NDP could break elite consensus against Palestinian rights

The anti-Palestinian consensus among Canada’s three main political parties is crumbling and NDP members could bury it this weekend.

After taking an all-expense paid trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference in Washington and participating in a Jewish National Fund event in Israel 14 months ago, the NDP’s foreign critic has begun challenging Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hélène Laverdière has repeatedly criticized the Trudeau government’s silence on Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In response she tweeted, “a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East. Where is Canada’s voice in protest of Trump’s decision on #Jerusalem? I urge Canada to condemn this decision in the strongest of terms.”

The party’s foreign critic also asked the federal government to condemn Israel’s detention of 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi and hundreds of other Palestinian children who are usually tortured by Israeli forces. Similarly, Laverdière has pressed Ottawa to properly label products from illegal Israeli settlements and submitted a petition to Parliament calling “upon the Government of Canada to demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Two weeks ago I received an email on behalf of party leader Jagmeet Singh titled “all people deserve the same human rights”, which listed the party’s recent support for Palestinian rights. It noted, “the NDP shares your concerns about Palestine. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his team of New Democrats have a consistent record of defending Palestinian rights as well as raising concerns over Islamophobia.”

A series of factors are likely driving Laverdière’s shift. She probably never backed former NDP leader Tom – “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances” – Mulcair’s position. Additionally, last year’s NDP leadership race unleashed ever bolder expressions of support for the Palestinian cause.

Amidst the campaign, Laverdière was criticized for speaking at AIPAC’s 2016 conference in Washington and participating in an event put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund. In August the NDP Socialist Caucus called for her resignation as foreign critic and it has submitted a motion to this weekend’s convention calling for her to be removed from that position.

Ottawa’s high-profile abstention at the UN General Assembly after Donald Trump announced that he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem has given the NDP an opportunity to distinguish itself from the Trudeau government. And media coverage of subsequent Palestinian resistance, most notably Ahed Tamimi’s courageous slaps, has provided additional opportunities to highlight the Liberal’s extreme anti-Palestinianism.

The NDP leadership is also trying to head off members’ calls to boycott Israel (according to a 2017 Ekos poll, 84% of NDP members were open to sanctioning Israel). At least five resolutions (among more than ten concerning Palestine/Israel) submitted to the convention call for some type of boycott of Israel. The NDP Socialist Caucus has called on the party to “actively campaign” in support of the (just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions‘ movement’s demands.

With probably more backing than any of the 100+ resolutions submitted, 30 riding associations and youth committees endorsed “Palestine Resolution”, which calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.” Of course, party leaders fear the media response to any type of boycott resolution being adopted.

Whatever the reason for Laverdière’s shift away from anti-Palestinianism, it remains insufficient. As I’ve detailed, the NDP continues to provide various forms of support to Israel and the party has an odious anti-Palestinian history. In the mid-1970s the party opposed Palestinian Liberation Organization participation in two UN conferences in Toronto and Vancouver and party leader Ed Broadbent called the PLO “terrorists and murderers whose aim is the destruction of the state of Israel.”

That year NDP icon Tommy Douglas also told the Histadrut labour federation: “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” (Douglas’ 1975 speech was made while Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai, after it repeatedly invaded its neighbours and ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.)

A progressive party worth its salt campaigns on an international issue in equal measure to its government/society’s contribution to that injustice.

Over the past century Canada has played no small part in Palestinians’ dispossession. Hundreds of Canadians provided military force to realize the crassly anti-Palestinian Balfour Declaration and this country’s diplomats played a central role in the UN’s decision to give the Zionist movement most of Palestine in 1947.

Today, Ottawa regularly votes against Palestinian rights at the UN and subsidizes dozens of charities that channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. Additionally, Canada’s two-decade-old free trade agreement with Israel allows settlement products to enter Canada duty-free and over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in an explicit bid to advance Israel’s interests by building a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Hopefully, in the years to come the NDP can help Canada make up for its sad anti-Palestinian history. Perhaps this weekend the party will finally bury official Canada’s anti-Palestinian consensus.

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NDP marches with USA on Venezuela

Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?

