Category Archives: Canada in Haiti

Canada backs repression, killing of protestors in Haiti

The Ugly Canadian has shown his elite-supporting, poor-bashing repressive face in Haiti.

Ottawa is backing the repression of anti-corruption protests and Justin Trudeau is continuing Canada’s staunch support for that country’s reactionary elite.

Over the past three months there have been numerous protests demanding accountability for public funds. Billions of dollars from Petrocaribe, a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela in 2006, was pilfered under former President Michel Martelly, an ally of current leader Jovenel Moise.After having forced out the prime minister in the summer over an effort to eliminate fuel subsidies, protesters are calling for the removal of Moise, who assumed the presidency through voter  suppression and electoral fraud.

According to the Western media, a dozen protesters have been killed since a huge demonstration on October 17. But, at least seven were killed that day, two more at a funeral for those seven and pictures on social media suggest the police have killed many more.

Ottawa is supporting the unpopular government and repressive police.While a general strike paralyzed the capital on Friday, Canadian Ambassador André Frenette met Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant with other diplomats to “express their support to the government.” Through the “Core Group” Ottawa has blamed the protesters for Canadian trained and financed police firing on them. The Canada, US, France, Spain, EU, UN and OAS “Group of Friends of Haiti” published a statement on Thursday criticizing the protesters and backing the government. It read, “the group recalls that acts of violence seeking to provoke the resignation of legitimate authorities have no place in the democratic process. The Core Group welcomes the Executive’s commitment to continue the dialogue and calls for an inclusive dialogue between all the actors of the national life to get out of the crisis that the country is going through.” (translation)

In a similar release at the start of the month these “Friends of Haiti” noted: “The group praises the professionalism demonstrated by the National Police of Haiti as a whole on this occasion to guarantee freedom of expression while preserving public order. While new demonstrations are announced, the Core Group also expresses its firm rejection of any violence perpetrated on the sidelines of demonstrations. The members of the group recall the democratic legitimacy of the government of Haiti and elected institutions and that in a democracy, change must be through the ballot box and not by violence.”

But, in late 2010/early-2011 the Stephen Harper Conservatives intervened aggressively to help extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly become president. Six years earlier Trudeau’s Liberal predecessor, Paul Martin, played an important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government. For two years after the February 29, 2004, overthrow ofHaitian democracy, a Canada-financed, trained and overseen police force terrorized Port-au-Prince’s slums with Canadian diplomatic and (for half a year) military backing.

Since that time Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state (in 1995 Aristide disbanded the army created during the 1915-34 US occupation). Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, over the past decade and a half Canada has ploughed over $100 million into the Haitian police and prison system.

Since his appointment as ambassador last fall Frenette has attended a half dozen Haitian police events.In April Frenette tweeted, “it is an honour to represent Canada at the Commissaires Graduation Ceremony of the National Police Academy. Canada has long stood with the HNP to ensure the safety of Haitians and we are very proud of it.” The previous October Frenette noted, “very proud to participate today in the Canadian Armed Forces Ballistic Platelet Donation to the Haitian National Police.”

Canada also supports the Haitian police through the UN mission. RCMP officer Serge Therriault currently leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti. For most of the past 14 years a Canadian has been in charge of the UN police contingent in Haiti and officers from this country have staffed its upper echelons.

Canada is once again supporting the violent suppression of the popular will in Haiti. Justin Trudeau has taken off his progressive mask to reveal what is inside: The Ugly Canadian.

Yves Engler is the co-author, with Antony Fenton, of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His latest book is Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada

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

Lessons learned from ‘Republic of NGOs’

Imagine living in a country where the entire social services sector is privatized, run by “charities” that are based in other countries and staffed by foreigners who get to decide whether or not you qualify for assistance.

Welcome to Haiti, the “Republic of NGOs.”

As salacious details about Oxfam officials hiring Haitian girls for sex make headlines, the media has downplayed NGOs lack of accountability to those they purportedly serve. Even less attention has been devoted to the role so-called non-governmental organizations have played in undermining the Haitian state and advancing wealthy countries’ interests.

According to a series of news reports, Oxfam UK’s Haiti director hired prostitutes and organized orgies at a charity run villa set up after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Some of the girls may have been as young as 14 and Oxfam representatives traded aid for sex. Oxfam UK leaders tried to keep the issue quiet when it emerged in 2011, which enabled a number of the perpetrators to join other NGOs operating internationally.

Since the earthquake there have been innumerable stories of NGOs abusing their power or pillaging funds raised for Haitians. In an extreme case, the US Red Cross built only six houses with the $500 million they raised for Haiti after the earthquake.

While impoverished Haitians get short shrift, NGOs respond to the interests of their benefactors. After the UN occupation force brought cholera to Haiti in October 2010, Oxfam and other NGOs defended the Washington-France–Canada instigated MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti). In response to Haitians protesting the UN’s role in the cholera outbreak, Oxfam spokeswoman Julie Schindall, told the Guardian “if the country explodes in violence, then we will not be able to reach the people we need to.” At the same time Médecins Sans Frontières’ head of mission in Port-au-Prince, Stefano Zannini, told Montreal daily La Presse,our position is pragmatic: to have learnt the source at the beginning of the epidemic would not have saved more lives. To know today would have no impact either.”

