Category Archives: Activism

Palestine solidarity delivers blow to JNF colonialism

Score a small, but symbolically significant, victory for pro-Palestinian and anti-racist forces. The Jewish National Fund of Canada has been forced to rebrand and distance itself from its Israeli parent organization.

Under pressure from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) and others the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) instigated an audit of the JNF in 2018. The audit dragged on for over a year and there was never a formal announcement of its conclusion. But it is now clear the organization has been forced to make some changes.

In a letter buried on its website JNF Canada recently announced a change of logo to differentiate it from its parent organization in Israel (KKL-JNF). It also removed “KKL” from its corporate name and JNF Canada claims its funds will no longer be “co-mingled with KKL’s general accounts”.

JNF Canada’s letter also says that “the CRA has instructed us that it is a violation of Canadian policy to develop projects in the disputed [illegally occupied West Bank] territories. JNF Canada has gone on the record with CRA that due to this interpretation of Canadian foreign policy, we will not fund projects in the disputed territories.” Recently there’s been significant criticism of JNF-KKL’s announcement that it may buy land in the occupied West Bank (it has been doing so quietly for years).

The letter makes no mention of its discriminatory land-use policy but JNF Canada has changed its explicitly supremacist twitter handle. Previously JNF Canada’s Twitter said it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere.” Now, it says, “the Jewish National Fund of Canada is Building the Foundations of Israel’s Future.”

In control of 13% of Israel’s land – and with significant influence over most of the rest – KKL-JNF openly discriminates against the over 20% of Israelis who aren’t Jewish. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

According to Canadian law, charities should not be supporting racism. In fact, the CRA has a policy of promoting charities that support racial equality.

Forcing changes on JNF Canada has been long in the making and has come at some cost for a number of individuals. Born in a West Bank village demolished to make way for the JNF’s Canada Park, Ismail Zayid has been complaining to the CRA about its charitable status for four decades. For years Lebanese Canadian Ron Saba has been “writing to various Canadian government departments and officials, corporations, and media to” denounce what he calls the “racist JNF tax fraud”. During the Liberal Party convention in 2006 Saba was widely smeared for drawing attention to leadership candidate Bob Rae’s ties to the JNF. Saba has put in multiple Access to Information requests regarding the JNF, demonstrating government spying of its critics and long-standing knowledge of the organization’s dubious practices. Under the headline “Event you may want to monitor,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Caitlin Workman sent the CRA a communication about a 2011 IJV event in Ottawa stating: “author of the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Yves Engler, will give a talk on Canada and the Jewish National Fund.” At the Green Party convention in 2016 Corey Levine pushed a resolution to revoke the JNF’s charitable status because it practices “institutional discrimination against non-Jewish citizens of Israel.” The effort brought the issue into the mainstream though she, IJV and the entire Green Party were smeared as “hard core Jew haters” for even considering the resolution.

In 2018 IJV and four individuals filed a detailed complaint to the CRA and Minister of National Revenue over the JNF. For two decades activists across the country have picketed local JNF fundraising galas and Canadian campaigners have also benefited from many supporters in Palestine/Israel as well as the international Stop the JNF campaign.

While it’s outrageous that JNF Canada has been allowed to continue granting tax credits through its charitable status, it is significant to force embarrassing changes on a 100-year-old organization with powerful allies. In recent years Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, Irwin Cotler and other top politicians, as well as many titans of corporate Canada, have appeared at their fundraisers.

The campaign to revoke the JNF’s charitable status has always been about more than winning the specific demand. It draws attention to the racism intrinsic to Zionist ideology and highlights Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. At a broader level, there is a desperate need to question why Canadian taxpayers subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to a country with a GDP per capita equal to Canada. How many Canadian charities funnel money to France or Japan?

The no JNF campaign should not stop. Forcing the CRA to remove JNF Canada’s charitable status is a minimum demand. If Ottawa adopted the S demand of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), it would be illegal for Canadians to support the JNF. That would be a victory!

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Filed under Activism, Israel

Israel lobby attacks progressive internationalism

On Wednesday the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs attacked the left wing of the NDP. In a release titled “Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) appalled that disgraced former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn invited to spread toxicity in Canada”, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel noted: “Jeremy Corbyn is toxic. The invitation to the disgraced leader is more evidence that Svend Robinson, Niki Ashton, Libby Davies and a few others want to take the NDP in a direction that is antithetical to basic Canadian values. This small group is actively undermining NDP leadership which is working hard to keep the NDP focused on the very important issues that Canadians care about.”

