Category Archives: Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

NDP foreign affairs critic marches in step with US Empire

Does the NDP consistently support a foreign policy that benefits ordinary people around the world? Or does the social democratic party often simply fall in line with whatever the American Empire demands?

Hélène Laverdière certainly seems to support the US-led geopolitical order. While the NDP foreign critic has called for stronger arms control measures and regulations on Canada’s international mining industry, she’s aligned with the Empire on issues ranging from Venezuela to Palestine, Ukraine to Syria.

Echoing Washington and Ottawa, Laverdière recently attacked the Venezuelan government. “On the heels of Sunday’s illegitimate constituent assembly vote, it’s more important than ever for Canada to work with our allies and through multilateral groups like the OAS to secure a lasting resolution to the crisis,” she told the CBC.

But, the constituent assembly vote wasn’t “illegitimate”. Venezuela’s current constitution empowers the president to call a constituent assembly to draft a new one. If the population endorses the revised constitution in a referendum, the president – and all other governmental bodies – are legally required to follow the new constitutional framework.

Additionally, calling on Ottawa to “work with our allies” through the OAS may sound reasonable, but in practice it means backing Trudeau’s efforts to weaken Venezuela through that body. Previously, Laverdière promoted that Washington-led policy. In a June 2016 press release bemoaning “the erosionof democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”, 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 have been highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Laverdière has also cozied up to pro-Israel groups. Last year she spoke to the notorious anti-Palestinian lobby organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Months after AIPAC paid for her to speak at their conference in Washington, Laverdière visited Israel with Canada’s governor general, even participating in a ceremony put on by the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund.

The only Quebec MP to endorse Jagmeet Singh as next party leader, Laverdière has attended other events put on by groups aligned with Washington. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela, in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria.”

Laverdière supports deploying troops to the Russian border and repeatedly called for more sanctions on that country. She said the plan to send military trainers to the Ukraine “sounds good in principle” and only called for a debatein Parliament about sending 450 Canadians to head up a 1,000-strong NATO force in Latvia.

Since 2014 Laverdière has repeatedly called for stronger sanctions on Russia. In 2014 Laverdière told the Ottawa Citizen that “for sanctions to work, it’s not about the number of people but it’s about actually sanctioning the right people. They have to be comprehensive. And they have to target mainly the people who are very close to Putin. Our sanctions, the Canadian sanctions, still fail to do that.”

In May Laverdière applauded a bill modeled after the US Magnitsky Act that will further strain relations between Ottawa and Moscow by sanctioning Russian officials. “Several countries have adopted similar legislation and we are encouraged that the Liberals are finally taking this important step to support the Global Magnitsky movement,” she said.

In another region where the US and Russia were in conflict Laverdière aligned with the Washington-Riyadh position. In the midst of growing calls for the US to impose a “no-fly zone” on Syria last year, the NDP’s foreign critic recommended Canada nominate the White Helmets for the Nobel Peace Prize. A letter Laverdière co-wrote to foreign minister Stéphane Dion noted: Canada has a proud and long-standing commitment to human rights, humanitarianism and international peacekeeping. It is surely our place to recognize the selflessness, bravery, and fundamental commitment to human dignity of these brave women and men.”

Also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, the White Helmets were credited with rescuing many people from bombed out buildings. But, they also fostered opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime. The White Helmets operated almost entirely in areas of Syria occupied by the Saudi Arabia–Washington backed Al Nusra/Al Qaeda rebels. They criticized the Syrian government and disseminated images of its violence, but largely ignored those people targeted by the opposition and reportedly enabled some of their executions.

The White Helmets are closely associated with the Syria Campaign, which was set up by Ayman Asfari, a British billionaire of Syrian descent actively opposed to Assad. The White Helmets also received at least $23 million from USAID and Global Affairs Canada sponsored a five-city White Helmets tour of Canada in late 2016.

Early in the Syrian conflict Laverdière condemned the Harper government for failing to take stronger action against Assad. She urged Harper to raise the Syrian conflict with China, recall Canada’s ambassador to Syria and complained that energy giant Suncor was exempted from sanctions, calling on Canada to “put our money where our mouth is.”

