Trudeau toes imperial line on Iran

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While the current Liberal government claims to be progressive and in favour of a rules-based international order, promotion of democracy and world peace, its actions regarding Iran demonstrate that the primary drivers of Canadian foreign policy remain US Empire geo-political interests and the rich and powerful.

(This previous article argues this has long been the case.)

While Israeli nationalists and Conservatives demand new measures targeting Iran, the reality is ordinary Canadians will not benefit from war with the 18thmost populous country in the world. The families of Iranian Canadians will certainly not benefit.

Despite election promises to the contrary, Justin Trudeau’s government has continued important components of the previous Conservative government’s ‘low-level war’ against Iran.

Ottawa has no diplomatic relations with Iran, maintains a series of sanctions on the country and lists Tehran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Canadian troops are also stationed on Iran’s border partly to counter its influence and Canada recently gifted $28 million worth of Iranian assets in this country to Americans who lost family members to purported Hamas and Hezbollah attacks decades ago.

The Liberals repeatedly promised to restart diplomatic relations with Iran. Before becoming prime minister Trudeau told the CBC, “I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran].” In May 2016 foreign minister Stéphane Dion said, “Canada’s severing of ties with Iran had no positive consequences for anyone: not for Canadians, not for the people of Iran, not for Israel, and not for global security.” Five months later Trudeauadded, “Canada must return to Iran to play a useful role in that region of the world.”

While the Liberals have dialed down the Harper government’s most bombastic rhetoric against Tehran, they have not restarted diplomatic relations or removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list.

The Trudeau government has criticized Iranian human rights abuses while mostly ignoring more flagrant rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies. In January 2018 foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran” and four months later tweeted, “our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Two months ago Global Affairsstated, “Iran must ensure that its people enjoy the rights and freedoms they deserve.”

In June 2018 Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private member’s motion that “strongly condemns the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” In effect, the resolution claimed Iran was responsible for Israel killing Palestinians peacefully protesting the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, siege of Gaza and historic theft of their land. The motion also called on Canada to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations” and to make the highly provocative move of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. A demand B’nai B’rith and the Conservative party have restated in recent days.

Ottawa has continued to present a yearly UN resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iran. In response to Canada targeting it, Iran’s Deputy Representative to the UN, Eshaq Al-e Habib, said in November 2019, “how can a supporter of apartheid in Palestine pose itself as a human rights defender in Iran?”

Similarly, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development participates in the annual “Iran Accountability Week” on Parliament Hill, which showcases individuals such as Foundation for the Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz, who helped kill the Iran nuclear deal and pushed harsh sanctions against any country doing business with Iran. Dubowitz was a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2015 Global Affairs gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million to expand an anti-Iranian initiative.

While they ostensibly backed the “p5+1 nuclear deal” with Iran, the Liberals’ promoted a one-sided view of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Russia and China. Canada put up more than $10 million for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor and verify Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA. Iran has consistently been in compliance with JCPOA’s strict rules regarding its uranium enrichment. Nonetheless, the Donald Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed tough new sanctions on other countries’ companies doing business with Iran.

For their part, the Western European signatories to the agreement have largely failed to stand-up to US pressure by creating the space for their companies to do business with Iran and three days ago the UK, Germany and France delivered a further blow to an agreement on life support. In a January 14 release titled “Canada supports diplomatic efforts established for Iran to return to full implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” Global Affairs expressed “support” for the UK, Germany and France “activating the Dispute Resolution Mechanism” under the JCPOA and “urged Iran to immediately restore its full commitments to the JCPOA.” But, this position amounts to calling on Iran to abide by a deal it receives no benefits from as its economy is crippled by sanctions.

The Liberals also legitimated the illegal US sanctions on Iran whenthey arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou,at the Vancouver airport 13 months ago.The US claimed Meng’s company defied its illegal sanctions against Iran. But, between when the US judicial system sought her detention and the Trump administration requested Ottawa detain her, Meng traveled to six countries with US extradition treaties. Only Canada arrested her.

At the military level Ottawa also aligned with the US-Saudi-Israeli axis stoking conflict with Iran. An April 2016 Global Affairs memo authorizing Light Armoured Vehicle export permits to the House of Saud noted, “Canada appreciates Saudi Arabia’s role as a regional leader promoting regional stability, as well as countering the threat posed by Iranian regional expansionism.” At the November 2019 Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Al Meinzinger, participated in a panel titled “Watch out Iran!” A year earlier Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance told a parliamentary committee that Iran was “an interested party and, in some cases, a malign agent in Iraq.”

Five hundred Canadian troops are in Iraq partly to counter Iranian influence. Specifically, the Canadian-led NATO Mission Iraq is designed to weaken the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias that helped defeat ISIS.

In the fall Canada seized and sold $28 million worth of Iranian properties in Ottawa and Toronto to compensate individuals in the US who had family members killed in a 2002 Hamas bombing in Israel and others who were held hostage by Hezbollah in 1986 and 1991. The Supreme Court of Canada and federal government sanctioned the seizure under the 2012 Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which lifts immunity for countries labeled “state sponsors of terrorism” to allow individuals to claim their non-diplomatic assets.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called the seizure “illegal” and in “direct contradiction with international law” while a spokesperson for Iran’s Guardian Council, Abbasali Kadkhodaei, accused Canada of “economic terrorism”. A senior member of Iran’s parliament said the country’s military should confiscate Canadian shipments crossing the Strait of Hormuz.

In a right side up world, the Iranian asset sale would lead to various more legitimate seizures. Relatives of the Lebanese-Canadian el-Akhras family Israel wiped out, including four children aged 1 to 8, in 2006 were certainly at least as worthy of Canadian government-backed compensation. Ditto for Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener, a Canadian soldier part of a UN mission, killed by an Israeli fighter jet in Lebanon in 2006. Or Palestinian Canadian Ismail Zayid, who was driven from a West Bank village demolished to make way for the Jewish National Fund’s Canada Park.

There are hundreds of Canadians and countless individuals elsewhere who have been victimized by Israeli, Canadian and US-backed terror more deserving of compensation than the Americans paid with Iranian assets for what Hamas and Hezbollah purportedly did decades ago. Should Israeli, US and Canadian government assets be seized to pay them?

The Trudeau government failed to speak against the asset seizure. It could have undercut this obscenity by delisting Iran as a “state sponsor of terror” or repealing Harper’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. But, it didn’t even keep its promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran. As such, the Liberals have empowered US-Israeli hawks hurtling towards a major conflict.

