Seizure of Iranian property to pay Americans another example of Canadian hypocrisy

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While France, Germany, Russia and China seek detente, Canada is increasingly part of the US-Saudi Arabia-Israeli axis stoking conflict with Iran.

Canada recently seized and sold $30 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.

While not much discussed by Canadian media or politicians, this is a substantial development. 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 are 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.

In Haiti there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of individuals whose family members were killed at peaceful protests by a police force paid, trained and politically supported by Canada after US, French and Canadian troops overthrew the country’s elected president in 2004. Ten months after the coup I met a young man in Port-au-Prince who fled the country after armed thugs searching for him came to his house and killed his aunt. Before the coup Jeremy had been a journalist with the state television, which was identified with the ousted government. Should US or Canadian assets be seized to compensate him?

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?

It’s insightful to look at the double standard — approved by the Supreme Court — from another angle. In 2012 that court refused to hear a case against Anvil Mining for its direct role in Congolese troops killing 100, mostly unarmed civilians, near its Dikulushi mine in Katanga in October 2004. After a half-dozen members of the little-known Mouvement Revolutionnaire pour la Liberation du Katanga occupied the Canada-Australian company’s Kilwa concession, Anvil provided the trucks used to transport Congolese soldiers to the area and to dump the corpses of their victims into mass graves. The company also published a press release applauding the Congolese military’s dastardly deed. Though the company was managed from Montréal and its main shareholders were Vancouver’s First Quantum and the Canadian Pension Plan, the Québec Court of Appeal and Supreme Court concluded the survivors had to pursue remedies in either the Congo or Australia.

The Canadian media has devoted little attention to the seizure of Iranian assets. But, Forbes, Sputnik, Xinhua and a host of Iranian media have covered the story. At least three Iranian newspapers put it on their frontpage.

The Trudeau government’s failure to speak against the asset seizure, delist Iran as a “state sponsor of terror” or repeal Stephen Harper’s Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act puts further lie to its commitment to a “rules based international order”. It is also another broken promise. Before the 2015 election Justin Trudeau told the CBC, “I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran]. I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage [Iran].”

But, don’t expect NDP foreign affairs critic Guy Caron or the media to ask why Canada hasn’t re-established relations with the nation of 80 million. By breaking his promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran Trudeau has empowered those hurtling us towards a major conflict.

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Is Canada a colony or imperialist power?

 

0It seems strange to even ask this question, but some who call themselves socialists do, so it is good to revisit the it every so often. Is Canada best described as a colony or imperialist power?

Recent issues of the Economist and Northern Miner highlight the weakness of the dominant “staples trap” political economy perspective. Regardless of its popularity in left nationalist intellectual circles, Canada is not a victim of international capitalism. Instead it has long had a privileged place in an extremely hierarchical global economy.

In “How a Canadian firm has taken on Wall Street’s private-equity titans” The Economist reported that Brookfield Asset Management is as big as famed Wall Street competitors Carlyle and Blackstone. The Toronto-based company has “over $385 billion in assets under management” and owns businesses in “more than 30 countries around the world.”

Brookfield has been the quintessential rebuttal to left nationalism for decades. Begun in 1899, Brookfield’s predecessor (otherwise known as Brazilian Traction, Brascan or the Light) employed almost 50,000 Brazilians at its high point in the 1940s. Trolleys and electricity production were the company’s backbone, but it also owned a sardine cannery, fishing boats, a tin mine, a brewery, banks as well as real estate. Possibly the biggest firm in Latin America by the end of the 1950s, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Between 1918 and 1952 more than $200 million ($2.5 billion today) was taken out of this ‘underdeveloped’ country and sent to Canada.

As Brascan sucked cash from Brazil, the company also squeezed local competitors. “The Monopoly created by the Light Company inhibited Brazilian initiatives”, notes Rosana Barbosa in Brazil and Canada: Economic, Political, and Migratory Ties, 1820s to 1970s. “[It] slowly absorbed the local competition.”

Putting the squeeze on local businesses went hand and hand with poor labour practices. In a confidential September 1923 letter between Brascan’s Rio and Toronto offices, company officials admitted they paid their workers poorly even by Brazilian standards. The letter further noted that “our secret agents have just informed us that [some] of our men are taking part in meetings at which an early strike is advocated and we are all becoming somewhat concerned over the situation.”

Brascan was well connected in Ottawa. The initial group of investors included Senator George Albertus, Canadian vice consul for Argentina Frederic Nicholls and Sir Henry Pellatt, who financed the 98-room Casa Loma as his private residence in Toronto. The (close) nephew of former Prime Minister Robert Borden later became Brazilian Traction president and Liberal ministers Robert Winters and Mitchell Sharp held top positions in the company.

Brascan’s political clout helped the company get public support. Brascan was the first firm to receive World Bank financing in Latin America. In 1949 it was given $75 million and received a total of $120 million ($1 billion today) from the World Bank through 1959.

Brascan had influence with pro-business politicians and the company actively supported Brazil’s right wing. Like its earlier spying on union activists the company spied on politicians as well. In 1957 the Canadian ambassador to Brazil stated: “During a recent conversation, a senior executive of the Light told me that his office had been keeping track of the number of Brazilian politicians who’ve been officially invited to visit the USSR and that during the last 18 months the list of visitors had grown to some 300.”

