Canada in Haiti: Is this how friends act?

Reading the comments below a recent Toronto Star op-edreminded me of an important, if rarely mentioned, rule of Canadian foreign policy: the more impoverished a nation, the greater the gap is likely to be between what Canadian officials say and do.

In a rare corporate daily breakthrough, solidarity activist Mark Phillips detailed a decade of antidemocratic Canadian policy in Haiti. But, a number of readers were clearly discomforted by the piece titled “Hey Canada, stop meddling in Haitian democracy.”

“Money pumped into this dysfunctional country, is money down a rat hole,” read one. Another said, “Yes — let’s stop ‘meddling’ and while were at it — let’s stop sending them our hard-earned money!!!!.”

While these statements ought to be condemned, one should feel some sympathy for the comment writers. Assuming they only peruse the dominant media, Phillips’ op-ed ran counter to all they’d ever heard about Canada’s role in Haiti.

Over the past 12 years Canadian officials have repeatedly boasted about their good deeds in the Caribbean nation all the while aggressively undermining Haitian democracy and supporting violent right-wing political forces. In January 2003 Ottawa hosted a roundtable meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti where high level U.S., Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting the country under international trusteeship and resurrecting Haiti’s dreaded military. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting, Aristide had been pushed out and a quasi-UN trusteeship had begun.

Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government and then supported an installed regime that killed thousands. Officially, however, Ottawa was “helping” the beleaguered country as part of the “Friends of Haiti” group. And the bill for undermining Haitian democracy, including the salaries of top coup government officials and the training of repressive cops, was largely paid out of Canada’s “aid” to the country.

Even after a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, Canadian officials continued their inhumane, antidemocratic, course. According to internal documents the Canadian Press examined a year after the disaster, officials in Ottawa feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising.” One briefing note marked “secret” explained: “Political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The documents also explained the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 U.S. soldiers and 1,500 UN troops (8,000 UN soldiers were already there). Even though there was no war, for a period there were more foreign troops in Haiti per square kilometer than in Afghanistan or Iraq (and about as many per capita). Though the Conservatives rapidly deployed 2,050 troops they ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures.”

While they were largely focused on “security,” the Harper Conservatives knew the public wanted Canada to aid earthquake victims. As such, they claimed Canadian troops were deployed to alleviate Haitian suffering. Harper told the press: “Ships of the Atlantic fleet were immediately ordered to Haiti from Halifax, loaded with relief supplies.” Not true. A [Halifax] Chronicle Herald reporter and photographer embedded with the military for the mission observed that they didn’t have much food, water, medical equipment or tents to distribute, beyond what they needed for their own crews. Nor did the other Canadian naval vessel dispatched have supplies to distribute.

The files uncovered by the Canadian Press about the government’s post-earthquake concerns go to the heart (or lack thereof) of Canadian foreign policy decisionmaking. Strategic thinking, not compassion, almost always motivates policy. And what is considered “strategic” is usually what corporate Canada wants.

To conceal this ugly reality officials boast about aid contributions and democracy promotion. But the primary explanation for the gap between what’s said and done is that power generally defines what is considered reality. So, the bigger the power imbalance between Canada and another country the greater Ottawa’s ability to distort their activities.

Unfortunately, the Toronto Star comments suggest Canadian officials have been quite effective in deceiving the public.

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

Let’s reclaim Montreal from the automobile

For those of us of left-wing persuasion, it’s counterintuitive to call for the privatization of public lands.

But, generally, the less public space there is in a neighbourhood, the more pleasant it is. And the less of a toll it takes on the planet.

Why is this? The answer is simple and so overwhelmingly a part of our shared existence that we have trouble seeing it: Most public land in urban areas is devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles, which contribute significantly to global warming.

The private automobile is a city- and planet-killer.

So much of our civic resources are spent on enabling cars that we have become slaves to their requirements. It is not just the money we spend to build and maintain roads and the other necessities of automotive existence, but also the way the car shapes the very form of our city. Or, to be more accurate, misshapes.

