Canadian weaponry, Ottawa sent naval frigate HMCS Toronto to the UAE during IDEX.

At CANSEC 2014, CADSI’s annual arms fair in Ottawa, the CCC toured delegates from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait (and a number of Latin American countries) across the “exhibition floor,” reported a press release. Officials from the crown corporation also “introduced representatives to new Canadian technologies, facilitating meetings between foreign delegations and Canadian companies.”

In recent years Saudi Arabia and the other Middle East monarchies have actively suppressed pro-democracy movements and stoked violence in Syria, Iraq and Libya. At the same time Ottawa has helped Canada’s arms industry ramp up sales to the region.

This is what Harper has in mind when he talks about a “principled” foreign policy.

This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Canadian Dimension.

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White privilege masquerades as anti-racism

Why does a demonstration of hundreds of people against “anti-Semitism” in Toronto seem more like a march for white supremacy than a rally against racism?

On August 20, reported the Canadian Jewish News, several thousand took to Bathurst Street under the slogan “We Will Not be Silent: A March Against Global Anti-Semitism.” The demonstration was organized by United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai Brith Canada, Canada Israel Experience, March of the Living Canada and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Canada.

If one were to take the organizers’ slogan seriously this demonstration was among the largest anti-racist mobilizations in recent Canadian history. But, unfortunately it was little more than a group of “white” people calling for the further subjugation of “brown” folk.

Photos and articles suggest that many among the racially homogenous crowd carried Israeli flags and celebrated that country’s recent military onslaught on Gaza. The Times of Israel reported: “The purpose of the march was passionately summed up in Bill Glied’s closing remarks: ‘Thank God for the IDF. Thank God for Israel. And remember together we must stand. Never again!’”

Despite shrill voices claiming otherwise, most objective evidence reveals anti-Semitism to be a mere shadow of its former oppressive character. (An example of this ‘if I scream loud enough people may believe me’ tactic, Toronto businessman and board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Michael Diamond, wrote in the Canadian Jewish News last month that “we Jews are under siege right now – on campus, in Israel, in the media, even in our high schools and on the street.”)

Well, how does this compare to seven decades ago when “none is too many” was the order of the day in Ottawa, which rejected Jewish refugees escaping Nazi concentration camps. This hostile anti-Semitic climate continued into the 1950s with some neighborhoods excluding Jews from owning property through land covenants and institutions such as McGill University in Montreal imposing quotas on Jewish students.

Fortunately, Christianity’s decline, combined with a rise in anti-racist politics has significantly undercut anti-Semitism as a social force in Canada.
Today, Jews are largely seen as “white” people. Canada’s Jewish community is well represented among institutions of influence in this country and there is very little in terms of structural racism against Jews (which is not to say there isn’t significant cultural stereotyping, which must be challenged). In fact, among elite business, political and professional circles Jewish representation far surpasses their slim 1.3% of the Canadian population.

Canadian Jews are twice as likely as the general population to hold a bachelors degree and three times more likely to earn over $75,000. In The Encyclopedia of the Jewish diaspora: origins, experiences, and culture Mark Avrum Ehrlich claims that a fifth of the wealthiest Canadians were Jewish and Toronto’s Shalom Life reported that six of the 24 Canadians who made Forbes’ 2011 list of global billionaires were Jewish.

Even the sad history of structural anti-Semitism in this country should be put into proper context. When Jewish immigrants were blocked from entering Canada so were most non-Europeans. Similarly, the land covenants that excluded Jewish property ownership usually took aim at other groups as well and throughout the university quota period few South Asians or blacks had any access to higher learning. During this period of institutional discrimination against Jews, Status Indians were unable to vote and the Indian Act prohibited First Nations from practicing their religious/cultural ceremonies (such as potlatches, pow-wows, sweat lodges and sun dances).

It would be disingenuous at best to claim anti-Semitism has or had anywhere near the effect of racism against First Nations or other people of colour in Canada.

