What we’re told to remember and why

How can you tell when “remembering” horrible events is being twisted to defend the status quo and support the powerful against the weak? When a sports network airs a Nazi Holocaust themed show.

Last week TSN ran a six-minute video feature about Hank Rosenbaum, a Polish Jew whose life was turned upside down when German troops invaded 77 years ago. The sports angle for TSN’s “Yom HaShoah, the international day of remembrance for the more than 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust during WW II” commemoration, was that Rosenbaum became a hockey fan when he arrived in Toronto six decades ago. The sports network showed him watching his 10-year-old grandson’s house league game.

While the Rosenbaum story was horrifying and more socially meaningful than TSN’s typical fare, does it really represent a concern for human rights by the broadcaster?

TSN is not seeking out a hockey loving Kikuyu who hid in forests around Nairobi when British forces rounded up most of Kenya’s largest ethnic group in the mid-1950s (with a Canadian in charge of the police force). Nor will they interview a Herero descendent of the German concentration camps in Namibia or an East Timorese whose family was wiped out by Indonesian forces. While also crimes against humanity and analogous to Rosenbaum’s experience, these stories would shine a light on little-known imperial history and challenge authority, which is the anti-thesis of the “Holocaust Industry”.

In The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein argues that the American Jewish establishment has exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for economic and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Finkelstein shows how discussion of the Nazi Holocaust grew exponentially after the June 1967 Six Day war. Prior to that war, which provided a decisive service to US geopolitical aims in the Middle East, the genocide of European Jewry was a topic largely relegated to private forums and among left wing intellectuals.

Paralleling the US, the Nazi Holocaust was not widely discussed in Canada in the two decades after World War II. One study concluded that between 1945 and 1960 Canadian Jewry exhibited “collective amnesia” regarding the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. “B’nai B’rith Canada and the Canadian Jewish Congress displayed little interest [in discussing Nazi crimes] immediately after the war”, wrote Professor Henry Srebrnik in the Jewish Tribune. When a National Jewish Black Book Committee (with Albert Einstein as honourary chair) published The Black Book: The Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People in 1946, “the book went almost unnoticed in Canada. Valia Hirsch, the executive secretary of the [National Jewish Black Book] committee, voiced her concerns that no meetings had been held in the Jewish communities of Montreal,Toronto, Ottawa, or Hamilton, to bring it to the attention of the Jewish community. The Canadian Jewish Congress had ordered 100 copies of the book in the summer of 1946, but had never bothered, according to Hirsch, to obtain them from Canada Customs. The CJC indicated a year later that they were no longer interested and ‘cannot use them.’”

Numerous commentators trace the establishment Jewish community’s interest in Nazi crimes to the Six Day War. “The 1967 war,” explained Professor Cyril Leavitt, “alarmed Canadian Jews. Increasingly, the Holocaust was invoked as a reminder of the need to support the Jewish state.” President of the Vancouver Jewish Community Center, Sam Rothstein concurred. “The 1967 war … was the one development that led to a commitment by community organizations to become more involved in Holocaust commemoration. … Stephen Cummings, the founder of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, said that ‘consciousness [of the Holocaust] has changed. Jews are much more proud, and that’s a post-1967 [phenomenon]. It was the event that gave Jews around the world confidence.’”

Holocaust memorials proliferated after Israel smashed Egyptian-led pan-Arabism in six days of fighting, providing a decisive service to US geopolitical aims. Nearly three decades after World War II, in 1972, the Canadian Jewish Congress and its local federations began to establish standing committees on the Nazi Holocaust. The first Canadian Holocaust memorial was established in Montreal in 1977.

Today’s Yom HaShoah ceremonies are often explicitly aligned with Israel advocacy. Standing in front of Israeli flags, at last week’s Montréal commemoration Mayor Denis Coderre criticized the “new anti-Semitism”, which he described as “singling outone state among the family of nations for discriminatory treatment.” Similarly, in a Yom HaShoah statement Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose said, we havealways been proud to support Holocaust remembrance and education both in Canada and around the world. As a Government, we took a leading role in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism, including against efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Beyond Israeli apologetics, the Nazi Holocaust/anti-Semitism are increasingly invoked to attack Leftist political movements. Zionist groups, media commentators and Blairites in the British Labour Party recently whipped up an “anti-Semitism” crisis to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. As part of the witch-hunt, Black-Jewish activist Jackie Walker was suspended from the Party for writing on her Facebook that her ancestors both benefited from and were victims of the transatlantic slave trade, which she described as an “African Holocaust”.