The problem can best be illustrated by the way many of Montreal’s genuinely attractive public spaces are ruined by our car craziness. A little park I pass daily at the corner of René-Lévesque Blvd. and Amherst St. is a case in point. It’s barely frequented because few people want to relax next to six lanes of traffic. And oddly, the Ville-Marie Expressway has been rarely mentioned in the debate about demolishing the expansive Agora sculpture in Viger Square. Agora or not, Viger Square is uninviting largely because it sits atop the expressway and is surrounded by multi-lane roads with drivers speeding on and off the highway.

Of course, roadways are not the only public lands devoted to automotive worship. The Maison Radio-Canada devotes more space to parking than its building and satellites. In the early 1960s, 5,000 people were forced to move to make way for what’s now largely a parking lot. While socialists don’t generally favour privatizing the public broadcaster, a plan floated in 2008 to sell CBC land to build 2,000 housing units would have done wonders for the neighbourhood.

On a lesser scale, the same is true of the Hydro-Québec headquarters, Jeanne-Mance Housing project and central police station. Their parking lots are blights on the Quartier des spectacles/ Quartier Latin corridor and encourage vehicle use in an area well serviced by transit and lodging options. Privatizing these parking lots would raise tens of millions of dollars for the respective public institutions and the land could be put to commercial or other uses.

When public space is taken from cars and given to businesses, the improvements can be startling. Allowing restaurants, bars and stores to set up terrasses or sell their goods on 15 blocks of Ste-Catherine St. E. four months of the year is incredibly popular, with pedestrians swarming the open streets. Local business profits improve, along with the atmosphere — both ecological and cultural.

We need to build on this experience, to be bold. We need to harness the capitalist drive to privatize with urban planning principles and ecological sustainability.

Our first demand should be to sell off René-Lévesque and turn the street into dwellings and businesses. Large swaths of René-Lévesque are wide enough to build a row of lodgings with a narrow street on each side. Privatizing René-Lévesque would be a major step forward in rebuilding a walking city, a healthy city for its inhabitants and the planet.

Privatizing the arteries that feed the cancer weakening Montreal could lead to a healthier, more pleasant and ecologically sustainable city.

Urban dwellers, ecologists and capitalists unite! We have nothing to lose but the public spaces killing us.

(This article originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette)

Listen to Yves’s interview with Tommy Schnurmacher on CJAD 800  here.

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Filed under Stop Signs

Look where Harper’s lawbreaking led Libya

Since the start of the Canadian election campaign a series of posts have detailed the Harper Conservatives repeated abuse of power. The Tyee published “Harper, Serial Abuser of Power”, which listed “70 Harper government assaults on democracy and the law.” But the widely disseminated list omitted what may be the Conservatives’ most flagrant – and far-reaching –lawbreaking. In 2011 Ottawa defied UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 and 1973, which were passed amidst the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in Libya.

In direct contravention of these legally binding resolutions, Canadian troops were on the ground in the North African country. On September 13, three weeks after Tripoli fell to the anti-Gaddafi National Transition Council, Canada’s state broadcaster reported: “CBC Newshas learned there are members of the Canadian Forces on the ground in Libya.”A number of other media outlets reported that highly secretive Canadian special forces were fighting in Libya. On February 28, reported “that Canadian special forces are also on the ground in Libya” while Esprit du Corp editor Scott Taylor noted Canadian Special Operations Regiment’s flag colours in the Conservatives’ post-war celebration. But, any Canadian ‘boots on the ground’ in Libya violated UNSCR 1973, which explicitly excluded “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.

The Conservative government also directly armed the rebels in contravention of international law. Waterloo-based Aeryon Scout Micro supplied the rebels with a three-pound, backpack-sized Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The director of field support for the company, Charles Barlow, traveled 18 hours on a rebel operated boat from Malta to the rebels training facility in Misrata. There, Barlow taught the rebels how to operate this Canadian-developed drone, which was used to gather intelligence on the front lines. In an interview after Gaddafi’s death, Barlow said: “I hope we did a little tiny part to help get rid of that man.”   According to various reports the drone was paid for out of Libyan government assets frozen in Canada.