Spying was part of Brascan’s role in beating back rising economic nationalism in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Brascan officials participated in the moves and operations that led to the 1964 coup against social democratic President João Goulart, whose government made it more difficult for companies to export profits. The post-coup military dictatorship was good for business. Between 1965 and 1974 Brascan drained Brazil of $342 million ($2 billion today).

Today Brascan’s successor is among the largest private equity and property management firms in the world. Would one expect to find such an internationally powerful corporation in a colony?

If you’re still not convinced by the Economist story about Brookfield that Canada is better described as an imperialist power, the September 2 Northern Miner highlights Canadian dominance over another major rapaciously imperialist industry.

On the front page of the Toronto-based paper was a story on a Canadian company extracting resources in Chile and another focused on a firm operating in Papa New Guinea as well as an ad for a mineral conference in Chile. There were articles about a Canadian firm in Armenia and stories about Greenland and one titled “Security measures critical amid heightened risk in West Africa.” The “leading authority on the mining industry in Canada” published two stories about Canadian companies extracting resources in Nevada and one about a firm in Idaho. The biweekly paper had a six-page supplement on mining in Mexico, which included 300-word briefs on nine TSX listed firms operating there. The supplement included three longer articles on specific companies and a story headlined “President of Mexico says ‘no new mining concessions’”. The September 2–15 issue of the Northern Miner had a single story dealing with mining in Canada.

Last week the head of Franco-Nevada Pierre Lassonde complained that Canada was losing its major mining head offices, a position some left nationalists would sympathize with. But, with only 0.5% of the world’s population Canada is home to half of all mining companies. Given that reality, complaining about the “hollowing out” of Canadian mining is like foreign visitors complaining there are not enough gourmet restaurants in Haiti.

Left nationalists think Canada is “a ‘rich dependency’, skewed in its industrial development by a weak manufacturing base and massive staples exports to the US market.” As such, explains Greg Albo, left nationalists generally believe it’s necessary to develop “an industrial strategy backed by an alliance between national capitalists and Canadian workers” rather than simply promote socialist measures to democratize the economy.

Looking at the world through a left nationalist lens generally leads individuals to ignore, or downplay, the destruction wrought by Canadian corporations abroad and Canada’s power on the international stage. While there’s a role for nationalist economic policies in constraining the power of capital, improving working conditions and enabling environmental transformation, nationalist ideology is dangerous in powerful, imperialist, states. It seems to blind people to the imperialist forest as they focus on the clear-cut colonial trees.

 

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Challenging the NDP on Palestine during the election campaign

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Last week I interrupted Jagmeet Singh at a public event to criticize the NDP’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.

Holding a placard with the words “Jagmeet, Palestinian Lives Matter”, I demanded the NDP leader apologize for overturning the vote of members who elected Rana Zaman to represent the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour ridding because she defended Palestinians mowed down by Israeli snipers. I also asked him to apologize for suppressing debate at last year’s convention on the modest “Palestine Resolution: renewing the NDP’s commitment to peace and justice”, which which was unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many affiliated groups and two dozen riding associations. I also criticized his refusal to heed the call from 200 prominent individuals, labour leaders and party members — including Roger Waters, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig and Maher Arar — for the NDP to withdraw from the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG).

While my intervention was a bit chaotic — there was a concurrent disruption and my phone rang — it served its purpose. It was mentioned in a La Presse story and Global News did a 2 ½ minute clip titled “Protester asks Jagmeet Singh for apology over removal of former NDP candidate in Halifax.” Two hundred people in the room heard the criticism and the video I shot of the intervention was viewed more than 3,000 times online.

In his response, Singh claimed he wasn’t responsible for ousting Zaman but rather a party committee. While technically correct, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t okay it, particularly considering NDP National Director Melissa Bruno – quoted justifying Zaman’s ouster – was Singh’s chief of staff as deputy leader of the Ontario NDP between 2012 and 2017. (Bruno took a break to be “part of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign”, notes her bio.) Similarly, during the 2018 convention Singh mobilized his family and dozens of members of his community to vote against allowing debate on the Palestine Resolution at the convention. Additionally, Singh explicitly rejected the call for the NDP to withdraw from CIIG.

Zaman is not the only candidate the NDP blocked from running at least partly because they support Palestinian rights. A number of individuals who signed the open letter calling on the NDP to withdraw from CIIG had their bids sabotaged. Robbie Mahood and Barry Weisleder were formally disallowed while Saron Gebresellassi and Sid Ryan’s bids to run in the upcoming election were subverted. Christeen Elizabeth who didn’t sign the open letter but supports the Palestinian led boycott movement was also blocked.

The recent decision to block pro-Palestinian candidates follow on the heels of the NDP stopping as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates in 2015 for defending Palestinian rights. Back then at least the NDP had the excuse that it was the official opposition and atop the polls with Thomas Mulcair explicitly positioning the party as the mainstream alternative to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Today, after the Liberals campaigned to their left in the last election, the NDP has the third most seats in the House of Commons, is languishing below 10% in the polls and the Green Party is polling ahead of them. Many NDP MPs are not running again and the Liberals are portraying themselves as the only credible “left” alternative to the Conservatives.

