Category Archives: A Propaganda System

Here comes the Mali mission media manipulation

For the military, shaping media coverage of deployments is what roasting a marshmallow is to a summer camper’s S’mores; there isn’t one without the other.

Even before beginning a small “peacekeeping” mission, the Canadian forces have an elaborate media strategy.

At the end of June, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance brought journalists with him on a visit to Mali. They toured the facilities in Gao where an advance team was preparing for Canada’s UN deployment to the African nation. An Ottawa Citizenheadline described Vance’s trip as part of an effort at “selling the public on the Mali mission.”

The tour for journalists was followed by a “technical briefing” on the deployment for media in Ottawa. “No photography, video or audio recording for broadcast purposes” was allowed at last week’s press event, according to the advisory. Reporters were to attribute information to “a senior government” official. But, the rules were different at a concurrent departure ceremony in Trenton. “Canadian Armed Forces personnel deploying to Mali are permitted to give interviews and have their faces shown in imagery,” noted the military’s release.

None of these decisions are haphazard. With the largest PR machine in the country, the military has hundreds of public affairs officers that work on its media strategy. “The Canadian Forces (CF) studies the news media, writes about them in its refereed journals — the Canadian Army Journal and the Canadian Military Journal — learns from them, develops policies for them and trains for them in a systematic way,” explains Bob Bergen, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.”Canadian journalists simply do not access the Canadian Forces in the scholarly fashion that the military studies them. There are no peer-reviewed journals to which they contribute reflections on their success or failure as an industry to cover the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 1999 Kosovo Air War.”

While the tactics have varied based on technologies, balance of power and type of conflict, the government has pursued extensive information control during international deployments, which are invariably presented as humanitarian even when motivated by geostrategic and corporate interests. There was formal censorship during the First World War, Second World War and the Korean War. In recent air wars the military largely shut the media out while in Afghanistan they brought reporters close.

Air wars lend themselves to censorship since journalists cannot accompany pilots during their missions or easily see what’s happening from afar. “As a result,” Bergen writes, “crews can only be interviewed before or after their missions, and journalists’ reports can be supplemented by cockpit footage of bombings.”

During the bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 the CF blocked journalists from filming or accessing Canadian pilots flying out of Aviano, Italy. They also refused to provide footage of their operations. While they tightly controlled information on the ground, the CF sought to project an air of openness in the aftermath of the Somalia scandal. For 79 days in a row a top general gave a press conference in Ottawa detailing developments in Yugoslavia. But, the generals often misled the public. Asked “whether the Canadians had been targeted, whether they were fired upon and whether they fired in return” during a March 24 sortie in which a Yugoslavian MiG-29 was downed, Ray Henault denied any involvement. The deputy chief of Defence Staff said: “They were not involved in that operation.” But, Canadians actually led the mission and a Canadian barely evaded a Serbian surface-to-air missile.While a Dutch aircraft downed the Yugoslavian MiG-29, a Canadian pilot missed his bombing target, which ought to have raised questions about civilian casualties.

One reason the military cited for restricting information during the bombing campaign was that it could compromise the security of the Armed Forces and their families. Henault said the media couldn’t interview pilots bombing Serbia because “we don’t want any risk of family harassment or something of that nature, which, again, is part of that domestic risk we face.”

During the bombing of Libya in 2011 and Iraq-Syria in 2014-16 reporters who travelled to where Canadian jets flew from were also blocked from interviewing the pilots. Once again, the reason given for restricting media access was protecting pilots and their families.

Since the first Gulf War the military has repeatedly invoked this rationale to restrict information during air wars. But, as Bergen reveals in Balkan Rats and Balkan Bats: The art of managing Canada’s news media during the Kosovo air war, it was based on a rumour that antiwar protesters put body bags on the lawn of a Canadian pilot during the 1991 Gulf War. It likely never happened and, revealingly, the military didn’t invoke fear of domestic retribution to curtail interviews during the more contentious ground war in Afghanistan.