While there is much to dislike about the government in Tehran, progressive-minded, peace-loving Canadians should reject Ottawa’s aggressive anti-Iranian policies.

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Canada opposed Iranian democracy

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To understand where you are, it is necessary to know where you have been. To understand current Canadian policy towards the 18th most populous country in the world, it is necessary to look at the history of Ottawa’s relations with Iran.

For the first 75 years after Confederation Canada’s foreign policy was largely shaped by the British Empire. For London during this period Persia was mostly a strategic geopolitical ally. Then came oil.

The first company to exploit Iranian oil resources was the Anglo Persian Oil Company. From that time on the Empire’s policy towards Iran was dominated by geopolitics (the new Soviet Union bordered Persia) and hydrocarbons.

In 1953 the US and Britain overthrew Iran’s first popularly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh and Ottawa played a small part in this destruction of Iranian democracy.

Mossadegh wanted Iran to benefit from its huge oil reserves. Following the British lead, Canada’s external minister criticized the Iranians move to nationalize its oil. In May 1951 external minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons the “problem can be settled” only if the Iranians keep in mind the “legitimate interests of other people who have ministered to the well-being of Iran in administering the oil industry of that country which they have been instrumental in developing.” Later that year Pearson complained about the Iranians’ “emotional” response to the English. He added: “In their anxiety to gain full control of their affairs by the elimination of foreign influence, they are exposing themselves to the menace of communist penetration and absorption — absorption into the Soviet sphere.”

In response to the nationalization, the British organized an embargo of Iranian oil, which Ottawa followed. The embargo weakened Mossadegh’s government, enabling the CIA’s subsequent drive to topple the nationalist prime minister.

Thirteen months before the coup Canada’s ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa: “The situation in Iran could hardly look worse than it does at present. Mossadegh has been returned to power with increased influence and prestige and will almost certainly prove even more unreasonable and intractable than in the past, so that a settlement of the oil dispute will be harder than ever to arrange.”

Pearson did not protest the overthrow of Iran’s first elected prime minister. Privately, External Affairs celebrated. Four months after the coup, Canada’s ambassador in Washington cabled Ottawa about “encouraging reports from their [US] embassy in Tehran on the growing strength of the present [coup] government.”

Establishing diplomatic relations with Iran in 1955, Canada followed the lead of the UK and US in doing business with the brutal dictatorship of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, which ruled for 26 years.

Throughout the Shah’s reign Canadian politicians visited regularly. Ontario Premier William Davis, for instance, went to meet the Shah in September 1978.

During the 1970s the Canadian government’s Defence Programs Bureau had a representative in Tehran and Canada sold about $60 million ($250 million today) worth of arms to Iran during the decade. This was during a time when Amnesty International reported “no country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran.” The Shah’s brutal SAVAK intelligence forces killed tens of thousands, which prompted little condemnation from Ottawa. In fact, in the early 1970s, $250,000 ($1 million today) worth of Canadian aid went to the University of Montréal’s International Center for Comparative Criminology (ICCC) whose advisors in Iran (as well as the Ivory Coast and Brazil), according to ICCC director Dennis Szabo, “trained police forces in the use of the most modern methods to suppress protest demonstrations and the causes of criminality.”

Canada did significant business with the Shah’s Iran. In 1978 Canadian exports to Iran reached nearly $600 million ($2.4 billion today). An October 1978 Globe and Mail article headlined “Canadians in Iran” described a massive Export Development Canada (EDC)-financed forestry project along with numerous other Canadian ventures in that country: “Acres International Ltd. of Toronto has been hired for $100-million worth of engineering on an irrigation-power project. Ircan of Montréal has won a $37-million contract to supply mobile training centres and 800 hours of videotaped vocational teaching. Two Canadian drilling companies help Iran explore for oil. A four firm consortium is bidding for a $1.2-billion thermal power plant. Keith Sjogren, the Bank of Commerce’s man in Tehran, actually lends money to the Shah’s government companies.”

By the time the Shah was overthrown in late 1979, there were 850 Canadians in Iran (along with thousands of Americans), most working for foreign owned oilrigs, power projects, etc. At the time of the revolution EDC had more than $100 million ($400 million today) in outstanding export insurance and Canadian banks held billions of dollars worth of loans to Iran’s Shah, which were put into doubt (the loans were eventually honoured). Not Long after the Shah’s departure, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran, which wouldn’t reopen for eight years.

Clearly, during the period from 1950-1985, Canadian policy towards Iran was motivated by the interests of British then American empire and profit-making opportunities for Canadian business. Equally as evident, Ottawa exhibited little concern for Iranian human rights or democracy.

As we shall see in part two, Canadian policy in recent years has sought to undermine Iran.

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Remembering the Earthquake in Haiti Ten Years On

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Ten years ago Sunday an earthquake devastated Haiti. In a few minutes of violent shaking hundreds of thousands perished in Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions and many more were permanently scarred.

It’s important to commemorate this horrifying tragedy. But this solemn occasion is also a good moment to reflect on Canada’s role in undermining the beleaguered nation’s capacity to prepare/respond/overcome natural disasters.

Asked my thoughts on Canada’s role in Haiti the day after the quake, I told reporter Paul Koring that so long as the power dynamics in the country did not shift there would be little change: “Cynically, it feels like a ‘pity time for the Haitians’ but I doubt much will really change,” says Yves Engler, a left-wing activist from Montreal who blames the United States, along with Canada, for decades of self-interested meddling in Haitian affairs. “We bear some responsibility … because our policies have undermined Haiti’s capacity to deal with natural disasters.”

Unfortunately, Canada’s response was worse than I could have imagined. Immediately after the quake decision makers in Ottawa were more concerned with controlling Haiti than assisting victims. To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population, 2,050 Canadian troops were deployed alongside 12,000 US soldiers (8,000 UN soldiers were already there). Though Ottawa 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.”

According to internal government 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.” Six years earlier the US, France and Canada ousted the elected president.

Canada and the US’ indifference/contempt towards Haitian sovereignty was also on display in the reconstruction effort. Thirteen days after the quake Canada organized a high profile Ministerial Preparatory Conference on Haiti for major international donors. Two months later Canada co-chaired the New York International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti. At these conferences Haitian officials played a tertiary role in the discussions. Subsequently, the US, France and Canada demanded the Haitian parliament pass an 18-month long state of emergency law that effectively gave up government control over the reconstruction. They held up money to ensure international control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, authorized to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction money.