The Canadian social democratic party’s foreign critic Hélène Laverdière has certainly remained silent regarding US leaders musing about a military coup or invasion of Venezuela and has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means.

At the start of the month US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust President Nicolás Maduro. “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people,” Tillerson said in a speech, which included a quip about Maduro being sent to Cuba.

I found no criticism of Tillerson’s speech by Laverdière. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat also stayed mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela in the summer. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canadian sanctions on Venezuela, which followed a similar move by the US. In a move that probably violated the UN and OAS charters, in September the elected president, vice president and 38 other Venezuelan officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians were barred from having financial relations with these individuals. Two months later 19 Venezuelan officials were sanctioned under the just adopted Magnitsky Act, which Laverdière and the NDP backed.

Nor did I find any criticism of Canada’s role in the so-called Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière remained silent when foreign minister Chrystia Freeland organized a meeting of the Lima Group in Toronto four months ago.

She also ignored Canada’s role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

The NDP foreign critic also stayed mum when the federal government expelledVenezuelan diplomats’ from Canada in December.

Instead, Laverdière has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and call on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria” and called Venezuela’s vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.”

Amidst opposition protests in the summer, Laverdière told CBC, “we wouldlike to see the [Canadian] government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.”

Laverdière’s statement ignored the death and destruction caused by opposition protesters and the opposition’s effort to hamstring the government after it won control of the National Assembly in 2015.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting in June Laverdière responded to an anti-Venezuela screed by saying “I share many of his concerns.” Amongst a series of outrageous claims against the leftist government, Peter Kent told the committee: “As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela’s small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust.”

In June 2016 Laverdière put out a press release bemoaning “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”. In it Laverdière said, “the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding Venezuela, and Canada, as a member of the OAS, should support his efforts.” But, the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS were highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Amidst three months of violent right wing protests at the start of 2014, then NDP Americas critic Laverdière presented a position to the House of Commons titled “Human Rights in Venezuela” and sponsored a House of Commons resolution (slightly re-worded and reintroduced two days later by then foreign critic Paul Dewar) asking, ” the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.”

After the opposition once again cried foul when they lost the 2013 presidential election, Laverdière accused the Stephen Harper government of being soft on Venezuela (only elections the right wing wins are fair, in the eyes of large swaths of the opposition and Laverdière). “Canada’s silence is striking,” she told Ipolitics. “They had views on President Chávez, but now they don’t seem to actually care what’s happening in the country.”

In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a motion to next weekend’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.” It notes: “Be It Resolved that the NDP actively oppose foreign interference in Venezuela, defend Venezuela’s right to self-determination, reject alignment with U.S. policy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, and request the immediate removal of MP Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”

NDP members who oppose imperialism need to challenge Laverdière’s support for Washington and Ottawa’s efforts to topple Venezuela’s elected government.

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Be it resolved that the NDP support Palestinian rights

At next week’s New Democratic Party convention in Ottawa Palestinian rights are set to be a major flashpoint.

The NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a resolution calling on the party to “actively campaign in support of the demand of Palestinian unions, civil society and unions across Canada and around the world which call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state until it dismantles the apartheid wall, allows refugees to return home, ends its demolition of Palestinian homes and olive groves, lifts the siege of Gaza, ends its occupation of Palestinian lands, and terminates its apartheid practices.”

A more moderate “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice” has been endorsed by two dozen riding associations. The motion mostly restates official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

Already the Canadian Jewish News, Electronic Intifada, National Post, Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Toronto Star, Le Devoir, Mondoweiss, Canada Talks Israel Palestine and Rabble have published stories regarding the resolutions. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has called on the party leader to “push backagainst marginal elements within the party” promoting Palestinian rights while the more explicitly antidemocratic Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal has “Urged NDP to Disallow Anti-Israel Resolution at Upcoming Convention”.

Unfortunately, corporate-media-focused party operatives may heed the CIJA/Wiesenthal call. Party insiders will no doubt do everything in their power to avoid discussing the Socialist Caucus BDS resolution and will probably seek to block the Palestine Resolution from being debated publicly on the convention floor. If their backroom procedural shenanigans fail to stop the resolutions from a public airing expect a great deal of concern about associating with the international BDS movement.