Aeryon CEO Dave Kroetsch said the company was “approached by the Canadian government.” But, in April 2011 Foreign Affairs officials advised then foreign minister Lawrence Cannon that providing military assistance to the Libyan rebels contravened UNSCR 1970. Based on documents uncovered through the Access to Information Act, Project Ploughshares reported: “A ‘Memorandum for Action’ signed by the Minister on April 11, noted that under the UN Security Council resolution that established the arms embargo against Libya, ‘Canada generally cannot permit the export of arms to Libya without the prior approval of the UN 1970 Sanctions Committee.’ The memo also stated that the arms embargo ‘encompasses any type of weapon … as well as technical assistance such as the provision of instruction, training or intelligence.’ It confirms that the UN arms embargo on Libya precluded the transfer of the Canadian surveillance drone to Libyan opposition forces. However, the memo also provided an interpretive feint for Canada by which it could allow the drone to be exported. It noted that Security Council Resolution 1973 contains language that key partners the US, the UK and France interpreted as permitting provision of arms to Libyan opposition forces as part of ‘all necessary measures … to protect civilians.’ The memo was clear that this interpretation was not shared by many other states, including NATO allies Italy and Norway.”

The government failed to inform all departments about its interpretive feint. In early 2012 a Canadian Forces website plainly stated that UNSCR 1970 “called for an international arms embargo on Libya” and “[UNSCR] 1973 of 17 March, which strengthened the arms embargo.”

Montréal-based security firm Garda World also contravened international law. Sometime in the “summer of 2011”, according to its website, Garda began operating in the country. After the National Transition Council captured Tripoli (six weeks before Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte on October 20, 2011) the rebels requested Garda’s assistance in bringing their forces “besieging the pro-Qaddafi stronghold of Sirte to hospitals in Misrata”, reported Bloomberg. UNSCR 1970 specifically mandated all UN member states “to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel” into Libya. Resolution 1973 reinforced the arms embargo, mentioning “armed mercenary personnel” in three different contexts. In an article titled “Mercenaries in Libya: Ramifications of the Treatment of ‘Armed Mercenary Personnel’ under the Arms Embargo for Private Military Company Contractors”, Hin-Yan Liu points out that the Security Council’s “explicit use of the broader term ‘armed mercenary personnel’ is likely to include a significant category of contractors working for Private Military Companies (PMCs).”

Canadian officials probably introduced the rebels to Garda, the world’s largest privately held security firm. In fact, Ottawa may have paid Garda to help the rebels. As mentioned, the federal government used some of the $2.2 billion it froze in Libyan assets in Canada to pay Aeryon Scout to equip and train the rebels with a UAV.

After Gaddafi was killed the Conservatives spent $850,000 on a nationally televised war celebration for the troops that fought in Libya. Harper called it “a day of honour… Soldier for soldier, sailor for sailor, airman for airman, the Canadian Armed Forces are the best in the world.”

But don’t expect the Prime Minister to discuss Libya during the election. “Since Col Gaddafi’s death in Sirte in October 2011,” the BBC reported recently, “Libya has descended into chaos, with various militias fighting for power.” ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while a government in Tripoli and another in Benghazi claim national authority.

The Conservatives’ violation of international law delivered a terrible blow to Libya. If international affairs weren’t largely defined by the ‘might makes right’ principle Harper would find himself in the dock.

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Filed under Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian

Canadian military ‘aid’ no help to Africans

Unlike the US or France, Canada is not a leading military force in Africa. But Ottawa exerts influence through a variety of means including training initiatives.

Canadian Forces have trained hundreds of African soldiers at the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre in Kingston Ontario and Lester B. Pearson Centre in Nova Scotia. Canadian forces have also directed or participated in a slew of officer training initiatives, running courses in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Mali among other places. In recent years Ottawa has funded and staffed various military training centres across the continent such as the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Ghana, African Centre for Strategic Research and Studies in Nigeria and Ecole de Maintien de la Paix Alioune Blondin in Mali.

Canadian special forces also train a number of African militaries. Along with the US, Canadian troops trained counterterrorism units in Niger, Kenya and Mali and in 2014 Canadian Special Operations Forces Command spokesman Major Steve Hawken told Embassy that his force had recently trained 800 African military personnel.