What prompted this release is an upcoming webinar NDP MP Ashton has organized with Corbyn to raise funds for the Progressive International, which came out of a 2018 meeting organized by Bernie Sanders’ movement. “Progressives of the world unite”, is a slogan of an initiative that includes Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein and Yanis Varoufakis.

CIJA’s release is an explicit effort to marginalize the left within the NDP in the lead-up to the party’s April convention, which will deal with widely backed resolutions in favour of Palestinian rights and against the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of anti-Semitism.

CIJA’s release could also be read as a call on the NDP leadership to purge the left of the party. Perhaps the official advocacy arm of Canada’s Jewish federations feels emboldened to interfere in internal NDP affairs by recent actions of the party leadership. Ashton was recently demoted from her critic duties and a number of leftists, including former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan, were blocked from running for the party during the last federal election. The initial reaction to the Ashton–Corbyn webinar from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the party-aligned Broadbent Institute suggests CIJA may have willing allies inside the party in demonizing the left, just as happened in Britain. Working alongside the right wing of the Labour Party, the Israel lobby in the UK played a pivotal role in destroying the progressive movement Corbyn galvanized.

While this brazen interference in a left political party by supposedly non-political lobby groups may be shocking to some, it follows on efforts to destroy student unions. B’nai B’rith has been campaigning aggressively to defund student unions and associated organizations. In 2019 B’nai B’rith created a coalition of anti-Palestinian groups that called on Ontario students to take up “a unique opportunity to deny funding to” student associations. They are currently pressing the University of Toronto’s administration to withhold its graduate students’ union funding. B’nai Brith has also been granted intervener status on the side of the Doug Ford Conservatives in a court case between the Canadian Federation of Students/York Federation of Students and Ontario regarding the government’s move to force universities to grant opt outs for various student fees. To get a sense of the scope of their intervention into student life, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn declared, “non-essential campus services have every right to function and provide the services they wish to, but they do not have the right to force their hands into anyone’s pockets…. CFS claims to represent all students, but we are here to give voice to the thousands of students who do not feel represented by them and have made it clear that they want no part in funding what this organization is financing. The court must also take their perspective into account, and we will do our part to ensure that it does.”

Of course these are the same tired old arguments right wing employers’ organizations have long used against worker’s attempts to organize effective unions.

But pro-Israel lobby groups’ chutzpah in attacking the left and union solidarity goes even further. During the remarkable student strike in Québec in 2012 B’nai B’rith “condemned” protesters purported “hate …that has outraged the Jewish community.” In 2016, the Canadian Jewish News reacted strongly after delegates at the NDP convention supported the leftish Leap Manifesto. They published an editorial and front-page story expressing concern at the growth of the left within the party.

It seems these pro-Israel lobby groups fear progressive challenges to the status quo. Perhaps they understand that these movements/politicians empower “internationalist” forces. Perhaps they fear solidarity — what we want for ourselves we wish for all — in political movements and unions inevitably leads to solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians.

Whatever the reason, these groups have chosen to become overt enemies of people who are trying to build a better, fairer world where social justice for all reigns supreme. They have declared war on everyone who believes the world needs radical change — socialists, environmentalists, anti-racism activists, union organizers and more. They have chosen to be part of the problem, not the solution. Sad, but true.

 

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Trudeau faces series of setbacks to corporate, imperial policies

As much as some Canadians would like to believe their country is a force for good in the world, the truth is more sobering. Extreme inequality is rampant and the Canadian government is an important supporter of corporate power and imperialism in global affairs. The good news is that the pushers of the unfair, unjust and immoral existing world order do not always get their way.