A little over-zealous defence of one’s own “tribe” could perhaps be forgiven, but not when accompanied by a ringing endorsement of the racist militarism sweeping Israeli society. Over the past two months the Israeli military has killed some 1,700 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and there has been an upsurge in racist outbursts targeting those seen as a threat to the Jewish character of the state (mostly Palestinian citizens of Israel but also African refugees and anti-Zionist Jews).
One of the groups that organized the Toronto protest has long promoted Jewish/white supremacy in the Middle East. The Jewish National Fund may be the only openly racist registered charity operating in this country.

While it was made illegal to restrict the sale of property to certain ethnic or religious groups in Canada a half-century ago, the JNF does just that in Israel today. The JNF’s bylaws and lease documents contain a restrictive covenant stating its property will not be leased to non-Jews. A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report found that the JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population. According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

More recently, the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices detailed “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel. The report noted, “Approximately 93 percent of land was in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

In Israel, as in Canada, Jewish/white privilege is a much greater social problem than anti-Semitism. It’s time to check that privilege.

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Supporting ‘terror tourism’ to Israel gets Canadian tax credits

When is a Canadian who leaves this country to join a foreign military force and participate in the killing of innocent civilians, including children, called a “terror tourist” and sent to jail? The answer is: Only when that person joins a military force the Conservative government disagrees with.

Numerous ministers in the current federal government have loudly denounced the radicalization of Canadian youth in foreign wars. Last year, the Conservatives passed a law that sets a maximum fifteen year prison sentence for “leaving or attempting to leave Canada” to commit terrorism. Jason Kenney, the minister for multiculturalism, recently said the government is trying “to monitor networks that recruit and radicalize youth.”

Last month, Somali-Canadian Mohamed Hersi was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempting to join the al-Shabab militia in Somalia. Arrested at Toronto’s Pearson airport before leaving, Hersi was not found guilty of committing or plotting a specific act of violence, but according to the presiding judge, was “poised to become a terror tourist.”

Yet our government does nothing to hundreds of other Canadians who join a different foreign military force which daily terrorizes millions of people and often uses explosives to kill thousands — most of whom are civilians.

It’s unknown exactly how many Canadians are participating in Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza but an Israeli military spokesperson has said there were 139 Canadians in the Israeli military in 2013. The Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, an organization supporting the Israeli military, has referred to 145 Canadians in the Israeli military. That figure, however, only refers to what the organization calls Canadian “lone soldiers” — soldiers without family in Israel.

Breaking the stereotype of radicalized youth who join terror groups, recent media reports suggest that most of the Canadians joining the Israeli military are children of lawyers, doctors and other professionals. When thirty individuals attended the 2012 launch of a Toronto support group for Parents of Lone Soldiers, it took place at the home of Perla and Ron Riesenbach. The latter is a vice-president at the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences Centre.

Earlier this month the French language website La Presse quoted a McGill University law student, Menachem Freedman, who recently completed a stint with the Israeli military and now does legal work for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

A partner in a Toronto law firm, Audrey Shecter has two kids with Israeli military experience. According to the National Post, Shecter’s son completed 27 months with the Israeli military in February and her daughter, Orli Broer, currently serves on a base in the illegally occupied West Bank.

Broer, a 19-year-old Torontonian, who is in a unit that processes visas and other paperwork, helps to deny Palestinians freedom of movement in their own homeland. “It’s my home and I have to protect my home,” the Canadian born and raised Broer told the National Post.

While the Foreign Enlistment Act technically prohibits Canadians from recruiting for a foreign army, there are a number of organizations that help individuals enlist in the Israeli military. At its Toronto office, the Friends of Israeli Scouts’ Garin Tzabar program provides Hebrew lessons and support services, as well as help with transport and accommodation in Israel, for twenty-five to thirty Canadian “lone soldiers” each year.

According to a Garin Tzabar spokesperson who spoke to La Presse, the recent killing and destruction in Gaza has prompted a flood of inquiries about joining the Israeli military.