While it is clear that most voters have decided there is little point to a ‘Liberal-lite’ brand of the NDP, the party brass seems determined to follow the same anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian, centrist script that proved a dead end before. It seems they are more eager to play to the dominant media than party members.

But, there’s a better way. When the Liberals recently ousted Hassan Guillet as a candidate for challenging Israeli apartheid, the NDP should have asked the high-profile Imam to run for the party. The winner of the Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel riding nomination gained global notoriety for his sermon at the memorial for the victims of the 2017 Québec City mosque attack. Offering Guillet a spot would have embarrassed the Liberals, brought many Quebec Muslims into the NDP fold and increased the party’s chance of winning Saint-Leonard—Saint-Michel or another Montréal riding. It would be good for the NDP to be seen as willing to challenge the Israel lobby, dominant media and Liberals over the issue.

Pro-Palestinian supporters of the NDP should not be afraid of challenging the party leadership during the election campaign. Having seen Singh in action during a confrontation, as well as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, I can tell you the NDP leader performs better than the others. Rather than have security usher me out, he at least responded by expressing sympathy towards the plight of Palestinians.

The right wing, Israeli lobby will be active during the election campaign. So too must the Palestinian solidarity movement.

While B’nai B’rith can garner coverage of their criticism of the NDP by releasing a statement, Palestine solidarity activists must disrupt public events for the media to take interest. If that means wherever he goes across the country Jagmeet Singh is confronted by Palestine solidarity activists raising the name of Rana Zaman, the Palestine Resolution and the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, so be it. Palestinian lives matter. Certainly, more than the comfort of politicians and political parties.

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Filed under Activism, Israel, NDP

The company Irwin Cotler keeps: Paul Kagame, Alan Dershowitz and (maybe) the Montreal mob and Jeffrey Epstein

5749bd799a850.imageIf the ancient storyteller Aesop was correct and “a man is known by the company he keeps” what can we learn about Irwin Cotler from his friends and associates?

As I’ve written, the former Liberal justice minister has been a leading anti-Palestinian activist for decades. More recently, he has sought to unseat Venezuela’s government and stoke confrontation with Iran and Russia. Since writing two stories about Cotler earlier this year I’ve come across more about his dubious human rights credentials and links to some questionable characters, including:

