Canadian companies well known abroad for bribery

While most Canadians proudly recognize the beaver, the hockey player and the curling broom as symbols of this country, some of us would be made uncomfortable by another enduring emblem of the Great White North: a businessman wearing a maple leaf lapel pin discretely passing a plain manila envelope stuffed with cash to a foreign official.

Last week SNC-Lavalin agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a corruption case brought against it by the African Development Bank. Accused of bribing officials in Uganda and Mozambique, the Montréal-based company also accepted a number of other non-monetary conditions on its operations to avoid being blacklisted from projects financed by the African Development Bank.

Over the past half-decade Canada’s biggest engineering company is alleged to have greased palms in LibyaAlgeriaTunisiaAngola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia as well as a number of Asian countries and Canada.

In Libya, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $50 million to Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, in exchange for a series of contracts. The company is also alleged to have defrauded $130 million from Libyan public agencies.

In a less high profile incident, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $6 million to the son-in-law of former Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in exchange for assistance securing contracts.

In Angola, SNC allegedly paid millions of dollars to government officials in exchange for a hydro dam contract. Former SNC employee Joseph Salim sued the company for wrongful dismissal, claiming he was terminated after he blew the whistle on the illegal payments. Salim alleged that SNC’s former CEO, Jacques Lamarre, agreed to pay a 10 percent “agent fee” but company officials were unwilling to declare more than five percent on the books, which necessitated artificially increasing the price of the dam.

In northern Nigeria, SNC officials allegedly paid 1.2 million naira in cash — nearly five times the annual average Nigerian salary — to a government official responsible for a World Bank-funded water and sewer project. One company spreadsheet noted that money was “paid to Musa Tete [the Nigerian bureaucrat overseeing the World Bank-financed project] through Yaroson”, SNC’s Nigerian partner.

As allegations of SNC bribery began to seep out in 2012, the company continued to win billions of dollars in Canadian government contracts, maintained the backing of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and garnered support from Canadian diplomats abroad.

Canada has been quick to denounce corruption in Africa, but has lagged behind the rest of the G7 countries in criminalizing foreign bribery. For example, into the early 1990s, Canadian companies were at liberty to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, affording them an “advantage over the Americans” — they’re forbidden by law to pay out agents’ commissions, according to Bernard Lamarre, former head of Lavalin (now SNC-Lavalin).

In 1977, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act outlawed bribes to foreign officials. Ottawa failed to follow suit until the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched its anti-bribery convention in 1997. The OECD convention obligated signatories to pass laws against bribing public officials abroad and two years later Canada complied, passing the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA).

Still, for the next decade Canadian officials did little to enforce the law. The RCMP waited until 2008 to create an International Anti-Corruption Unit and didn’t secure a significant conviction under the CFPOA until 2011.

Anti-corruption watchdogs have repeatedly criticized Ottawa’s lax approach. A March 2011 report from the OECD Working Group on Bribery criticized Canada’s framework for combating foreign corruption and Ottawa has fared poorly in Transparency International’s rankings. In 2013, Transparency International complained that between 2005 and 2011, Canada exercised “little to no enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.”

The group repeatedly ranked Canada the worst performer among G7 countries on this front.

Last week, Toronto-based Kinross Gold disclosed that the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into “improper payments made to government officials and certain internal control deficiencies” at its operations in Ghana and Mauritania. In my new book Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation I detail numerous reports of Canadian companies accused of bribing officials.

While the federal government recently strengthened anti-bribery legislation, Ottawa has so far largely turned a blind eye to corporations paying off public officials abroad.

Should bribery really be seen as “Canadian” as the RCMP’s Musical Ride?

Over the past half-decade Canada’s biggest engineering company is alleged to have greased palms in LibyaAlgeriaTunisiaAngola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia as well as a number of Asian countries and Canada.

This article first appeared in Huffington Post


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What’s ‘Green’ about subsidizing car travel?