Most of the money that was distributed went to foreign aid workers who received relatively extravagant salaries/living costs or to expensive contracts gobbled up by Western/Haitian elite owned companies. According to an Associated Press assessment of the aid the US delivered in the two months after the quake, one cent on the dollar went to the Haitian government (thirty-three cents went to the US military). Canadian aid patterns were similar. Author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Jonathan Katz writes, “Canada disbursed $657 million from the quake to September 2012 ‘for Haiti,’ but only about 2% went to the Haitian government.”

Other investigations found equally startling numbers. Having raised $500 million for Haiti and publicly boasted about its housing efforts, the US Red Cross built only six permanent homes in the country.

Not viewing the René Preval government as fully compliant, the US, France and Canada pushed for elections months after the earthquake. (Six weeks before the quake, according to a cable released by Wikileaks, Canadian and EU officials complained that Préval “emasculated” the country’s right-wing. In response, they proposed to “purchase radio airtime for opposition politicians to plug their candidacies” or they may “cease to be much of a meaningful force in the next government.”) After the first round of the presidential election the US and Canada pushed Préval party’s candidate out of the runoff in favor of third place candidate, Michel Martelly. A six-person Organization of American States (OAS) mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.”

A supporter of the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide, Martelly was a teenaged member of the Duvalier dictatorship’s Ton Ton Macoutes death squad. He is a central figure in the multi-billion dollar Petrocaribe corruption scandal that has spurred massive protests and strikes against illegitimate, repressive and corrupt president Jovenel Moïse. A disciple of Martelly, Moïse is president today because he has the backing of the US, Canada and other members of the so-called “Core Group”.

There was an outpouring of empathy and solidarity from ordinary Canadians after the earthquake. But officials in Ottawa saw the disaster as a political crisis to manage and an opportunity toexpandtheir economic and political influence over Haiti.

On the tenth anniversary of this solemn occasion it is important to reflect not only on this tragedy but to understand what has been done by Canada’s government in our name and to learn from it so we can stop politicians from their ongoing strangulation of this beleaguered nation.

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Media ignores explosives revelations about chemical weapons in Syria

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The Canadian media gets a failing grade when it comes to its coverage of chemical weapons in Syria.

Among the basic principles of reporting, as taught in every journalism school, are: Constantly strive for the truth; Give voice to all sides of a story; When new information comes to light about a story you reported, a correction must be issued or a follow-up produced.

But the Canadian media has ignored explosives revelations from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It’s a stark example of their complicity with belligerent Canadian foreign policy in Syria.

In May 2019 a member of the OPCW Fact Finding Mission in Syria, Ian Henderson, released a document claiming the management of the organization misled the public about the purported chemical attack in Douma in April 2018. It showed that the organization suppressed an assessment that contradicted the claim that a gas cylinder fell from the air. In November another OPCW whistleblower added to the Henderson revelations, saying that his conclusion that the incident was “a non chemical-related event” was twisted to imply the opposite. Last week WikiLeaks released a series of internal documents demonstrating that the team who wrote the OPCW’s report on Douma didn’t go to Syria. One memo noted that 20 OPCWinspectors felt the report released “did not reflect the views of the team members that deployed to [Syria].”

I couldn’t find a single report about the whistleblowers/leaks in any major Canadian media outlet. Theyalso ignored explicit suppression of the leaks.

Journalist Tareq Haddad resigned from Newsweek after my attempts to publish newsworthy revelations about the leaked OPCW letter were refused for no valid reason.” Haddad wrote a long article explaining his resignation, which detailed how an editor who previously worked at the European Council on Foreign Relationsblocked it.

There is an important Canadian angle to this story. Twenty-four hours after the alleged April 7, 2018, chemical attack foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming, “it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime.” Five days later Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported cruise missile strikes on a Syrian military base stating, “Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people.”

Canadian officials have pushed for the organization to blame Bashar al-Assad’s government for chemical attacks since Syria joined the OPCW and had its declared chemical weapon stockpile destroyed in 2013–14. Canada’s special envoy to the OPCW, Sabine Nolke, has repeatedly accused Assad’s forces of employing chemical weapons. Instead of expressing concern over political manipulation of evidence, Nolke criticized the leak.In a statement after Henderson’s position was made public she noted, “Canada remains steadfast in its confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the FFM [Fact-Finding Mission] and its methods. However, Mr. Chair, we are unsettled with the leak of official confidential documents from the Technical Secretariat.”

Amidst efforts to blame the Syrian government for chemical weapons use, Canadian officials lauded the OPCW and plowed tens of millions of dollars into the organization. AJune 2017 Global Affairs release boasted that “Canada and the United States are the largest national contributors to the JIM [OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism for Attributing Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria].” The statement added that Canada “is the largest voluntary cash contributor to the organization, having provided nearly $25 million since 2012 to help destroy chemical weapons in Libya and Syria and to support special missions and contingency operations related to chemical weapons use, investigation, verification and monitoring in Syria.” Two months after the Douma incident Freeland announced a $7.5 million contribution to the OPCW in a statement heavily focused on Syria.In August Governor General Julie Payette even traveled to The Hague to push OPCW Director-General, Fernando Arias, on Syria. After a “meeting focused on OPCW activities in Syria”, Payette highlighted Canada’s “$23 million in voluntary funds for Syria-related activities.”

Ottawa backed the group that produced the (probably staged) video purporting to show chemical weapons use in Douma. The Liberals backed the White Helmets diplomatically and financially. In a release about the purported attack in Douma Freeland expressed Canada’s “admiration for … the White Helmets”, later calling them “heroes.”Representatives of the White Helmet repeatedly came to Ottawa tomeetgovernment officials and Canadian officials helped members of the group escape Syria via Israel in July 2018. Alongside tens of millions of dollars from the US,British, Dutch, German and French governments, Global Affairs announced “$12  million for groups in Syria, such as the White Helmets, that are saving lives by providing communities with emergency response services and removing explosives.”

Credited with rescuing people from bombed out buildings, the White Helmets fostered opposition to Assad and promoted western intervention. Founded by former British army officer James Le Mesurier, the White Helmets operated almost entirely in areas of Syria occupied by the Saudi Arabia–Washington backed Al Nusra/Al Qaeda insurgents and other rebels. They criticized the Syrian government and disseminated images of its purported violence while largely ignoring civilians targeted by the opposition. Their members were repeatedly photographed with Al Qaeda-linked Jihadists and reportedly enabled their executions.