  • The MEK. Cotler has enabled the violent, cult like, Iranian Mujahedin-e Khalq. In 2012 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency cited Cotler, alongside Alan Dershowitz and Elie Wiesel, as prominent pro-Israel activists who worked with Iranians dissidents to convince the State Department to remove the MEK from the US terrorism list, which paved the way for Ottawa to follow suit. In 2014 Cotler invited MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi, to speak at Iran Accountability Week on Parliament Hill. In “We asked Canadian politicians why they engaged with a ‘cult’-like group from Iran”, Shenaz Kermalli points out that Cotler regularly attends events organized by the MEK-aligned groups Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and National Council of Resistance of Iran. The MEK backed Iraq in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and, according to US government sources, teamed up with Israel to assassinate Iranian scientists more recently. It is thought to be funded by Saudi Arabia.
  • Paul Kagame. Asked about Kagame’s human rights record on the sidelines of an event on Rwanda in April, Cotler refused to criticize Africa’s most bloodstained leader. Cotler and the Rwandan president both attended the 2017 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, DC, and the self-declared human rights champion spoke alongside the “Butcher of Africa’s Great Lakes region” later that year. Cotler has also participated in events put on by the Rwandan High Commission in Ottawa. In 2008 Cotler pushed a House of Commons motion to commemorate genocide prevention/Rwanda’s genocide on April 7. The choice of the day reflects the simplistic, one-sided, version of Rwanda’s tragedy Kagame promotes to legitimate his dictatorship and belligerence in the region. On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down, unleashing the genocidal killings. So why choose April 7, rather than April 6, to commemorate genocide prevention/Rwanda’s genocide? Because Kagame’s RPF shot down the plane carrying the two Hutu presidents and most of Rwanda’s military command, which facilitated their seizing power after a multi-year war
  • Proponents of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. A high-minded cover for Western imperialism, R2P was cited by Paul Martin’s government, which included Cotler as justice minister, to justify overthrowing elected Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Thousands were killed in post-coup violence. Cotler called R2P “arguably the most significant development in the defence of human rights since the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In 2011 Cotler pushed for R2P to be invoked in Libya. He co-wrote a New York Times op-ed headlined “Libya and the Responsibility to Protect” that argued for ousting Muammar Gaddafi. They wrote, “the Security Council should adopt a new resolution to immediately extend recognition to the nascent provisional government of the country, authorize a NATO-supported no-flight zone over Libya to preclude any bombing of civilians, and permit all U.N. members to provide direct support to the provisional government.” That’s largely what transpired. But the NATO war has been a disaster. Eight years later Libya remains divided and the NATO bombing destabilized large parts of Africa’s Sahel region.
  • Proponents of the Magnitsky Act. Cotler led the campaign for Canada to adopt sanctions legislation modeled after the 2012 US Magnitsky Act. Designed to demonize Russia, Ottawa immediately sanctioned Russian and Venezuelan officials under legislation that allows the government to freeze individuals’ assets/visas and prohibit Canadian companies from dealing with sanctioned individuals. Cotler recently called for Canada to invoke the 2017 Magnitsky Act to “impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes” on Iranian officials. The legislation is named after Sergey Magnitsky who proponents claim was tortured to death for exposing Russian state corruption. The source of the claim is William Browder, an American who got rich amidst the fire sale of Russian state assets in the 1990s. With billionaire banker Edmond J. Safra, Browder co-founded Hermitage Capital Management, which became the largest hedge fund in Russia. Hermitage Capital earned a staggering 2,697% return between 1996 and 2007. Those who question the western-backed story line say Magnitsky was an accountant who helped Browder claim illicit tax breaks. According to this version of the story, Browder exploited Magnitsky’s death – caused by inhumane jail conditions – to avoid being extradited to Russia on tax fraud charges. Investigative journalist Adrian duPlessis recently emailed me about Cotler being “the person who’s opened doors for Browder and his scam in Ottawa.” duPlessis has followed Browder for years, receiving a 1998 National Newspaper Award for Business Reporting about Russian mafia money in North America. As part of the campaign for Canada to adopt the Magnitsky Act, Cotler held multiple press conferences and public meetings with Browder. (While it’s hard to be confident about the truth, I find it difficult to believe that a US capitalist who got rich in Russia in the 1990s would simply turn into a human rights activist. On the other hand, the idea that a wealthy and powerful individual meshed self-preservation with growing Russophobia seems plausible.)
  • Organized crime. duPlessis pointed me to Le Journal de Montréal coverage of Cotler’s business associates’ ties to the Montréal mafia. In one of two stories from 2015 the newspaper noted, “for the last decade or so, former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has been a shareholder in a company that has financed promoters close to organized crime.” In one of the firms, Faybess Investments, Cotler owned a third of the shares and in the other, Ace Investments, 1/6 of the company. Cotler’s main associates in these companies — Hyman Bloom and Richard Dubrovsky — invested millions of dollars with the notorious Rizzuto family. The police bugged Dubrovsky and Bloom’s offices and their names came up at the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption in Québec. Cotler claimed his role in the companies was passive even though he was vice president of Faybess, which he co-founded with Dubrovsky, for part of the period in question.
  • Alan Dershowitz, an important figure in the Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia/rape scandal. Dershowitz negotiated (partly through intimidation) the scandalous “non-prosecution agreement” under which Epstein served 13 months in a Florida jail, which was largely spent on “work release” in an office. A close friend of Epstein, Dershowitz is accused of raping two of Epstein’s sex slaves. In a court filing Virginia Roberts said, “Dershowitz was so comfortable with the sex that was going on that he would even come and chat with Epstein while I was giving oral sex to Epstein.” Roberts added that she had sex with Dershowitz “at least six times”. In the 2015 article “Israel defender Alan Dershowitz has long history of attacking sex abuse victims” Rania Khalek details his aggressive anti-woman positions. In 1997 Dershowitz argued that “puberty is arriving earlier, particularly among some ethnic groups.” As such, the eminent lawyer called for — a position repeated recently — the age of consent to be lowered (if a child reaches puberty at ten should they be legitimate targets for sexual predators?). A close friend and political ally, Cotler would have almost certainly been aware of Dershowitz’s position. In 2004 the Globe and Mail reported, “Dershowitz and Mr. Cotler met at Yale Law School in the early 1960s and are so close that the first person Mr. Cotler called after being appointed to cabinet last December was his friend at Harvard.” In 2014 Dershowitz called Cotler “my mirror image in Canada” and nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. They are both currently part of the Honorary Board of the Jewish Coalition for Kurdistan and Dershowitz is a Senior Fellow at the Cotler chaired/founded Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. According to Cotler, “everyone regards Alan as not only the best defender of Israel, but the best defender of the most just of causes in the court of public opinion.” In the Acknowledgments section for The Vanishing American Jew Dershowitz lists Cotler’s name right before Epstein’s. They are both also listed in the Acknowledgments for The Case for Israel.
  • Leslie Wexner. Cotler has done a series of events with the Wexner Foundation, including serving as “distinguished faculty member” at the Wexner Israel Fellowship Alumni Institute in Haifa. Jeffrey Epstein was one of three trustees of the Wexner Foundation for over a decade and its namesake, Leslie Wexner, was the main source of Epstein’s wealth. Epstein had power of attorney for a significant portion of Wexner’s fortune and in May 1997 Epstein posed as a talent scout for Victoria’s Secret — owned by Wexner — to lure model Alicia Arden to his hotel room where he sexually assaulted her.
  • Other key figures in the Epstein sex scandal. Epstein’s decades-long sex ring coordinator/partner Ghislaine Maxwell is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, a crooked British press baron and Mossad spy. Bill Bowder worked for Robert Maxwell before he died in a mysterious boating incident in 1991. Additionally, the co-founder of Hermitage Capital with Browder was Edmond Safra whose name is cited in Epstein’s little black book. Cotler has repeatedly spoken at the Edmond J. Safra synagogue and, as mentioned previously, Cotler hosted a series of events with Browder.

Perhaps all this company that Cotler has kept means nothing, but you’d think, at a minimum, the political, corporate and media establishment that promote his ‘human rights’ credentials might be made anxious by the possibilities it suggests. You’d also think that some mainstream investigative journalist would ask questions. I emailed Cotler to ask if he had met Jeffrey Epstein, been on his private plane or private island. Of course he failed to respond to my repeated messages, but maybe Cotler would feel compelled to answer a CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette or Toronto Star journalist.