During that war the CF took a completely different tack. The CF embedding (or in-bedding) program brought reporters into the military’s orbit by allowing them to accompany soldiers on patrol and stay on base. When they arrived on base, senior officers were often on hand to meet journalists. Top officers also built a rapport with reporters during meals and other informal settings. Throughout their stay on base, Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) were in constant contact, helping reporters with their work. After a six-month tour in Afghanistan PAO Major Jay Janzen wrote: “By pushing information to the media, the Battalion was also able to exercise some influence over what journalists decided to cover. When an opportunity to cover a mission or event was proactively presented to a reporter, it almost always received coverage.”

In addition to covering stories put forward by the military, “embeds” tended to frame the conflict from the perspective of the troops they accompanied. By eating and sleeping with Canadian soldiers, reporters often developed a psychological attachment, writes Sherry Wasilow, in Hidden Ties that Bind: The Psychological Bonds of Embedding Have Changed the Very Nature of War Reporting.

Embedded journalists’ sympathy towards Canadian soldiers was reinforced by the Afghans they interviewed. Afghans critical of Canadian policy were unlikely to express themselves openly with soldiers nearby. Scott Taylor asked, “what would you say if the Romanian military occupied your town and a Romanian tank and journalist showed up at your door? You love the government they have installed and want these guys to stay! Of course the locals are smiling when a reporter shows up with an armoured vehicle and an armed patrol.”

The military goes to great lengths to shape coverage of its affairs and one should expect stories about Canada’s mission in Mali to be influenced by the armed forces. So, take heed: Consume what they give you carefully, like you would a melted chocolate and marshmallow-coated graham wafer.

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NDP flirts with anti-Russian extreme right

In response to Ukrainian Canadian Congress campaigning, two NDP MLAs recently convinced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to withdraw a brand of Russian vodka from its stores. Alberta MLAs Deron Bilous and Jessica Littlewood argued that a hammer and sickle logo on a bottle of vodka was “offensive“. Articulating a growing rightist effort to equate communism with Nazism in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta chapter president, Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, told the Edmonton Journal that the hammer and sickle was akin to “having a swastika on a bottle of cognac.”

This is not the first attempt by a provincial NDP to ban Russian vodka. In response to the 2014 upheaval in the Ukraine, a minister in the NDP government in Manitoba discussed a provincial ban on Russian vodka. At the same time, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled a motion at the Ontario Legislature calling on government-run liquor stores to suspend sales of Russian Standard vodka.

DiNovo was one of the NDP representatives that flirted with Ukraine’s hard right. She attended a Ukrainian parade in Toronto where some marched behind a banner titled “Right Sector Canada”. Its parent organization in the Ukraine said it was “defending the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation.” At another Toronto event NDP MP Peggy Nash shared a stage with a speaker from Ukraine’s Right Sector.

Over the past four years, the NDP has backed a coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe. In 2014 the right-wing nationalist Euro-Maidan movement ousted Viktor Yanukovych who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. The US-backed coup divided the Ukraine politically, geographically and linguistically (Russian is the mother tongue of 30% of Ukrainians). After Yanukovych’s ouster Russia reinforced its military presence — or “seized” — the southern area of Crimea and then organized a referendum on secession. Home to Moscow’s major Baltic naval base, Crimea had long been part of Russia and the bulk of the population preferred Moscow’s rule to the post-coup right wing nationalist government in Kiev.

The NDP echoed the US/Stephen Harper government position on Ukraine. The day after Yanukovych fled, NDP MP Olivia Chow told a Euro-Maidan Canada rally in Toronto, “we must be vigilant, we must ensure our government, our Canadian government, continues to keep an eye on the Ukraine to make sure that the Russians do not interfere.”

But, the NDP MP wasn’t bothered by Canadian interference in that country. Eighteen months after the coup the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovych. “Canada’s embassy in Kyiv was used as a haven for several days by anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych,” the story noted.

Ottawa played a similar role during the “Orange Revolution” a decade earlier. In a story headlined “Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine,” Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon detailed how Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group, promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” and paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the 2004-05 elections. “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovych [winning].”