For NDPers scared of BDS here is an alternative resolution that places no demands on Israel:

1. The NDP will refrain from excluding electoral candidates who speak up for Palestinian rights.

(During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media.)

2. NDP MPs will refrain from participating in any Israel parliamentary group until the party is represented on a Nigerian, Algerian or Spanish parliamentary group.

(Vancouver Island MPs Randall Garrison and Murray Rankin are currently members of the Canada Israel Inter-parliamentary Group.)

3. The NDP foreign critic will refuse requests to participate in all expense paid trips to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference.

(Hélène Laverdière spoke at the 2016 AIPAC conference in Washington DC.)

4. NDP MPs will participate in all expense paid lobbying trips to Israel at no greater rate than Paraguay, which is of similar size and distance from Ottawa.

(A 2014 calculation found that 20 NDP MPs had been to Israel with a Zionist lobby organization and 13 months ago recently elected party leader Jagmeet Singh went on an organized trip to the country.)

5. NDP officials will abstain from attending events put on by explicitly racist organizations.

(In 2016 Hélène Laverdière participated in an event in Jerusalem organized by the openly racist Jewish National Fund while NDP MP Pat Martin spoke at a JNF event in Ottawa to “recognize and thank the people that have helped to make JNF Canada what it is today.” Owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land – which was mostly taken from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947-48 – the JNF openly discriminates against the 20% of Israelis who are not Jewish. Its website notes that “a surveycommissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”)

My alternative resolution makes no demands of Israel so it’s hard to link it to the BDS bogeyman. Best of all, the party has the power to immediately implement this small gesture of support for the long-suffering Palestinians.

I will be speaking about “What’s Wrong with NDP Foreign Policy?” on the sidelines of the convention.

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When siding with Israel supports Trump, Canada abstains

Thank you President Donald Trump and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley for helping end the Trudeau government’s ‘Israel no matter what’ voting pattern.

On Thursday Canada actually abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution, which affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Since taking office the Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada with the US, Israel and a few tiny Pacific island states in voting against UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. Last Tuesday, for instance, Canada opposed a motion supported by 176 nations calling for Palestinian statehood. Two weeks earlier the Trudeau government also voted against a resolution on Jerusalem backed by 151 UN member states.

As RawStory pointed out, the media attention devoted to Trump and Haley’s threats against those voting in favour of the Jerusalem resolution actually drove Trudeau to abstain on Thursday instead of his usual pro-Israel vote. While Stephen Harper’s anti-Palestinian positions at the UN found support among many of the party’s base of rightwing Jews, evangelical Christian Zionists and Islamophobes, the same is not true of the Liberals. Prominent Trudeau fundraisers such as serial tax evader Stephen Bronfman and the late murder suspect Barry Sherman may want Canada to side with Israel ‘no matter what’, but younger, darker skinned and progressive Liberal supporters believe Palestinians are human beings. They overwhelmingly reject the notion that a 3,000-year-old book grants Poles, Austrians, New Yorkers, etc. the right to take a city from its indigenous inhabitants or that the world should enable Russians, French, Torontonians, etc. to gather in the Middle East to fulfill Bible literalists’ interpretation of the supposed “word of God”.

The Liberal leadership understands that party supporters and the broader public are uncomfortable with Israeli expansionism and Canada isolating itself from world opinion on the matter so the more attention devoted to their UN votes the more equivocal the Liberals’ position. Hopefully the recent attention devoted to the Trudeau government’s extreme pro-Israel voting record will spur further abstentions on Palestine votes (at this point its probably too much to expect Trudeau to vote in support of international law and official Canadian policy).

Regularly abstaining at the UN on Palestine would be a step forward, but these votes are only the tip of the iceberg in Canada’s multifaceted contribution to Israeli expansionism. The two-decade old Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement includes the occupied West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws apply. Ottawa also has a wide-ranging “border management and security” agreement with Israel, even though the two countries do not share a border. Additionally, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has long gathered intelligence on Palestinians for Israel.

