Category Archives: A Propaganda System

CIJA, B’nai B’rith smear Palestine activist instead of racists, anti-Semite

Part two on the smear campaign against Dimitri Lascaris.

Like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn Canadian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris is the victim of a “Big Lie” slander campaign. Defenders of the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism have once again smeared a “proud, anti-racist advocate for human rights.”

In this article I offer some important context regarding the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith’s (BB) absurd “anti-Semitism” accusations against Lascaris, which were echoed by the leaders of the four main federal political parties. But, looking at the run up to his ‘offending’ tweet suggests that Lascaris was targeted in an unprecedented smear campaign because he was exposing CIJA and BB’s soft underbelly, notably their dalliance with racist extremists. In the week before he was denounced Lascaris repeatedly challenged CIJA, BB’s and Liberal MP Michael Levitt’s association with individuals making anti-Muslim remarks, death threats against politicians and promoting a book denouncing the “Jewish menace”.

The immediate background to CIJA and BB’s campaign against Lascaris was an August 29 demonstration opposing BB’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). CIJA, BB and Levitt tarred that rally as being racist and threatening. Two days before the display of solidarity with CUPW Levitt issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned”  and “disturbed” by the planned protest, announcing that he had contacted the police. Afterwards CIJA Vice President for the Greater Toronto Area, Noah Shack, thanked the police and stated: “What the Jewish community of Bathurst Manor witnessed today is a failed attempt at intimidation by a hateful group of protesters.”

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was racist and threatening. In the week after the rally Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA, BB and Liberal MP Levitt to publicly repudiate the Islamophobia of the pro-BB counter protesters. Prior to his ‘offending’ tweet, Lascaris posted video of protesters making anti-Muslim comments and tweeted “B’nai B’rith can’t bring itself to condemn the white supremacists, racists & Islamophobes who support its organization and who stood at its doorstep last week screaming hatred at supporters of CUPW. Instead, it hurls baseless claims of ‘bigotry’ at its critics.”

Via twitter and Facebook Lascaris also called on them to criticize two BB supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to face the death penalty. In a video detailing  their participation in the counter protest, Mary Forrest and a friend called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs to receive the “guillotine” or be “stoned” to death. Lascaris tweeted: “If a supporter of Palestine called for Israel’s criminal PM Benjamin Netanyahu to be put to death, B’nai B’rith and CIJA would become apopletic and call that person a ‘terrorist’. But when pro-Israel fanatics call for Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau to be killed, they say nothing.”

In another tweet before the supposed “anti-Semitic” comment, Lascaris criticized Levitt’s trip to Israel during which he met the COO of Sodastream. He wrote, “while Michael Levitt showcases Israel’s apartheid regime, supporters of his close ally B’nai B’rith called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau and Levitt’s Liberal colleagues Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra and Maryam Monsef. Shamefully, Levitt has said nothing.”

In their video about protesting in support of BB, Forrest and her friend talked about campaigning for former Rebel Media host Faith Goldy, who is running for mayor of Toronto. In fact, the white supremacist mayoral candidate attended the rally in support of BB. In April Goldy promoted a book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of “the canonical works of global fascism.” Published in 1937, it repeatedly attacks Jews and calls for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

Lascaris repeatedly called on BB to denounce their supporters’ association with Goldy. He tweeted, “White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai B’rith supporters last week. And B’nai B’rith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?”

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from protesters they aligned with before and after the August 29 protest. Instead they distorted an innocuous tweet about their two main allies within the Liberal Party caucus and sought to portray themselves as the victims. To the political establishment’s shame, the leaders of four political parties, as well as numerous other MPs, joined the smear of Lascaris.

Egged on by the politicians, CIJA and BB took their ‘we are victims’ silliness to embarrassing heights. CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel put out a statement implying that Lascaris’ tweet was somehow connected to Rosh Hashanah. In an attack on the activist-lawyer titled “An Urgent Note Before Rosh Hashanah: Fighting Antisemitism in 5779”, Fogel wrote: “Those who seek to demonize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish State, through BDS and other toxic forms of advocacy, are becoming bolder and more aggressive. They are letting the veil slip on the false distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And some of them openly seeking to undermine our rights as Jewish Canadians to be accepted as equals in Canadian politics, democracy, and civil society. It’s clearer than ever that the fight against the anti-Israel agenda is a fight to preserve the future of the Canadian Jewish community.”