Indifferent to Canada’s interference in Ukrainian affairs, during the 2015 federal election leaders debate Mulcair said, “with regard to Ukraine, yes, Putin is a danger. We stand firmly with Ukraine against the aggression by Russia.” The NDP leader also reiterated the party’s call for harsher measures against Russian officials, naming two businessmen whom he said should be added to Canada’s list of Russians targeted for sanctions. In March 2014 NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar released a statement calling for “travel bans against certain Russian officials and suspending trade with Russia’s military sector.” Five months later the NDP put out a press release under the headline “Conservatives shield Russian business elite from sanctions: Toothless sanctions are out of step with Canada’s closest allies.” In 2017 NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière applauded a bill modeled after the US Magnitsky Actthat would further strain relations between Ottawa and Moscow by sanctioning Russian officials. NDP MPs voted for legislation Laverdière labelled an “important step to support the Global Magnitsky movement.”

In summer 2016 NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of a ratcheting up of tensions with Russia. Four hundred and fifty Canadian troops are currently leading a 1,000-strong NATO force in Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. As vice-chair of Parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defence, Garrison endorsed a December report titled “Canada’s support to Ukraine in crisis and armed conflict.” It denounced Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine” and lauded Canada’s “support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”

Deploying Canadian troops to the Russian border and Alberta MLAs pushing to ban Russian vodka both empower rightists in Eastern Europe. They are part of a troubling game of brinksmanship with Russia.

Is this really in Canada’s interest? And why is the NDP enabling the agenda of extreme right forces?

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Response of Canada’s ‘defence’ community to Trump threats: silence

A volatile leader in charge of a military behemoth prone to aggression has repeatedly attacked Canada and its prime minister in recent weeks. But, this country’s “defence” community, which often hypes Russian, Jihadist and other threats, has barely made a peep.

Citing a concern for its “national security”, the US slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports at the end of last month. Since then Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Justin Trudeau and two of the US President’s top advisers called the prime minister “dishonest”, “weak” and “rogue” and said “there’s a special place in hell” for him.

The bombastic rhetoric targeting the Trudeau government is coming from a state that has substantial military capacity close to the Canadian border and has repeatedly invaded nearby nations. The US is currently dropping a bomb every 12 minutes on seven different countries and its troops are fighting/operating in dozens more. And its Commander-in-Chief is highly impulsive.

Despite this aggressive posture from Washington, Canada’s “defence” community hasn’t raised the alarm or sought to capitalize on the tension by asking for more weapons and troops. Contrast this with the academics and think tanks funded by arms companies and the Department of National Defence who regularly hype lesser threats in a bid to increase military spending.

Why the difference in treatment of “threat” assessments?

The “defence” sector ignores US threats because it is not oriented towards protecting Canada from aggression. Rather, Canada’s military, weapons companies and “defence” intellectuals/think tanks are aligned with the US Empire’s quest for global domination.

According to DND, there are “80 treaty-level agreements, more than 250 memoranda of understanding, and 145 bilateral forums on defence” between the two countries’ militaries. In 2015 CBC reported on sustained, high-level, Canadian and US military discussions to create a so-called Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces. Not shared with Canadian political leaders, the plan was to set up integrated air, sea, land and special forces to operate under a unified command when deployed internationally.

The depth of the Canada-US military alliance is such that if US Forces attacked this country it would be extremely difficult for the Canadian Forces to defend our soil. In fact, given the entanglements the Canadian Forces would likely enable a US invasion: As with the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which Ottawa officially opposed — some Canadian troops on exchange in the US might march north; As is the norm when the US invades another country, Canadian officers would likely operate NORAD systems aiding the aggression; As with the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, weaponry produced in Canada would certainly be used by US soldiers marching north.

The Canadian “defence” sector has tied its ship to our southern neighbour’s massive military industrial complex. But, the truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that the USA is the only nation that could realistically invade Canada.

This is not an argument for a military policy that views the US as a threat. Canada’s best defence against an invasion is making sure hundreds of millions of people in the US and elsewhere know this country is not their enemy. Additionally, Canadians face far more pressing dangers (cars, industrial pollutant, climate disturbances, etc.) than a foreign invasion.