Canada is increasingly involved in “counterterrorist” training exercises in the Sahel region, which covers parts of Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Fifty members of CSOR and the Special Operations Aviation Squadron traveled to Senegal and Mauritania for Exercise Flintlock in 2014. The New York Times Magazine reported: “For the past three weeks, Green Berets, along with British, French and Canadian special operators, had been training 139 elite troops from Niger, Nigeria and Chad” as part of Flintlock 2014. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different Sahel region nation each year.

Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s Military Training Assistance Program, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CFs [Canadian Forces].” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Ottawa initiated post-independence training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western domestic nations… [it] would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

As part of Canada’s initial aid efforts in the early 1960s, Canadian troops trained armed forces in various African countries. In Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania, Canada endeavoured “to fill in the vacuum left by the withdrawal of British officers and training facilities,” notes Professor Robert Matthews. Military historian Sean Maloney further explains: “These teams consisted of regular army officers who, at the ‘operational level’, trained military personnel of these new Commonwealth countries to increase their professionalism. The strategic function, particularly of the 83-man team in Tanzania, was to maintain a Western presence to counter Soviet and Chinese bloc political and military influence.” By the end of the 1960s Canada had spent over $23 million (around $170 million today) training the military forces of seven African and Asian countries.

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist who was dubbed “Man of the Millennium” in a 2000 poll by BBC listeners in Africa. After independence Ghana’s army remained British dominated. The colonial era British generals were still in place and the majority of Ghana’s officers continued to be trained in Britain. In response to a number of embarrassing incidents, Nkrumah released the British commanders in September 1961. It was at this point that Canada began training Ghana’s military.

Canadians organized and oversaw the Junior Staff Officers course and a number of Canadians took up top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, in 1965 Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey wrote the under secretary of external affairs: “Since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian high commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program at the Ghanaian Defence College. Writing to the Canadian under secretary of external affairs, McGaughey noted, “All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.”

When today’s internal documents are made available they will likely show that Canadian military training initiatives continue to influence the continent’s politics in ways that run counter to most Africans’ interests.

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Filed under Canada in Africa

Got a billion? They will listen

We’ve all heard many times that “money talks” in politics but it was unclear how loudly. Now we know –one billionaire is heard over 50,000 ordinary Canadians.

While about 50,000 people and 175 organizations supported Up for Debate’s call for an election debate focused on women’s issues, it won’t happen because Stephen Harper refused to participate and NDP leader Tom Mulcair is unwilling to appear if the prime minister is not there to bash.

But the same politicians have agreed to a September 28 debate on foreign policy sponsored by an organization named after and financed by one of Canada’s richest and most right-wing capitalists.

Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk, a close friends of Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, is part of the four-person committee overseeing the debate series.

Set up to promote Peter Munk’s vision of the world, the Aurea Foundation has doled out millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks such as the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canadian Constitution Foundation as well as the Fraser Institute’s Global Centre for Mining Studies.

Peter Munk espouses far-right political views. In 1997 he publicly praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world” while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli University and speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.” In 2006 he attacked leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and the next year wrote a letter to the Financial Times comparing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview Munk dismissed criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.

Operating some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, Munk cultivated influence with politicians. He appointed former U.S. President George H. Bush and Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to Barrick Gold’s board, while former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney currently chairs its international advisory board. (When asked why he appointed Mulroney to Barrick’s board, Munk told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.”) A month after stepping down as Canada’s foreign minister in February John Baird also joined Barrick’s international advisory board.

While the Munk Debates presents itself as a forum of ideas, Peter Munk has a direct personal stake in Canadian foreign policy. Operating mines on six continents, Barrick Gold has benefited from Canadian aid money and diplomatic support. The company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008 it opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company successfully 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).

While Canadian foreign policy should be debated during an election it is not more important than issues that effect women.

And while Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate, don’t expect any discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable “private” companies on September 28. Nor should we expect discussion about matters likely to embarrass the military or major corporations, such as what role Canada has played in Libya’s descent into chaos or Canada’s refusal to support international agreements to restrict carbon emissions. After all, a billionaire might be offended.