The White Helmets helped establish an early warning system for airstrikes that benefited opposition insurgents. Framed as a way to save civilians, the ‘Sentry’ system tracked and validated information about potential airstrikes.

Canada funded the Hala Systems’ air warning, which was set up by former Syria focused US diplomat John Jaeger. It’s unclear how much Canadian money was put into the initiative but in September 2018 Global Affairs boasted that “Canada is the largest contributor to the ‘Sentry’ project.”

Ottawa is dedicated to a particular depiction of the Syrian war and clearly so is the dominant media. Committed to a highly simplistic account of a messy and multilayered conflict, they’ve suppressed evidence suggesting that an important international organization has doctored evidence to align with a narrative used to justify military strikes.

Journalists are supposed to seek the truth, not simply what their government says. In fact, according to what is taught in J-school, journalists have a special responsibility to question what their government claims to be true.

No journalism program in Canada teaches that governments should always be believed, especially on military and foreign affairs. But that is how the dominant media has acted in the case of Syrian chemical weapons.

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Sun never sets on Canadian military

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Most Canadians would be surprised to learn that the sun never sets on the military their taxes pay for.

This country is not formally at war yet more than 2,100 Canadian troops are sprinkled across the globe. According to the Armed Forces, these soldiers are involved in 28 international missions.

There are 850 Canadian troops in Iraq and its environs. Two hundred highly skilled special forces have provided training and combat support to Kurdish forces often accused of ethnic cleansing areas of Iraq they captured. A tactical helicopter detachment, intelligence officers and a combat hospital, as well as 200 Canadians at a base in Kuwait, support the special forces in Iraq.

Alongside the special forces mission, Canada commands the NATO mission in Iraq. Canadian Brigadier General Jennifer Carrigan commands nearly 600 NATO troops, including 250 Canadians.

A comparable number of troops are stationed on Russia’s borders. About 600 Canadians are part of a Canadian-led NATO mission in Latvia while 200 troops are part of a training effort in the Ukraine. Seventy-five Canadian Air Force personnel are currently in Romania.

Some of the smaller operations are also highly political. Through Operation Proteus a dozen troops contribute to the Office of the United States Security Coordinator, which is supporting a security apparatus to protect the Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Through Operation Foundation 15 troops are contributing to a US counter-terrorism effort in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia. As part of Operation Foundation General A. R. DAY, for instance, Directsthe Combined Aerospace Operations Center at the US military’s Al Udeid base in Qatar.

The 2,100 number offered up by the military doesn’t count the hundreds, maybe a thousand, naval personnelpatrolling hotspots across the globe. Recently one or two Canadian naval vessels — with about 200 personnel each — has patrolled in East Asia. The ships are helping the US-led campaign to isolate North Korea and enforce UN sanctions. These Canadian vessels have also been involved in belligerent “freedom of navigation” exercises through international waters that Beijing claims in the South China Sea, Strait of Taiwan and East China Sea.

A Canadian vessel is also patrolling in the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea. Recently Canadian vessels have also entered the Black Sea, which borders Russia. And Canadian vessels regularly deploy to the Caribbean.

Nor does the 2,100 number count thecolonels supported by sergeants and sometimes a second officerwho are defence attachés based in 30 diplomatic posts around the world (with cross-accreditation to neighbouring countries). Another 150 Canadian military personnel are stationed at the North American Aerospace Defense Command headquarters in Colorado and a smaller number at NORAD’s hub near Tampa Bay, Florida. These bases assist US airstrikes in a number of places.

Dozens of Canadian soldiers are also stationed at NATO headquarters in Brussels. They assist that organization in its international deployments.

There may be other deployments not listed here. Dozens of Canadian soldiers are on exchange programs with the US and other militaries and some of them may be part of deployments abroad.Additionally, Canadian Special forces can be deployed without public announcement, which has taken place on numerous occasions.

The scope of the military’s international footprint is hard to square with the idea of a force defending Canada. That’s why military types promote the importance of “forward defence”. The government’s 2017 “Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy” claims Canada has to “actively address threats abroad for stability at home” and that “defending Canada and Canadian interests … requires active engagement abroad.”

That logic, of course, can be used to justify participating in endless US-led military endeavors. That is the real reason the sun never sets on the Canadian military.

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‘Alternative’ media outlet offers no alternative on Canadian foreign policy

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National Observer does not question Ottawa’s foreign policy

Why would an alternative media website that questions government and corporate policies about climate change and the environment have so much trouble understanding that the same sort of skepticism is necessary regarding Canadian foreign policy?

Imagine a self-declared progressive media outlet saying they don’t cover racism, patriarchy or the dispossession of First Nations because they don’t have the expertise. Most on the left would laugh or label that outlet racist, sexist and pro-colonial. But that seems to be the National Observer’s position regarding coverage of Canadian imperialism.

While they publish international affairs stories mimicking Ottawa’s view of the world from Canadian Press – owned by Power Corporation, Globe and Mail and Torstar – they cannot allow a critical voice who has written more than a half dozen books about Canadian foreign policy.

Recently I submitted an opinion article about Canada’s role in Haiti to Observer Managing Editor Laurie Few. Signed by Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019 members Marie Dimanche, Frantz André and myself, Few agreed to publish a story that began by discussing recent efforts to burn the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. In fact, she asked for an update about a demonstration Solidarité Québec-Haiti organized last Sunday and pictures from the march.

After the story failed to appear, I asked Few what was happening. Observer editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood replied that they don’t cover Canadian imperialism in Haiti. “There are many topics we simply don’t get into because we don’t know the issue well enough,” Wood wrote. “Before I would want to publish opinion on Haiti, I would want to have an in-depth reported feature or investigation from on the ground in Haiti.”

But, a quick Google search uncovered a half dozen stories the Observer published on Haiti this year. I sent them to Wood to which she replied: “Yes, but all Canadian Press, not our own reporters. Our staff does not have expertise here.”

In response I wrote, “I’m guessing that many of your left-wing readers would understand the political implications of National Observer being able to publish stuff on Haiti that comes from the Canadian Press but not activists/authors on the issue.”

While I thought it was obvious, Wood asked “what are the implications you are referring to?” So, I spelled it out: “That you can put out the official perspective on foreign-policy but not critical perspectives. Which is my sense of your coverage of Venezuela and now Haiti. Effectively you become a pro imperialist media outlet.”