Would you believe the Green Party recently took a more environmentally regressive position on an important issue than Stephen Harper?

Elizabeth May added her voice to the main opposition parties on a recent visit to Montreal by telling suburbanites they should expect a future non-Conservative federal government to continue aggressively subsidizing the most costly, unhealthy and ecologically destructive form of land transport.

May told Le Devoir that her party didn’t necessarily support the Harper government’s plan to implement a toll when the Champlain Bridge, Canada’s busiest crossing and a key connection between the island of Montreal and the city’s South Shore, is rebuilt at a projected cost of over $4 billion.

“The Green Party doesn’t have a rigid position on the issue,” May said in French. “Before talking about a toll, we need to agree on what kind of mass transit we want to put in place between the South Shore and the island [of Montreal]. Maybe if there is an efficient system a reduction in traffic on the bridge will take place naturally and the toll won’t be necessary.”

This is either political opportunism of the worst sort or a lack of real commitment to combatting climate change.

Anyone with the least respect for climate science ought to oppose building an auto-centered bridge of any sort (toll or no toll). But even a fully bike-, pedestrian- and mass transit-oriented bridge, which isn’t being seriously discussed, should include a toll. A light rail-dominated, private and car-free bridge would still include a lane for emergency vehicles and buses, which ought to cross freely. Trucks could also use the lane, but they should pay — they are dangerous, noisy, emit high volumes of carbon emissions and mostly transport goods for private businesses.

Perhaps the Green Party’s unwillingness to publicly back a toll on the Champlain Bridge has little to do with a serious analysis of its ecological or social implications.

Perhaps it’s a sop to a political culture, shaped by the auto industrial complex, that tells drivers it is their right to be subsidized every metre of their 10-, 40- or 80-kilometre daily drive (often solo) into the city. Having been seduced by land developers into buying big houses far from work, suburbanites are outraged at the prospect of paying the direct costs — leaving aside climate and health — for each kilometre of their trek.

But surely a leader of the Green Party ought to publicly declare that climate science makes this state of affairs unsustainable. If not her, then who?

And if electoral politics makes this an impossible position to take, then no moral, ecologically minded person should enter party politics. (The Green’s opportunism is made more depressing by the fact that they have little chance of winning a seat on the South Shore.)

The Green’s ambiguity towards a bridge toll reflects a larger problem with groups challenging the dominance of private cars. They generally shy away from supporting policies that increase the costs or make lives more difficult for drivers and instead focus on inducing individuals to leave their automobiles through new transport services.

While expanding transit options is often necessary, those of us who really care about human health, the livability of urban spaces and humanity’s capacity to survive on this planet shouldn’t fear initiatives that punish private car travel. We must tell the truth.

Increasing gas taxes, tolls and congestion fees; eliminating parking; tearing down highways and otherwise freeing streets from vehicles should all be pursued in the struggle against private automobility.

Dedicating a lane to buses or even building light rail on a new bridge is unlikely to substantially reduce car travel if other automotive infrastructure is maintained or expanded. One reason for this is that cars usually fill whatever space is devoted to them. Another part of the explanation is that areas built entirely for cars can’t simply adopt mass transit.

Car-dominated urban landscapes must be radically revamped, and one way to encourage these transformations is to make drivers pay more of the cost of their trips.

While I believe in challenging the private car at every turn, there is a tactical and social argument for focusing on corporations driving auto dominance rather than individual drivers. But the Green Party is not articulating these types of policies either. If they wanted to challenge automotive hegemony, but avoid angering individual drivers, they could target automakers’ omnipresent advertising, which largely explains the private car’s immense cultural standing.

Many times more damaging than cigarettes, car advertising should be (as with tobacco) steadily eliminated. Or how about pushing for a quota system whereby automakers’ are compelled to steadily increase the production of rideshare vehicles, buses, bikes and light rail cars in exchange for the right to sell private cars? The objective would be to push auto companies to produce less ecologically and socially damaging products while maintaining employment levels.