Instead of responding to Trump’s belligerence by ramping up military preparedness —which the US president demanded in a letter to the Prime Minister last week — we should be debating the point of a Canadian “defence” sector unwilling to even discuss defending our country from its primary military threat.

A critical question to ask: Why do we spend over $20 billion a year on a Department of National Defence?

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Forget Facebook, Five Eyes is bigger threat to our privacy, security

While the media has been full of news about information-gathering by Facebook and other Internet giants, other secretive organizations that are a major threat to our personal privacy and public security are seldom mentioned. And when they are, it has most often been because politicians are praising them and offering up more money for them to spy.

For example, Justin Trudeau recently promoted the “Anglosphere’s” intelligence sharing arrangement. Two weeks ago, in a rare move, the PM revealed a meeting with his “Five Eyes” counterparts. After the meeting in London Trudeau labelled the 2,000 employee Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s main contributor to the “Five Eyes” arrangement, “an extraordinary institution”. Last year Trudeau said that “collaboration and co-operation between allies, friends and partners has saved lives and keeps all of our citizens safe.”

The praise comes as the government is seeking to substantially expand CSE’s powers and two months ago put up $500 million to create a federal “cybersecurity” centre. This money is on top of CSE’s $600 million annual budget and a massive new $1.2 billion complex.

Since its creation CSE has been part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing framework. The main contributors to the accord are the US National Security Agency (NSA), Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DFS), New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and CSE. A series of post-World War II accords, beginning with the 1946 UKUSA intelligence agreement, createdthe “AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLY” arrangement.

Writing prior to the Internet, author of Target Nation: Canada and the Western Intelligence Network James Littleton notes, “almost the entire globe is monitored by the SIGINT [signals intelligence] agencies of the UKUSA countries.” With major technological advancements in recent decades, the Five Eyes now monitor billions of private communications worldwide.

The Five Eyes accords are ultra-secretive and operate with little oversight. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden labeled it a “supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the known laws of its own countries.”

In addition to sharing information they’ve intercepted, collected, analysed and decrypted, the five SIGINT agencies exchange technologies and tactics. They also cooperate on targeting and “standardize their terminology, codewords, intercept–handling procedures, and indoctrination oaths, for efficiency as well as security.”

CSE Special Liaison Officers are embedded with Five Eyes counterparts while colleagues from the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are inserted in CSE. NSA has had many long-term guest detachments at CSE facilities. An NSA document Snowden released described how the US and Canadian agencies’ “co-operative efforts include the exchange of liaison officers and integrees.”

NSA has trained CSE cryptanalysts and in the 1960s the US agency paid part of the cost of modernizing Canadian communications interception facilities. With CSE lacking capacity, intelligence collected at interception posts set up in Canadian embassies in Cuba, Jamaica, Russia, etc. was often remitted to NSA for deciphering and analysis. In his 1986 book Littleton writes, “much of the SIGINT material collected by Canada is transmitted directly to the U.S. National Security Agency, where it is interpreted, stored, and retained. Much of it is not first processed and analyzed in Canada.”

Five Eyes agencies have helped each other skirt restrictions on spying on their own citizenry. Former Solicitor-General Wayne Easter told the Toronto Starthat it was “common” for NSA “to pass on information about Canadians” to CSE. Conversely, former CSE officer Michael Frost says NSA asked the agency to spy on US citizens. In Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments Frost reveals that on the eve of the 1983 British election Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked GCHQ to spy on two cabinet ministers “to find out not what they were saying, but what they were thinking.” Reflecting the two agencies close ties, GCHQ requested CSE’s help on this highly sensitive matter. Frost notes that CSE wasn’t particularly worried about being caught because GCHQ was the agency tasked with protecting Britain from foreign spying.

In the lead-up to the US-British invasion of Iraq NSA asked Canada and the rest of the Five Eyes to spy on UN Security Council members. On January 31, 2003, NSA SIGINT Department Deputy Chief of Staff for regional targets wrote alliance counterparts: “As you’ve likely heard by now, the agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR [Great Britain] of course) for insights as to how membership is reacting to the ongoing debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc. – the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.”