B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn made the connection to the Jewish New Year more clear, tweeting “Two days before Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in Judaism, Dimitri Lascaris hurled an antisemitic trope at Canadian leaders that was even promoted in the ‘Elders of the Protocols of Zion.’”

Mostyn followed this shameful tweet by revealing the direct political objective of the attacks against Lascaris. BB’s head tweeted, “Canadians expect ALL their elected officials across the political spectrum to refuse to interact with CJPME [Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East] until it apologizes and removes Dimitri Lascaris as their chair – this would certainly include Niki Ashton”, who Lascaris supported in the NDP leadership race.

Comparing the Left’s response to the attacks on Lascaris and activist-author Nora Loreto six months ago is informative. While both faced unprecedented backlash for publishing relatively innocuous tweets, only one of the social justice campaigners received substantial support from radical leftists.

This doesn’t bode well for the Left’s ability to respond to the accusations of anti-Semitism certain to follow Niki Ashton or someone with similar politics taking the reins of the NDP or another Left party coming close to governing. Israel lobby groups’ spectacular campaign against Corbyn in Britain and their smears against Lascaris suggests that anyone serious about building a movement for climate justice, economic inequality, indigenous rights, etc. needs to think carefully about the best ways to counter CIJA, BB, etc. smear tactics.

We need to be prepared for the next Big Lies.

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If Canada is a colony why are our banks so rich and powerful?

Strange how some people think Canada is a colony, a victim of U.S. power, when so much evidence points to the Great White North being an imperial power.

For example, Canada is an international banking powerhouse.

The Globe and Mailreport on TD’s third-quarter results noted that its “international operations – mostly in the United States and Latin America– produced outsized returns” while another recent story in that paper’s business pages pointed out that the Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal “are doing brisk business lending in international markets, helping drive third-quarter profits higher.” For Canada’s biggest bank, reported the Financial Post, “U.S. wealth management unit helps propel RBC to $3.1 billion profit.”

Canada’s international banking prowess is not new. Dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks had become major players in the English Caribbean colonies and US-dominated Cuba by the early 1900s.

The Royal Bank of Canada began operating in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1800s and had branches there before Western Canada. During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba RBC was the preferred banker of US officials. (National US banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) By the mid-1920s the “Banco de Canada”, as it was popularly known, had 65 branches in Cuba. In 1919 RBC established an association with the Westminster Bank, which had operations in British Africa. In 1925 RBC published an ad in Canadian magazines with a map of the Western Hemisphere with dots denoting the Royal’s presence throughout the Caribbean and South America. The headline read, “A bank with 900 branches: at home and abroad.”

The Bank of Montreal has operated in the Caribbean since the late 1800s. It was tied to British rule there and in Africa. According to James L. Darroch in Canadian Banks and Global Competitiveness, “in 1920, a substantial interest in the Colonial Bankwas purchased [by the Bank of Montreal] to fill out the branch network and to provide representation in the West Indies and West Africa.”

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) entered the Caribbean just after World War One and Mexico a bit earlier. According to Darroch, “the CIBC acted for the U.S. government after the U.S. came into possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American war” of 1898.

Scotiabank has “full-service banking operations in 37 countries”.It set up shop in British controlled Jamaica in 1889, US-dominated Philippines a few years later and the Dominican Republic during the US occupation of 1916-1924.

With operations spanning the globe, Canadian banks are major international players. The five major Canadian banks are among the world’s 59biggest banks. At 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada should have 1 of the world’s top 200 banks. To put it differently, this country’s proportion of the world’s 59 biggest banks is more than 15 times the share of Canada’s global population.

Canada’s outsized banking power is not new. In1960 three of the world’s twelve biggest banks were Canadian and Canadian banks oversaw 15% of the international foreign currency market.

Similarly, Canada’s big five banks have long generated a significant share of their sizable profits from their international operations.In 1981 a Bank of Nova Scotia executive said, according to Walter Stewart in Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, “I don’t know why Canadians are upset about bank profits. We’ve stopped screwing Canadians. Now we’re screwing foreigners.”

Foreigners have protested Canadian banks for at least a century. CIBC and the Bank of Montreal we’re targeted during the 1910–17 Mexican Revolution andthere’s been publicly recorded criticism of Canadian banking practices in the Caribbeansince at least 1925. In the early 1970s Canadian banks were fire bombed in nationalist protestsin Trinidad and Tobago andScotiabank was targeted by demonstrators and the courts in Argentina at the start of the 2000s.