While it’s unclear how best to curb auto dependence, current efforts are failing. Greater Montreal’s car stock is growing by some 45,000 vehicles a year and new auto sales, driven by gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks, are on pace to reach a record in 2015.

In the current political culture many find it easier to imagine the collapse of civilization than the replacement of a transportation and urban planning system that harms our health and destroys cityscapes. But we either curtail the private car or accept that human civilization is unlikely to survive much longer.

Et tu, Elizabeth May?

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Nova Scotia’s connection to exploitation in Africa

Little has been written about the Nova Scotian cod industry and a Haligonian’s role in events partly responsible for the stark economic divide that sees most of Africans living on less than $2 a day and without electricity.

Between 1600 and 1850, more than 10 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic. European demand for human chattel abetted violence across Africa, exacerbating ethnic fragmentation and undermining state formation with long-term economic impacts.

Nova Scotia propped up the transatlantic slave trade. Africans were held in bondage in the city for 200 years, and during the 1791-1804 Haitian revolution, Halifax was used as a venue to release pressure on Jamaican slaveholders with over 500 maroons and their families expelled to the city in 1796.

Much of Britain’s Halifax-based squadron was deployed to the West Indies in a bid to crush the Haitian slave rebellion before it swept the region. Concurrently, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. Licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, the privateers were also trying to protect a market decimated by French privateers.

For decades, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cod and other goods to the Caribbean slave colonies. Unwilling to devote valuable sugar planting space to food crops, the plantation owners bought high-protein, salty cod to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.”

After destabilizing large swaths of Africa for three centuries, in the late 1800s, Europeans colonized most of the continent. Over the next seven or eight decades, African politics and economics were directly organized in the interests of European powers.

A number of Nova Scotians participated in British campaigns to conquer various parts of the continent. Most significantly, Halifax’s William Grant Stairs played an important role in two controversial expeditions to expand European influence over Central Africa. In 1887, Stairs joined the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, which was ostensibly designed to “rescue” the British-backed governor of Equatoria, the southern part of today’s South Sudan.

Read from a humanistic or internationalist perspective, the Royal Military College of Canada graduate’s diary of the three-year expedition is incredibly damning.

Stairs’ extensive diary makes it clear that locals regularly opposed the mission. He repeatedly admits to “ransacking the place” and Stairs led numerous raiding parties to gather “carriers,” which were slaves in all but name.

One diary entry notes: “It was most interesting, lying in the bush and watching the natives quietly at their day’s work; some women were pounding the bark of trees preparatory to making the coarse native cloth used all along this part of the river, others were making banana flower by pounding up dried bananas, men we could see building huts and engaged at other such work, boys and girls running about, singing, crying, others playing on a small instrument common all over Africa, a series of wooden strips, bent over a bridge and twanged with the thumb and forefinger. All was as it was every day until our discharge of bullets, when the usual uproar of screaming of women took place.”

Even with some criticizing the expedition in Britain, Stairs’ efforts were celebrated locally. An honouring committee established by the mayor of Halifax decided to give him a sword made in London of Nova Scotia steel and the city organized a reception attended by the lieutenant-governor with a military band playing “Here the Conquering Hero Comes.”

Within two years of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, Stairs helped Belgian King Leopold II conquer the resource-rich Katanga region of the Congo. He headed up a heavily armed mission that swelled to 2,000.

The goal of the expedition was to extend Leopold’s authority over the Katanga region and to get a piece of the copper, ivory and gold trade. Stairs’ specific objective was to get Msiri, the ruler of the region, “to submit to the authorities of the Congo Free State, either by persuasion or by force.”

The expedition accomplished its principal objective. Stairs had Msiri killed and threatened Msiri’s brothers with the same fate unless they accepted Leopold as sovereign.

