Category Archives: Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

NDP marches with USA on Venezuela

Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?

The Canadian social democratic party’s foreign critic Hélène Laverdière has certainly remained silent regarding US leaders musing about a military coup or invasion of Venezuela and has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means.

At the start of the month US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust President Nicolás Maduro. “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people,” Tillerson said in a speech, which included a quip about Maduro being sent to Cuba.

I found no criticism of Tillerson’s speech by Laverdière. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat also stayed mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela in the summer. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canadian sanctions on Venezuela, which followed a similar move by the US. In a move that probably violated the UN and OAS charters, in September the elected president, vice president and 38 other Venezuelan officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians were barred from having financial relations with these individuals. Two months later 19 Venezuelan officials were sanctioned under the just adopted Magnitsky Act, which Laverdière and the NDP backed.

Nor did I find any criticism of Canada’s role in the so-called Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière remained silent when foreign minister Chrystia Freeland organized a meeting of the Lima Group in Toronto four months ago.

She also ignored Canada’s role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

The NDP foreign critic also stayed mum when the federal government expelledVenezuelan diplomats’ from Canada in December.

Instead, Laverdière has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and call on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria” and called Venezuela’s vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.”

Amidst opposition protests in the summer, Laverdière told CBC, “we wouldlike to see the [Canadian] government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.”

Laverdière’s statement ignored the death and destruction caused by opposition protesters and the opposition’s effort to hamstring the government after it won control of the National Assembly in 2015.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting in June Laverdière responded to an anti-Venezuela screed by saying “I share many of his concerns.” Amongst a series of outrageous claims against the leftist government, Peter Kent told the committee: “As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela’s small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust.”

In June 2016 Laverdière put out a press release bemoaning “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”. In it Laverdière said, “the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding Venezuela, and Canada, as a member of the OAS, should support his efforts.” But, the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS were highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Amidst three months of violent right wing protests at the start of 2014, then NDP Americas critic Laverdière presented a position to the House of Commons titled “Human Rights in Venezuela” and sponsored a House of Commons resolution (slightly re-worded and reintroduced two days later by then foreign critic Paul Dewar) asking, ” the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.”

After the opposition once again cried foul when they lost the 2013 presidential election, Laverdière accused the Stephen Harper government of being soft on Venezuela (only elections the right wing wins are fair, in the eyes of large swaths of the opposition and Laverdière). “Canada’s silence is striking,” she told Ipolitics. “They had views on President Chávez, but now they don’t seem to actually care what’s happening in the country.”

In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a motion to next weekend’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.” It notes: “Be It Resolved that the NDP actively oppose foreign interference in Venezuela, defend Venezuela’s right to self-determination, reject alignment with U.S. policy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, and request the immediate removal of MP Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”

NDP members who oppose imperialism need to challenge Laverdière’s support for Washington and Ottawa’s efforts to topple Venezuela’s elected government.

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Canada a settler state helping pull imperial strings, not a colony

Colony or settler state?

Recently foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed concerns that Canada was seeking “regime change” in Venezuela by saying “Canada has never been an imperialist power. It’s even almost funny to say that phrase: we’ve been the colony.”

As I detailed in an initial response, Ottawa has passively or actively supported numerous U.S.-backed military coups against progressive elected governments. But, the conclusion to Freeland’s statement above is equally absurd, even if it is a common refrain among liberals and leftists.

Despite its popularity, the idea that Canada was or is a “colony” obscures Canada’s place near the top of a hierarchical world economy and polity. In probably its most famous iteration, prominent historian Harold Innis remarked that Canada had gone “from colony to nation to colony.”

Between 1867 and 1931, Canadian foreign policy was officially determined by London. But, describing this as a “colonial” relationship ignores the Canadian elite’s access to British capital, universities, armaments, etc., as well as Canada’s role in extending British power westward and, to a lesser extent, in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

While technically accurate, employing the term “colony” to describe both Canada and Kenya makes little sense. British, French and other settlers in Canada were not dispossessed of their land, but rather dispossessed First Nations. Additionally, they faced no repression comparable to that experienced by the Maasai or Kikuyu. Calling Canada a “colony” is akin to describing the European settlers in Kenya as “colonized”. While tensions existed between the whites in Kenya and the Colonial Office in London, the settlers also had privileged access to British arms, technology and capital.