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Filed under Canada and Israel, Israel, Rwanda

Liberals use RCMP in attempt to silence critics of their foreign policy

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RCMP agents removing Yves Engler from Transport Minister Marc Garneau press conference

On Tuesday two RCMP agents came to my house. Two large men in suits asked for me and when my partner said I wasn’t there they asked who she was.

Why didn’t they email or call me to talk or set up a meeting? If they have my address, the RCMP certainly has my email, Facebook, Skype or phone number. My partner asked for their badges, took their photo and asked them to leave the stairway they had entered.

They returned the next day. Not wanting to interact, my partner ignored them. They rang the doorbell multiple times over many minutes. After she saw people at the restaurant across the street wondering what was going on – from the ground you can see into the front of our place – she poked her head down the stairway where they caught her eye. They asked why I didn’t call even though they didn’t leave a number.

The visits are a transparent effort to intimidate me from directly challenging the government’s pro-corporate and pro-empire international policies.

The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.

Last Wednesday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris and I were blocked from a talk by the prime minister at the Bonaventure Hotel in a similar way. In my case an RCMP agent called out my name as I entered the hotel and then accompanied me in the elevator, through a long lobby and down an escalator to ‘introduce’ me to hotel security. The representative of the hotel then said I wasn’t welcome, which gave the officer the legal authority to ask me to leave. Lascaris details the incident in “The RCMP’s Speech Police Block Yves Engler and Me From Attending A Speech By Justin Trudeau.”

After starting to write this story, I was targeted by the RCMP for removal from a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti. On Thursday, a Concordia University security guard, who I walked past to enter the room, came up to me 15 minutes later and asked for my press credentials. There were two dozen people in the room who didn’t have press credentials and the release for the event said nothing about needing them. The RCMP agent admitted that he asked Concordia security to approach me. He also said he was only there for the physical — not political — protection of the minister, but refused my suggestion that he and the Concordia security agents sit next/in front of me to ensure the minister’s physical safety.

(Here is the question I planned to ask the Justice Minister: “Minister Lametti you have an important decision to make in the coming days about whether you believe in international law and consumer rights. As you know the Federal Court recently ruled against your government’s decision to allow wines produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as ‘Products of Israel’. While anti-Palestinian groups are pressuring your government to appeal the decision, the NDP and Greens want you to stop wasting taxpayer money on this anti-Palestinian agenda. Will you commit to accepting the court’s sensible ruling that respects consumers, international law and Palestinian rights?”)

Over the past six months Lascaris, I and other members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix have interrupted a dozen speeches/press conferences by Liberal ministers/prime minister to question their anti-Palestinian positions, efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, support for a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president, etc. We are open about our actions and intentions, as you can read in this commentary. We film the interruptions and post them online. (If any illegal act were committed the RCMP could easily find all they need to charge me on my Facebook page!) The interruptions usually last no more than a couple of minutes. No politician has been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened or touched.

Did the RCMP receive a directive from a minister to put a stop to our challenging their policies? The federal election is on the horizon and government officials will increasingly be in public. The Trudeau government is playing up its ‘progressive’ credentials, but the interventions highlight how on one international policy after another the Liberals have sided with corporations and empire.

From the government’s perspective, having their PR announcements disrupted is a headache, but that’s democracy. The right to protest, to question, to challenge policies outweighs politicians’ comfort.

 

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Filed under Activism, Justin Trudeau

Time for direct action international solidarity

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How do we make people question the lies they have been told? How do we make our voices heard? Direct action democracy is required.

In order to show politicians, the media and even many progressives that some of us are hostile to Canadian foreign policy we need to raise our voices and be disruptive in the cause of international solidarity.

Last Sunday Haitian Canadian activist Jennie-Laure Sully interrupted Justin Trudeau at a press conference to ask why Canada is supporting a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate president in Haiti. As the prime minister began to address a room full of political leaders (Montréal mayor Valérie Plante, Green party leader Elizabeth May, NDP head Jagmeet Singh, etc.) Sully rose to ask her question. While Trudeau evaded the question in his response, everyone in the room and a couple thousand others online heard the question.

Sully’s intervention was part of a series of similar actions by Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019. Since July 15 members of the Haiti solidarity group have interrupted two press conferences by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly. The message delivered at these events was that the Liberals need to stop propping up the corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Jovenel Moïse. We also raised our voices at a barbecue in her riding — the unofficial launch of her re-election campaign — where her staff sought to dissipate the challenge by offering a meeting with the minister (while simultaneously saying the invention hurt our cause!)

Clips of the various actions have been widely shared on social media and have generated significant coverage in Haitian media as well as Montréal’s Haitian community media. They’ve also received a bit of attention in the dominant Canadian media.

Over the past six months members of two small anti-imperialist groups Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix and Palestiniens et Juifs Unis have directly challenged ministers on different aspects of the Liberals’ foreign policy. We have interrupted:

  • a Université de Montréal talk by foreign minister Christia Freeland to criticize Canada’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government;
  • a corporate luncheon with defence minister Harjit Sajjan to condemn increased military spending, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and NATO deployments;
  • a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti to challenge his promotion of a Bombardier surveillance plane sale to the UAE and Canada fueling the war on Yemen;
  • an event by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to criticize spending tens of billions of dollars on heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels amidst the climate crisis;
  • press events by Transportation Minister Marc Garneau and prime minister Trudeau on their anti-Palestinian positions.