While Stairs died during the expedition, his mission to Katanga added 150,000 square kilometres to Leopold’s massive Congo Free State. In a bid to extract rubber and other commodities from his personal colony, Leopold instituted a brutal system of forced labour that caused millions of deaths from direct violence, as well as starvation and disease, between 1891 in 1908.

While it may be discomforting to admit it, Halifax has contributed to African impoverishment.

This article first appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.


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Shining light on the secret world of Canada’s special forces

Last week former defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would significantly expand Canada’s special forces. Kenney said they would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command (CANSOFCOM) over the next seven years.

Why? What do these “special forces” do? Who decides when and where to deploy them? For what purpose? These are all questions left unanswered (and not even asked in the mainstream media).

What we do know is that since the mid-2000s Canada’s special forces have steadily expanded to 1,900 members. In 2006 the military launched CANSOFCOM to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Aviation Squadron, Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit and Special Operations Regiment. Begun that year, the Special Operations Regiment’s 750 members receive similar training to JTF2 commandos, the most secretive and skilled unit of the Canadian Armed Forces. After having doubled from 300 to 600 men, JTF2 is set to move from Ottawa to a 400-acre compound near Trenton, Ontario, at a cost of $350 million.

Though their operations are “shrouded in secrecy” — complained a 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence — JTF2 commandos have been deployed on numerous occasions since the unit’s establishment in 1993.

A number of media outlets reported that Canadian special forces fought in Libya in 2011 in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which explicitly forbade “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

On February 29, 2004 JTF2 soldiers reportedly “secured” the airportfrom which Haiti’s elected president Jean-Bertand Aristide was bundled (“kidnapped” in his words) onto a plane by US Marines and deposited in the Central African Republic.

After the 2003 US/British invasion JTF2 commandos were reported to be working alongside their British and US counterparts in Iraq. While Ottawa refused to confirm or deny JTF2 operations, in March 2006 the Pentagon and the British Foreign Office “both commentedon the instrumental role JTF2 played in rescuing the British and Canadian Christian Peace Activists that were being held hostage in Iraq.”

Nous étions invincibles, a book by a former JTF2 soldier Denis Morisset, describes his mission to the Colombian jungle to rescue NGO and church workers “because FARC guerillas threatened the peace in the region.” The Canadian soldiers were unaware that they were transporting the son of a Colombian leader, which prompted the FARC to give chase for a couple days. On two different occasions the Canadian forces came under fire from FARC guerrillas. Two Canadian soldiers were injured in the firefight and immediately after the operation one of the wounded soldiers left the army with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, the Canadians were saved by US helicopters, as the JTF2 mission was part of a US initiative.

Morisset also provides a harrowing account of a 1996 operation to bring the Canadian General Maurice Baril, in charge of a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire (Congo), to meet Rwandan backed rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The convoy came under fire upon which US Apache and Blackhawk helicopters launched a counterattack on the Congolese, rescuing their Canadian allies. Some thirty Congolese were killed by a combination of helicopter and JTF2 fire.

In late 2001 JTF2 secretly invaded Afghanistan, alongside US and British operatives. In the first six months of their operations, members of JTF2 claimed to have killed 115 Taliban or Al Quaida fighters and captured 107 Taliban leaders. By early 2002 the British began having doubts about the tactics used by Canadian and American special forces. In Shadow Wars: Special Forces in the New Battle Against Terrorism David Pugliese reports, “The concern among the British was that the ongoing raids [by Americans and Canadians] were giving Afghans the impression that the coalition was just another invading foreign army that had no respect for the country’s culture or religion.”

According to documents CBC News obtained through access to information, a JTF2 member said he felt his commanders “encouraged” them to commit war crimes. The soldier, whose name was not released, claimed a fellow JTF2 member shot an Afghan with his hands raised in the act of surrender. The allegations of wrongdoing were first made to his superior officers in 2006 yet the military ombudsman didn’t begin investigating until June 2008. The JTF2 member told the ombudsman’s office “that although he reported what he witnessed to his chain of command, he does not believe they are investigating, and are being ‘very nice to him.’” After three and a half years, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service cleared the commanders in December 2011. But they failed to release details of the allegations, including who was involved or when and where it happened. The public was supposed to simply trust the process.