Amazingly, the Canadian left has generally ignored Canada’s international banking prowess (even as their foreign operations receive direct government assistance). The dominant left nationalist political economy perspective frames Canada as a victim of international capitalism. 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 hugely privileged place in the world economy”, as Paul Kellogg puts it in Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy after Left Nationalism.

Canadian banks have amassed significant wealth through their domestic operations and relationship to the profits generated from Tim Hortons workers, Inuit resources, oil extraction, etc. But, they’ve also made huge sums internationally and by skimming some of the wealth produced in US oil fields, Peruvian mines and Port-au-Prince sweatshops.

People on the left should tell it like it is: Canada is an imperial power, our ruling class profits greatly from the exploitation of poorer countries.

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Why on this despoiled earth would NDP leaders praise John McCain?

The NDP hierarchy’s response to noted war hawk John McCain’s death is shameful. Even worse, it reflects a general hostility towards the victims of Western imperialism.

After the U.S. Senator died over the weekend federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted:

John McCain had the courage not to stoop to divisive politics. He showed us that we can disagree in a way that creates dialogue and discussion, not fear and division. Rest In peace.

Rachel Notley also praised a US politician who never met a war he didn’t like. “As @BarackObama wrote today”, the leader of Alberta’s NDP Government noted, “all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.” In a follow-up tweet Notley called McCain “a true public servant.”

Even purportedly progressive Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili praised McCain on Twitter, saying “sad to hear of the passing of Sen. John McCain – a principled man who served his country with honour in difficult times.” (Meili at least had the sense to delete his tweet.)

Anyone who has any doubt about celebrating McCain should watch Rania Khalek’s video and, as Ben Saucier noted in a succinct rejoinder to Singh:

McCain heavily promoted the lies that led to the Iraq war. He championed the NATO bombing of Libya. He supported and armed the jihadists destroying Syria. He played a role in bringing neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine and backed Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen. He was no hero.

But, praising a man who rose to public attention by dropping bombs on civilian targets (a war crime) in North Vietnam is only part of the leadership’s whitewash of Western militarism. At the end of last month Singh published a statement on Korean War Veterans Day “honouring the brave veterans of the Canadian army who fought valiantly during the Korean War, so that today, South Koreans can live in peace and prosperity.”

It’s absurd to imply the 1950–53 Korean War was designed to secure “peace and prosperity” for South Koreans. About 27,000 Canadian troops and numerous warships expanded and internationalized a civil war that left as many as four million dead. They fought in support of Syngman Rhee’s brutal regime, which had killed tens of thousands in what Canadian diplomats in Washington described, in an internal cable to External Affairs at the time, as “a fair amount of repression by the Military Government of left-wing groups.” The understated diplomats added, “liberal social legislation had been definitely resisted.”

At the end of World War II the Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea, which borders Russia. US troops controlled the southern part of the country. According to Noam Chomsky:

When US forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.

Singh’s Korean War Veterans Day statement concluded with a flourish of martial patriotism.

On this Korean War Veterans Day, let us also remember our current military personnel, and their families, who continue to fight every day to ensure that the values of peace, freedom, and democracy are defended around the world.

Were 385 Canadians sent to Sudan in 1884 to defend “peace, freedom, and democracy” or to beat back indigenous forces seeking to wrest control of Khartoum from famed English General Charles Gordon? Or how about the 7,000 Canadians who fought in southern Africa between 1899 and 1902? Was that war about advancing Cecil Rhodes’ mining interests and strengthening Britain’s position in the region or “peace, freedom and democracy”?

World War I had no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. And 20,000 Iraqi troops and tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the 1990–91 Gulf War to deepen the US foothold in the region.

The 18 Canadian fighter jets that participated in NATO’s illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999 didn’t bring “peace, freedom, and democracy” there. Nor did the 40,000 Canadians who fought in Afghanistan, which remains wracked by violence. Seven years after Canada participated in NATO’s war in Libya that country remains divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. (Canadian “peacekeepers” also helped overthrow Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti and Congolese independence leader Patricia Lumumba.)

Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. But, the historical record shows that Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to join WWII. (Only two years before the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited Hitler and in his diary King repeatedly expressed sympathy towards the Nazis.) As Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton explain, “Canada went to war in September 1939 for the same reason as in 1914: because Britain went to war.”