Every year, registered Canadian charities channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. The Canada Revenue Agency allows organizations whose projects contravene international law and official Canadian policy to write tax credits for these donations.

Despite a GDP per capita greater than Spain or Italy (and equal to Japan), hundreds of registered Canadian charities deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Israel. How many Canadian charities funnel money to Spain or Japan?

Even a large swath of Canada’s “aid” to the Palestinians – who have one-twentieth of their occupier’s per capita GDP – is explicitly designed to advance Israel’s interests. Over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 millionand sent military and police trainers to build a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read an internal 2012 note signed by then Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. In the heavily censored note Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Drawing on previously classified materials, Carleton Criminology Professor Jeffrey Monaghan details Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an effective arm of Israel’s occupation. In Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security, Monaghan describes a $1.5 million Canadian contribution to Joint Operating Centers whose “main focus … is to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command.” He writes about Canada’s “many funding initiatives to the PCP [Palestinian Civilian Police]” which “has increasingly been tasked by the Israeli Defence Forces as a lead agency to deal with public order policing, most recently during IDF bombings in Gaza and during Arab Spring demonstrations.”

Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem may well mark the end of the spurious “peace process” and Abbas’ US–Canada–Saudi–Israel backed Palestinian Authority. Hopefully, it will also be seen as a turning point in Canada’s effort to suffocate the Palestinian liberation struggle.

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Ottawa’s foreign policy swamp an unhealthy quagmire

Drain the swamp’ was a popular Donald Trump campaign slogan that referred to reducing the influence of Washington lobbyists. While the three words reflect an extreme lack of ecological consciousness — wetlands need to be protected and recreated, not destroyed — the image of politicians slogging their way through lobbyist infected, tangled, dense vegetation and deep oozing mud is a useful one.

Like the US capital, much of Ottawa was also built on mosquitoes’ favourite habitat and both cities today have an ongoing pest problem: blood sucking influence peddlers swarming the countries’ decision makers. That image helps explain why there is little deviation from Canada’s official foreign policy positions even amongst social democratic members of Parliament.

The recently re-established Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CPPFG) offers a window into the dearth of opposition, notably from the NDP, to the foreign policy establishment. Chaired by Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara, CPPFG has nine MPs representing all the parties in the House of Commons except the Conservatives. But, CPPFG isn’t one of 17 official parliamentary associations or groups so it doesn’t receive public financial or administrative support, unlike the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary group.

In an equitable world the Palestinian parliamentary group — not the Israeli one — would be subsidized to offer MPs a counterpoint to Canada’s pro-Israel ideological climate. Supporters of Israel have established a slew of programs at high schools and universities, as well as media ‘flak’ organizations and advocacy groups, to promote that country’s viewpoint. Additionally, the dominant media favours the Israeli perspective and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is among the most aggressive lobbyists on Parliament Hill so MPs are not lacking for access to this outlook.

The Israel vs. Palestine parliamentarian bodies offer a unique window into how international power relations are reflected in House of Commons associations. But, the parliamentary association system more broadly reflects inequities in global power and wealth.

Nearly half the 17 associations that share a $4.5 million public envelope are focused on Europe. There is a Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association and an associated Canadian Delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly as well as country-specific groups for France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Alongside Canada’s European G7 allies, there are Japan and US parliamentary associations.

Though it is a competitor to the US-led geopolitical order, China’s economic might warrants a parliamentary group. There are also associations promoting the Francophone and Commonwealth, which are rooted in European colonialism (previously it was called the Empire Parliamentary Association).

The only two associations focused on the Global South are the Canadian Section of ParlAmericas Bilateral Associations, representing 35 countries in the Western hemisphere, and the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, representing 53 countries on the continent. (As is usual with Africa-related bodies, that association’s mission statement includes ‘benevolent Canada’ paternalism. It says “Canadian parliamentarians also have the opportunity to witness the local impact of programs funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and to learn about Canada’s efforts in Africa from Canadian officials in the field.”)

There is no Cuba or Venezuela parliamentary association. Nor are there any focused on 1.3 billion Indians or 180 million Nigerians or a parliamentary association devoted to the counterhegemonic Non-Aligned Movement or ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America).