Ordinary Canadians have been put in their place — 50,000 of us can be dismissed. How many will it take before the politicians are forced to listen to us and ignore the billionaires?


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Filed under The Ugly Canadian

Corporate profits the point of Harper’s Africa policy

Despite rhetoric about providing aid to the poorest, the Harper Conservatives have worked assiduously to ensure that Canadian corporations profit from Africa’s vast mineral resources, rather than the continent’s people.

Even widespread criticism of their operations has failed to dampen the Conservatives’ support for Canada’s many mining interests in Africa. Canadian mining companies have been accused of bribing officials, evading taxes, dispossessing farmers, displacing communities, employing forced labour, devastating ecosystems and spurring human rights violations.

But more important than the specific instances of abuse, which I detail in my forthcoming book Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, the mining industry contributes little to sustainable economic development. Instead it vacuums up resources to benefit wealthy people, very few of whom live in Africa.

The mining industry has found a set of loyal lobbyists in the Harper government. Indifferent to the deleterious impacts of the sector, International Trade Minister Ed Fast has included numerous mining executives in his delegations to the continent, and former foreign minister John Baird focused his visits to Africa on countries where Canadian resource companies sought business. For his part, International Development Minister Christian Paradis praised the sector’s development benefits in a bid to (misleadingly) convince African officials that “Canada owes much of its economic growth to extractive industries.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has personally promoted Canadian mining companies, for instance, when Benin’s president visited Ottawa in 2013. During a trip to Senegal in 2012 the PM met with representatives from several mining firms and publicly lauded the sector.

On a visit to Tanzania in 2007, Harper met with more than 10 Canadian resource firms, calling this an opportunity to discuss “the general business climate [and] what the government of Canada can do to assist in building our investments here.” In the months after Harper’s visit, the Canadian High Commission lobbied Tanzania’s Parliament to reject the recommendation of the country’s Mineral Sector Review Committee that the government keep more of the profits resulting from higher mineral prices.

Since 2012 Ottawa has pumped huge sums of public money into mining initiatives in Africa. The public money helped establish branch offices of a professional society, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, in Senegal and Burkina Faso as well as a Senegalese school for geomatics (combining geography and information technology to map natural resources).

Last year, Canada pledged $18.5 million of tax money to provide training in the extractives industry in Mozambique, and earlier this year Ottawa announced a $12-million grant for a project called Strengthening Education for Mining in Ethiopia “to develop more industry driven geology and mining engineering undergraduate programs.” In 2014 the government budgeted up to $25 million per year for the Extractives Cooperation for Enhanced Economic Development (EXCEED) initiative, which it described as “a new funding mechanism to expand Canada’s involvement in areas of high development impact in the extractive sector in Africa.”

In addition to promoting the sector in general, the Conservatives are now channelling foreign “aid” through mining companies, ploughing millions of dollars into corporate social responsibility projects. One example of this “aid” was a $4.5-million grant to Lundin for Africa, a charity financed by mining behemoth Lundin Group of Companies, for its operations in Ghana, Mali and Senegal. Ottawa also put up $5.6 million for a project between NGO Plan Canada and IAMGOLD near the company’s mine in Burkina Faso.

As the Conservatives pumped tens of millions of “aid” dollars into supporting an industry notorious for abuses in countries with weak legal structures, they also blocked domestic attempts at regulation while ensuring Canadian mining companies held the upper hand in foreign jurisdictions.

The Conservatives defeated Bill C-300, which would have withheld diplomatic and financial support from companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. They also opposed legislation modeled on the U.S. Alien Torts Claims Act that would have allowed lawsuits against Canadian companies responsible for major human rights violations or ecological destruction abroad.

After two decades of privatization and loosened restrictions on foreign investment, mining companies operating on the continent fear a reversal of these policies. And so, in what may be their most significant support to Canadian mining corporations in Africa, the Conservatives negotiated Foreign Investment Protection Agreements with a number of African countries. FIPAs give corporations the right to sue governments — in private, investor-friendly tribunals — for interfering with profits, such as expropriating a concession, changing investment rules or requiring that value-added production take place in the country rather than abroad.