Somebody should buy Jagmeet Singh a T-shirt that says: “I pissed on the world’s downtrodden to ingratiate myself with the mainstream establishment but all I got was this lousy shirt.”

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What is behind glorifying the military?

Are soldiers more valuable to society than teachers? Are they more essential than the people who drive buses or clean up our waste? Are their jobs that much more dangerous than firefighters, or psychiatric nurses or loggers? Is what they do more honourable than parenting, caring for elders, providing essential social services or reporting the news?

These questions arose when reading that British Columbia is currently holding a six-week public consultation on whether former RCMP members should be permitted access to special veterans license plates. The opposition has complained the consultation is only taking place online while some military veterans have threatened to return their special license if the RCMP are allowed to join their exclusive club. “I am very, very proud to be given that particular plate,” said Lt.-Col. Archie Steacy of the B.C. Veterans Commemorative Association, which is leading opposition to the change. “Having served in the armed forces for a period of 38 years I feel really good when I am driving my car and people stop me to say thank you.”

Granted a monopoly over the poppy symbol nearly a century ago, the Royal Canadian Legion allows provincial governments to use their trademark poppy on licence plates to signify the driver is a veteran. Much to the chagrin of some military veterans, the Legion’s definition of a ‘veteran’ now includes former RCMP.

In the mid-2000s every province adopted a special veterans licence plate. Generally Canadian Forces (CF) members, RCMP officers who served under CF command and anyone who served in a NATO Alliance force are eligible.

But special license plates are only one of the many initiatives that reinforce the military’s special cultural standing. On August 18 MiWay (Mississauga) transit offered military veterans a free ride to attend the Warriors’ Day Parade at the Canadian National Exhibition. In December Sherbrooke, Quebec, joined a long list of cities that offer free parking to veterans. In another automotive- centred militarist promotion, a Ford dealership in Kingston, Ontario, offered a special discount package to former or current soldiers. Its January release stated, “whether you’re a local weather presenter, a plumber or play drums in a weekend cover band, your way of life is possible, in part, due to the brave sacrifice of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

But for men with guns an evil force would prevent you from drumming? Is that really what this is about?

Prioritizing soldiers above reporters, poets, janitors etc., the government set up a program  in 2014 to allow foreign nationals who join the CF to get their citizenship fast tracked. A number of initiatives also benefit students of military families and help soldiers access civilian work. The Canada Company Military Employment Transition Program assists CF members, Reservists and Veterans in obtaining non-military employment. It offers companies/institutions the status of Designated Military Friendly Employer and National Employer Support Awards. Taking this a step further, Barrick Gold hired a Director of Veteran Sourcing and Placement to oversee a Veterans Recruitment Program. According to program Director Joel Watson, “veterans self-select to put service before self, which says much about their individual character, drive and willingness to work together in teams.”

But no special recruitment program for single mothers?

Underlying all these initiatives is the notion that soldiers (or the military in general) have a unique social value, more than teaching assistants, plumbers, daycare workers, hairdressers and single mothers. Or, if danger is the primary criteria, how about those who build houses or feed us?

Over the past half-century tens of times more Canadian construction workers have been killed on the job than soldiers. While 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014, there were 843 agriculture -related fatalities in Canada between 2003 and 2012.

Does the CF do more to enable people to “play drums” than those growing our food? Is the “local weather presenter” more indebted to soldiers than those who build homes? Should the “plumber” be more grateful to troops than teachers?

The problem with glorifying soldiers is that veterans’ organizations generally use their cultural standing to uphold militarism and reactionary politics. Politicians justify weapons purchases by claiming we need to give the troops the best equipment possible and then demand the public “support the troops” they’ve deployed abroad.

Is this really the best we can be?

There is a burning need to rekindle anti-militarist political movements in this country. Next month’s World Beyond War  conference in Toronto offers a good opportunity to start.

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Critical voices needed at development studies conference

Are they critical thinkers or cheerleaders pretending to be independent of the government that funds them? Given the title conference organizers chose — “Is Canada Back: delivering on good intentions?” — one would guess the latter. But, an independent researcher keeps an open mind.

Publicity for the mid-September conference organized by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?”

Formulating the question this way seems like a sop to the government that provides their funding. Conference organizers must be aware of the Trudeau government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, backing for brutalmining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, failure to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, promotion of military spending, etc.