A Canadian Jewish News editorial and front page cover about the NDP supporting the Leap Manifesto suggests the Jewish community’s leading organ would pursue similar tactics if the NDP elected a left-wing leader. Already, established Canadian Jewish organizations have cried “anti-Semitism”/Holocaust desecration to attack non-Palestine focused progressive movements. During the 2012 Québec student strike some protesters responded to police repression by comparing the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) to the Nazi SS secret police. Many chanted “S-S PVM, police politique!” while others mocked the police by marching in formation and extending their arm as if saluting Hitler. On what he said would have been Nazi victim and child author Anne Frank’s 83rd birthday, B’nai B’rith CEO Frank Dimant issued a statement attacking a social movement much reviled by the establishment. “We condemn, in the strongest of terms, this inexcusable display of hate by Quebec student protesters”, which Dimant said “defile[s] the memory of the Holocaust.” Similarly, Jewish representatives and Canadian officials repeatedly accused Hugo Chavez’ government of anti-Semitism. In 2009 former Liberal Minister Irwin Cotler said the Venezuelan government, which was focused on redressing inequality and lessening US dominance, was responsible for a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.”

In their story TSN failed to mention that Rosenbaum is co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants. Affiliated with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the survivors’ organization was established 54 years after World War II ended. For his part, Rosenbaum says he only began to talk about his experiences in Poland after watching the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.

If Rosenbaum, TSN and others publicly commemorating the Nazi Holocaust are truly motivated by a desire to prevent crimes against humanity and not simply by Israeli nationalism, I expect to see them support reparations to the victims of slavery and colonialism as well as indigenous (including Palestinian) rights.

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Exploitation of Africa often comes with a ‘humanitarian’ smile

What do you call people who try to make people believe what they say but ignore the results of what they do? How about spin-sploiters?

After a few years of research I have come to realize that there is a long and ignoble history of Westerners exploiting Africans while touting humanitarian objectives. Unfortunately, this practice is not confined to the distant past.

A leading Canadian NGO official, who then founded Québec’s largest mining company, provides a recent example.

In a 2012 Gold Report interview titled “First, Do Good When Mining for Gold: Benoit La Salle” the President of the Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO) boasted about the company’s social responsibility. La Salle said: “SEMAFO is not a company that mines gold, ships it out and, once that is done, breaks down camp and leaves. People see SEMAFO as being a very good corporate citizen. Today, many people believe that the CSR report is more important than our annual report.”  This is a startling claim for an individual obligated to maximize investors’ returns but a cursory look at the company’s record suggests it has little basis in reality.

Those living near SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt “the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits.” In 2008 the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers.”  Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.”

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company’s failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO’s facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.  Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government’s Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax.  The Comité Technique also found that the company failed “to produce detailed feasibility studies” and was not “in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code.”  The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country.

To the east, SEMAFO opened the first industrial scale gold mine in Niger. A 2007 Montreal Gazette business article headlined “Local Miner a Major Force in Niger: It’s not every day we receive a press release from a gold mining company that includes a warm personal message from the prime minister”, reported on the close ties between SEMAFO and Hama Amadou, then Prime Minister of Niger. “We work very closely with him,” said La Salle. “We’re part of his budget every year.”

La Salle described how the prime minister helped his company break a strike at its Samira Hill mine in the west of the country. “He gave us all the right direction to solve this legally,” La Salle said. ‘We went to court, we had the strike declared illegal and that allowed us to let go of some of the employees and rehire some of them based upon a new work contract. It allowed us to let go of some undesirable employees because they had been on strike a few times.” (In mid-2008 SEMAFO’s preferred prime minister was arrested on corruption charges stemming from two unrelated incidents.)

The bitter strike led to a parliamentary inquiry regarding environmental damage caused by the mine, lack of benefits for local communities and treatment of miners. Opposition politicians accused SEMAFO of paying “slave wages”.  “The wages are very low,” explained Mohammed Bazoum, deputy chairman of Niger’s main opposition party in 2009.

SEMAFO was also accused of failing to pay both taxes and dividends to the government. Despite owning a 20% share in the Samira Hill mine, the government received no direct payments from the Montréal-based majority owner between 2004 and 2010. “Since this company started its activities, Niger has not seen a single franc despite its being a shareholder,” noted Abdoulkarim Mossi, head of a government committee set up to tackle economic and financial irregularities in the country.