It is uplifting to tally some of the Trudeau government’s setbacks:

  • Last Friday the International Criminal Court ruled that it has jurisdiction over Israeli war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, which should pave the way for a possible criminal investigation. A year ago the Trudeau government sent a letter to the ICC saying it didn’t believe the court had jurisdiction over Palestine. Its letter implied it could sever funding to the ICC if the court pursued an investigation of Israeli crimes. After the recent decision new Foreign Minister Marc Garneau released a statement criticizing the ICC decision.
  • On January 26 former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau withdrew his bid to lead the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries after it was determined he had no chance of winning.
  • On January 22 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force, making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal under international law. Canada voted against holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination and boycotted the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of the world’s countries attended.
  • On January 20 new US President Joe Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The Trudeau government pressed the president-elect to break a direct promise and maintain a climate-destroying pipeline okayed by Donald Trump.
  • Since Venezuela’s new National Assembly began sitting on January 6 numerous countries have withdrawn from the US–Canada led campaign to anoint Juan Guaidó President. The European Union dropped its de facto recognition of Guaidó. As did the Dominican Republic. Even the Ottawa-led Lima Group has softened its stance. Last week Panama withdrew the credentials of Guaidó’s ambassador.
  • In October Chileans voted overwhelming to rewrite the country’s Pinochet-era constitution. The referendum was a blow to Canadian corporations operating in Chile and the Trudeau government’s alliance with right-wing governments in the hemisphere.
  • A week earlier Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo won a decisive election victory that was a rejection of the Canadian-backed coup against Evo Morales a year earlier. The overwhelming results were also a blow to Ottawa’s bid to wipe out the remnants of the leftist pink tide in Latin America. (On Sunday an ally of leftist former President Rafael Correa, Andrés Arauz, gained the most votes in the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election.)
  • In June the international community decisively rejected Trudeau’s foreign policy. They voted against Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council by a larger margin than a decade earlier under Stephen Harper.

People who support a fairer, more just and equal world should take comfort from these defeats for the Trudeau government’s pro-corporate and imperial policies. Proof that the bad guys are not invincible should offer hope for bigger victories to come.

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Filed under Activism, Justin Trudeau

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons has been around for a long time, taking a torturous path through highs and lows. Another high will be achieved next week when the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty enters into force.

On January 22 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will become law for the 51 countries that have already ratified it (35 others have signed it and another 45 have expressed their support). Weapons that have always been immoral will become illegal.

But, jettisoning stated support for nuclear abolition, a feminist foreign-policy and an international rules-based order — all principles the TPNW advances — the Trudeau government opposes the treaty. Hostility to nuclear disarmament from the US, NATO and Canada’s military is too strong for the Trudeau government to live up to its stated beliefs.

The TPNW is largely the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Established in April 2007, ICAN spent a decade building support for various international disarmament initiatives culminating in the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. The TPNW was born of that conference.

Indirectly, ICAN traces its roots much further back. Even before the first nuke decimated Hiroshima 75 years ago many opposed nuclear weapons. As the horror of what took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki became clearer, opposition to atomic bombs grew.

In Canada opposition to nuclear weapons reached its zenith in the mid 1980s. Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and other cities became nuclear weapons free zones and Pierre Trudeau appointed an ambassador for disarmament. In April 1986 100,000 marched in Vancouver to oppose nuclear weapons.

The mainstreaming of nuclear abolition took decades of activism. In the 1950s the Canadian Peace Congress was viciously attacked for promoting the Stockholm Appeal to ban atomic bombs. External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson said, “this Communist sponsored petition seeks to eliminate the only decisive weapon possessed by the West at a time when the Soviet Union and its friends and satellites possess a great superiority in all other types of military power.”Pearson called for individuals to destroy the Peace Congress from the inside, publicly applauding 50 engineering students who swamped a membership meeting of the University of Toronto Peace Congress branch. He proclaimed, “if more Canadians were to show something of this high spirited crusading zeal, we would very soon hear little of the Canadian Peace Congress and its works. We would simply take it over.”

CCF leader M.J. Coldwell also berated Peace Congress activists. The 1950 convention of the NDP’s predecessor condemned the Stockholm Appeal to ban atomic bombs.

For protesting nuclear weapons some were arrested and put on the PROFUNC (PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party) list of individuals the police would round up and detain indefinitely in the case of an emergency. According to Radio Canada’s Enquête, a 13-year girl was on the secretive list simply because she attended an anti-nuclear protest in 1964.