At first, Canada was an arm of the British Empire, conquering the northern part of the Western hemisphere by dispossessing First Nations. After 1867, Ottawa regularly argued it “was looking after British imperial interests in North America and that the country’s material growth reinforced the British Empire,” writes Norman Penlington in Canada and Imperialism: 1896-1899. “The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was especially justified as a British military route to the East.”

A number of Canadian military institutions were established in large part to expand the British Empire’s military capacity. Opened in Kingston, Ontario, in 1876, the Royal Military College (RMC) was largely designed to train soldiers to fight on behalf of British colonialism. Usually trained at the RMC, Canadians helped conquer Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. Four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1885 while a decade and a half later thousands more fought to advance British imperial interests in the southern part of the continent.

While Freeland wasn’t clear about whether she was referring to British or U.S. influence over Canada, the second part of the “colony to nation to colony” parable is also misleading. Has Canada been colonized by Washington in a similar way to Haiti? Among innumerable examples of its domination, on December 17, 1914, U.S. Marines marched to the country’s treasury and took the nation’s entire gold reserve — valued at U.S. $12 million — and between 1915 and 1934 Washington formally occupied Haiti (they retained control of the country’s finances until 1947.)

Facilitated by racial, linguistic and cultural affinity, Canada has long had privileged access to the U.S. business and political elite. Longtime speaker of the House of Representatives and Democratic Party nominee for President in 1912, Champ Clark, highlighted Canada’s prized place within U.S. ruling circles. “They are people of our blood,” Champ expounded. “They speak our language. Their institutions are much like ours. They are trained in the difficult art of self-government.”

During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba the Royal Bank was the preferred banker of U.S. officials. (National U.S. banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) Canadian capitalists worked with their U.S. counterparts in Central America as well. In the early 1900s, Canadian Pacific Railway President Sir William Van Horne helped the Boston-based United Fruit Company, infamous for its later role in overthrowing elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz, build the railway required to export bananas from the country. In the political realm there were also extensive ties. For instance, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, worked for the Rockefeller family while the mother of long-time U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was from a wealthy Canadian family.

Today, the ties are closer than ever. In a post U.S. election exposé titled “A look inside Palm Beach, where wealthy Canadians are one degree of separation from Donald Trump,” The Globe and Mail detailed a slew of prominent Canadians (Brian Mulroney, Charles Bronfman, George Cohon, Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, Paul Desmarais’s family, etc.) with winter homes near the U.S. president’s exclusive property. A number of these individuals, the Globe reported, could get “Trump’s ear” if he turned on Canada.

While there is a power imbalance between the two countries and differing interests at times, the Canadian elite sees the world and profits from it in a similar way to their U.S. counterparts.

Rather than looking at Canadian foreign policy through the lens of a “colony,” a more apt framework to understand this country’s place in the world is the Canadian elite has had a privileged position with the two great powers of the past two centuries. Or, Canada progressed from an appendage of the Imperial Centre to appendage of the Imperial Centre.

The term “settler state” is a better description than “colony” of what Canada was and is. It acknowledges the primary colonizer (us) and does not obscure the power relations in the imperial order — our ruling elite is closely tied into the world ruling elite.

Canada’s opposition to Venezuela’s elected government reflects this status.

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Canadian imperialism not amusing to its victims, Ms. Freeland

It may walk and quack like a regime-change-promoting duck, but Ottawa’s unilateral sanctions and support for Venezuela’s opposition is actually just a cuddly Canadian beaver, says Chrystia Freeland.

Canada has never been an imperialist power. It’s even almost funny to say that phrase: we’ve been the colony,” said the journalist-turned-politician after a Toronto meeting of foreign ministers opposed to the Venezuelan government.

The above declaration was part of the Canadian foreign minister’s response to a question about Chavismo’s continued popularity, which was prefaced by a mention of protesters denouncing Ottawa’s interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Freeland added that “one of the strengths Canada brings to its international affairs” is that it doesn’t engage in “regime change.”

Notwithstanding her government’s violation of the UN and Organization of American States charters’ in Venezuela, Freeland’s claim that Ottawa doesn’t engage in “regime change” is laughable. Is she unaware that a Canadian General commanded the NATO force, which included Canadian fighter jets, naval vessels and special forces, that killed Muammar Gaddafi in Libya six years ago?