A number of these actions garnered corporate media attention. Clips of almost all of them have been widely viewed on social media.

Raising our voices in Montreal has helped inspire similar actions in other cities. Ideally this could lead to a growing snowball of democratic engagement against pro-corporate and pro-empire foreign policy measures.

People are often reluctant to demonstrate their international solidarity because they think their voices will not be heard. In my experience these people crave signs of resistance. And acts of resistance generally beget more such acts.

There are many ways to confront a minister or politician. It’s generally best if one individual focuses on filming the challenge while others speak. Depending on the context, it’s good to have each individual make their speech one after another, which extends the disruptive impact. If there is media in the room, try to get directly in front of the camera and position any sign in a way that is easy to film. If one is uncomfortable about speaking in public write the message out or simply stand next to the politician with a placard. While better to divide tasks, it is possible (and maybe the only option if security is tight) to film oneself challenging a politician. Or after filming another’s interruption film oneself making a statement.

Smart phones make it easy to record an intervention and social media makes it relatively easy to disseminate the video clips.

With the dominant media refusing to cover critical perspectives on important international issues, we need to find other ways to put forward our message and push back against government policies. We also need to give the decision-makers a bit of a headache and inspire like-minded individuals to act. Disrupting ministers and politicians at public events can be a high impact form of international solidarity and is an example of much needed direct action democracy.

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If Trudeau was environmentalist he’d stop making nice with Brazil president

trudeau+bolsonaro+shakeBy now most environmentally conscious people understand that Jair Bolsonaro is a bad guy. Brazil’s president has scandalously blamed environmentalists for starting fires burning in the Amazon region, after having called for more “development” of the huge forests.

Canadians are lucky we have a prime minister who is not such an embarrassment and understands environmental issues, right?

While Justin Trudeau has called for better protection of the Amazon, his  government and Canadian corporations have contributed to the rise of a proto fascist Brazilian politician who has accelerated the destruction of the ‘planet’s lungs’.

In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup”. While Canadian officials have made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past three years, the Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. In fact, the Trudeau government began negotiating — there have been seven rounds of talks — a free trade agreement with the Brazilian-led MERCOSUR trade block. They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership and Trudeau warmly welcomed Bolsonaro at the G20 in June.

Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Former Workers Party president Lula da Silva was blocked from running due to politically motivated corruption charges, but the Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Lula’s imprisonment and other forms of persecution of the Brazilian left.

With over $10 billion invested in Brazil, corporate Canada appears excited by Bolsonaro. After his election CBC reported, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”

Canada’s support for right-wing, pro-US, forces in the region has also favored Bolsonaro. Since at least 2009 the Canadian government has been openly pushing back against the leftward shift in the region and strengthening ties with the most right-wing governments. That year Ottawa actively backed the  Honduran military’s removal of social democratic president Manuel Zelaya. In 2011 Canada helped put far-right Michel Martelly into the president’s office in Haiti and Ottawa passively supported the ‘parliamentary coup’ against Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo  in 2012. In recent years Canada has been central to building regional support for ousting Venezuela’s government. The destabilization efforts greatly benefited from the ouster of Rousseff and imprisonment of Lula. Brazil is now a member of the Canada/Peru instigated “Lima Group” of countries hostile to the Nicolás Maduro government.

Ottawa has long supported the overthrow of elected, left leaning governments in the hemisphere. Ottawa passively supported the military coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and played a slightly more active role in the removal of Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch in 1965 and Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973. In Brazil Canada passively supported the military coup against President João Goulart in 1964. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn Goulart’s ouster and deepened relations with Brazil amidst a significant uptick in human rights violations. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notes Brazil and Canada in the Americas.

Along with following Washington’s lead, Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Toronto-based Brascan (or Brazilian Traction) was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Putting a stop to the Goulart government, which made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business for a firm that had been operating in the country for half a century. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.06.”

The company was notorious for undermining Brazilian business initiatives, spying on its workers and leftist politicians and assisting the coup. The Dark side of “The light”: Brascan in Brazil notes, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’État against Goulart in 1964.”

Gallotti, who was a top executive of Brascan’s Brazilian operations for a couple decades, was secretary for international affairs in the Brazilian fascist party, Acao Integralista. Gallotti quit the party in 1938, but began working as a lawyer for Brascan in 1932.

Historically, Canadian companies empowered fascists in Brazil. Today, corporate Canada appears happy to do business with a proto-fascist trampling on Indigenous rights and fueling climate chaos. Ottawa has also enabled Bolsonaro. At a minimum the Trudeau government should be pressed to follow French President Emmanuel Macron’s call to suspend free-trade negotiations with MERCOSUR until Bolsonaro reverses his wonton destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Latin America

Elizabeth May accepts right-wing billionaire’s debate

images-1It is great that Elizabeth May wants to debate foreign policy issues, but why would the Green Party leader want to participate in an event designed and controlled by an organization funded by right-wing capitalists who profit from the super exploitation of poor people and countries across the planet?