While CSE reportedly rejected this NSA request, a number of commentators suggest CSE has shown greater allegiance to its Five Eyes partners than most Canadians would like. Littleton writes, “the agreements may not explicitly say that the United States, through its SIGINT organization, the National Security Agency (NSA) dominates and controls the SIGINT organizations of the other member nations, but that is clearly what the agreements mean.”

An NSA history of the US–Canada SIGINT relationship released by Snowden labelled Canada a “highly valued second party partner”, which offers “resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis, and has opened covert sites at the request of NSA. CSE shares with NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the US.”

The Five Eyes arrangement has made Canada complicit in belligerent US foreign policy. It’s time for a debate about Canadian participation in the “Anglosphere’s” intelligence sharing agreement.

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Hey Montréal police, respect our right to protest

The Montréal police have a problem with democracy that the new progressive city council should address.

Last Thursday I was arrested for shouting “shame; free Palestine” at the large annual pro-Israel demonstration. Three officers on bikes blocked me from walking on the sidewalk of Boulevard René Lévesque and yelling “shame, free Palestine” at people with Israeli flags on the street. After being threatened with arrest for expressing my opinion in motion, I joined a small counter-demonstration called by the Action Antifasciste Montréal (though most of the counter-demonstrators were Jewish anti-Zionist Neturei Karta). Standing just behind a row of police officers at the edge of Square Dorchester, I restarted shouting for about five minutes at which point a cop told me to move further into the park. When I refused to be muzzled again I was handcuffed, searched, put in the back of a police van and given a ticket for having continued or repeated an act that a police officer said to cease doing (“En ayant continué ou répété un acte interdit après avoir reçu l`ordre d’un agent de la paix de cesser cet acte.”).

After a half hour the police drove me a few blocks away and said if I returned to the protest site they would arrest me and take me to a detention centre. I was given a $150 fine, which I will contest. In fact, I hope to sue the police for breaching my Charter right to peacefully protest.

Of course, this incident of police overreach — in a peaceful political situation — is a relatively trivial example of the SPVM’s hostility towards protests called by student and radical left groups (Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes, Parti communiste révolutionnaire, Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière, etc.) Police repression is so common that when leaving the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec around 8:30 p.m. two Fridays ago and seeing multiple cop cars speeding down de Bleury with sirens blazing, my first thought was what demonstration would be taking place at that hour. Then I remembered seeing an announcement for a protest against the French government’s dispersal of a 10-year-old anti-capitalist environmental squat. Subsequently I discovered about a hundred mostly students marching festively along Saint Denis towards UQAM.

On my way home I passed dozens of riot cops sitting in police buses and vans. There may have been as many police as protesters! (One cop said hi to which I asked if we knew each other. In a response that seemed less than friendly he said he recognized me from previous demonstrations.)

The cost to the city was probably a thousand, maybe over ten thousand, dollars in overtime to have these cops sit around for a few hours. But, in this case at least SPVM decision makers only trampled on taxpayers rights. The Montréal police regularly undermine the democratic rights of the student and radical left. A 2005 United Nations repo​rt condemned the SPVM’s mass arrest tactics for encroaching on the right to “peacefully participate in social protests.” Six years later it came to light that the SPVM created a unit called “GAMMA” (Guet des activités des mouvements marginaux et anarchistes or surveillance of marginal and anarchist groups’ activities). During the student strike, between February 16 and September 3 2012, 3,509 demonstrators were arrested in Montréal. In Spring 2015 the SPVM fiercely repressed student-led anti-austerity mobilizations.

The city is currently facing eight class-action lawsuits totalling $20 million for mass arrests during the 2012 student strike. It already settled out of court with a student strike activist over the SPVM politically profiling her.

City council controls the police budget ($650 million) and oversees its operations. Projet Montréal (the progressive party that has a majority on council) needs to address the SPVM’s cavalier and costly attitude towards democratic rights.

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Art and history paid for to shape opinions about military

Would it surprise you to learn the Canadian military spends millions on art and history?