Sticking to contexts more directly applicable to the situation in Venezuela, Ottawa has repeatedly endorsed US-backed military coups against progressive elected leaders. Canada passively supported the ouster of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, Ugandan President Milton Obote (by Idi Amin) in 1971 and Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973. In a more substantial contribution to undermining electoral democracy, Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya. Before his 2009 ouster Canadian officials criticized Zelaya and afterwards condemned his attempts to return to the country. Failing to suspend its military training program, Canada was also the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. Six months after the coup Ottawa endorsed an electoral farce and immediately recognized the new right-wing government.

In the 1960s, Ottawa played a more substantial role in the ouster of pan-Africanist independence leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba. In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Nkrumah. In an internal memo to External Affairs just after Nkrumah was ousted, Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey wrote “a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part.” Soon after the coup, Ottawa informed the military junta that Canada intended to carry on normal relations and Canada sent $1.82 million ($15 million today) worth of flour to Ghana.

Ottawa had a strong hand in Patrice Lumumba’s demise. Canadian signals officers oversaw intelligence positions in the UN mission supposed to protect the territorial integrity of the newly independent Congo, but which Washington used to undermine the progressive independence leader. Canadian Colonel Jean Berthiaume assisted Lumumba’s political enemies by helping recapture him. The UN chief of staff, who was kept in place by Ottawa despite being labelled an “imperialist tool” by Lumumba’s advisers, tracked the deposed prime minister and informed army head Joseph Mobutu of Lumumba’s whereabouts. Soon after Lumumba was killed and Canadian officials celebrated the demise of an individual Prime Minister John Diefenbaker privately called a “major threat to Western interests”.

It’s in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation where Canada was most aggressive in opposing a progressive government. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized an international gathering to discuss overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. No Haitian officials were invited to the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that president Jean-Bertrand Aristide “must go,” the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Thirteen months after the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian National Police was also heavily militarized.

Canadian special forces “secured” the airport from which Aristide was bundled (“kidnapped” in his words) onto a plane by US Marines and deposited in the Central African Republic. 500 Canadian troops occupied Haiti for the next six months.

After cutting off aid to Haiti’s elected government, Ottawa provided tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the installed government, publicly supported coup officials and employed numerous officials within coup government ministries. Haiti’s deputy justice minister for the first 15 months of the foreign-installed government, Philippe Vixamar, was on the Canadian International Development Agency’s payroll and was later replaced by another CIDA employee (the minister was a USAID employee). Paul Martin made the first ever trip by a Canadian prime minister to Haiti to support the violent post-coup dictatorship.

Dismissing criticism of Ottawa’s regime change efforts in Venezuela by claiming Canada has been a benevolent international actor is wholly unconvincing. In fact, a serious look at this country’s foreign policy past gives every reason to believe that Ottawa is seeking to unseat an elected government that has angered many among the corporate set.

Anyone with their eyes open can tell the difference between a beaver and a duck.

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Canada joins gang showing colours in Asia

Canadian leaders search for “gravitas” and “respect” from their US counterparts is adding to friction in the Asia-Pacific. Amidst tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Canadian Navy has joined Washington’s “pivot” towards Asia.

Recently departed, HMCS Chicoutimi is expected to be in the Asia-Pacific until March. While they refused to offer CBC News much detail, a military spokesperson said the first ever Victoria-class submarine deployed to the region will “provide the government with defence and security options should a timely Canadian response be necessary.”

Chicoutimi’s deployment follows on the heels of a six-month tour of Asia by HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg, which included “freedom of navigation” operations and exercises alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships. When the two Canadian gunboats travelled through the South China Sea with their allies, Chinese vessels came within three nautical miles and “shadowed” them for 36 hours. On another occasion a Chinese intelligence vessel monitored HMCS Winnipeg and Ottawa while they exercised with a South Korean ship.

After visiting HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg in Singapore Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance declared, “if one wants to have any respect or gravitas you have to be in that region.”

During the past decade the US and its principle Asian economic ally Japan have lost their economic hegemony over the region. With Chinese power growing and the Obama administration’s “pivot” designed to contain it, Washington has sought to stoke longstanding territorial and maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the US Navy engages in regular “freedom of navigation” operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters — kind of like the logic employed by street gangs defending “their” territory.