To Wood’s credit she partly conceded. “You have a point about publishing CP content on foreign affairs, we trust CP’s quality and verification processes”, she wrote. “I’m going to give this some thought. There’s no real advantage to us publishing CP material on foreign stories unless they are about our topic areas. You make a good point.”

In the last two weeks the Observer has published CP stories headlined “[outgoing foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland will leave her mark”, “Can Justin Trudeau save NATO from ‘brain death?’”, “Military families sacrifice for Canada. Remembrance Day honours that painful cost”, “Canada supports genocide case against Myanmar government”, “Canada casts controversial UN vote for Palestinian self-determination”, “Pelosi suggests passing of NAFTA 2.0 is ‘imminent’” and “Brewing battle over future of NATO creates minefield for Canada”. All were typical, unquestioning, Canada-is-a-force-for-good-in-the-world “news” articles.

At the start of the year I noticed that the Observer was effectively backing Canadian imperialism in Venezuela. I wrote Wood and another editor, “from what I can tell the National Observer has failed to critically cover Canada’s role in seeking to overthrow Venezuela’s government. You have published a few stories effectively supporting Canadian intervention. Below is a submission critical of Canadian policy. I am certain that many of your readers and funders are opposed to this crass Canadian intervention or at minimum believe that an independent news outlet should provide both sides to the story.” The Observer didn’t, of course, publish my article. In subsequent months, however, they published a number of stories aligned with Canadian policy towards Venezuela.

More recently, the Observer has totally ignored Canada’s role in overthrowing Bolivian President Evo Morales. Similarly, the Observer has published many stories sympathetic to the armed forces, but I couldn’t find a single article from the climate-focused outlet dealing with the Canadian military’s carbon footprint.

If the National Observer wants to be taken seriously as a news outlet willing to tell the truth regardless of who the truth offends then it must be willing to challenge the status quo coverage of international affairs. At a minimum it must offer some critical voices. Its readers and supporters deserve at least that.

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OAS election observers subvert Bolivian democracy

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Organization of American States election observers have played an important role in subverting Bolivian democracy.

While some may find it hard to believe that a regional electoral monitoring body would consciously subvert democracy, their actions in the South American country are not dissimilar to previous US/Canada backed OAS missions in Haiti.

The OAS Election Audit That Triggered Morales’ Fall in Bolivia”, explained a New York Times headline. For his part, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”

After the October 20 presidential election, the OAS immediately cried foul. The next day the organization released a statement that expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results [from the quick count] revealed after the closing of the polls.” Two days later they followed that statement up with a preliminary report that repeated their claim that “changes in the TREP [quick count] trend were hard to explain and did not match the other measurements available.”

But, the “hard-to-explain” changes cited by the OAS were entirely expected, as detailed in the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission”. The CEPR analysis points out that Morales’ percentage lead over the second place candidate Carlos Mesa increased steadily as votes from rural, largely indigenous, areas were tabulated. Additionally, the 47.1% of the vote Morales garnered aligns with pre-election polls and the vote score for his Movement toward Socialism party. The hullabaloo about the quick count stopping at 83% of the vote was preplanned and there is no evidence there was a pause in the actual counting.

But, the OAS’ statements gave oxygen to opposition protests. Their unsubstantiated criticism of the election have also been widely cited internationally to justify Morales’ ouster. In response to OAS claims, protests and Washington and Ottawa saying they would not recognize Morales’s victory, the Bolivian President agreed to a “binding” OAS audit of the first round of the election. Unsurprisingly the OAS’ preliminary audit report alleged “irregularities and manipulation” and called for new elections overseen by a new electoral commission. Immediately after the OAS released its preliminary audit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, saying “all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process.” What started with an easy-to-explain discrepancy between the quick count and final results of the actual counting spiraled into the entire election is suspect and anyone associated with it must go.

At Tuesday’s Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Bolivia the representative of Antigua and Barbuda criticized the opaque way in which the OAS electoral mission to Bolivia released its statements and reports. She pointed out how the organization made a series of agreements with the Bolivian government that were effectively jettisoned. A number of Latin American countries echoed this view.

US and Canadian representatives, on the other hand, applauded the OAS’ work in Bolivia. Canada’s representative to the OAS boasted that two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia and that Canada financed the OAS effort that discredited Bolivia’s presidential election. Canada is the second largest contributor to the OAS, which receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington.

It’s not surprising that an electoral mission from the Washington-based organization would subvert Bolivian democracy. OAS electoral observers have played more flagrant role in undermining Haitian democracy. In late 2010/early-2011 the US/Canada used an OAS election “Expert Verification Mission” to help extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly become president. Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating and following the first round of voting in November 2010, forced the candidate whom Haiti’s electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. After Martelly’s supporters protested their candidate’s third place showing, a six person OAS mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the CEPR determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.” In an interview he warned that “time is running out”, adding that “our ambassador has raised this with the president [Rene Préval] himself.” The CEPR described the intense western lobbying. “The international community, led by the US, France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” This pressure included some Haitian officials having their US visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total was not increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of Haiti’s electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but the other half did not. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first-round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections. Official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this exercise in what they said was democracy. After Martelly won the second round with 16.7 percent of registered voters support Cannon declared: “We congratulate the people of Haiti, who exercised their fundamental democratic right to choose who will govern their country and represent them on the world stage.” The left weekly Haiti Progrès took a different view. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, the paper explained: “The form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

A decade earlier another OAS election mission helped sabotage democracy in Haiti. After voting for 7,000 positions an OAS team on site described the May 2000 elections as “a great success for the Haitian population which turned out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments.”

As the opposition protested the scope of Fanmi Lavalas’ victory, the OAS jumped on a technicality in the counting of eight Senate seats to subsequently characterize the elections as “deeply flawed”. The 50 percent plus one vote required for a first-round victory was determined by calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates, while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates. OAS concerns were disingenuous since they worked with the electoral council to prepare the elections and were fully aware of the counting method beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but they failed to voice any concerns until Fanmi Lavalas’ landslide victory. Finally, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome of the elections and even after Jean Bertrand Aristide got the seven Lavalas senators to resign (one was from another party) the “deeply flawed” description remained.