Efforts to ban nuclear weapons face far less opposition today. Anti-nuclear activism in Canada has been re-energized since the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer and the TPNW achieving its ratification threshold in November. In the fall 50 organizations endorsed an event with three MPs on “Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN nuclear ban treaty?” and former prime minister Jean Chrétien, deputy prime minister John Manley, defence ministers John McCallum and Jean-Jacques Blais, and foreign ministers Bill Graham and Lloyd Axworthy signed an international statement organized by ICAN in support of the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty.

To mark the TPNW entering into force 85 groups are supporting ads in The Hill Times calling for a parliamentary debate on signing the Treaty. There will also be a press conference with representatives of the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Greens to demand Canada sign the TPNW and on the day the treaty enters into force Noam Chomsky will speak on “The Threat of Nuclear Weapons: Why Canada Should Sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty”.

To force the Trudeau government to overcome the influence of the military, NATO and the USA requires significant mobilization. Fortunately, we have the experience to do it. The push for Canada to sign the TPNW is rooted in decades of activists’ work to abolish these ghastly weapons.

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Filed under Activism, nuclear weapons

Time for nuclear disarmament movement to ruffle government feathers

ICAN Activists mobilize to prohibit nuclear weapons.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass

“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”
― Amílcar Cabral

 

To win any social justice victory of import you will invariably ruffle some feathers. The individuals who dominate Canada’s main nuclear disarmament organizations don’t appear to understand that.

Last week Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau in voting against a resolution calling on Israel to “renounce possession of nuclear weapons” and sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). 153 countries backed the call. Beyond isolating Canada against the world, opposition to this resolution contradicts the Trudeau government’s October claim that its “commitment to the NPT has been unwavering” and one reason it hasn’t supported the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty, which will be adopted into international law next month.

During the same session it voted against Israel joining the NPT Canada opposed the 130 states calling on countries to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Six weeks ago, the Trudeau government voted against another resolution backing the TPNW.

On Dec 7 130 countries supported the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The Trudeau government has long been hostile to the initiative. Canada was one of 38 states to vote against — 123 voted in favour — holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Trudeau then refused to send a representative to the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of all countries attended. The PM went so far as to call the anti-nuclear initiative “useless” and since then his government has refused to join the nearly 90 countries that have already signed the treaty.

At the same time, the Trudeau government has reinforced Canada’s ties to the nuclear armed NATO alliance. Canada participates in the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and contributes personnel and financial support to NATO’s Nuclear Policy Directorate. Nuclear weapons are officially “a core component of the alliance’s overall capabilities.”

Amidst the Trudeau government’s pro-nuclear policies prominent disarmament campaigners have criticized me for challenging the Liberals’ position. After publishing “The hypocrisy of the Liberals’ nuclear policy” regarding Liberal MP Hedy Fry’s last minute withdrawal from a webinar on “Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?”, a leading anti-nuclear campaigner emailed me. He didn’t send congratulations on breaking into the corporate daily The Province but rather called my piece an “ad hominem attack”. After listing Fry’s purported anti-nuclear weapons achievements, he wrote “she cares deeply about the nuclear weapons issue, has for decades, and is a friend and ally in the global campaign to advance nuclear disarmament. So too, Canada’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, H. E. Bob Rae, whom you also attacked quite brutally I thought, in an earlier piece. Besides being patently unfair to these individuals, how does this serve our shared cause? I would urge anyone who thinks that we can win the hearts and minds of decision makers or decision influencers by beating them publicly and very personally with a metaphorical bat, to please reconsider. These are good people who deserve better. And we need all the help we can get.”

Two months ago, another mainstay in peace circles called my response to former Conservative MP Douglas Roche’s praise of Bob Rae an “ugly attack against our own”. In “Antiwar forces need to challenge Trudeau government, not praise it” I criticized a column Roche published extolling Canada’s new ambassador to the UN. Rae, of course, is directly responsible for Canada’s votes against the TPNW and Israel joining the NPT (not to mention a slew of anti-Palestinian votes).

In criticizing Roche’s piece I wrote, “the movement is far too focused on insider lobbying” at the expense of “social movement mobilization.” At some point in a successful social justice campaign backroom lobbying and praising government officials can be useful. But not when it’s taking pro-NATO positions and opposing nuclear disarmament resolutions.