The Canadian Navy has supported Washington’s aggressive posture. They’ve increased participation in patrols and exercises in the region. In 2012 it came to light the military was seeking a small base or “hub” in southeast Asia – probably in Singapore – with a port facility.

Unfortunately, exerting naval power in the region is nothing new for this country. For two decades the Canadian navy has made regular port visits to Asia and since its 1971 inception Canada has participated in every Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is a massive US-led maritime warfare training every two years.

Immediately after US forces invaded Korea in 1950, Ottawa sent three gunboats to the region. Ultimately eight Canadian warships with 3,600soldiers were deployed to the country during the conflict (a total of 27,000Canadians fought in the three-year war that left millions dead). Canadian ships transported troops and bombed the North. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, “During the war, Canadians became especially good at ‘train busting’. This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea’s coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight.”

Before the outbreak of the Korean War the Canadian Navy sought to exert itself in the region. In a bizarre move, Ottawa sent a naval vessel to China in 1949 as the Communists were on the verge of victory. According to Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, the boat was sent too late to stop the Kuomintang’s defeat by Mao’s forces and was not needed to evacuate Canadians since British boats could remove them. The objective, it seems, was to demonstrate to the US and UK “that Canada was a willing partner”, particularly in light of the emerging north Atlantic alliance.

And like the smaller, weaker kid in a street gang our “leaders” are trying to prove how tough we are. Need someone to attack a house? Sure, we’ll do it. Show them our firepower? We’re in.

Canadian military planners’ search for “gravitas” is akin to gang logic. But, let’s hope our behaviour in Asia doesn’t lead to where gang warfare has taken many North American cities.

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Ugly Canadian face now belongs to Trudeau

The “Ugly Canadian” is on the march, but now with a much prettier face at the helm. Across the planet, Canadian mining companies are in conflict with local communities and usually have the Trudeau government’s support.

A slew of disputes have arisen at Canadian run mines in recent weeks:

Last week in northern central Mexico, community members blockaded the main access road to Goldcorp Inc.’s Penasquito mine. They are protesting against the Vancouver-based company for using and contaminating their water without providing alternative sources.

In Northern Ireland two weeks ago, police forced activists out of a Cookstown hotel after they tried to confront representatives from Dalradian Resources. Community groups worry the Toronto firm’s proposed gold and silver mine will damage the Owenkillew River Special Area of Conservation.

Last weekend, an Argentinian senator denounced Blue Sky Uranium’s exploration in the Patagonia region. Magdalena Odarda said residents living near the planned mine fear the Vancouver company’s operations will harm their health.

On Wednesday more than 40 US congresspeople, as well as the Alaska’s Governor, criticized the removal of restrictions on mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, home to half the world’s sockeye salmon production. In May, Northern Dynasty CEO Thomas Collier met the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency to ask for the lifting of restrictions on its Pebble Mine, which is expected to destroy the region’s salmon fishery. In a bid to gain government permission to move forward on the project, the Vancouver firm appointed a former chief of staff at the US Department of the Interior as its new CEO.

At the end of September, hundreds of families were displaced by the Filipino Army to make way for a mine jointly run by Australian and Canadian firms MRL Gold and Egerton Gold. The community in the Batangas Province was blocking a project expected to harm marine biodiversity.

In eastern Madagascar, farmers are in a dispute with DNI Metals over compensation for lands damaged by the Toronto firm.

In August, another person was allegedly killed by Acacia (Barrick Gold) security at its North Mara mine in Tanzania.

Last week, Barrick Gold agreed to pay $20-million to a Chilean a group after a year-long arbitration. The Toronto company had reneged on a $60-million 20-year agreement to compensate communities affected by its Pascua Lama gold, silver and copper project.

In mid-September, Eldorado Gold threatened to suspend its operations in Halkidiki, Greece, if the central government didn’t immediately approve permits for its operations. With the local Mayor and most of the community opposed to the mine, the social-democratic Syriza government was investigating whether a flawed technical study by the Vancouver company was a breach of its contract.