Next-door, the company was close to President Blaise Compaoré who seized power in 1987 by killing Thomas Ankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara”, who oversaw important social and political gains during four years in office. La Salle worked closely with Compaoré for nearly 2 decades, traveling the globe singing the Burkina Faso government’s praise. After leaving office the Prime Minister between 2007–2011, Tertius Zongo, was appointed to SEMAFO’s Board of Directors and at a September 2014 Gold Forum in Australia SEMAFO officials lauded the government as “democratic and stable”.  The next month Compaoré was ousted by popular protest after he attempted to amend the constitution to extend term limits.

After ending Compaoré’s 27-year rule community groups and mine workers launched a wave of protests against foreign, mostly Canadian, owned mining companies. In a Bloomberg article titled “Revolt Rocks Burkina Faso’s Mines After President Flees”, SEMAFO’s director of corporate affairs, Laurent Michel Dabire, said the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests in the country.

SEMAFO is an outgrowth La Salle’s work for Plan Canada, part of a $1 billion a year global NGO. La Salle said that SEMAFO “was created in 1995 during my first visit to Burkina Faso as part of a mission with the NGO-Plan. I am the president of the administration council of Plan Canada and a director of Plan International. So, after the Plan organized visit to Burkina Faso provided me an opportunity to get close with national authorities, I decided to create SEMAFO to participate in the development of Burkina Faso’s mining industry.” As Plan Canada’s designated Francophone spokesperson, La Salle got to know Compaoré. “The president turned to me,” La Salle told another reporter, “and said that I should come back to his country with Canadian expertise to help his country develop its mining sector.”

La Salle procured mining expertise while Compaoré granted the Canadian a massive stretch of land to prospect. “The land package we have is way beyond what you’d see anywhere else in the world,” La Salle boasted.

Compaoré was good to La Salle. The Canadian ‘humanitarian” made millions of dollars from Burkina Faso’s (and Niger and Guinea’s) minerals. When he resigned after 17 years as president of SEMAFO in 2012, La Salle received a $3 million departure bonus, which was on top of his $1 million salary.

La Salle is just one in a long line of Westerners who’ve asked the world to believe what they say but ignore the actual results of what they do — a “spin-sploiter” — publicly professing humanitarian ideals all the while exploiting Africa.

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Could it be anti-Semitic to misuse the term ‘anti-Semitic’?

“Anti-Semitism” may be the most abused term in Canada today. Almost entirely divorced from its dictionary definition – “discrimination against or prejudice or hostility toward Jews” – it is now primarily invoked to uphold Jewish/white privilege.

In a recent Canadian Jewish News interview long time l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) professor Julien Bauer slurs Arabs and Muslims as he bemoans “anti-Semitism”. “In the corridors of UQAM, there are occasionally pro-Hamas demonstrations and anti-Semitic posters, but this is relatively rare,” Bauer wrote in French. “At Concordia University, it’s an anti-Semitic festival every day of the year! This is normal because there are many more Arab and Muslim students at Concordia than UQAM.”

The Jewish community’s leading media outlet, which recently called Jews the “Chosen People”, failed to question Bauer’s racism and Islamophobia. Instead, they put his picture on the front of the Québec edition.

Over the past several weeks Jewish leaders have labeled a student General Assembly at McGill University, art depicting Palestinian resistance at York, and an effort at that university to divest from arms makers as “anti-Semitic”. Head of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Avi Benlolo, described the arms divestment effort at York, since it includes Students Against Israeli Apartheid, as “a malicious campaign that targets and singles out the Jewish community as a collective, demonizes Israel and Israelis, applies unfair double standards to Israel at the exclusion of other nations in the Middle East and rejects the legitimacy of Israel as the only Jewish state in the world, thereby inciting an abhorrent resurgence of anti-Semitism.”

Rather than calming the tantrum, Canadian political leaders often contribute to the hysteria of certain Jewish groups. During the recent debate to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign MPs repeatedly accused a movement demanding Israel comply with international law of being “anti-Semitic”. The terms “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Semitism” were invoked over 80 times in a debate to justify Jewish/white supremacy in the Middle East.

According to Hansard, parliamentarians have uttered the words “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Semitic” more in the past decade than “racism” or “racist”. (And many of the “racist” references describe purported prejudice against Jews.) The term “anti-blackness” was not recorded in the House of Commons during this period.

Despite widespread discussion of “anti-Semitism”, there is little discussion of Canadian Jewry’s actual place in Canadian society. Among elite business, political and professional circles Jewish representation far surpasses their slim 1.3% of the Canadian population. Studies demonstrate that Canadian Jews are more likely than the general population to hold a bachelor’s degree, earn above $75,000 or be part of the billionaire class.