Haiti’s political opposition used the OAS criticism of the election to justify boycotting the November 2000 presidential election, which they had little chance of winning. The US and Canada used the claims of electoral irregularities to justify withholding aid and Inter-American Development Bank loans to the Haitian government. OAS Resolutions 806 and 822 gave non-elected opposition parties an effective veto over the resumption of foreign aid to Aristide’s government. The OAS claims of “deeply flawed” elections played an important part in a multipronged campaign to oust Aristide’s government.

In an editorial responding to the coup in Bolivia, People’s Voice called for Canada to withdraw from the Washington dominated OAS. Internationalist minded Canadians should support that position.

But we should also recognize the blow Morales’ ouster represents to any effort to subvert the OAS. The Bolivian President’s removal is a further setback to the Latin American integration efforts represented in forums such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. A potential replacement for the OAS, CELAC included all Latin American and Caribbean nations. But Canada and the US were excluded. By helping oust Morales the OAS has taken revenge on a politician who pushed an alternative, non-Washington based, model for ‘Nuestra America’.

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Canada backs coup against Bolivia’s president

Unknown-2In yet another example of the Liberals saying one thing and doing another, Justin Trudeau’s government has supported the ouster of Evo Morales. The Liberals position on Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president stands in stark contrast with their backing of embattled pro-corporate presidents in the region.

Hours after the military command forced Morales to resign as president of the most indigenous nation in the Americas, Chrystia Freeland endorsed the coup. Canada’s foreign affairs minister released a statement noting “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people. We note the resignation of President Morales and will continue to support Bolivia during this transition and the new elections.” Freeland’s statement had no hint of criticism of Morales’ ouster, who still has two months left on his 2015 election mandate. Elsewhere, leaders from Argentina to Cuba, Venezuela to Mexico, condemned Morales’ forced resignation.

Ten days ago Global Affairs Canada echoed the Trump administration’s criticism of Morales’ first round election victory. “It is not possible to accept the outcome under these circumstances,” said a Global Affairs statement. “We join our international partners in calling for a second round of elections to restore credibility in the electoral process.”

The Canadian government also financed and promoted an Organization of American States effort to discredit Bolivia’s presidential election. In a statement titled “Canada welcomes results of OAS electoral audit mission to Bolivia” Freeland noted,“Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise.”

The OAS played a crucial role in bolstering right-wing anti-Morales protests after the presidential election on October 20. Morales won the first round, which no one seriously disputes. The dispute is about whether he won by a 10% margin, which is the threshold required to avoid a second-round runoff. The official result was 47.07 per cent for Morales and 36.51 per cent for US-backed candidate Carlos Mesa.

Immediately after the election the OAS cried foul. But, the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission” challenges the OAS claims. The CEPR concludes that there is no evidence the election results were affected by fraud or irregularities.

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot criticized the OAS for questioning the election results without providing any evidence. “The OAS press statement of October 21 and its preliminary report on the Bolivian elections raise disturbing questions about the organization’s commitment to impartial, professional, electoral observation,” said Weisbrot. “The OAS should investigate to find out how such statements, which may have contributed to political conflict in Bolivia, were made without any evidence whatsoever.”

While backing the ouster of Morales, Trudeau has offered support for beleaguered right-wing leaders in the region. Amidst massive demonstrations against his government, the Prime Minister held a phone conversation 10 days ago with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who has a 14% approval rating. According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia”and discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president. A CTV story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Pinera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”

In Haiti the only reasonJovenel Moïse remains president is because of backing of Ottawa, Washington and other members of the so-called “Core Group”. Unlike Bolivia, Haiti is not divided. Basically, everyone wants Moïse to go. Reliable polling is limited, but a poll last month found that 81% of Haitians wanted the president to leave. Many are strongly committed to that view, which is why the country’s urban areas have been largely paralyzed since early September.

TheTrudeau governmentis obviously following the Trump administration in backing the removal of Morales. But, there has also been conflict between Canadian capital and the Morales government. Executives of Canadian mining companies have criticized Morales andexpressed fear over “resource nationalism” in the region more generally. In 2012 weeks of protest against South American Silver’s operations in central Bolivia — that saw an indigenous activist killed— prompted the Morales government to nationalize the Vancouver-based company’s mine. Ottawa immediately went to bat for South American Silver. Ed Fast’s spokesman Rudy Husny told the Vancouver Sun the trade minister instructed Canadian officials to “intensify their engagement with the Bolivian government in order to protect and defend Canadian interests and seek a productive resolution of this matter.”

Once again our government has prioritized the interests of Canadian corporations over the interest of indigenous people. Shame on Trudeau for supporting the ouster of Evo Morales.

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The word they won’t use to describe Canada’s role in Haiti

 

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Molotov cocktail thrown at Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince

“Say my name, say my name
If no one is around you
Say baby I love you
If you ain’t runnin’ game
Say my name, say my name
You actin’ kinda shady
Ain’t callin’ me baby” —
Destiny’s Child

 

Something you can’t name is very difficult to talk about. Canada’s role in Haiti is a perfect example. Even when the dominant media and mainstream politicians mention the remarkable ongoing revolt or protesters targeting Canada, they fall on their faces in explaining it.

Not one journalist or politician has spoken this truth, easily verified by all sorts of evidence: “Sixteen years ago Ottawa initiated an effort to overthrow Haiti’s elected government and has directly shaped the country’s politics since. Many Haitians are unhappy about the subversion of their sovereignty, undermining of their democracy and resulting impoverishment.”

Last Sunday protesters tried to burn the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Voice of America reported, “some protesters successfully set fire to business establishments and attempted to burn down the Canadian Embassy.” A few days earlier protesters threw rocks at the Canadian Embassy and demonstrators have repeatedly speechified against Canadian “imperialism”. In response to the targeting of Canada’s diplomatic representation in the country, Haiti’s puppet government released a statement apologizing to Ottawa and the embassy was closed for a number of days.

Echoing the protesters immediate demand for Jovenel Moïse to go, an open letter was released last Tuesday calling on Justin Trudeau’s government to stop propping up the repressive and corrupt Haitian president. David Suzuki, Roger Waters, Amir Khadir, Maude Barlow, Linda McQuaig, Will Prosper, Tariq Ali, Yann Martel and more than 100 other writers, musicians, activists and professors signed a letter calling on “the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.”