In recent days Munk Debates has repeatedly run a Facebook ad calling on individuals to pressure other party leaders to agree to their debate. It notes, “thank you Elizabeth May and Andrew Scheer for accepting our invitation to participate in the Munk federal election debate on foreign policy. Help us convince Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau to take part in the debate by visiting our website. Email Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau. More debates = more democracy.”

Generally, political debates do reflect vibrant democracy but that is not necessarily the case when the forum was set up and financed by one of Canada’s richest and most right-wing capitalists. Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of rapacious global mining firm Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates a decade ago. Peter’s son Anthony Munk is on the committee overseeing the debate series.

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

Now deceased, Peter Munk espoused far-right political views. In 1997 he publicly praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world” while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli University and speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.” In 2006 he attacked leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and the next year wrote a letter to the Financial Times comparing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview Munk dismissed criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country and he responded to a 2014 Economist question about whether “Indigenous groups appear to have a lot more say and power in resource development these days” by saying “globally it’s a real problem. It’s a major, major problem.”

In the lead-up to the 2015 election 50,000 individuals and 175 group signed a petition calling for a debate on women’s issues. It never happened, but in a sign of how “money talks” in politics, a Munk foreign policy debate did. And the questions asked were in line with the debate sponsor’s worldview.

This election tens of thousands have called on CBC to hold a climate change debate, but it has yet to be scheduled. Instead, the Conservatives, who would rather not discuss the environment, and the Greens have agreed to another debate organized by a billionaire’s foundation.

There are two ways to look at May’s participation in the Munk Debate.

  • Having been excluded from previous election debates, she is simply keen to partake in these forums and is sincerely committed to an exchange of ideas.
  • And/or, May’s decision to participate in this right wing circus means she is comfortable participating in the Munk Debate because she shares much of their foreign policy outlook. (I detailed this in “Green leader May supports same old pro-imperialist foreign policies.”)

To avoid reinforcing this impression, May could have conditioned her participation in the debate on the Rideau Institute or Project Ploughshares playing a role in determining the questions or co-sponsoring the debate.

While it is good May is willing to debate international issues, the devil is in the details. And if one of those details is committing to the interests of billionaire capitalists, banks and mining companies, instead of ordinary people around the globe, then the Green Party leader is just another establishment politician.

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Unifor aligns with Liberal foreign policy instead of international solidarity

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Chrystia Freeland and Unifor President Jerry Dias

Inviting Chrystia Freeland to address this week’s Unifor convention undermines the union’s claims of international solidarity. As Foreign Affairs Minister, Freeland has pursued staunchly pro-corporate and pro-US policies. She has been bad for workers and their families around the world. Let us count a few of the ways:

  1. Freeland’s department continues to offer diplomatic and other forms of support to mining companies responsible for major abuses abroad. The Liberals broke their promise to establish a genuine ombudsperson to supervise Canadian mining companies’ international operations.
  2. Freeland has campaigned aggressively to overthrow Venezuela’s government. She played a central role in establishing the “Lima Group” of governments opposed to President Nicolas Maduro and has introduced four rounds of unilateral sanctions against Venezuelan officials. The Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for claiming the right wing head of Venezuela’s national assembly was president, which included Freeland speaking to Juan Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”
  3. One of Freeland’s allies in the Lima Group, which claims to be promoting Venezuela’s constitution, explicitly defied his own constitution in running for re-election. Global Affairs Canada immediately endorsed Honduran narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez’ farcical 2017 election ‘victory’.
  4. Freeland has pressured Havana to turn on Caracas. Joining Washington’s effort to squeeze Cuba, Global Affairs Canada recently closed the visa section at its embassy in Havana, forcing Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents.
  5. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Ottawa has propped up a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president who has faced multiple general strikes and mass protests calling for his removal.
  6. The Liberals have also failed to keep their promise to re-engage diplomatically with Iran. Worse still, Freeland has echoed the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.
  7. Freeland has deepened ties to an opponent of Iran pursuing violent, anti-democratic, policies in Yemen, Libya and Sudan. Last May Freeland met United Arab Emirates foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and the Liberals have signed a series of accords with the repressive monarchy.
  8. Freeland is anti-Palestinian. Just before a November meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Freeland touted Canada’s “unwavering and ironclad” support for Israel and her ministry has justified the killing of peaceful Palestinian protesters. Isolating Canada from world opinion, Freeland sided with the US, Israel and some tiny Pacific island states in opposing a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood backed by 176 nations.
  9. Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi propagandist. While obviously not responsible for her grandpa’s misdeeds during World War II, Freeland has praised him and deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to “destabilize” Canadian democracy. In so doing she has stoked Russophobia. Ottawa has ramped up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) and recently added Ukraine to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which allows Canadian companies to export weapons to that country with little restriction.

A March 2017 memo from the US embassy in Ottawa to the State Department in Washington entitled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy” claimed Justin Trudeau appointed Freeland foreign minister in order to promote the interests of the Donald Trump administration. The cable was authored just weeks after Freeland was appointed foreign minister and in it US officials conclude that Trudeau promoted Freeland “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts” and that her “number one priority” was working closely with Washington.

A knowledgeable critic of Canadian foreign policy recently told me they thought Freeland was worse than Conservative foreign minister John Baird. This may be true. The question for Unifor is what more would Freeland have to do to make her unacceptable as a keynote speaker?