While Canadian Jews faced discriminatory property, university and immigration restrictions into the 1950s, even the history of structural anti-Jewish prejudice should be put into proper context. Blacks, Japanese and other People of Colour (not to mention indigenous peoples) have been subjected to far worse structural racism and abuse. Even compared to some other “white” groups Canadian Jews have fared well. During World War I,8,500 individuals from countries part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (mostly Ukrainians) were interned while in the mid-1800s thousands of Irish died of typhus at an inspection and quarantine station on Grosse Ile in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Canadian Jewry hasn’t faced any equivalent abuse.

While howls of “anti-Semitism” are usually an effort to deter Palestinian solidarity, the shrill claims may also represent what a Freudian psychologist would call a “projection”. Prejudice against Arabs and Muslims appears rampant in the Jewish community. Then there are the remarkable efforts to keep the Jewish community separate and apart from others. A Canadian Jewish News article about mixed race Jews’ inability to find a match on the Jewish Tinder, JSwipe, highlights the issue.

After Israel, no subject garners more attention in the Canadian Jewish News than the importance of cloistering children by ethnicity/religion. Half of Jewish children in Montréal attend Jewish schools, which is startling for a community that represented 7% of the city’s population a century ago. (In the 1920s Yiddish was Montréal’s third most spoken language.)

Montréal’s Jewish community has segregated itself geographically as well. Without retail shops in its boundaries, Hampstead is an affluent Montréal suburb that is three quarters Jewish. Four times larger than the adjacent Hampstead, Côte Saint-Luc is a 32,000-person municipality that is two thirdsJewish.

According to Federation CJA, only 15%-17% of Jewish Montrealers live in intermarried (or common-law) households. For those under-30 it’s still only a quarter. (In Toronto, where Canada’s largest Jewish community resides, the self-segregation is slightly less extreme.)
Inward looking and affluent, the Jewish community is quick to claim victimhood. But, like an out of control child, the major Jewish organizations need a time out. Without an intervention of some sort, the Jewish community risks having future dictionaries defining “anti-Semitism” as “a movement for justice and equality.”

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GardaWorld private security firm a danger to democracy

Last week students at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) disrupted a board meeting after learning administrators planned to sign a $50 million, seven-year, contract with security giant GardaWorld. Protesters are angry the administration has sought to expel student leaders and ramp up security at the politically active campus as they cut programs.

The world’s largest privately held security firm, Garda is open about its need for repressive university, business and political leaders. The Montréal firm’s chief executive, Stephan Cretier, called the 2012 Québec student strike “positive” for business. “Naturally, when there’s unrest somewhere – the Egyptian election or some disruption here in Quebec or a labour disruption somewhere – unfortunately it’s usually good for business.”

But, that’s not half of it. A 2014 Canadian Business profile described Garda’s business as “renting out bands of armed men to protect clients working in some of the Earth’s most dangerous outposts.” Garda operates in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Algeria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere.

Established in 1995, the early 2000s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan propelled Garda’s international growth. With financing from Québec’s Caisse de dépôt pension fund, by 2007 they had as many as 5,000 employees in the region.

While US militarism boosts its profits, the company has deflected criticism with a noble Canadian shield. When four Garda employees were kidnapped (and later killed) in 2007, the head of the company claimed its private soldiers in Iraq were “perceived differently because we’re Canadian.” Of course, he didn’t mention if Iraqis shot by unaccountable mercenaries feel that way on discovering the bullets were fired by an employee of a Canadian firm.

Garda has been engulfed in controversy in Afghanistan as well. In 2012 two of its British employees were caught with dozens of unlicensed AK-47 rifles and jailed for three months while two years later the head of Garda’s Afghan operations, Daniel Ménard, was jailed for three weeks on similar charges. Commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in 2009-10, Ménard left the military after he was court-martialed for recklessly discharging his weapon and having sexual relations with a subordinate.

In 2013 Garda established operations in Nigeria to provide “logistical support” for international oil firms, which have faced political and criminal attacks. That year Garda also rented a villa in Mogadishu, Somalia, to lodge energy contractors and international development workers as well as accompany them around the country. A 2014 report from the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries questioned the growing role of Western security companies in the country. As Somalia “rebuilds its security institutions, the Government should ensure that private security forces are properly regulated and do not become a substitute for competent and accountable police. All Somalis have the right to security, not just those who can afford to pay for it,” said Faiza Patel, chairperson of the UN Working Group.