And in Guatemala, Indigenous protestors continue to blockade Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine despite a mid-September court decision in the company’s favour. Fearing for their water, health and land, eight municipalities in the area have voted against the Vancouver firm’s project.

The Liberals have largely maintained Stephen Harper’s aggressive support for Canada’s massive international mining industry. Last month Canada’s Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne backed El Dorado, denouncing the Greek government’s “troublesome” permit delays. Canada’s Ambassador to Madagascar, Sandra McCadell, appears to have backed DNI Metals during a meeting with that country’s mining minister.

As I detailed previously, the Trudeau government recently threw diplomatic weight behind Canada’s most controversial mining company in the country where it has committed its worst abuses. Amidst dozens of deaths at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania and an escalating battle over the company’s unpaid royalties/tax, Canada’s High Commissioner Ian Myles organised a meeting between Barrick Executive Chairman John Thornton and President John Magufuli. After the meeting Myles applauded Barrick’s commitment to “the highest standards, fairness and respect for laws and corporate social responsibility.”

Two years into their mandate the Trudeau regime has yet to follow through on their repeated promises to rein in Canada’s controversial international mining sector. Despite this commitment, they have adopted no measures to restrict public support for Canadian mining companies responsible for significant abuses abroad.

The ‘Ugly Canadian’ is running roughshod across the globe and pretty boy Justin is its new face.

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Time for Canada to withdraw from NATO

Ottawa should withdraw from NATO before the alliance draws Canada into an even more destructive conflict. This instrument of US-led imperialism has become more belligerent as its Cold War pretext fades further from view.

In 1948 US, British and Canadian officials met secretly to lay the basis for NATO, which was established the following year. Rather than a defence against possible Russian attack, NATO was conceived as a reaction to growing socialist sentiment in post–World War II Western Europe. In March 1949 External Minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons: “The power of the communists, wherever that power flourishes, depends upon their ability to suppress and destroy the free institutions that stand against them. They pick them off one by one: the political parties, the trade unions, the churches, the schools, the universities, the trade associations, even the sporting clubs and the kindergartens. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meant to be a declaration to the world that this kind of conquest from within will not in the future take place amongst us.” Tens of thousands of North American troops were stationed in Western Europe to deter any “conquest from within”.

The north Atlantic pact was also used to justify European/North American dominance across the globe. As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” For Pearson and some US leaders NATO’s first test took place halfway across the world when 27,000 Canadians fought in a war that left millions of mostly Koreans dead between 1950 and 1953.

Through NATO’s Mutual Aid Program Canada armed France, Belgian and Britain as they violently suppressed independence struggles in Algeria, the Congo, Kenya and elsewhere. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European NATO countries.

Exactly how little NATO had to do with the Cold War is demonstrated by how the alliance has become more aggressive since the demise of the Soviet Union. In 1999 Canadian fighter jets dropped 530 bombs in NATO’s illegal 78-day bombing of Serbia. During the 2000s tens of thousands of Canadian troops fought in a NATO war in Afghanistan. In 2011 a Canadian general led NATO’s attack on Libya in which seven CF-18 fighter jets and two Canadian naval vessels participated.

In a dangerous game of brinksmanship that could lead to a confrontation with Russian forces, NATO is currently massing troops and fighter jets on that country’s border. Alongside 200 soldiers in both Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops headed to Latvia this summer while the US, Britain and Germany lead missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

In addition to spurring war, militarists use the alliance to boost socially and ecologically damaging military spending. In one of a string of similar commentaries, a recent National Post editorial bemoaned “Canada’s continuing failure to honour our pledge to NATO allies to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence.” The Trudeau government has also cited the alliance to justify its opposition to international efforts to ban nuclear weapons.

Since its founding NATO has been a highly contentious issues within the NDP/CCF. While outgoing leader Tom Mulcair called the alliance a “cornerstone” of NDP foreign policy, those promoting Sid Ryan’s potential leadership bid called for the party “to revive the NDP’s historic policy to get Canada out of NATO.” (The party adopted this position in the late 1960s but effectively abandoned it two decades later.)

Though it would elicit howls of outrage from the militarists, withdrawing from NATO would not be particularly radical. European countries such as Sweden and Finland aren’t part of the alliance, nor are former British dominions Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Canada’s NAFTA and G7 partners Mexico and Japan.