Prior to running in the 2011 federal election Laverdière worked for Foreign Affairs. She held a number of Foreign Affairs positions over a decade, even winning the Foreign Minister’s Award for her contribution to Canadian foreign policy.

Laverdière was chummy with Harper’s foreign minister. John Baird said, “I’m getting to know Hélène Laverdière and I’m off to a good start with her” and when Baird retired CBC reported that she was “among the first to line up in the House on Tuesday to hug the departing minister.”

On a number of issues the former Canadian diplomat has aligned with the US Empire. Whoever takes charge of the NDP in October should think about whether Laverdière is the right person to keep Canadian foreign policy decision makers accountable.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

‘Free trade’ has come to mean powerful interests get whatever they want

“Free trade” has become a euphemism for “whatever power wants,” no matter how tangentially tied to transfering goods across international borders.

In an extreme example, Ottawa recently said its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel trumps Canada’s Food and Drugs Act since accurately labelling two wines might undermine a half-century long, illegal, military occupation.

Of little connection to international trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement — and subsequent FTAs — has granted foreign corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in secret tribunals for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. Over 75 cases have been brought before the Investor StateDispute Settlement section of NAFTA, which has resulted in tens of millions of dollars paid to companies impacted by Ottawa banning the export of toxic PCB wastes or the import of suspected neurotoxin gasoline additive MMT.

Strengthening this dynamic, Canada’s “free trade” deal with the European Union (CETA) empowers companies to sue municipalities if they expand public services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA, TPP, WTO and other self-described “free trade” agreements also extend patent and copyright protections (monopolies), which stifle competition, a pillar of free trade ideology. CETA’s increased patent protections are expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year. Negotiations to “modernize NAFTA” could end up granting big pharma perks that would effecitvely block Canada’s ability to set up universal pharmacare. Similarly, the yet to be signed TPP strengthens patents and would increase the length of copyright in Canada from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author.

It is little exaggeration to say politicians have come to employ the term “free trade” to mean “whatever powerful corporations want.” But, the Trudeau Liberals recently broadened the term’s definition even further. In a move to make “free trade” mean “whatever powerful interests want,” they announced that Canada’s FTA with Israel supercedes this country’s Food and Drugs Act.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inaccurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.”

In response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government is publicly proclaming that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protections. But, this is little more than a pretext to avoid a conflict with B’nai B’rith, CIJA and Israeli officials, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Trade and Investment Research Project director Scott Sinclair. “This trade-related rationale does not stand up to scrutiny,” Sinclair writes. “The Canadian government, the CFIA and the LCBO are well within their legal and trade treaty rights to insist that products from the occupied territories be clearly labelled as such. There is nothing in the CIFTA [Canada–Israel FTA] that prevents this. The decision to reverse the CFIA’s ruling was political. The whole trade argument is a red herring, simply an excuse to provide cover for the CFIA to backtrack under pressure.”

In another commentary on the government “backtracking under pressure,” Peter Larson points out that CIFTA grants Israel an important concession that seeks to sidestep Canada’s commitments under international law. The agreement says, “unless otherwise specified, ‘territory’ means with respect to Israel the territory where its customs laws are applied,” but omits “in accordance with international law,” which is in many of Canada’s other free trade agreements. This omission seeks to allow goods produced on land occupied in contravention of the 4th Geneva Convention and Statute of Rome to benefit from CIFTA.

David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitri Lascaris will be challenging CFIA’s decision in court. On Monday they filed an appeal of the wine labelling and released a statement to the media.

The Council of Canadians and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have recently added their voices to those criticizing CFIA’s decision. The NDP’s trade critic has yet to comment.

Kattenburg and Lascaris’ court challenge offers NDP leadership candidates Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Jagmeet Singh a good opportunity to express their opposition to defining “free trade” as “whatever power wants.”

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Most ‘free trade’ critics silent after Israel FTA overrides Canadian law

Two weeks ago the worst fear of Canadian opponents of neoliberal “free trade” agreements came true.