While a number of left media ran the letter, major news outlets failed to publish or report on it. Interestingly, reporters at La Presse, Radio Canada and Le Devoir all expressed interest in covering it but then failed to follow through. A Le Devoir editor’s reaction was particularly shameful since the leftish, highbrow, paper regularly publishes these types of letters. The editor I communicated with said she’d probably run it and when I called back three days later to ask where things were at, she said the format was difficult. When I mentioned its added relevance after protesters attempted to burn the Canadian embassy, which she was aware of, she recommitted to publishing it. Le Devoir did not publish the letter when it was submitted to them, although an article published in their paper two weeks later did mention it.

My impression from interacting with the media on the issue is that they knew the letter deserved attention, particularly the media in Québec that cover Haiti. But, there was discomfort because the letter focused on Canada’s negative role. (The letter is actually quite mild, not even mentioning the 2004 coup, militarization after the earthquake, etc.)

On Thursday Québec’s National Assembly unanimously endorsed a motion put forward by Liberal party foreign affairs critic, Paule Robitaille, declaring “our unreserved solidarity with the Haitian people and their desire to find a stable and secure society.” It urges “support for any peaceful and democratic exit from the crisis coming from Haitian civil society actors.”

In March Québec Solidaire’s international affairs critic Catherine Dorion released a slightly better statement “in solidarity with the Haitian people”. While the left party’s release was a positive step, it also ignored Canada’s diplomatic, financial and policing support to Moise (not to mention Canada’s role in the 2004 coup or Moise’s rise to power). Québec Solidaire deputies refused to sign the open letter calling on “the Canadian government to stop backing a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.”

Even when media mention protests against Canada, they can’t give a coherent explanation for why they would target the great White North. On Wednesday Radio Canada began a TV clip on the uprising in Haiti by mentioning the targeting of the Canadian embassy and with the image of a protester holding a sign saying: “Fuck USA. Merde la France. Fuck Canada.” The eight-minute interview with Haiti based Québec reporter Etienne Côté-Paluck went downhill from there. As Jean Saint-Vil responded angrily on Facebook, these three countries are not targeted “because of the ‘humanitarian aid’ that the ‘benevolent self-proclaimed friends of Haiti’ bring to the ‘young democracy in difficulty’. This is only racist, paternalistic and imperialist propaganda! They say ‘Fuck Canada’, ‘Shit France’, ‘Fuck USA”’ because they are not blind, dumb or idiots.”

A few days earlier Radio Canada’s Luc Chartrand also mentioned that Canada, France and the US were targeted by protesters when he recently traveled to Haiti. While mentioning those three countries together is an implicit reference to the 2004 coup triumvirate, the interview focused on how it was because they were major donors to Haiti. Yet seconds before Chartrand talked about protesters targeting the Canada-France-US “aid donors” he mentioned a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan aid program (accountability for corruption in the subsidized Venezuelan oil program is an important demand of protesters). So, if they are angry with “aid donors” why aren’t Haitians protesters targeting Venezuela?

Chartrand knows better. Solidarité Québec-Haiti founder Marie Dimanche and I met him before he left for Haiti and I sent Chartrand two critical pieces of information chosen specifically because they couldn’t be dismissed as coming from a radical and are irreconcilable with the ‘benevolent Canada’ silliness pushed by the dominant media. I emailed him a March 15, 2003, L’actualité story by prominent Québec journalist Michel Vastel titled “Haïti mise en tutelle par l’ONU ? Il faut renverser Aristide. Et ce n’est pas l’opposition haïtienne qui le réclame, mais une coalition de pays rassemblée à l’initiative du Canada!” (Haiti under UN trusteeship? We must overthrow Aristide. And it is not the Haitian opposition calling for it, but a coalition of countries gathered at the initiative of Canada!)

Vastel’s article was about a meeting to discuss Haiti’s future that Jean Chretien’s government hosted on January 31 and February 1 2003. No Haitian representative was invited to the meeting 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, US, French and Canadian troops pushed Aristide out and a quasi-UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian police were subsequently militarized.

The second piece of information I sent Chartrand was the Canadian Press’ revelation (confirmation) that after the deadly 2010 earthquake, Canadian officials continued their inhumane and antidemocratic course. According to internal government 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 Ottawa rapidly deployed 2,050 troops officials ignored calls to dispatch this country’s Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) Teams, which are trained to “locate trapped persons in collapsed structures.”

Of course, these two pieces of information run completely counter to the dominant narrative about Canada’s role in Haiti. In fact, they flip it on its head. But, these two pieces of information — combined with hundreds of stories published by left-wing Canadian and Haitian media — help explain why some might want to burn the Canadian Embassy.

Haiti is the site of the most sustained popular uprising among the many that are currently sweeping the globe. Haitians are revolting against the IMF, racism, imperialism and extreme economic inequality. It’s also a fight against Canadian foreign policy.

The latter battle is the most important one for Canadians. Solidarity activists should highlight Haitians’ rejection of 16 years of Canadian disregard for their democratic rights. And they should not be afraid to use the words that describes this best: Canadian imperialism.

 

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Stephen Lewis and the NDP’s liberal imperialism

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Brian Mulroney and Stephen Lewis at UN

If the New Democratic Party wants to be part of the solution and not a barrier to creating a better foreign policy it needs to start telling the truth.

Stephen Lewis is a liberal imperialist who largely ignores Canada’s contribution to African subjugation.

Just before the election Svend Robinson for Burnaby North-Seymour published an endorsement from Lewis. The Facebook page for the left-wing NDP candidate noted, “Thanks to the legendary Stephen Lewis for this stellar endorsement!”

The mainstream left’s deification of Lewis reflects its alignment with Canadian imperialism. Ontario NDP leader from 1970 to 1978, Lewis was stridently anti-Palestinian. He demanded the federal government cancel a major UN conference scheduled for Toronto in 1975 because the Palestine Liberation Organization was granted observer status at the UN the previous year and their representatives might attend. In a 1977 speech to pro-Israel fundraiser United Jewish Appeal, which the Canadian Jewish News titled “Lewis praises [Conservative premier Bill] Davis for Stand on Israel”, Lewis denounced the UN’s “wantonly anti-social attitude to Israel.”

At the NDP’s 2018 convention Lewis’ sister, Janet Solberg, was maybe the loudest anti-Palestinian. Former president of the Ontario NDP and federal council member, Solberg was a long time backroom organizer for her brother and works at the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Lewis’ wife Michele Landsberg was a staunch anti-Palestinian herself. In one of her latter Toronto Star columns the prominent feminist wrote, “to keep their people primed for endless war, Palestinians have inculcated racist hatred of Jews and of Israel in school texts, official newspaper articles and leaders’ pronouncements, in language so hideous it would have made Goebbels grin.”