In essence, these agreements aim to counter “resource nationalism.” “Canada appears keen to negotiate FIPAs with some of the most economically and politically vulnerable but resource rich African countries before they develop a taste for resource sovereignty,” notes academic and author Paula Butler in Canadian Dimension.

Canadian policy in Africa has become largely synonymous with the interests of Canadian mining companies. The Harper Conservatives have sought to ensure that the continent’s mining policy serves the interests of foreign corporations, the majority of Africans be damned.

This article first appeared in Ricochet

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Filed under Canada in Africa

Jewish voters turning to Harper

Where are Conservatives most likely to be elected in Canada? Historically, rural and suburban White, Protestant ridings and the wealthiest parts of English-speaking cities have been where the Tories enjoyed the most success.

Certainly the Conservatives have never been the party of those marginalized for economic, social or religious reasons.

Yet, at the start of the month Stephen Harper launched his re-election campaign from the Ben Weider Jewish Community Centre in Mount Royal, one of two ridings in the country with a Jewish plurality (about 36% of the population).

If Conservative candidate Robert Libman wins Pierre Trudeau’s old seat it would represent a significant feat. The Liberals have held the riding for 75 years and the Conservatives don’t currently hold a single seat in greater Montréal. In fact, they aren’t seriously contesting any other constituency near Mount Royal.

So, what’s going on?

In the 2011 federal election an Ipsos exit poll found that 52 per cent of Canadian Jews voted Conservative versus 39 per cent of the overall population. On October 19 the Tories’ share of the Jewish vote is expected to increase while the Conservatives’ overall total drops.

The remarkable growth in Jewish support for the Conservatives over the past decade is a strong sign that anti-Semitism barely registers in the lives of most Canadian Jews. In general, they are a widely accepted, relatively successful part of Canada’s multicultural fabric — so much so that a majority now votes for the primary political party of the Canadian ruling class.

Outside Harper’s speech at the Ben Weider Jewish Community Centre a crowd of 100 protested. A self-described  “Zionist” holding an “Israel is NOT a partisan issue” sign, Bryan Wolofsky, told me that when he canvassed during the last election in Hampstead and Cote Saint-Luc, the largely Jewish municipalities in the Mount Royal riding, Israel was people’s primary concern.

While some may disagree, there is nothing inherently troubling about a group of Canadians voting in response to a government’s policy towards another country. In fact, it can represent a righteous, selfless act.

In the mid-2000s I worked with members of Montréal’s Haitian community to defeat Liberal MPs complicit in the violent overthrow of the Caribbean nation’s elected government. For many in the Haitian-Canadian community this country’s foreign policy was a key issue in the election. They hoped to defend their homeland against outside intervention.

But the Jewish community’s support for Israel is the exact opposite. The recipient of billions of dollars of support from the world’s most powerful country, Israel is a nuclear-armed state that has repeatedly slaughtered a largely defenseless population it dispossessed. Rather than selfless internationalism, Canadian Jewish support for Israel is an assertion of ethnic/religious supremacy.

The Jewish community’s shift towards the Conservatives opens a window into the ideological underpinnings of the century-old Zionist movement. Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism, the Theodore Herzl led Zionist movement was in fact spurred by the nationalist and imperialist ideologies then sweeping Europe. After two centuries of active Protestant Zionism and two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism took root among some Jews as the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony). At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory …  on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

History strongly suggests that Zionism was both a reaction to anti-Semitism and an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism why hasn’t the decline of anti-Semitism lessened its popularity in the Canadian Jewish community? Instead, the leadership of that community has become more and more obsessed with Israel. In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the hundred-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift away from local Jewish concerns and towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli policy.

The political trajectory of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the shift towards focusing on Israel. Repeatedly re-elected in a riding that was then 50% Jewish, Pierre Trudeau distanced Ottawa from Israeli conduct more than any other prime minister before or since. Still, Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. He appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms.

If Conservative candidate Robert Libman wins in Mount Royal on October 19 it would mark a decisive end to the notion that the Canadian Jewish community is a liberal force in politics. It would also suggest that the political priority of a large number of Canadian Jews is to support a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

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Filed under Canada and Israel