Inviting Freeland to their convention is part of the union’s controversial embrace of the Liberal Party (Prime Minister Trudeau also spoke). But, it also reflects indifference to the injustices Canada contributes to abroad. I couldn’t find a single Unifor statement that directly criticized Freeland or Canadian foreign policy (the union is a member of Common Frontiers, which has criticized Canadian policy in Venezuela and Honduras). But, the union has devoted significant energy and resources to promoting a boycott of GM cars made in Mexico. On Tuesday when Freeland addresses the convention Unifor is giving their Nelson Mandela award to Romeo Dallaire. As I detail here, applauding the aggressive liberal imperialist is wrong and giving Dallaire an award named after Mandela is simply embarrassing.

Giving a former general an award, boycotting Mexican cars and inviting Freeland/Trudeau – combined with failing to challenge Canadian foreign policy – reflects a union aligned with Canada’s ruling class against working people elsewhere. It’s a shame that six years after its creation Unifor has jettisoned the progressive, internationalist rhetoric that was part of its founding.

Hopefully, rank and file members can reclaim their union. A good way to start might be to demonstrate their disapproval of Freeland’s invitation to speak at the convention.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Middle East, Venezuela

Unifor cozies up to Liberals, besmirching Nelson Mandela’s legacy

 

CM8QFGpWcAAd1g5Shame on Unifor. Applauding Roméo Dallaire is wrong and giving him an award named after Nelson Mandela is simply embarrassing.

At its convention in Québec City next week Canada’s largest private sector union is set to give Dallaire its Nelson Mandela Award, which is supposed to go to an individual advancing the cause of international peace and justice. But, Dallaire is an ally and apologist of Paul Kagame, the most bloodstained African leader. Kagame’s repeated invasions of Congo is responsible for incredible bloodletting, gaining him the moniker “butcher of Africa’s Great Lakes.” Beyond his support for Rwanda’s ruthless dictator, Dallaire has taken numerous positions hard to align with championing international peace and justice:

  • Dallaire was widely quoted criticizing the use of the term “genocide” in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
  • Dallaire has called for increased military spending.
  • Dallaire is a proponent of Canada joining US Ballistic Missile ‘Defence’.
  • Dallaire opposed calls to withdraw Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan, saying they should stay until the job is done.
  • Dallaire supported the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, according to the Montreal Gazette. In a story five days after the Canadian-backed coup titled “Dallaire fears new Rwanda disaster in Haiti: Ex-UN commander urges Canada to act”, the former general said, “anywhere people are being abused, the world should be involved.
  • Dallaire regularly speaks to anti-Palestinian groups and repeated their claims about the “genocidal intent of the Iranian state”. At a 2011 Senate inquiry looking at the plight of the Baha’i in Iran, he claimed “the similarities with what I saw in Rwanda are absolutely unquestionable, equal and, in fact, applied with seemingly the same verve. We are witnessing a slow-motion rehearsal for genocide.”
  • Dallaire argued that Canada should have secured Baghdad before the 2003 US invasion, according to an October 2006 Edmonton Journal article titled “Canada should have led Iraq invasion, Dallaire says” (but he did not want Canada to participate in the actual US-led coalition).
  • Dallaire said Canadian air strikes in Iraq/Syria in 2014-16 weren’t sufficient. “There is no way that you will destroy that enemy without boots on the ground,” he said.
  • Comparing Darfur and Syria to Rwanda, Dallaire called for western intervention there.
  • Dallaire backed the 2011 NATO war on Libya. After the war he complained we didn’t go in “forcefully enough.”

Most significantly, Dallaire has deliberately twisted the events he was party to in Rwanda in 1993–94 to align with those seeking an ideological cover to justify US-backed Western interventions (and the Kagame dictatorship). In response to the general’s self-serving portrayal of his time in Rwanda, the overall head of the UN mission in Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, published Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks). And many other individuals in the UN mission, such as the head of Belgian troops in Kigali Colonel Luc Marchal and UN intelligence officer Amadou Deme, have contradicted Dallaire’s portrayal of the complex tragedy that engulfed Rwanda and Burundi.

The Unifor leadership doesn’t care about any of this. They are seduced by the “Canadian hero” propaganda surrounding Dallaire who spoke at Unifor’s 2015 convention and at conventions of its predecessor union. (In another sign of the union’s political outlook, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland is also set to address the Unifor convention.) I contacted the union’s communications department (I previously worked at Unifor) to ask, “who is driving this and if they’re willing to comment on record about Dallaire’s politics, specifically his continued support for the most repressive and murderous African leader: Paul Kagame.”

At the time of publication no one from Unifor had been put forward to discuss Dallaire’s award.

Associating Dallaire with Mandela is downright embarrassing. The anti-apartheid leader strongly backed the Palestinian liberation struggle and praised Fidel Castro. Mandela also supported Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi against NATO’s machinations (alongside the African Union). After Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted by the US, France and Canada, South Africa gave him asylum and Mandela invited Aristide to his home. Mandela criticized the US war in Afghanistan and aggressively denounced the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Worse than disgracing the memory of Mandela, Unifor’s promotion of Dallaire perpetuates liberal imperialist Canadian mythology.

Hopefully, when Dallaire speaks someone at the convention will take the stage with a sign saying, “why do you support murderous dictator Paul Kagame”.

 

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Filed under Canada in Africa, Rwanda