Part of the tab for lone soldier support services is picked up by Canadian taxpayers through tax credits for “charitable” donations. The Israel-based Lone Soldier Center has Canadian charitable status through the Ne’eman Foundation. So does the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which has, according to its website, sponsored “fun activities” for “lone soldiers.”

Financial backing for lone soldiers reaches the top echelons of the Canadian business world. Billionaire Toronto couple Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers. Reisman and Schwartz provide up to $3 million per year for post-military scholarships for these non-Israeli soldiers.

Members of the Israeli high command — Heseg’s board has included a number of generals and a former head of the secret service Mossad — say “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behavior. Schwartz and Reisman’s support for Heseg has spurred a campaign to boycott the Indigo, Chapters and Cole bookstore chain they own.

Canadians in the Israeli military benefit from various Canadian-financed support programs and may also find other Canadians stocking their equipment. Approximately 150 Canadians serve as volunteers on Israeli army supply bases each year through the Zionist organization Sar-El. That organization takes out ads in the Canadian Jewish News calling on individuals to “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base.”

There are a number of other registered Canadian “charities” that aid the Israeli army. Money sent to Disabled Veterans of Israel or Beit Halochem (Canada) and Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel support the Israeli military in different ways. Established in 1971, the Association for the Soldiers of Israel – Canada, which gives tax receipts through the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association, provides financial and “moral” support to active duty soldiers.

Various Canadian organizations have long supported the Israeli military and individuals from this country have directly participated in its violence. At least 25 volunteers from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the three-week assault in late 2008 and early 2009, which left some 1,400 Palestinians dead.

Canada’s military contribution to the conquest of Palestine predates the creation of Israel.

During the First World War, Québec City-born Lieutenant General Sir Charles MacPherson Dobell, fresh from leading the Anglo-French conquest of German West Africa, was given a command position in the 1917 Egyptian expeditionary force sent to seize Gaza from the Ottomans. Additionally, as many as four hundred Canadians (approximately half recruited specifically for the task) fought in British General Edmund Allenby’s Jewish Legion that helped conquer Palestine.

A number of Canadians, with at least tacit support from the Ottawa authorities, played a direct role in “de-Arabizing” Palestine in 1947 and 1948. Representatives from the Haganah, the primary Zionist military force behind the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing leading to Israel’s foundation — recruited three hundred experienced Canadian soldiers.

The heir to the menswear firm Tip Top Tailors, Ben Dunkelman, was Haganah’s main recruiter in Canada. He claimed that “about 1,000” Canadians “fought to establish Israel.” During the Nakba, Israel’s small air force was almost entirely foreign, with at least 53 Canadians, including 15 non-Jews, enlisted.

Given this country’s past, perhaps today’s double standard about “terror tourism” is not surprising. But those of us who want a just Canadian foreign policy must nonetheless expose our government’s hypocrisy.

While al-Shabab has committed many reprehensible acts and espouses a terribly repressive ideology, the group’s growth and radicalization is largely a response to the 2006 US-sponsored foreign invasion of Somalia that has left tens of thousands of Somalis dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

On the other hand, it’s as if the Canadians fighting with Israel are unsatisfied with their and their ancestors’ dispossession of First Nations in North America and now want to help colonize yet another indigenous people.

The double standard is extreme. It is illegal for Somali Canadians to fight in that country but it is okay for Canadian Jews to kill Palestinians in Gaza. And the government will give you a charitable tax credit if you give money to support the latter.

Fortunately, activists in one country have made strides on this issue. A Palestine solidarity group in South Africa recently launched a case against citizens of that country who have served in the Israeli military.

Some have suggested another solution. Eminent Canadian historian Jack Granatstein recently said: “In my view, no one who is a Canadian should be able to enlist in some other country’s military and keep his Canadian citizenship.”

Canadians of good conscience must at least insist upon fairness and an end to an outrageous double standard.

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