But it’s not simply a matter of equal justice. In a country where control of armed men has long been the main source of power, private security companies can easily strengthen the hand of a political faction or prolong conflict.

Garda’s most successful foray abroad is in Libya where it appointed former Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Zdunich head of its operations. Sometime in the “summer of 2011”, according to its website, Garda began operating in the country. After Libya’s 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. Garda’s involvement in Libya may have contravened that country’s laws as well as UN resolutions 1970 and 1973, which the Security Council passed amidst the uprising against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.

Resolution 1970 called for an arms embargo, mandating 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).”

Contravening international law can be good for business. As the first Western security company officially operating in the country, Garda’s website described it as the “market leader in Libya” with “over 3,500 staff providing protection, training and crisis response.” Garda’s small army of former British special forces and other elite soldiers won a slew of lucrative contracts in Libya. The company’s Protective Security Detail provided “security for a number of international oil companies and their service providers” as well as NATO soldiers training the Libyan Army (the first time NATO contracted out the protection of a training program).

The Montréal company also protected a hundred European Union Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) personnel who trained and equipped Libyan border and coast guards in a bid to curtail African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean. Garda’s four-year EUBAM contract garnered attention in early 2014 when 19 cases of arms and ammunition destined for the company disappeared at the Tripoli airport. But the company didn’t let this loss of weapons deter it from performing its duties. According to Intelligence Online,company officials asked “to borrow British weapons to ensure the safety of EU personnel.”

The request found favour since Garda already protected British interests in Libya, including Ambassador Dominic Asquith. In Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz describe the ambassador’s protection detail: “Some members of Sir Dominic Asquith’s security detail were undoubtedly veterans of 22 Special Air Service, or SAS, Great Britain’s legendary commandos, whose motto is ‘Who Dares Wins.’ Others were members of the Royal Marines Special Boat Service, or SBS.”

In June 2012 a rebel group attacked Asquith’s convoy in Benghazi with a rocket-propelled grenade. “The RPG-7 warhead fell short of the ambassador’s vehicle”, notes Under Fire. Two Garda operatives “were seriously hurt by fragmentation when the blast and rocket punched out the windshield of the lead vehicle; their blood splattered throughout the vehicle’s interior and then onto the street.”

One wonders how many Libyans have fallen prey to “Canada’s Blackwater”?

A source of employment for retired Canadian, British and US forces, Garda has built up its connections in military–political circles. A former Canadian ambassador to the US and Stephen Harper advisor, Derek Burney, is chair of its International Advisory Board. Garda’s board also includes retired four-star US Admiral Eric T. Olson, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Michael P. Jackson and UK Permanent Secretary, Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office Sir Richard Mottram. In December Garda hired recently retired Conservative minister Christian Paradis, reported Le Soleil, to “convince different levels of government to increase their use of the private sector in public safety.”A

A creature of neoliberal capitalism and Western aggression, Garda is a danger to democracy.

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A shameful episode from Canada’s history in Africa

Few Canadians are familiar with pre-colonial African cities, and even fewer know a Canadian military leader helped sack one of West Africa’s great metropolises.

In the fifth installment of its Story of Cities series, the Guardian recently focused on Benin City, the lost capital of an important precolonial state. At its height in the “Middle Ages,” Benin City and 500 interconnected settlements were the site of the largest earthworks carried out prior to the mechanical era. The walls built in what is now southern Nigeria were “four times longer than the Great Wall of China” — 16,000 km in all.

Before most other cities, Benin City had public lighting. In 1691 Portuguese ship captain Lourenco Pinto wrote that the city was “larger than Lisbon” and “so well governed that theft is unknown.”

Dating to the 11th century, Benin City faced growing pressure from European encroachment and the transatlantic slave trade. Finally, in 1897 a well-armed British force of 1,200 sacked the city, stealing or destroying its wealth. Today one is more likely to find remnants of the Benin City in the British Museum in London than in Nigeria.

And the Canadian connection? A star pupil of the Kingston, Ontario, based Royal Military College played a part in this little-known imperial history. Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, William Heneker helped London conquer Benin City and surrounding territory. In his 1906 book Bush Warfare, the RMC grad writes: “Savage nations have, as a rule, to be cowed, either by having their warriors severely beaten in action and made to suffer heavy losses, as, in the case of the taking of Benin City.”

During the Benin Expedition of 1897 Captain Heneker guarded an imprisoned chief, Oba. Not long thereafter Heneker helped capture Oba’s son.