The anti-nuclear movement should not feel any responsibility to defend Liberal officials. It certainly doesn’t require government flatterers. Quite the opposite. It should whip up anti-government sentiment and highlight the Trudeau government’s rank hypocrisy on nuclear arms. While they claim to support nuclear abolition, an “international rules-based order” and a “feminist foreign policy”, they are opposing a widely endorsed UN Nuclear Ban Treaty that directly advances these stated principles.

Winning social justice victories isn’t about making nice with the powerful. Rather, it requires bringing some power to the table. Fortunately for the anti-nuclear movement its latent power is a broadly supportive public. To turn that into policy, activists need to rile up public opinion and channel it politically. If that upsets some important people that’s a reflection of their priorities, not our tactics.

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Filed under Activism, Military

Green leadership candidates to debate foreign policy

Debate is the lifeblood of democracy and a good one is fun to watch or listen to. Hopefully an upcoming Green Party debate will accomplish that while simultaneously strengthening progressives’ foreign policy expectations and infrastructure.

On September 10, Rabble and the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute are organizing a Green Party leadership debate on “Canada’s Place in the World.” Moderated by journalist Judy Rebick, the event will allow people to “hear candidates’ views on Palestinian rights, Venezuela, NATO, the global climate crisis, as well as the international mining and arms industries. Candidates will also address the global pandemic, Donald Trump, tensions with China as well as the global struggle against anti-Blackness and Canada’s second consecutive failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council.”

The Greens, like other parties, generally treat foreign policy as an afterthought. There were two pages on international affairs at the end of their 82-page election platform last year. Of nine Green leadership candidates only Dimitri Lascaris, Andrew West and Amita Kuttner appear to have mentioned international affairs in their policy platforms.

When the Greens do engage on international issues, they are all over the place. Resolutions passed at conventions are generally pretty good and one of the three Green MPs, Paul Manly, has signed the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute’s call for a “fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy”, released following Canada’s second consecutive defeat in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Leadership front runner, Lascaris, has put forward a bold foreign policy platform that includes a call for Canada to withdraw from NATO and to reduce military spending by 50%. In 2011 outgoing Green leader Elizabeth May was the only MP to vote against Canada’s bombing of Libya.

But, May has also taken many pro-imperial positions. As I detailed a year ago in “Green leader May supports same old pro-imperialist foreign policies”, she’s lent her name to numerous initiatives targeting Iran and Venezuela organized by Irwin Cotler, a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes ‘enemy’ states while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US. Even if she’s come around somewhat on the subject, May forced a special party convention in 2016 because she refused to accept the clearly stated will of party members to support “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories].”

If politicians aren’t under constant pressure from social movements and progressive organizations they tend to follow the dominant media’s depiction of international affairs or gravitate towards individuals like Cotler, who no progressive should follow. In that sense May’s positions reflect the left’s failures as much as her own. If the left was as organized regarding international issues as on domestic affairs it’s unlikely she would have participated in Cotler’s press conferences targeting Venezuela and Iran.

The Rabble and Canadian Foreign Policy Institute leadership debate needs to be viewed within this optic. It’s about raising expectations and strengthening the Left’s foreign policy ecosystem.

Independent Jewish Voices and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East took a step in that direction. They recently surveyed the candidates on their Middle East policy. (Lascaris received top marks and Meryam Haddad was in second place while the top fundraiser in the leadership race, Annamie Paul, received bottom marks.)

The CJPME/IJV survey ups the left’s game on foreign policy. But this type of internationalist intervention needs to be adopted more broadly. It would be great if the newly formed Canadian Latin America Alliance had the resources to do a similar survey on Venezuela, Bolivia and Honduras or if Solidarity Québec Haiti could force the candidates to take a position on Canada’s role in Haiti (Lascaris participated in a discussion held by Solidarity Québec Haiti member Jean Saint-Vil). We also need groups hounding the candidates on Canada’s international mining behemoth, large government-backed arms export industry and the legality of Canadian sanctions.

Any individual seeking to lead a major political party should expect to be pressed to articulate their positions on Canada’s foreign policy. The Green leadership debate is an opportunity to ‘centre’ a left discussion of Canadian foreign policy.

Every progressive in this country should be eager to hear what the Green candidates have to say about “Canada’s place in the world”.