It seems as if the Conservatives support special forces precisely because these elite units have close ties to their US counterparts and the government is not required to divulge information about their operations. Ottawa can deploy these troops abroad and the public is none the wiser. “Deniability,” according to Major B. J. Brister, is why the federal government prefers special operation forces.

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

Mining the leaders’ debate

The Liberal, NDP and Conservative leaders are set to debate Canada’s role in the world at an event put on by Munk Debates, an organization named after and financed by a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in mining. It will be interesting, therefore, to see if mining as a topic is given much, if any, attention by the leaders tonight.

Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk is part of the committee overseeing the debate series.

Peter Munk espouses strong political views. In the late 1990s he publicly praised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet at a Barrick meeting while a decade later he compared polarizing Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview, Munk played down criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.

The company Munk founded, like other Canadian mining companies, stands to gain or lose depending on Canadian foreign policy. For example, in 2011 the now defunct Canadian International Development Agency invested $500,000 in a World Vision Canada/Barrick Gold project. “In Peru,” noted the aid agency, “CIDA is supporting World Vision Canada, in a program that will increase the income and standard of living of 1,000 families affected by mining operations.” World Vision and Barrick combined to match CIDA’s donation.

In response Miguel Palacin, the head of a Peruvian indigenous organization, sent a letter to World Vision, Barrick and CIDA claiming that “no ‘social works’ carried out with the mining companies can compensate for the damage done” by mining operations while the former co-ordinator of Common Frontiers Canada, Rick Arnold, described the NGO initiative as “a pacification program, and not a development project.”

Barrick has also benefited from Canadian diplomatic support, including visits by the prime minister. In 2007 Stephen Harper met Barrick officials in Tanzania days after the company claimed a strike at one of its Tanzanian mines was illegal and looked to replace a thousand striking miners. Four months earlier Barrick gained important support for its Pascua-Lama operations, which spurred large-scale protests, during Harper’s trip to Chile. He visited the company’s Chilean office and said “Barrick follows Canadian standards of corporate social responsibility.”

Barrick, which operates some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, has opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008, the Toronto-based company opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company lobbied against Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill C-300 (An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries).

Canadian-based companies dominate the international mining industry, operating in most countries around the world. In African and Latin American countries particularly, Canadian diplomats expend significant energy lobbying in favor of mining interests, aid dollars are channeled towards initiatives benefiting the sector, and officials in Ottawa seek to allay mining companies’ fears by negotiating foreign investment promotion and protection agreements.

Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate. Let’s hope tonight we voters are able to hear from the party leaders a serious discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable private companies.

This article first appeared on The Tyee.

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Will Canada’s love affair with Israel last?

Pro-Israel lobbyists have had it good in Canada. The outgoing government is wildly supportive and the “Left” party recently purged a number of candidates for publicly expressing pro-Palestinian sympathies. But the election this fall may turn out to be zenith of Israeli influence.

Stephen Harper’s pro-Israelism is legend. At the General Assembly this week, Canadian diplomats voted against the vast majority of the world in opposing a bid to fly the Palestinian flag at the UN headquarters. Further adding to Harper’s Zionist cred, Canada and Israel recently expanded their free trade agreement, which allows products produced in illegal Israeli settlements to enter Canada duty-free. The European Union trade agreement, on the other hand, explicitly precludes Israel from putting made in Israel on goods produced in the occupied West Bank.