The reality is that while the two conference sponsors are supported by some labour unions, left groups and internationalist-minded young people, they are heavily dependent/tied to Canada’s official foreign policy apparatus.

To understand government influence over the NGO/development studies swamp requires wading through acronym-filled historical waters. An umbrella group representing dozens of major development NGOs, the CCIC was created fifty years ago with financing from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now part of Global Affairs Canada). The aid agency expected it to coordinate relations with the growing NGO network and build domestic political support for the aid program. While it has challenged government policy on occasion, the CCIC is highly dependent on government funds. Shortly after it publicly complained the government created a “chill” in the NGO community by adopting “the politics of punishment … towards those whose public views run at cross purposes to the government,” the CCIC’s $1.7 million CIDA grant was cut in 2012. This forced it to lay off two thirds of its staff.

CASID and international development studies programs more generally have received significant support from CIDA and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown Corporation. In 2015 CASID’s president thanked “IDRC for its support of CASID over the past decade and more.” As part of one contract, IDRC gave CASID $450,000 between 2012 and 2015.

In the mid-1990s IDRC sponsored an initiative to enhance university undergraduate international development programs. This led to the creation of the Canadian Consortium for University Programs in International Development Studies (CCUPIDS), which has as its primary objective to “strengthen the position of International Development Studies.” CIDA also funds CCUPIDS conferences.

CCUPIDS is a branch of CASID, which publishes the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. In the introduction to a journal special issue on Canadian universities and development, editors Leonora Angeles and Peter Boothroyd write:

Thanks mostly to grant funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Council (IDRC), Canadian academics have been able to engage intensively in development work for over three decades.

CIDA and IDRC also directly fund international development studies initiatives. In the late 1960s CIDA sponsored a study with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to investigate what schools offered development studies courses. According to IDRC: 40 years of ideas, innovation, and impact, “early on, it began funding Canadian area and development studies associations, their conferences, journals, and research — gathering and communication activities.” The Canadian Association of African Studies, Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Canadian Asian Studies Association and Canadian Association of Studies in International Development all “received substantial core funding from IDRC, intermittently in the 1970s and 1980s, and continuously since 1990.”

Significant sums of aid money continue to flow to international development studies programs. The website of the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development lists a dozen contracts worth more than $600,000 from CIDA, as well as $400,000 in contracts from IDRC and Foreign Affairs. An NGO and CIDA training ground, these programs often include internships and volunteer opportunities funded by development aid. The Students for Development Internships is “offered through the AUCC and CIDA, and students are funded to work for up to four months with an NGO anywhere in the world.” Queen’s Global Development Studies exchange program, for instance, received $270,000 from CIDA in 2011.

Individuals who participated in aid agency-funded projects, notably the government-backed Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO), spurred or launched international development studies programs. In Canada’s Global Villagers: CUSO in Development, 1961-86 Ruth Compton Brouwer writes:

CUSO staff and RV’s [returned volunteers] contributed substantially to the establishment of university-level courses and programs related to global issues and the centres for international education and development studies. These are now such ordinary features of Canadian universities that it is difficult to conceive of how novel they were when they began in the 1960s.”

Led by CUSO’s former West Africa coordinator Don Simpson, University of Western Ontario opened an office of international education in 1969, which “operated in collaboration with CIDA.” Similarly, “valued friends of CUSO” instigated development studies programming at the universities of Ottawa and Toronto.

Canadian aid also directly shapes international development studies research. Half of the respondents to a 2002 survey of 64 scholars reported that CIDA’s six development priorities influenced their research focus. A professor or student who aligns their pursuits with those of the aid agency or IDRC is more likely to find funding or a fellowship. And IDRC/Global Affairs Canada’s priorities don’t include challenging Canadian foreign policy.

Given the sponsors ties to the foreign policy apparatus it is likely that the September conference will offer little more than cheerleading for the Trudeau Liberals’ foreign policy. Still, one can’t be certain and, having been invited by a Facebook friend to attend, I emailed the conference organizers to ask if they would allow me to present a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy. Thus far they have not accepted my offer.

If you agree that answering the question “Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” requires some critical voices, please email (ac.cicc@stneve) and ask them to allow Yves Engler to speak on Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy at your upcoming conference.

I love a good debate and maybe both sides will learn something new.

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The story behind the military’s recruitment of Indigenous youth

Is the Canadian military a friend and ally of First Nations or an exploiter and repressor?