Withdrawing from NATO would dampen pressure to spend on the military and to commit acts of aggression in service of the US-led world order.

This first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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Mining people along with minerals

If you take a nation’s mineral resources do you have a moral responsibility to also accept its people?

On Sunday about 40 people rallied outside a Montreal Metro station against deportations to Guinea. The protesters called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to live up to his “Welcome to Canada” rhetoric and allow asylum seekers from the small West African nation to stay.

After a de-facto amnesty on deportations between 2013 and 2016, requests for asylum by Guineans have been refused en masse since December. According to the Refugee and Immigration Board, 10 Guineans in Canada have had their asylum rejected since June 30. Sixty-three claimants from the impoverished country are currently pending.

Rally organizers cited corporate Canada’s exploitation of the mineral rich nation as a rationale for why asylum seekers should be allowed to stay. Certainly, in a number of ways, this country has contributed to the impoverishment that drives Guineans to seek a better life elsewhere.

A handful of Canadian mining companies operate in the small West African nation and to strengthen their hand Ottawa signed a Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement with Guinea in 2015. At least two Canadian resource companies have engendered significant conflict and controversy in Guinea.

Those living near SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt “the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits.” In 2008 the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers.” Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company’s failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO’s facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government’s Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax. The Comité Technique also found that the company failed “to produce detailed feasibility studies” and was not “in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code.” The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country. Later that year SEMAFO sold the Kiniero mine.

Canadian mining interest in the country dates back to the colonial period. In 1916 Montreal-based Alcan started exploring in Guinea and a dozen years later began operating through a French subsidiary. In 1938 Alcan opened a bauxite mine on the Island of Tamara in the Isles de Los. (In 1904 London gave the island — and some other African territory — to France in exchange for its relinquishment of fishing rights in Newfoundland, which included the right to dry cod on land.) To construct a wharf on this island just off the coast of Conakry the Canadian company turned to the colonial penal system with most of the 170 workmen pressed into service from the local penitentiary.

Fifteen years later Alcan opened a modern plant on the island to supply its smelters in Québec. Les Mines et la Recherche Minière en Afrique Occidentale Française describes the island just off the Guinea coast as “a Canadian enclave” at the beginning of production in 1951. Alcan employed some 1,200 workers to build the site with the African labourers paid 5,000 francs ($20 CAD) a month.

In 1953 the director of mines for French West Africa granted Alcan exclusive prospecting rights over 2,000 square kilometres of territory in Western Guinea. The company discovered one of the richest bauxite deposits in the world in the Boké region. During a 1956 visit to France’s West African colonies Canada’s ambassador to France, Jean Désy, inspected the nascent Boké site.

After Guinea’s 1958 independence the Boké project became highly contentious. In January 1961 much of the workforce went on a weeklong strike to demand the dismissal of a dozen white managers. Later that year the mine was nationalized. In Negotiating the Bauxite/Aluminium Sector under Narrowing Constraints Bonnie K. Campbell notes, “in November 1961, the government took possession of the Kassa and Boké sites because of the failure of the private firm, Les Bauxites du Midi (a 100 per cent subsidiary of Alcan) to observe its agreement to transform locally bauxite to alumina by 1964.” When the government voided its contract, Alcan illegally secreted out company files from Guinea.

Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) maintains a presence in the country with the largest known bauxite reserves in the world. While Guinea has extracted significant quantities of the mineral, it has almost all been refined into aluminum elsewhere.

Conversely, bauxite isn’t mined in Canada, but this country has long been among the leading producers of the valuable metal. Dependent on cheap electricity from dams built on indigenous land, Québec aluminum smelters have refinedsignificant amounts of Guinean bauxite. The divide between bauxite/aluminum and its extraction/production has traditionally reflected an extremely hierarchical world economy — shaped by the transatlantic slave trade, European colonialism, structural adjustment, etc. — in which the poor provide the minerals and those at the top carry out the value-added production.

The exploitation of Guinean resources in this fashion has quite clearly benefited Canadian corporations and created jobs in this country rather than in the place where the bauxite originated.

Therefore the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article is yes. Ottawa’s role in shaping the hierarchical international economic system and corporate Canada’s extraction of Guinean resources should be factors considered in assessing every Guinean’s request for asylum in this country.

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