In May 1898 Heneker was part of a small force that conquered the town of Ehor and surrounding villages of the decaying Benin Empire. One account notes how British forces “seized the opportunity to utterly destroy it [Ehor], burning it and knocking down the walls.”

The next year Heneker was an intelligence and survey officer in the Benin Territories Expedition, which was the final destructive blow to Benin resistance. In Correspondence Relating to the Benin Territories Expedition, 1899 consul general Sir R. Moor mentioned Heneker leading a force that destroyed the towns of Udo and Idumere and a company under the RMC graduate’s command “burnt and completely destroyed the large town of Ugiami, including the King’s house.”

The invasions of Benin gave the British access to valuable commodities. Author William Geary remarks that “the results of the operations opened up 3000 or more square miles rich in rubber forests and other African produce.” After the expedition British capitalists intensified efforts to exploit the area’s rubber forests and the Royal Niger Company expanded deeper into Benin.

As he rose through the ranks of the Southern Nigeria Regiment, which was part of the West African Frontier Force, Heneker led ever more soldiers. With a force of more than 200 men, he commanded the Ulia and Ishan Expeditions. In Bush Warfare, Heneker described the scorched-earth policy the Ishan Expedition employed: “A fighting column left camp every morning, and one after another each town in the country was attacked and taken. All the juju groves [sacred natural forests] were cut down, and stores of food either destroyed or carried back to camp.”

Heneker and other Canadians’ role in the region steadily grew. “Canadian participation in the pacification of West Africa,” notes Canadian Army Journal editor Andrew Godefroy, “”ppeared to climax in late 1901 when the British launched a substantial civil-military operation against the Aro group of the Ibo tribe.”

At least a dozen Canadians were among the white officer corps who led a force of some 2,000 soldiers and 2,000 porters to open a 193 km wide and 144 km long area of today’s Eastern Nigeria to British directed commerce. Early planning for the Anglo-Aro War was actually initiated by the Royal Niger Company, which wanted a bigger piece of the area’s trade.

Canadian Militia Lieutenant J.L.R. Parry was “Mentioned in Dispatches” for his services during the Aro Expedition. So was Canadian Militia Lieutenant James Wayling. During a major battle at Edimma, wrote overall British commander A. F. Montanaro, “Lieutenant A.E. Rastrick, Canadian Militia … who was in command of the Maxim [gun], used it with great effect, and so good was the fire control and discipline that the enemy was forced to retreat.”

Heneker was the senior Canadian during the Aro campaign. Second in authority to Montanaro, the RMC grad led one of the four columns dispatched in November 1901 towards Arochukwu, the capital of the Aro families. His force consisted of 19 European officers and 700 local rank and file.

The capture of Arochukwu was a brutal, one-sided affair. S. O. Onwukwe describes the “total destruction of the Empire” in The Rise and Fall of the Arochukwu Empire, 1400-1902. “The British invaders did not spare Arochukwu, they were waging a punitive war and had no respect for any shrine. The order to the troops was ‘attack, destroy and burn.’ The field force took this instruction literally.”

Between 1897 and 1906 Heneker fought in a dozen separate campaigns in West Africa. During a decade of working to conquer southern Nigeria Heneker received several “Mentions in Dispatches” and a series of awards including the Distinguished Service Order. “One of the most successful British combat leaders on the West African coast,” Heneker would later be promoted to major general, lieutenant general and, finally, general. Heneker was one of dozens of Canadians trained at RMC, which opened in 1876 partly to train “proper white gentleman” to be officers of British imperialism, who participated in the turn of the 19th century “Scramble for Africa.”

After completing his service in West Africa Heneker published Bush Warfare, which for years was “required reading and a resource for all commanders” and would inform the later War Office manual Notes on Imperial Policing. In a section of his book titled “General Dealings” Heneker writes, “the great thing is to impress savages with the fact that they are the weaker, and that it is intended to occupy the country, enforce the will of the white man, and accomplish the object for which the expedition is organized. No leniency or half measures are of any use until the savage has felt the power of force. Leniency is treated as a sign of weakness.”

Unsettling words from a Canadian who helped destroy one of Africa’s great precolonial cities. And part of our history.

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Why does mainstream media keep repeating lies about Lester Pearson?

While coverage of Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to Washington was embarrassingly banal in its emphasis on “bromance” between Obama and the Canadian PM, at least it was accurate (in the limited sense valued by the dominant media), except for the 60 Minutes feature that comically confused a photo of Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall for Margaret Trudeau. However, one aspect of the reporting did stand out as both a lie and dangerous nationalist mythology.