Another way the Ottawa swamp forms MPs’ international views is through events and parties put on by diplomats. In The Blaikie Report long time NDP defence and foreign critic Bill Blaikie describes “enjoying many fine evenings” at the home of the British High Commissioner. Wealthier countries are more likely to have representation in Ottawa and have greater capacity to organize events promoting their country’s international positions.

Sometimes connected to diplomatic postings in the capital, MPs regularly travel on international trips organized and paid for by third parties. While the Globe and Mail has recently devoted significant attention to China sponsored trips, Israel and Taiwan have long been the principal destinations. A 2014 calculation found that a quarter of all federal MPs had been to Israel with an Israeli nationalist organization.

Opposition MPs are absorbed into the foreign policy establishment in other ways. At the start of year B.C. NDP MP Wayne Stetski participated in a House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development mission to Ukraine, Latvia, Poland and Kazakhstan while last month Tom Mulcair went on a Committee mission to Beijing, Hong Kong, Hanoi and Jakarta. Last year NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière traveled to Israel with representatives of the other parties and in 2014 then NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar joined foreign minister John Baird and Liberal MP Marc Garneau on a visit to Iraq. Global Affairs Canada and diplomats in the field usually organize these visits.

The Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association are the final officially recognized parliamentary associations. A presentation at a NATO meeting convinced Bill Blaikie to support the organization’s bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999. “I myself”, Blaikie writes, “had been affected by the presentation at a 1998 NATO parliamentary meeting in Barcelona of an Albanian woman from Kosovo, who tearfully pleaded for an intervention to stop the anticipated wholesale slaughter of Kosovar Albanians.”

No official parliamentary association is devoted to de-militarization.

Beyond the NATO Parliamentary Association, MPs are drawn into the military’s orbit in a variety of other ways. Military officials regularly brief MPs. Additionally, the slew of ‘arms length’ military organizations/think tanks I detail in A Propaganda System: How Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation speak at defence and international affairs committee meetings.

The Canadian Forces Parliamentary Program is, according to the Globe and Mail, a “valuable public-relations tool.” Set up by the Department of National Defence’s Director of External Communications and Public Relations in 2000, the Parliamentary Program embeds MPs in military training (Army in Action or Experience the Navy). According to the Canadian Parliamentary Review, the MPs “learn how the equipment works, they train with the troops, and they deploy with their units on operations. Parliamentarians are integrated into the unit by wearing the same uniform, living on bases, eating in messes, using CF facilities and equipment.” As part of the program, the military even flew MPsto the Persian Gulf to join a naval vessel on patrol.

Alongside the military, the arms industry lobbies MPs. Lockheed Martin’s name appeared 39 times in a “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search” of the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. CAE, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE and Airbus Defence were also listed dozens of times in the lobbyist registry. The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has four registered lobbyists in Ottawa. Many of CADSI’s 800 members are also part of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Council of Chief Executives, Canadian Chamber of Commerce or Aerospace Industries Association of Canada. These groups also promote militarism and a pro-US foreign policy to government officials, though rarely do they speak in favour of withdrawing from military alliances or bucking Washington on an international issue.

Other corporations with international interests also have a significant presence on Parliament Hill. In a high-profile example, registered lobbyists representing Barrick Gold, Vale Canada, IAMGOLD, Goldcorp, Mining Association of Canada and Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada launched a ferocious campaign in 2010 to derail An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries (Bill C300), which would have restricted some public support for firms found responsible for significant abuses abroad.

Canada’s international banking, engineering, oil, etc. firms also shape attitudes in Ottawa. SNC Lavalin, CIBC, Bombardier and other Canadian-based multinationals’ names appear repeatedly in a “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search”.

The corporate/military/Global Affairs nexus predominates on foreign policy because there is little in terms of a countervailing force in Ottawa. Non-Governmental Organizations are sometimes considered critics of Canadian foreign policy, but NGOs are not well placed to challenge the federal government. Reliance on government aid and charitable status hampers their political independence.