The military’s immense resources and cultural clout certainly enables it to attract indigenous youth to become soldiers. But First Nations have more reason than most to be wary of the Canadian Forces (CF).

A recent Ipolitics story titled “This is where I need to be’: Indigenous military summer programs ‘fantastic’ for young recruits” detailed the CF’s recruitment of Indigenous youth. The article quoted 19-year old Private Brandon Julian saying, “I love Canada … I want to serve this country.”

The story described the Bold Eagle, Raven and Black Bear leadership and training programs for 18-25-year-olds from reserves. Partnering with the Saskatchewan Indian Veteran’s Association and Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the CF launched Bold Eagle three decades ago. It’s a three or four day “culture camp” conducted by First Nations elders “followed by a military recruit training course.”

Receiving input from its Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group, the CF operates various programs focused on Indigenous youth. CF recruiters participate in National Aboriginal Day events and oversee the Aboriginal Entry Plan, a three-week training. In 1971 the CF introduced the Northern Native Entry Program and the military funded Cadet Corps has long worked with band councils and schools on reserves.

The CF has organized international Indigenous exchanges. In 2015 the military sent twelve members of the Northern Canadian Indigenous Sovereignty Patrol and Surveillance Unit to Australia for a series of trainings and events with the largely aboriginal NORFORCE. Canadian Defence Advisor to Australia Colonel Acton Kilby, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans Association President Richard Blackwolf and former Indigenous NHL player Reggie Leach were part of the delegation.

A number of monuments, usually supported by Veteran Affairs, honour First Nations veterans. In Batoche, Saskatchewan, the Métis Veterans Memorial Monument is dedicated to those who “served alongside other Canadian servicemen and servicewomen in the South African War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and in each of the efforts since then to defend our country and contribute to international peace and security.” For its part, the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa says it was “raised insacred and everlasting honour of the contributions of all Aboriginal Canadians in war and peacekeeping operations.” Apparently, it’s the only official monument in Ottawa commemorating Indigenous peoples or history.

A growing number of landmarks bear the names of Indigenous soldiers. The third Canadian Ranger patrol group headquarters, a monument at CFB Borden and a Parry Sound statue are dedicated to top World War I indigenous sniper Francis Pegahmagabow. World War II and Korea veteran Tommy Prince has a statue, school, street, drill hall, CF base, two educational scholarships and a cadet corps named in his honour.

The CF, government commissions and Indigenous veterans’ associations, often backed by Veteran Affairs, have also produced much laudatory literature on aboriginal veterans. A dozen books and theses, as well as hundreds of articles, detailing First Nations’ contribution to Canadian/British wars mostly echo the military’s perspective of those conflicts.

But, a critical look at the historical record suggests Canadian militarism has, in fact, been a primary tool of the colonial project to steal Indigenous land and enforce settler control. The CF grew out of the British force that conquered large swaths of this land. The ‘father’ of Canada’s army, Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Otter led a force that attacked Cree and Assiniboine warriors in 1885 near Battleford, Saskatchewan, in the Battle of Cut Knife. Without orders to do so, Otter asked permission to “punish [Cree leader] Poundmaker.” As such, the Montreal Daily Star coined the term “Otterism” as a “synonym for merciless repression.”

During the past century the military has expropriated a great deal of Indigenous land for its bases. The most infamous example is Stoney Point, near Sarnia, Ontario, which after a half century of military occupation led to the Ipperwash Crisis in which the Ontario Provincial Police killed Ojibway protester Dudley George.

From low-flying jets in Labrador to DEW Line waste, First Nations have borne a disproportionate share of the military’s ecological footprint. Brian Lloyd, a former British Army bomb-disposal expert who cleaned up Canadian sites, told the New York Times: “In Canada, the military acted like a giant, using Indian land like stepping stones across the country. You find an Indian nation, and you find range contamination.”

Despite claiming not to spy on Canadians, the CF continues to monitorIndigenous dissent. Between 2010 and mid-2011 the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit produced at least eight reports concerning indigenous organizations. In Policing Indigenous Movements Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan document their surveillance of 2012-13 Idle No More protests and the CF’s National Counter-Intelligence Unit also monitored the 2013 Mi’kmaq-led anti-fracking camp in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick.

Does it make sense for Indigenous youth to participate in the repression of their communities?

The CF’s glorification of First Nations military participation should not confuse people about the Canadian Forces’ role in enforcing the imperial order here and abroad.

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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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