Yves Engler is a Montréal-based activist and author who has published 12 books including his latest Stand on Guard For Whom? A People’s History of the Canadian Military. Yves was born in Vancouver to left-wing parents who were union activists and involved in international solidarity, feminist, anti-racist, peace and other progressive movements. In addition to marching in demonstrations he grew up playing hockey. He was a peewee teammate of former NHL star Mike Ribeiro at Huron Hochelaga in Montréal before playing in the B.C. Junior League.
Yves first became active in Canadian foreign policy issues in the early 2000s. Initially focused on anti-corporate globalization organizing, the year he was an elected vice president of the Concordia Student Union Benjamin Netanyahu was blocked from speaking at the university to protest Israel’s war crimes and anti-Palestinian racism. The protests sparked a massive backlash against student activism on campus — including Yves’ expulsion from the university for attempting to take his elected position with the student union while banned from campus for his supposed role in what the administration described as a riot — and claims from supporters of the Israeli prime minister that Concordia was a hotbed of anti-Semitism. Later in the school year the US invaded Iraq. In the lead-up to the war Yves helped mobilize students to attend a number of massive antiwar demonstrations. But it was only after Ottawa helped overthrow the democratically elected Haitian government in 2004 that Yves began to seriously question Canada’s peacekeeper self-image. As he learned about Canada’s contribution to violent, anti-democratic policies in Haiti, Yves began to directly challenge this country’s foreign policy. Over the next three years he traveled to Haiti and helped organize dozens of marches, talks, actions, press conferences, etc. critical of Canada’s role in the country. During a June 2005 press conference on Haiti Yves poured fake blood on foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew’s hands and yelled “Pettigrew lies, Haitians die”. He later spent five days in jail for disrupting a speech by Prime Minister Paul Martin on Haiti (the government sought to keep him in jail for the entire six weeks election campaign). Yves also co-authored Canada in Haiti: Waging War Against the Poor Majority and helped establish the Canada Haiti Action Network.
As the situation in Haiti stabilized Yves began reading everything he could find about Canadian foreign policy, which culminated in the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. This research also began a process that led to his other books. Ten of his twelve titles are about Canada’s role in the world.
In recent years Yves has sought to mobilize activists to confront politicians through peaceful, direct action. He has interrupted about two dozen speeches/press conferences by the prime minister, ministers and opposition party leaders to question their militarism, anti-Palestinian positions, climate policies, imperialism in Haiti and efforts to topple Venezuela’s government.
Yves played an important role in the successful campaign to oppose Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. He is a founder of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
Due to his writing and activism Yves has repeatedly been criticized by representatives of the Conservatives, Liberals, Greens and NDP.
A Political Activist Agitator
“I was an agitator, a scrapper, the type of hockey player a team relies on to upset their opponent to improve its chances of winning,” said Yves. “There’s still some of that in me as a political activist.”
To struggle against economic and political systems that make a few people wealthy while dangerously warming the planet, to end war and forms of destruction and oppression requires commitment, passion and the willingness to make the powerful angry. Agitators are required. This means confronting power and playing to win. These are also the qualities of a good public interest journalist. Of course political activist agitator journalists sometimes get people agitated. This is their role and is necessary for change to occur. But an agitator always runs the risk of ‘going too far’ in a particular moment of agitation. In hockey this sometimes results in penalties. While teammates may not like playing shorthanded for two minutes, they understand the importance of an agitator to a winning team. In politics, an agitator will inevitably be condemned, vilified and lied about by supporters of whatever status quo is challenged.
“As a result of my activism and speaking truth to power, I’ve been accused of many things including being anti-Canadian, anti-Semitic and anti-Quebecois,” said Yves. “I’m none of these things. I find these accusations ironic considering I grew up in a Vancouver household where every year half the people at our Christmas Eve reveillon were Jewish, I played the most Canadian of all sports, I often write at Tim Hortons and I choose to live in Quebec and raise my child in French.”
Please go to the Controversies page to read more in depth about these issues.
Praise for Yves
“Yves became a foreign-policy expert by working as a night doorman in Montreal…He’s in the mould of I. F. Stone, who wasted no time with politicians, who all have an agenda, but went instead straight to the public record.”
– Rick Salutin, Globe and Mail
“Truth is often a casualty in politics. Thankfully, there’s Yves Engler—Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky—to set the record straight when political spin morphs into historical fact.”
– Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight
“One of the most vociferous critics of Canada’s self-presentation is Yves Engler. Engler is the sort of writer/activist so dedicated to the truth that his reputation sometimes suffers for it. ‘Success’, from a materialist perspective, is rarely just a matter of perseverance and hard work; it’s also a matter of political savvy. The truly driven, those unwilling to brook hypocrisy or self-censorship, often find themselves silently respected for their integrity, yet also subtly silenced from mainstream discourse, marginalized along the sidelines. It’s a pity, because without them, what a terrible and deluded world this would be.”
– Hans Rollmann, PopMatters
“One of the most important voices on the Canadian Left.”
– Greg Shupak, Briarpatch
“Yves Engler is part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths, regardless of whose feathers he ruffles in the process.”
– Matthew Behrens, Quill & Quire
“As for me, I’m still waiting for a true B.C.-raised muckraker—like Bob Mackin, Yves Engler, or Michael Bate—to receive the Order of Canada.”
– Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight
“Engler is in his mid-thirties and has established himself as a Chomsky-styled iconoclast. He has punctured holes in Canada’s beloved myths.”
– Michael Welton, Counterpunch