Until April the Canadian War Museum is hosting an exhibition of war art from the Ukraine created through the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). In 2014–15 eight artists were sent to observe Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s “training” mission to support Ukraine’s armed forces.

Until April the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP) is hosting an exhibition of war art from the Ukraine created through the Canadian Forces Artists Program (CFAP). In 2014–15 eight artists were sent to observe Operation UNIFIER, Canada’s “training” mission to support Ukraine’s armed forces.

The purpose of CFAP is to “encourage artists to learn more about our men and women in uniform and to create works of art that document and explore Canada’s military history and experience.” The program pays for artists to spend 7-10 days in the field with troops to document their activities.

While CFAP began in 2001, there have been various iterations of the program over the past century. During World War I, for instance, Canada’s official war art program created almost 1,000 works of art. During WWII the head of the Army’s historical section, Colonel A. F. Duguid, initiated a war art program and over the years the Canadian forces have commissioned sketches of the Korean War, NATO missions, UN operations and the first Gulf War.

Today CFAP is run by the Department of National Defence’s Directorate of History and Heritage. With a 50-person staff, the Directorate also supports the Organization of Military Museums of Canada. The half-century old organization seeks “to preserve the military heritage of Canada by encouraging the establishment and operation of military museums.” Along with more than 60 Canadian Forces’ museums, the Directorate supports the Canadian War Museum.

DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage is “mandated to preserve and communicate Canada’s military history and foster pride in a Canadian military heritage.” They answer “1,000 questions of an historical nature” annually, helping high school students with assignments and academics navigate archival inquiries. The Directorate also works with the media. In the early 1990s, for instance, senior military historian Brereton Greenhous was a special advisor during production of the CBC film Dieppe 1942. Similarly, director of the historical section Charles Stacey vetted Canada At War, the first television miniseries to document Canada’s part in the Second World War, before the National Film Board produced program played on CBC.

The Directorate’s historians also help veterans exert political pressure. After a backlash to a Canadian War Museum exhibit that mentioned the WWII Allied Bomber Command targeting civilians, senior DND historian Serge Bernier was asked to write a report. Bernier concluded the exhibit was hurtful to the veterans.

The Directorate’s roots date back to the end of World War I when the Department of Militia and Defence established a historical section. In Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars Tim Cook writes, “it has been the official historians of the Department of National Defence who, for much of the 20th century, have controlled the academic writing on the two world wars.” But, official historians’ influence has extended far beyond the “Great Wars”. In 1919 the historical section published the first in a three-volume series titled “A history of the organization, development and services of the military and naval forces of Canada from the peace of Paris in 1763, to the present time.” Immediately after the Korean War official historians wrote two books on the subject and published another in 1966. (Academics all but failed to revisit Canada’s role in Korea until the late 1990s.)

The minister approves publication of Directorate books. On several occasions cabinet has discussed and recommended changes to their histories.

Official historians published a large share of the early books on Canadian militarism and greatly influenced academia. The Directorate was the “graduate school in military history”, notes DND historian William A. Douglas, until “university departments started producing postgraduates.” In the two decades after World War II individuals who worked in the military’s historical sections filled many academic posts in military history and associated fields. And they were often influential in their field. Head of the War Artist Program and deputy-director of the Historical Section at Canadian Army Headquarters in London, George Stanley led the history department at the Royal Military College after World War II. During his career Stanley was president of the Canadian Historical Association, a member of the Massey Commission Committee on Historic Sites and Monuments and chairman of the federal government’s Centennial Publications Committee.

At the military-run Royal Military College Stanley taught Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton. These two individuals, who both worked in DND’s historical section, have published hundreds of books and articles on Canadian military history and foreign policy.

A military historian for two decades, Colonel Charles Stacey has had “more influence on how Canadians view their nation’s military history” than any other individual. Director of the army’s historical section for 14 years after WWII, he published a dozen books and in 2000 Granatstein wrote that Stacey’s “books continue to be read and to have great influence on military and foreign policy historians.”

Turns out the military wants to control what you think about them and are willing to spend your tax dollars to do it.

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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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