A number of media outlets discussed Lester Pearson visiting Lyndon Johnson the day after he reportedly gave a “scathing speech on American involvement in Vietnam.” The Canadian Press described the former prime minister’s speech and meeting with the US president this way: “Pearson never visited again, after a famous 1965 dust-up. He’d spoken out against the Vietnam War, and Johnson grabbed him by the lapels and snarled: ‘Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug.’”

Pearson’s speech at Temple University in Philadelphia the night before he met Johnson is probably the most cited example of a Canadian leader (supposedly) opposing US militarism. Even generally sensible authors such as Linda McQuaig point to it as having “contributed to ending the U.S. war effort in Vietnam.”

But here’s what Pearson really said in Philadelphia:

The government and great majority of people of my country have supported wholeheartedly the US peacekeeping and peacemaking policies in Vietnam.

In Quiet ComplicityCanadian involvement in the Vietnam War, Victor Levant puts Pearson’s talk in proper context:

In his Temple speech, the Prime Minister did accept all the premises and almost all the conclusions of US policy. The chief cause of the escalation of the war in Vietnam, in Pearson’s view, was North Vietnamese aggression. ‘This situation cannot be expected to improve,’ he said, ‘until North Vietnam becomes convinced that aggression, in whatever guise, for whatever reason, is inadmissible and will not succeed.’ This had wider implications, since ‘no nation… could ever feel secure if capitulation in Vietnam led to the sanctification of aggression through subversion and spurious wars of national liberation.’ If peace was to be achieved, the first condition was a cease-fire, and this could happen only if Hanoi recognizes the error of its ways: ‘aggressive action by North Vietnam to bring about a Communist liberation (which means Communist rule) of the South must end. Only then can there be negotiations.’ Since US military action was aimed at resisting Hanoi’s aggression, the measures taken so far, including the bombing of the North, were entirely justified: ‘the retaliatory strikes against North Vietnamese military targets, for which there has been great provocation, aim at making it clear that the maintenance of aggressive policies toward the south will become increasingly costly to the northern regime. After about two months of airstrikes, the message should now have been received loud and clear.

Levant continues:

On the other hand, Pearson argued that continued bombing, instead of weakening Hanoi’s will to resist, might have the effect of driving it into an even more intransigent position. He therefore suggested, as a tactical move, that the United States consider a carefully timed ‘pause’ in the bombing: ‘there are many factors which I am not in a position to weigh. But there does appear to be at least a possibility that a suspension of such airstrikes against North Vietnam, at the right time, might provide the Hanoi authorities with an opportunity, if they wish to take it, to inject some flexibility into their policy without appearing to do so as the direct result of military pressure. If such a suspension took place for a limited time, then the rate of incidents in South Vietnam would provide a fairly accurate way of measuring its usefulness and the desirability of continuing. I am not, of course, proposing any compromise on points of principle, nor any weakening of resistance to aggression in South Vietnam. Indeed, resistance may require increased military strength to be used against the armed and attacking Communists. I merely suggest that a measured and announced pause in one field of military action at the right time might facilitate the development of diplomatic resources which cannot easily be applied to the problem under the existing circumstances. It could, at the least, expose the intransigence of the North Vietnam government.

Let’s further dissect Pearson’s “anti-war” position. Approximately three million Vietnamese died during the US war in Indochina, with about 100,000 killed during the US bombing of the North. To put Pearson’s Temple speech in the crassest terms possible, opposing the bombing of the North was a call to end 3.3% of the death toll.

When Pearson met Johnson the next day the president was mad because senior US foreign-policy planners were debating a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam (which would take place months later and when Washington restarted their bombing campaign Pearson publicly justified it). By speaking out Pearson effectively sided with Johnson’s opponents in the US administration after he enabled the bombing campaign. According to the leaked internal government documents known as the Pentagon Papers, in May 1964 Pearson agreed to Johnson’s request to have the Canadian Commissioner on the International Control Commission, which was supposed to enforce the implementation of the Geneva Accords and the peaceful reunification of Vietnam, deliver US bombing threats to the North Vietnamese leadership. In so doing Canada’s Nobel peace laureate actually enabled a serious war crime.

The story about Johnson challenging Pearson the next day only came to light a decade later, once US actions in Vietnam were widely discredited. In 1974 former Canadian Ambassador in Washington Charles Ritchie wrote: “The President strode up to him and seized him by the lapel of his coat, at the same time as raising his other arm to the heavens.” Ritchie reported Johnson saying, “you don’t come here and piss on my rug.”