 

If you want to vote in the Green Party leadership election you have to become a member of the party by September 3.  It costs $10. 

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Trudeau’s Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government is a sham

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Should peace groups challenge Canadian militarism by pushing clear, principled, demands or by promoting a militarist government’s bid to rebrand itself through a “peace” institute?

In a recent blog headlined “New Peace Centre needed to balance defence industry-funded think tanks”, the Rideau Institute promoted the proposed Canadian Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government. Since October four different Rideau Institute blogs have talked up the Liberals’ Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government. In their recent blog they linked to a January 29 Hill Times story headlined “A new Canadian peace centre could make a world of difference”. Authored by Rideau Institute head Peggy Mason and Senior advisor Peter Langille, the opinion piece called for the Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government to be modeled after the former Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (CIIPS).

In 1984 the federal government passed “An Act to Establish the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security.” Under the legislation CIIPS was obliged to carry out research proposed by the “designated” minister. Associated with peace researchers, CIIPS was run by former External Affairs and military officials. Its first chair was William Barton who worked at External Affairs for three decades, including a stint as Canadian ambassador to the UN. The organization’s founding director was Brigadier-General George Gray Bell, who spent three decades in the military, and its initial executive director was Geoffrey Pearson, son of Lester Pearson. A former ambassador to the Soviet Union and Mongolia, Geoffrey Pearson wrote, “I have been identified with the government most of my life.” (See my Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt for an assessment of his famed father’s international policies.)

While the institute generally reflected the liberal end of the dominant foreign policy discussion, CIIPS coordinator of research Mark Heller supported Canadian participation in the first Gulf War. The organization also aligned itself with Canadian policy in other ways. Geoffrey Pearson described the motivation for organizing a conference on Canada–Caribbean relations: “I thought that Canada ought to pay more attention to the … British Caribbean countries, where we had traditional interests and potentially important influence.” But Canada’s “traditional interests” in the British Caribbean have often been characterized as “imperialistic”. Canadian banks and insurance companies have dominated the English Caribbean’s financial sector for more than a century and prominent Canadians repeatedly sought to annex these territories.

In 1992 Brian Mulroney’s government disbanded CIIPS. While some suggested the decision was a response to policy prescriptions the government didn’t like, Ottawa claimed its decision was strictly financial. The government’s official explanation gives a good sense of how they viewed the institute. “It will cost the government $2.5 million less annually, because instead of having the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security, we will have officials within the Department of External Affairs doing the same job.”

If its anything like CIIPS its doubtful the Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government will push to withdraw from NATO, reduce military spending, end government support for arms exporters or withdraw Canadian troops from Iraq and Latvia. Instead the Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government is likely to offer a public relations boost to a Liberal government promoting arm sales, NATO expansionism and increased military spending, not to mention brutal mining companies, anti-Palestinian positions, an unpopular Haitian president, a coup in Venezuela, etc.

It is unclear if Mason and Languille’s position is motivated by political ‘realism’, employment considerations, fear of political marginalization, discomfort with the depths of Canadian militarism or a desire to claim victory (the Rideau Institute is part of a coalition that suggested a similar institution). Or maybe they believe the peace movement should take whatever crumbs the Liberals drop from the table since they will be better than what a Conservative government offers.

The other side doesn’t have this attitude. As the recent Rideau Institute blog rightly pointed out the DND/arms industry funded Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) doesn’t hold back from articulating militarist positions. Last month CGAI held a conference on Modernizing North American Defence that painted Russia and China as apocalyptic threats, wanting to “destroy” (Moscow) and “own” (Beijing) us. Despite their lack of moral legitimacy, the militarists forcefully convey their positions.

Antimilitarists need organizations that do the same. Certainly, it’s not too much to expect a “peace” institute to call for reduced military spending, an end to public support for arms exporters and Canada’s withdrawal from NATO. Does the Rideau Institute believe the Centre for Peace, Order, and Good Government will do that?

 

I will be speaking alongside Peggy Mason at the World Beyond War conference in Ottawa on May 27.

 

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Filed under Activism, Justin Trudeau, Military, NGOs

Challenging the NDP on Palestine during the election campaign

Screen Shot 2019-09-11 at 9.34.38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Activism, Israel, NDP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Activism, Justin Trudeau

Time for direct action international solidarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Activism