Aside from Israel, Canada may be the only country that isn’t officially supporting the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent UN Security Council members US, Russia, China, England and France as well as Germany). While they’ve criticized the accord for not guaranteeing that Iran won’t pursue a nuclear weapon, the Conservatives have repeatedly opposed initiatives to create a nuclear-free Middle East. In the spring, Canada joined the US and Britain in opposing consensus at a Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that proposed a plan to create a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone. As the region’s only nuclear armed state, Israel objected to the NPT scheduling a conference on a nuclear free Middle East even though it hasn’t signed the NPT. In a bid to protect Israel’s large nuclear stockpile, Canadian diplomats worked to scuttle the meeting.

Painful as it is to admit, Harper has deftly turned Israel to his political advantage. The Prime Minister’s aggressive public defense of Israeli actions pleases elements of his Christian evangelical base and plays well with most of the Jewish community all the while strengthening his neoconservative bona fides. But, the Conservatives have also successfully stoked tensions within the opposition parties over Israel.

At the start of the ongoing election campaign the Conservatives set up a website called, “Meet the NDP,” detailing purportedly controversial statements its candidates have made on various issues, including a number of comments critical of Israel. One NDP candidate the Conservatives targeted, Morgan Wheeldon, was forced to resign by the party leadership because he wrote on his Facebook page that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza last summer and that “one could argue that Israel’s intention was always to ethnically cleanse the region — there are direct quotations proving this to be the case.” Apparently, the NDP has excluded as many as eight individuals from contesting riding nominations because of comments criticizing Israel.

(A pro-Palestinian version of “Meet the Conservatives” would not be based on candidates’ Facebook posts, but the slightly more consequential actions of a sitting Prime Minister. Did you know, it might read, Harper addressed an organization — Jewish National Fund — that practices explicit ethnic/religious discrimination in its land use policies and he invited a representative of a group banned in the US and Israel — the Jewish Defense League — to join his delegation to Israel.)

When the NDP blocked Paul Manly, a filmmaker and son of a former NDP MP, from seeking the NDP candidacy in Nanaimo-Ladysmith at the start of the year, he decided to run for the Green party. (In 2012 Manly criticized the NDP after it failed to call on Israel to release his father after illegally seizing a Gaza-bound boat he was aboard.) The Green Party’s embrace of Manly reflects the growing clout of pro-Palestinian activists inside Canada’s fourth national party.

In November 2013 a Jewish Tribune reporter challenged Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, over her planned participation in a fundraiser for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CPJME). Apparently thinking the interview wouldn’t be read outside pro-Israel circles, May told the Tribune CJPME was “anti-Israel” and noted that she had attended a recent Jewish National Fund fundraiser in Ottawa, even lauding “the great work that’s [the JNF] done in making the desert bloom.” (In actual fact the JNF has helped dispossess Palestinians and Judaize historically Arab areas of Israel.)

While the Tribune likely saw their intervention as a way to pressure May, it sparked a pro-Palestinian backlash that jolted the Green Party’s only Member of Parliament and pushed the party towards a better position on the issue. A few months later the party adopted a resolution critical of Israeli expansionism and when Green Party President Paul Estrin published an anti-Palestinian screed in the midst of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza he was soon forced to resign.

It seems Green Party activists are no longer willing to accept blatant anti-Palestinian sentiment. Moreover, the party leadership has realized they can bleed support from the NDP, particularly among activists, over Israel. If NDP leader Tom Mulcair — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” — continues to take anti-Palestinian positions, the Greens are likely to gain more traction among those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, which should in turn push the party to take stronger positions in favor of Palestinian liberation.

Internal fissures within the NDP concerning Palestine are likely to grow. With the most violent and colonialist forces in ascendance, Israel will likely launch another assault on Gaza like those of 2008/09, 2012 and 2014, which left 3700 Palestinians dead, including over 800 children. During last summer’s Israeli attack, Ipolitics described the “NDP’s Simmering Civil War over Gaza.” Deep antipathy towards Harper has tempered some internal criticism, but Mulcair can’t expect this to continue indefinitely if he becomes Prime Minister.