While the ambassador’s description is almost certainly an exaggeration, subsequent commentators have further embellished Richie’s account. In one telling Johnson “grabbed Pearson by the lapels of his coat and violently shookhim.”

An entertaining story perhaps, but simply not true, just as saying Lester Pearson opposed the war against Vietnam is a lie.

While logic and facts are irrelevant to nationalist myth-makers, it is critical that we understand the reality of our past if we wish to build a better future.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, The Truth May Hurt

Laurentian the latest university to be mined by rich Canadians

He who pays the piper picks the tune.

This bit of folk wisdom seems not understood or ignored by many institutions of “higher learning.”

The neoliberals running Canadian public universities have signed a slew of deals with mining companies that are engaged in violently extracting resources from the Global South.

In two of the more high-profile endeavours, Simon Fraser University set up a Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, and the University of Toronto jumped into bed with Barrick Gold’s Peter Munk, establishing the Munk School of Global Affairs.

In an initiative more directly tied to a single controversial project, Laurentian University recently partnered with the University of Limpopo in South Africa at the request of Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines.

Over the next five years Ivanhoe will give $2.5 million US to “improve training and curriculum choices in economic geology and mineral exploration at the University of Limpopo.” As part of the agreement, Ivanhoe’s South African subsidiary Ivanplats will also “provide in-service training opportunities for students from both universities and assist them in conducting research on the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex,” where the Canadian company operates a massive platinum mine.

The Ontario government has put $500,000 CDN worth of scholarship money into the partnership, and Ottawa’s International Development Research Corporation added $570,000 CDN.

While a public university entering an international partnership instigated by a private corporation ought to be controversial under the best of circumstances, Laurentian’s partner has a highly questionable track record. Companies led by Ivanhoe CEO Robert Friedland were responsible for major cyanide spills in Colorado and Guyana in the mid-1990s, and throughout the first decade of the 21st century Ivanhoe did business with the military regime in Myanmar (Burma).

In April 2006, thousands of protesters in Mongolia’s capital burned an effigy of Friedland after he reportedly told an investors’ forum the country had “no NGOs” and “lots of room for waste dumps.”

In South Africa, many of those living near Ivanplats’s Platreef mine in the province of Limpopo oppose the project. Over the past five years, protesters have damaged company equipment, blocked a highway near the project with rocks and tires, and demonstrated in front of the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria. Community members were angry at the mine’s preferential access to water, lost access to their ancestors’ gravesites, and the company’s influence over local politics.

The Platreef project dates to the final days of South African apartheid when Friedland quietly began laying the groundwork for the platinum project.

In January 2015, the Globe and Mail reported on Ivanhoe’s use of “court injunctions, ultimatums to government, and digging up dirt on opponents” during a two-decade-long effort to establish operations. Friedland’s company coerced a villager into surrendering her farm and spent years wooing the chief of the Mokopane traditional council, which holds most of the area’s land in trust on behalf of the community.

Ivanhoe began making donations to the council in 2001 and in 2010 it signed an agreement with Chief Kekana for “all reasonable access” to test drill on the community’s land for a “monthly stipend” of 30,000 rand (about $4,000 US). The deal also included a laptop, use of a farm, an annual “gratuity” and a lump-sum payment to a “trust” of the chief’s choice, as well as monthly payments of 3,000 rand (about $400 US) to the chief’s adviser and five village headmen. Ivanhoe also paid 10,000 to 30,000 rand per month, in addition to computers and cellphones, to the “community mining committee” in a number of villages near its mine.

At the national level, Ivanhoe forged close ties to the former secretary general of the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa resigned from the Ivanhoe board of directors in 2013 after his election as deputy president of the ANC. The following year, he became South Africa’s deputy president, but for a decade he sat on the ANC’s national executive and Ivanhoe’s board.

The company’s high-level political connections helped it secure permission for Platreef. It may also have protected local partners, according to a report by the Daily Maverick. The South African news agency suggested that Ivanhoe’s support for the local Mogalakwena government led the provincial and national governments to turn a blind eye to their “serious corruption and mismanagement.”

Is this the kind of behaviour that Laurentian University wishes to be associated with?

Is it appropriate at all for our taxpayer-funded universities, tasked with serving the public interest and seeking the ‘truth,” to be taking money directly from those with such clear self-interest in limiting our musical choices to tunes that praise the virtues of neoliberalism?

This article first appeared in Ricochet

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