On many domestic issues organized labour represents a countervailing force to the corporate agenda or state policies. But, unions rarely lobby MPs on international affairs.

The influence peddlers in the Ottawa foreign policy swamp represent a narrow range of interests.

So how do Canadians who want this country to be a force for good in the world effect change? Step one is to understand the system, then challenge the foreign policy establishment’s grip in Ottawa.

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Understanding the ways Canada underdevelops Africa

The question gets asked often: How can Africa be so poor when it receives so much aid?

The answer is simple. The world economic system sucks more out of the continent than it puts in. And tax evasion by Canadian firms plays a significant role in this impoverishment.

The May report, Honest Accounts 2017: How the World Profits from Africa’s Wealth, concludes that more wealth is extracted from the continent than enters it. In 2015, African countries received $162 billion in aid, loans, remittances and foreign investment but lost $203 billion through tax avoidance, repatriation of profits and climate change costs caused by others.

(The report ignores the structural imbalance in the terms of trade that sees the bulk of the value of tea, coffee, cocoa and many other commodities produced on the continent captured by distributors, marketers, retailers, etc., outside Africa while a higher share of the value of imported buses, phones, computers, etc., is captured by producers outside the continent.)

On top of the $32 billion corporations repatriated in profits, Honest Accounts found that $68 billion was lost to illicit capital flight, mostly multinational corporations evading taxes. Their findings align with a 2015 UN Economic Commission for Africa/African Union panel that found companies are illegally moving about US $40 billion a year out of the continent. The Washington, D.C.-based Global Financial Integrity Forum found that between 1970 and 2008 “total illicit financial outflows from Africa, conservatively estimated, were approximately $854 billion. Total illicit outflows may be as high as $1.8 trillion.” Three per cent of this total was thought to be bribes to government officials or theft of public funds. Fifteen per cent of all illicit outbound transfers were found to be money derived from drug smuggling, counterfeit goods, racketeering and other common criminal activities. The vast majority of the illicit funds, up to two-thirds of the total, were cross-border commercial transactions designed to reduce or eliminate taxes. Most of this money consisted of corporations shifting goods and profits between jurisdictions to reduce or eliminate their tax bill.

Often called “transfer pricing” or “trade misinvoicing,” multinational corporations artificially adjust the price of goods sold between their subsidiaries or partner companies in order for profits to end up in low (or no) tax jurisdictions while costs appear in high tax countries where they’re deducted from a company’s tax bill. Author Alain Deneault describes transfer pricing thusly: “First, the corporation creates one or more subsidiaries in a tax haven. Then, it maintains business relations with the subsidiary as if it were an independent party. Transactions are always designed to benefit the subsidiary, because money earned by the offshore entity will not be taxed. In other words, the goal is to establish bogus operations with the subsidiary in order to record a large proportion of the company’s earnings in offshore accounts, removing them from taxation in countries where the corporation has real and substantial activities.”

Canada has helped build the global offshore financial system that enables transfer pricing. Deneault details the work of Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials in developing taxation and banking policies in a number of Caribbean financial havens in his book Canada — A New Tax Haven: How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself.

Resource companies are some of the leading culprits in misinvoicing. With commodity prices constantly in flux and their products entirely for export, mining companies are well placed to abuse countries’ limited means of investigating false invoices and transfer pricing. Half of all internationally listed mining companies operating in Africa are based in Canada and in Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation, I detail more than half a dozen examples of Canadian mining firms publically accused of tax avoidance.

In one of the best-detailed examples, a series of reports suggest that Canada’s largest mining firm, Barrick Gold, short-changed Tanzanians of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. A 2003 Alex Stewart Assayers audit concluded that mining companies overstated their losses by US $502 million between 1999 and 2003, which cost the Tanzanian government $132.5 million. The audit also suggested that $25 million in royalties went unpaid.

Another report titled “A golden opportunity: How Tanzania is failing to benefit from gold mining” found that between 2003 and 2008, foreign mining companies exported US $2.5 billion in gold from Tanzania with only $110 million reaching the government in royalties and direct taxes. As Tanzania’s top gold producer during this period, Barrick consistently declared losses in order to pay minimal corporation tax. With many subsidiaries, including ones in notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Barbados, Africa Barrick Gold (now called Acacia) made it diffi cult for Tanzanian tax collectors to trace exactly what the country was owed.