The NDP’s purge of pro-Palestinian candidates, which largely bypassed those with a strong chance of winning seats in the House of Commons, was a depressing reminder of the official dominance of the Israeli perspective. But the large number of individuals targeted, and their disbursement across the country, reflects the growing number of NDP activists critical of Israel.

A historical perspective helps to see the shift. By far Canada’s most significant contribution to Palestinian dispossession: In 1947, Canadian diplomats played an important role in shaping the UN partition plan, which gave the new Jewish state the majority of Palestine despite the Jewish population owning only seven per cent of the land and representing less than a third of the population. The partition plan provided diplomatic legitimacy to a Zionist movement intent on expelling Palestinians from their homeland. But few Canadians understood, let alone protested, Ottawa’s actions. Yet when Israel attacked Gaza last year, tens of thousands demonstrated. In recent years tens of thousands more have voted through their labour union, student union or church to support the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

History may view 2015 as the zenith of pro-Israel influence in Canada.

A version of this article appeared on Electronic Intifada.

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Acknowledging our racist past

Where does anti-black racism come from? Can we trace discrimination today, such as disproportionate police carding, to when this bias developed?

While the most obvious source of this racism is the legacy of justifications for enslaving Africans, Toronto has made a distinct contribution as well. For example, dozens of Torontonians participated in British expeditions to subjugate various parts of Africa. These conquests were generally cloaked in the rhetoric of “superior and inferior races.”

In 1885, nearly 400 Canadians under the command of future Toronto West MP Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Denison travelled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan. Arguing in favour of the British-led expedition, the Toronto Daily Mail described “the feeling that exists throughout the civilized world that the Dark Continent is to be the next great theatre upon which the dominant races of man are destined to play a conspicuous and important part.”

The strength of racist, social Darwinist ideas grew as the “scramble for Africa” peaked. In 1899, a Toronto Mail and Empire editorial explained that “partly by the process of natural selection of the fittest, there had devolved upon Britain the task of controlling and administering vast territories.”

At the same time, dozens of Toronto missionaries helped the colonial powers penetrate African society. In 1893, Torontonians founded what later became the largest interdenominational Protestant mission on the continent. Head of the Sudan Interior Mission for four decades, Rowland Victor Bingham described “facing millions of people in the darkness of their heathenism” and “seeing the people in all their savagery and sin.”

In 1905, the Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ sent Toronto’s Alexander Woods Banfield to proselytize among the Nupe of northwestern Nigeria. Banfield asserted that “people along the banks of the Niger are almost wild… almost entirely untouched by the white man.”

Lecturing widely, Toronto missionaries also published many tracts full of racist rhetoric. The most prolific of these authors, Douglas C. Percy, argued in a 1948 book: “The people of Africa have associations with demonic powers. Behind the face of Africa looms a dark, evil intelligence, the shadow of Satan, the great enemy of God and man.”

For nearly four decades beginning in the early 1920s, University of Toronto graduates were recruited into the British Colonial Service. In 1923 a top Colonial Office official described the initiative as “taking Canada into partnership in the white man’s burden.”

European colonial rule was largely supported in Canada. A January 1959 Toronto Star editorial responding to independence protests in the Congo claimed, “Forces are loose in Africa that even the enlightened Belgians could not control,” adding that the Congo “was to be an example to all other colonial powers on how to civilize a backward, savage people.” Now, of course, it is widely recognized that Belgian rule was brutal.

During the UN mission dispatched to the newly independent Congo the next year, both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail published an Associated Press article claiming that “human flesh is again being eaten in secret tribal rituals – not as a delicacy or for nourishment but for the magic properties of a dead enemy’s limbs and organs.” Besides citing “witch doctors,” no evidence was presented in press accounts that an Irish UN soldier who went missing was eaten.

But all that was long ago, you might say. What, then, to make of a 2011 Toronto Sun article that described Afrofest as celebrating “the sounds of the Dark Continent”?

This article first appeared in the Toronto Now

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