Surprisingly, there has been almost no reaction from the political parties, unions, and other organizations that warned these agreements would be used to undermine Canadian law, even though this is exactly what happened.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inacurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” On July 11 the LCBO sent out a letter to all sacramental wine vendors that stated CFIA’s conclusion that products from two wineries contained grapes “grown, fermented, processed, blended and finished in the West Bank occupied territory” and should no longer be sold until accurately labelled.

But, in response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. On July 14 the government announced that it was all a mistake made by a low level CFIA official and that the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA) governed the labelling of such wine, not CFIA rules. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government publicly proclamed that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protection laws. And the basis for this dangerous precedent is that the Israel FTA includes the illegally occupied West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws apply.

Incredibly, the Green Party of Canada seems to be the only organization that has publically challenged this egregious attack against consumer protections and Palestinian rights. “The European Union and the United States made it clear long ago that goods made in these illegal settlements cannot be mislabelled as ‘Made in Israel,'” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a press release. “Why is Canada singling out Israel for preferential treatment at the expense of both Palestinians’ human rights, and the rights of Canadian consumers?”

The Greens’ statement points to a startling “Israel exception” by the government as well as FTA critics. I have seen no comment from the Council of Canadians or the organization’s trade campaigner Sujata Dey about the Liberal’s announcement that an FTA overides Canadian consumer protections.

The same can be said for NDP International Trade critic Tracey Ramsey as well as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Trade and Investment Research Project leader Scott Sinclair. (Since CFIA’s announcement Ramsey and Dey have each posted repeatedly to twitter regarding CETA, NAFTA and other FTAs.) Nor have consumer protection groups such as the Consumers’ Association of Canada or Consumers Council of Canada opposed this attack on the Food and Drugs Act.

But, FTA critics still have an opportunity to join the fight against CFIA’s recent decision. David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitry Lascaris are planning a court challenge and their efforts should be supported.

To allow this precedent to pass without challenge the CCPA, NDP and Council of Canadians would be conceding an extremely broad “Israel exception.” Opposing CFIA’s move is not akin to backing Palestinian civil society’s (entirely legitimate) call for international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions until Israel “Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall; Recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

Nor is it a request for Ottawa to bar wines produced on the 22% of pre-1948 Palestine supposed to be a Palestinian state as per official Canadian policy. It is not even necessarily a demand to eliminate the special tariff treatment the Israel FTA currently grants companies based in the occupied territories. It is simply a request to respect Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and label two brands of wine accurately.

As Kattenburg explains, “Israel’s self-declared right to sell falsely labeled products on Canadian store shelves should not be allowed to trump the right of Canadians to know what they’re eating and drinking; to know that the fine bottle of ‘Israeli’ red or crisp chardonnay that they just bought was actually not produced from grapes grown in Israel, but rather, in Israeli-occupied, brutally exploited Palestine.”

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel

Trudeau’s foreign policy a lot like Harper’s

When Justin Trudeau looks in the foreign policy mirror who does he see? Someone very much like Stephen Harper.

On the world stage Canada under Trudeau the Second has acted almost the same as when Harper was prime minister. The Liberals have followed the previous government’s posture on issues ranging from militarism to Russia, nuclear weapons to the Gulf monarchies.

Aping the ancien régime’s position, the Liberals recently voted against UN nuclear disarmament efforts supported by most countries of the world. As such, they’ve refused to attend the ongoing Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

Earlier this month the Liberals released a defence policy that calls for 605 more special forces, which have carried out numerous violent covert missions abroad. During the 2015 election campaign defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command over seven years.

The government’s recent defence policy also includes a plan to acquire armed drones, for which the Conservatives had expressed support. Additionally, the Liberals re-stated the previous government’s commitment to spend upwards of one hundred billion dollars on new fighter jets and naval ships.

Initiated by the Conservatives, last year the Liberals signed off on a government-contracted $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia. Trudeau has also maintained the Harper created Canada-Gulf Cooperation Council Dialogue, which is a platform for foreign ministers to discuss economic ties and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The GCC includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, which have almost all intervened in the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Trudeau government has continued to isolate Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. They’ve voted against numerous UN resolutions supported by almost the entire world upholding Palestinian rights.