Last year, a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick organized a “sophisticated scheme of tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over US $400 million profi t to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes.

Transfer pricing deprives African governments of the tax revenues required to build schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. And tax avoidance by Canadian fi rms is one reason two-thirds of Africans continue to survive on less than US $3.10 a day.

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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McGill University ignores its real racism problem

While accusations of student anti-Semitism at McGill draw international headlines, the university administration’s open association with the Jewish National Fund has been ignored.

In the latest iteration of a multi-year smear campaign against Palestine solidarity activists at the university, Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee activist Noah Lew cried “anti-Semitism” after he wasn’t voted on to the Board of Directors of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). At a General Assembly last month Democratize SSMU sought to impeach the student union’s president Muna Tojiboeva. The ad-hoc student group was angry over her role in suspending an SSMU vice president and adopting a Judicial Board decision that declared a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution unconstitutional.

(After two close votes, in February 2016 a motion mandating the student union support some BDS demands passed the union’s largest ever General Assembly, but failed an online confirmation vote after the university administration, Montreal’s English media and pro-Israel Jewish groups blitzed students. The resolution’s constitutionality was subsequently challenged.)

At the recent General Assembly Democratize SSMU’s effort to impeach the president failed. While they couldn’t muster the two thirds of votes required to oust the non-Jewish president of the student union, Democratize SSMU succeeded in blocking the re-election of two Board of Directors candidates who supported the effort to outlaw BDS resolutions.

After failing to be re-elected to the Board of Directors Noah Lew claimed he was “blocked from participating in student government because of my Jewish identity and my affiliations with Jewish organizations.” His claim was reported on by the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Global Television, as well as Israeli and Jewish press outlets. McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier sent out two emails to all students and faculty concerning the matter while the SSMU Board of Directors established a committee to investigate anti-Semitism. The affair was even mentioned in the House of Commons.

While a great deal has been written about alleged student anti-Jewish attitudes, the McGill administration’s open association with an explicitly Jewish supremacist organization passes with nary a comment. On November 28 McGill’s Associate Vice-Principal Innovation Angelique Mannella is scheduled to participate in a Jewish National Fund networking event called Tech Shuk, which connects Jewish capitalists with Montreal start-ups in a “Dragon’s Den” style competition. But, the JNF is a racist organization. Owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, it systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” The JNF oversees discriminatory land use policies in Israel outlawed in this country 60 years ago.

In 2004 long-time McGill Principal Bernard Shapiro was the honoured guest at JNF Montréal’s annual fundraising dinner (two years later the then former University Principal was master of ceremonies at the event). The current president of JNF Montréal, Michael Goodman, was a member of the advisory board of McGill ASD (Autism spectrum disorder). In 2014 McGill gave an honorary degree to Marvin Corber. The University’s press releaseannouncing its two honorary degree recipients cited an award Corber received from the JNF. Corber has been a JNF Montréal campaign advisor and chair of its annual fundraising dinner.

While the university administration’s ties to the JNF are a stark example of its racial bias, McGill is also entangled in other more subtle forms of anti-Palestinianism. The Montréal university has a memorandum of understanding with Tel Aviv University, which claims to be on “the front line of the critical work to maintain Israel’s military and technological edge.” McGill also has a partnership with Technion, which conducts “research and development into military technology that Israel relies on to sustain its occupation of Palestinian land.”

In 2012 the estate of Simon and Ethel Flegg contributed $1 million to McGill’s Jewish Studies department partly for an “education initiative in conjunction with McGill Hillel.” But, the cultural organization turned Israel lobby group refuses to associate with Jews (or others) who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the state of Israel.”

Imagine the outcry if a McGill department accepted a large donation to work with an organization that openly excluded Jews and others who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Palestine and fail to recognize Palestinians’ UN enshrined rights.”

It’s time to discuss the McGill administration’s support for Jewish supremacy in the Middle East.

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