Official Canadian foreign policy supports empire and corporate interests, but you’d never know that if you rely on the dominant media or government pronouncements.
Then along comes Pitasanna Shanmugathas, Ryan Ellis and a team of filmmakers with Truth to the Powerless: An Investigation into Canada’s Foreign Policy. The six-part series explores Canada’s role in creating NATO, its dalliance with 1930s fascism and support for South African and Israeli apartheid. The series also details Canadian participation in coups in Haiti and Honduras as well as wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya. Additionally, it looks at the capitalist, colonial and geopolitical forces shaping policy.
Former defence ministers Bill Graham and David Pratt are interviewed extensively as are a number of former Canadian diplomats. But the voices driving the docu-series are activists and dissident academics.
The wide-ranging critique of Canadian foreign policy in Truth to the Powerless rests on the development of a genuinely internationalist foreign policy commentariat. Since beginning to pay attention two decades ago I’ve seen a huge growth in internationalist critiques of Canadian foreign policy. There were probably 10 times more anti-imperialist articles published in 2021 then 2000. Similarly, there’s been substantial growth in books challenging different elements of Canadian foreign policy.
At the left end of the political spectrum, benevolent foreign policy thinking has been greatly weakened. Scouring left media archives to research my 2009 Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy I discovered numerous articles that started off by stating Canada usually does good internationally except for whatever the subject that particular article was criticizing. Obviously when repeated over and over again the ‘usually good but not this time’ formulation is incorrect. While some left commentators continue to mythologize foreign policy history, it is much less common today.
Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession offers a stark example of the shift. A decade ago pro-Palestinian voices regularly called for Canada to return to being an “honest broker” in the conflict even though Canada’s most significant contribution to Palestinian dispossession was its central role in imposing the unjust 1947 UN partition plan, which enabled Zionist ethnic cleansing. In a further sign of how Ottawa has never been an “honest broker” in Palestine, Canada’s least anti-Palestinian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, signed a free trade agreement with Israel that effectivelyrecognized its control over the West Bank. Still, pro-Palestinian voices often mythologized Canada’s role in Palestinian dispossession.
The community of foreign policy critics has grown. Canadian Dimension, Spring Mag, Rabble, Canada Files, The Maple, etc. publish anti-imperialist articles while the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute has also opened some space for critical discussions. These forums increase the likelihood that young researchers explore the subject and pressure left Canadian academics focused on US foreign policy to cover Canada. Each new article or book increases others’ confidence to express similar positions, spurring a virtuous cycle.
While anti-imperialist critiques have gained little official political traction, the first step to change is information. It’s essential to build the critical consciousness needed to reject Canada’s foreign policy establishment.
Truth to the Powerless: An Investigation into Canada’s Foreign Policy is an important contribution to that struggle.
On August 24 the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute will host a discussion with the filmmaker of Truth to the Powerless.