The Harper regime repeatedly attacked Venezuela’s elected government and in recent weeks the Liberals have picked up from where they left off. The Liberals have supported efforts to condemn the Nicolás Maduro government at the Organization of American States and promoted an international mediation designed to weaken Venezuela’s leftist government (all the while staying mum about Brazil’s imposed president and far worse human rights violations in Mexico).

In March the Liberals renewed Canada’s military “training” mission in the Ukraine, which has emboldened far-right militarists responsible for hundreds of deaths in the east of that country. In fact, Trudeau has significantly bolstered Canada’s military presence on Russia’s doorstep. Simultaneously, the Trudeau government has maintained Harper’s sanctions regime against Russia.

Nearly two years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran or removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list). Nor has the Trudeau regime adopted any measure to restrict public support for Canadian mining companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. With regards to Canada’s massive and controversial international mining industry, it has been status quo ante.

A recent cover of Canadian Dimension magazine provided a cheeky challenge to Trudeau’s bait and switch. Below the word “SURPRISE!” it showed a Justin Trudeau mask being removed to reveal Stephen Harper.

The sober reality is that Trudeau represents a continuation of his predecessor’s foreign policy. I might even need to redo my 2012 book The Ugly Canadian, but this time with the tagline “Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy”.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, The Ugly Canadian

Canadian, US complaints about Russian election meddling hypocritical

If a guy does something bad to someone else, but then complains later when another person does that same thing to him, what do we say? Stop being a hypocrite. Either you change direction or you got what you deserved.

Does the same moral logic apply to countries?

Purported Russian meddling in U.S., French and other elections has received significant attention recently. “Russian meddling abroad underscores need for electoral reform in Canada” declared a rabble.ca headline this week while CBC noted “Russian attempts to infiltrate U.S. election systems found in 21 states: officials.” An earlier Globe and Mailheadline stated “Russia was warned against U.S. election meddling: ex-CIA head,” while a Global News story noted “Canada should worry about Russian interference in elections: former CSIS head.”

Interference in another country’s election is an act of aggression and should not happen in a just world so these accusations deserve to be aired and investigated. But, how can one take the outrage seriously when the media commentators who complain about Russia ignore clear-cut Canadian meddling elsewhere and the decades-long history of U.S. interference in other countries’ elections around the world, including in Canada.

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

Canada has also interfered aggressively in Haitian elections. After plotting, executing and consolidating the 2004 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government, Canadian officials interceded in the first election after the coup. In 2006 Canada’s then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, led a team of Canadian observers to Haiti for elections that excluded the candidate — Father Gérard Jean Juste — of Haiti’s most popular political party Fanmi Lavalas. With the country gripped by social upheaval after widespread fraud in the counting, including thousands of ballots found burned in a dump, Kingsley released a statement claiming, “the election was carried out with no violence or intimidation, and no accusations of fraud.” Chair of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections, Kingsley’s statement went on to laud Jacques Bernard, the head of the electoral council despite the fact that Bernard had already been widely derided as corrupt and biased even by other members of the coup government’s electoral council.

In the 2010 election Ottawa intervened to bring far-right president Michel Martelly to power (with about 16 per cent of the votes, since the election was largely boycotted). Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating. After the first round, our representatives on an Organization of American States Mission helped force the candidate the electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained, “the international community, led by the U.S., France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” Some Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total wasn’t increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of the electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but half didn’t. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté’s Kim Ives, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections and official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this farcical exercise in “democracy.” Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, Haiti Progrès explained “the form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

Washington has, of course, interfered in hundreds of elections in dozens of countries, including Italy, France, Greece, Chile, Ecuador, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Australia and, yes, Canada.

You haven’t heard about that one?

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the Kennedy administration wanted Ottawa’s immediate and unconditional support in putting the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) on high alert. Diefenbaker hesitated, unsure if Washington was telling him the full story about Soviet/Cuban plans or once again bullying the small island nation.