I can’t find any evidence of Lewis distancing himself from his or family’s previous anti-Palestinian positions.

Lewis backed the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya. “To forestall debate on Libya, Gaza and NATO in 2011,” wrote Barry Weisleder about the NDP convention that year, “Lewis gave a rhapsodic introduction to the foreign policy selections, during which he bestowed his blessing on the murderous NATO bombing of Libya, purportedly as an antidote to alleged mass rapes attributed to forces of the Ghadaffi regime.” Amnesty and Human Rights Watch couldn’t find evidence of the alleged mass rape. Amnesty senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, said: “We have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped.” Vehemently opposed by the African Union, the war on Libya destabilizing that country and surrounding states. Tens of thousands were killed and Libya remains at war.

Lewis promoted the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine used to justify the 2011 NATO war in Libya and the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. R2P is a Canadian promoted high-minded cover for Western imperialism.

During the 2015 tour for my Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation I came across an iPolitics interview with Lewis on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policies in Africa. In it the former UN Special Envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa said Stephen Harper’s government was not doing enough to fight the disease in Africa and decried Canada’s withdrawal from the continent. “It’s heartbreaking. You know what Canada could do. You know the difference we could make,” said Canada’s former Permanent Representative to the UN. But criticizing Harper’s failure to ‘do more’ in Africa was an affront to the victims of Canadian policy on the continent, because asking the Conservative leader for more was like the hen house rooster calling for more foxes. The Conservatives waged war on Libya and worked aggressively to increase the $30 billion Canadian mining sector’s profits at the expense of local African communities. Most troubling of all, Harper’s promotion of heavy carbon emitting tar sands and sabotage of international climate change negotiations was tantamount to a death sentence to ever-growing numbers of Africans.

Yet, on Africa no Canadian is more revered than Lewis. Though he’s widely viewed as a champion of the continent, the standing of the former Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reflects the dearth of critical discussion about Canada’s role in Africa. In fact, rather than advancing African liberation, the long-time member of Canadian and UN policy-making circles represents the critical end of an establishment debate oscillating between neo-conservatives who advocate aggressive, nakedly self-interested policies and those who promote the “Responsibility to Protect”, “do more” worldview.

As I describe in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I failed to find any serious criticism Lewis directed at Canadian foreign policies except to deplore Ottawa’s insufficient aid. Lewis has long bemoaned the lack of “support” for Africa all the while ignoring Ottawa and corporate Canada’s contribution to the continent’s impoverishment.

But the staunch advocate of “aid” appears remarkably uninterested in the often self-interested and harmful character of “aid”. He ignores how Ottawa initially began dispersing aid to African countries as a way to dissuade newly independent countries from following wholly independent paths or falling under the influence of the Communist bloc. A big part of Canada’s early assistance went to train militaries, including the Ghanaian military that overthrew (with Ottawa’s backing) pan-Africanist independence leader Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Since the 1980s hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian aid money has gone to support pro-corporate structural adjustment policies and other initiatives benefiting Canada’s rapacious mining industry in Africa.

Lewis all but overlooks his own country’s role in subjugating the continent. I failed to find any comment on the many thousands of Canadian soldiers and missionaries who helped conquer the continent or undermine African cultural ways at the turn of the 19th century. Nor does Lewis seem to have mentioned official Ottawa’s multifaceted support for European colonial rule or Canada’s role in overthrowing progressive post-independence leaders Patrice Lumumba, Milton Obote and Kwame Nkrumah.

On the other hand, Lewis has repeatedly celebrated Canadian foreign policy. When Nelson Mandela died in 2013 Lewis engaged in aggressive mythmaking, boasting about “the intensity of our opposition to apartheid” and “the extraordinary role that Canada had played in fighting apartheid.” But, as I detail here, this is total hogwash.

Lewis’ 2005 book Race Against Time is peppered with praise for Canadian diplomats, lauding Canada’s role in fighting for gender equality at the UN, dubbing businessman-turned diplomat Maurice Strong “the ultimate ubiquitous internationalist” and exalting in “our own Lester Pearson … who negotiated with other Western governments the benchmark of 0.7% of GNP as the legitimate level of foreign aid for all industrial countries.” Despite Lewis citing Pearson’s name glowingly, the longtime diplomat, external minister and prime minister’s foreign-policy record dripped with blood, as I detail in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: the Truth May Hurt.

Contrasting the ‘left’ reputation of Lewis in international affairs with his contentious history inside the domestic left reveals a great deal about the state of foreign policy discussion.

As head of the Ontario NDP, Lewis purged the Waffle (or Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada) from the provincial party in 1972. At the time many leftists criticized his role in expelling the Waffle from the party and some activists remain critical of Lewis for doing so to this day. In an article titled “On the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of the Waffle” Michael Laxer eviscerates Lewis for driving activists from the NDP. While his move to expel the Waffle continues to be debated, criticism of Lewis largely dried up as he shifted towards the international scene (as Brian Mulroney’s ambassador to the UN, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director and UN Special Envoy for HIV-AIDS in Africa). Yet, I believe most progressives, if they understood the implication of his positions on Africa, would find more common ground with Lewis’ domestic positions. On domestic policy Lewis has at times forthrightly criticized Canada’s power structures, broadly supports labour against capital and would largely reject charity as a model of social service delivery/poverty alleviation.

But, there’s at least some culture of holding politicians/public commentators accountable for their concessions to the dominant order on domestic issues so Lewis has faced some criticism. On Africa the situation is quite different. When it comes to the “dark continent” any prominent person’s charitable endeavor, call for increased “aid” or criticism of a geopolitical competitor is sufficient to win accolades. In an article titled “Africa in the Canadian media: The Globe and Mail’s coverage of Africa from 2003 to 2012” Tokunbo Ojo provides an informative assessment of the paper’s coverage of Lewis. Ojo writes, “built into this moralizing media gaze is the ‘white man’s burden’ imagery, and the voice of Canadian Stephen Lewis, a campaigner against HIV/AIDS, effectively symbolised this imagery in the coverage. Metaphorically, Lewis was framed as the iconic [19th century liberal missionary] ‘David Livingstone’ in campaigns against HIV/AIDS in Africa.”

It is long past time the NDP confront its pro-imperialist, missionaries-as-good-guys past and present.

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