Not happy with Diefenbaker’s attitude during the Cuban Missile Crisis or his ambivalence towards nuclear weapons in Canada, President John F. Kennedy worked to precipitate the downfall of his minority Conservative government. Kennedy preferred Lester Pearson’s Liberals who criticized Diefenbaker on Cuba and were willing to accept nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

“In the fall of 1962,” notes Peter McFarlane in Northern Shadows: Canadians and Central America, “the State Department began to leak insulting references about Diefenbaker to the U.S. and Canadian press.” Articles highly critical of the Canadian prime minister appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and other major U.S. media outlets. On January 3 the outgoing commander of NATO, US General Lauris Norstad, made a surprise visit to Ottawa where he claimed Canada would not be fulfilling her commitments to the north Atlantic alliance if she did not acquire nuclear warheads. Diefenbaker believed the US general came to Canada “at the behest of President Kennedy” to set the table “for Pearson’s conversion to the United States nuclear policy.”

A future prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, concurred. He asked: “Do you think that General Norstad, the former supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, came to Ottawa as a tourist on January 3 to call publicly on the Canadian government to respect its [nuclear] commitments? Do you think it was by chance that Mr. Pearson, in his speech of January 12, was able to quote the authority of General Norstad? Do you think it was inadvertent that, on January 30, the State Department gave a statement to journalists reinforcing Mr. Pearson’s claims and crudely accusing Mr. Diefenbaker of lying?…you believe that it was by coincidence that this series of events ended with the fall of the [Diefenbaker] government on February 5?”

A State Department official, Willis Armstrong, described Kennedy’s attitude towards the March 1963 Canadian election: “He wanted to intervene and make sure Pearson got elected. It was very evident the president was uptight about the possibility that Pearson might not win.” Later Kennedy’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted, “in a way, Diefenbaker was right, for it was true that we preferred Mike Pearson.”

During the 1963 election campaign Kennedy’s top pollster, Lou Harris, helped Pearson get elected prime minister. Kennedy backed Harris’ move, though he opposed an earlier request for the pollster to help British Labour leader Harold Wilson, which Harris then declined. Since Harris was closely associated with the US president the Liberals called Kennedy’s pollster by a pseudonym.

Washington may have aided Pearson’s campaign in other ways. Diefenbaker wondered if the CIA was active during the 1963 election while External Affairs Minister Howard Green said a U.S. agent attended a couple of his campaign meetings in B.C.

To Washington’s delight, Pearson won the election and immediately accepted nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

The lesson? Perhaps Washington and Ottawa should treat other countries in the same way they wish to be treated. Perhaps it is time for a broader discussion about election meddling.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Haiti

Canadian banks at centre of Caribbean tax avoidance schemes

A recent photo in French daily Liberation hints at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s role in facilitating tax avoidance, which is partly an outgrowth of Canadian banking prowess in the Caribbean and Ottawa’s role in shaping the region’s unsavoury financial sector.

Just before the second round of the French presidential election documents were leaked purporting to show that Emmanuel Macron set up a company in a Caribbean tax haven. The president-elect’s firm is alleged to have had dealings with CIBC FirstCaribbean, a subsidiary of Canada’s fifth biggest bank.

While Macron denies setting up an offshore firm and contests the veracity of the documents, this is immaterial to the broader point. If the documents are a fraudulent political attack, those responsible chose CIBC First Caribbean because it is a major player in the region and has been linked to various tax avoidance schemes.

CIBC registered 632 companies and private foundations in the tax haven of the Bahamas between 1990 and May 2016, according to documents released in the Panama Papers.

CIBC was named 1,347 times in a cache of leaked files concerning secret tax havens released by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2013.

FirstCaribbean was implicated in the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal. To avoid an electronic trail of a $250,000 payment to former FIFA official Chuck Blazer, a representative of FirstCaribbean allegedly flewto New York to collect a cheque and deposit it in a Bahamas account.

In 2013 the US Internal Revenue Service sent FirstCaribbean a summons for information on some of its customers who may have been evading US income tax and the CIBC subsidiary was placed on an IRS list of “financial institutions where taxpayers receive a harsher penalty if they are found to have undisclosed accounts.”

CIBC is apparently popular with wealthy, well-placed Africans. Economist Thierry Godefroy and legal expert Pierre Lascoumes write that the “Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is known as the bank of many African dignitaries” while French Africa specialist François-Xavier Verschave called it “the nefarious CIBC, favourite bank of African oil dictators.” In 1997, for instance, the Toronto-based financial institution was the conduit of a $22 million transfer from Geneva to the British Virgin Islands for Kourtas, which was owned by Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo.

CIBC is not only the Canadian bank with operations in a Caribbean financial haven. In fact, Canadian institutions dominate the region’s unsavoury banking sector. In 2013 CIBC, RBC and Scotiabank accounted for more than 60 percent of regional banking assets. In 2008 The Economist reported Canadian banks controlled “the English-speaking Caribbean’s three largest banks, with $42 billion in assets, four times those commanded by its forty-odd remaining locally owned banks.” With their presence in the region dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks have been major players in the Caribbean since the late 1800s.

(Going back further, much of the capital used to establish the current incarnation of CIBC came from supplying the Caribbean slave colonies. The Halifax Banking Company was the first bank in Nova Scotia and the founding unit of today’s CIBC. The Halifax Banking Company’s leading shareholder and initial president, Enos Collins, was a ship owner, who made his wealth by bringing high-protein, salty Atlantic cod to the Caribbean to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.” He was also a privateer, licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, and according to a biography, likely captured and resold slaves in the region.)

Ottawa shaped post-independence Caribbean banking regulations. Beginning in 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and director of the Royal Bank of Canada, Graham Towers, along with a representative from the Ministry of Finance, helped write the Bank of Jamaica law of 1960 and that country’s Banking Law of 1960. These laws, which became the model for the rest of the newly independent English Caribbean, pleased Canadian banks. In The Banks of Canada in the Commonwealth CaribbeanDaniel Jay Baum writes, “the overall and firm impression with which one is left after reading the [Bank] Act is that its drafters did not intend to control the foreign operations of Canadian banks, or that if they intended to, they failed to do so.” More to the point, notes Towers of Gold, feet of clay: the Canadian banks, “West Indian banking laws, when they were written, were written with our help and advice and for our benefit.”

Alain Deneault details the work of Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials in developing taxation and banking policies in a number of Caribbean financial havens in his 2015 book Canada: A New Tax Haven: How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself. Deneault writes: “Beginning in the 1950s, at the instigation of Canadian financiers, lawyers, and policymakers, these jurisdictions changed to become some of the world’s most frighteningly accommodating jurisdictions. In 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada most probably helped make Jamaica into a reduced-taxation country. In the 1960s, as the Bahamas were becoming a tax haven characterized by impenetrable bank secrecy, the Bahamian finance minister was a member of the board of administrators of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). A Calgary lawyer and former Conservative Party honcho drew up the clauses that enabled the Cayman Islands to become an opaque offshore jurisdiction.”

Another way Canada has enabled the offshore financial infrastructure is by signing tax treaties and Tax Information Exchange Agreements with Caribbean tax havens. Due to a 2011 Tax Information Exchange Agreement, Deneault writes, “subsidiaries of Canadian companies that record their profits in the Caymans can now transfer them to Canada without paying any taxes.”

While they’ve proliferated in recent years, the first double taxation treaty Canada signed with a Caribbean tax haven dates to Wayne Gretzky’s inaugural season in the NHL. In 1980, Joe Clark’s short-lived Conservative government signed a double taxation treaty with Barbados. This allowed Canadians to park their international profits in Barbados, which taxes companies at between 0.25% and 2.5%, and transfer them here without paying tax in Canada.

Ottawa has actively defended the Caribbean financial system. In response to a push for greater regulation of the offshore world, in 2009 Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty told the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (where Canada represents most members of the Commonwealth Caribbean as well as Ireland): “Someof our Caribbean countries have significant financial sector activities. There is a risk that changes to financial sector regulation in advanced countries could have negative unintended consequences on these activities. In particular, there is a risk that measures taken against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens, could have unintended negative impacts on well-regulated, transparent, financial centres. I believe that this should be avoided. Countries that comply with international standards should be protected from such measures.”

Canada has shaped the Caribbean’s opaque financial sector and CIBC seems to be at the centre of international offshore tax avoidance.

Let’s go Canada! Time to clean up the mess we created in the Caribbean.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Canada no friend of Haiti or rest of Caribbean

Can cute Canadian Caribbean dreams about enchanted islands come true? Or is reality more complicated and Canada a far less benign actor than we imagine ourselves to be?

In a recent Boston Globe opinion titled “Haiti should relinquish its sovereignty”, Boston College professor Richard Albert writes, “the new Haitian Constitution should do something virtually unprecedented: renounce the power of self-governance and assign it for a term of years, say 50, to a country that can be trusted to act in Haiti’s long-term interests.” According to the Canadian constitutional law professor his native land, which Albert calls “one of Haiti’s most loyal friends”, should administer the Caribbean island nation.

Over the past 15 years prominent Canadian voices have repeatedly promoted “protectorate status” for Haiti. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go” and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Four months after Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government Prime Minister Paul Martin reaffirmed his government’s desire to keep Haiti under long-term foreign control. “Fragile states often require military intervention to restore stability”, said Martin at a private meeting of “media moguls” in Idaho. Bemoaning what he considered the short-term nature of a previous intervention, the prime minister declared “this time, we have got to stay [in Haiti] until the job is done properly.”

A few months later a government-funded think tank, home to key Haiti policy strategists, elaborated a detailed plan for foreigners to run the country. According to the Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) plan for Haiti’s future, commissioned by Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the country’s different ministries would fall under Canadian oversight. Québec’s ministry of education, for instance, would oversee Haiti’s education system. The FOCAL plan put Haiti’s environment ministry under Canadian federal government supervision.

FOCAL’s proposal was made after the 2004 US/France/Canada coup weakened Haiti’s democratic institutions and social safety network, spurring thousands of violent deaths and a UN occupation that later introduced cholera to the country. Irrespective of the impact of foreign intervention, colonialists’ solution to Haiti’s problems is to further undermine Haitian sovereignty.

Haiti is but one piece of the Caribbean that Canadians’ have sought to rule. Earlier this year NDP MP Erin Weir asked if Canada should incorporate “the Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation.” Weir echoed an idea promoted by NDP MP Max Saltzman in the 1970s, Conservative MP Peter Goldring through the 2000s and an NDP riding association three years ago. A resolution submitted to the party’s 2014 convention noted, “New Democrats Believe in: Engaging with the peoples and government of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British government to have the Turks and Caicos Islands become Canada’s 11th Province.” As I discuss in the current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine, leftists have long supported the expansion of Canadian power in the region.

In a 300-page thesis titled “Dreams of a Tropical Canada: Race, Nation, and Canadian Aspirations in the Caribbean Basin, 1883-1919” Paula Pears Hastings outlines the campaign to annex territory in the region. “Canadians of varying backgrounds campaigned vigorously for Canada-West Indies union”, writes Hastings. “Their aspirations were very much inspired by a Canadian national project, a vision of a ‘Greater Canada’ that included the West Indies.”

Canada’s sizable financial sector in the region played an important part in these efforts. In Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, Walter Stewart notes: “The business was so profitable that in 1919 Canada seriously considered taking the Commonwealth Caribbean off mother England’s hands.”

At the end of World War I Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the empire. London balked. Ottawa was unsuccessful in securing the British Caribbean partly because the request did not find unanimous domestic support. Prime Minister Robert Borden was of two minds on the issue. From London he dispatched a cable noting, “the responsibilities of governing subject races would probably exercise a broadening influence upon our people as the dominion thus constituted would closely resemble in its problems and its duties the empire as a whole.” But, on the other hand, Borden feared that the Caribbean’s black population might want to vote. He remarked upon “the difficulty of dealing with the coloured population, who would probably be more restless under Canadian law than under British control and would desire and perhaps insist upon representation in Parliament.”

Proposing Canada acquire Turks and Caicos or rule Haiti may be outlandish, but it’s not benign. These suggestions ignore Caribbean history, foreign influence in the region and whitewash the harm Ottawa has caused there. Even worse, they enable politicians’ to pursue ever more aggressive policies in the region.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Haiti