Of course that was nonsense. Confirming the source of the cholera was medically necessary. At the time of these statements UN forces were still disposing their sewage in a way that put Haitian life at risk. Protesting UN actions was a way to pressure MINUSTAH to stop their reckless sewage disposal and generate the resources needed to deal with a cholera outbreak that left 10,000 dead and one million ill.

Worse than deflecting criticism of the UN’s responsibility for the cholera outbreak, NGOs put a progressive face on the invasion/coup that initiated MINUSTAH. Incredibly, many NGOs justified US Marines taking an elected President from his home in the middle of the night and dumping him 10,000 km away in the Central African Republic. On March 25, 2004 Oxfam Québec and a half dozen other Canadian government-funded NGOs defended Canada’s (military, diplomatic and financial) role in the ouster of thousands of elected officials, including President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Marthe Lapierre of Development and Peace stated: “We’re not talking about a situation where a rebel group suddenly orchestrated Aristide’s departure. We’re talking about a situation where the Aristide government, since 2000, had gradually lost all legitimacy because of involvement in activities such as serious human rights violations and drug trafficking, but also because it was a profoundly undemocratic government.” Oxfam Québec regional director Carlos Arancibia concurred: “I fully agree with the analysis presented by others. It’s important to understand that things went off the rails starting in the year 2000, with the election.”

(After they lost the May 2000 legislative elections the opposition claimed that the electoral Council should have used a different voting method, which would have forced eight Senate seats to a runoff. Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party would likely have won the runoff votes, but the US/Canada backed opposition used the issue to justify boycotting the November 2000 presidential election, which they had zero chance of winning. For its part, Washington used the election dispute to justify blocking aid to the country. Even without the disputed senators, Fanmi Lavalas still had a majority in the senate and even when seven of the eight Lavalas senators resigned the aid embargo and effort to discredit the elections continued.)

At the time of the coup most of Haiti’s social services were run by NGOs. A Canadian International Development Agency report stated that by 2004, “non-governmental actors (for-profit and not-for-profit) provided almost 80 percent of [Haiti’s] basic services.” Amongst other donor countries, the Canadian government channelled its “development assistance” through NGOs to shape the country’s politics. According to CIDA, “supporting non-governmental actors contributed to the creation of parallel systems of service delivery. … In Haiti’s case, these actors [NGOs] were used as a way to circumvent the frustration of working with the government … this contributed to the establishment of parallel systems of service delivery, eroding legitimacy, capacity and will of the state to deliver key services.” As intended, funding NGOs weakened the Aristide/René Préval/Aristide governments and strengthened the US/France/Canada’s hand.

Highly dependent on western government funding and political support, NGOs broadly advanced their interests.

The Oxfam “sex scandal” should shine a light on the immense, largely unaccountable, power NGOs continue to wield over Haitian affairs. In a decent world it would also be a lesson in how not to use “aid” to undermine democracy.

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

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

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

UN ends occupation of Haiti, but legacy of abuse remains

Last week the UN Security Council finally voted to end its military occupation of Haiti. Instigated by the US, France and Canada, it has been responsible for countless abuses during the past 13 years.

At the same time as the Security Council voted to draw down its military force (a police contingent will remain), the Associated Press published an in-depth investigation confirming widespread sexual abuse by UN troops in Haiti. The foreign soldiers had sex with minors, sodomized boys and raped young girls. An internal UN report uncovered by AP implicated 134 Sri Lankan troops in a sex ring that exploited nine children from 2004 to 2007. None of the MINUSTAH soldiers were imprisoned.

In early 2012 video footage came to light of five Uruguayan soldiers sexually assaulting an 18-year old Haitian. In that case as well the soldiers were sent home, but no one was punished.

At the time Haïti Liberté complained, “there are also almost monthly cases of UN soldiers sexually assaulting Haitian minors, all of which have gone unpunished.” According to the Status Forces Agreement signed between the UN and Haiti’s 2004-06 coup government, MINUSTAH is not subject to Haitian laws. At worst, soldiers are sent home for trial. Despite committing countless crimes, very few MINUSTAH soldiers have ever been held to account at home.

Beyond sexual abuse, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which has left 10,000 dead and nearly 1 million ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti recklessly discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the water-borne disease into the country. Even after the deadly cholera outbreak, UN forces were caught disposing sewage into waterways Haitians drank from. While they partly apologised for introducing cholera to the country, the UN has failed to compensate the victims of its recklessness or even spend the sums needed to eradicate the disease.

Imagine if the UN was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian lawyer, told AP. “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

These abuses aren’t an unfortunate outgrowth of a well-meaning peacekeeping effort. Rather, MINUSTAH was established to consolidate the US, France and Canada’s anti-democratic policies and usurp Haitian sovereignty.

As former Haitian soldiers swept through the country killing police officers in February 2004, the UN Security Council ignored the elected government’s request for peacekeepers to restore order in a country without an army. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) called upon the Security Council to deploy an emergency military task force to assist the elected government and on February 26, three days before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal, the Organization of American States’ permanent council asked the UN Security Council to, “take all the necessary and appropriate urgent measures to address the deteriorating situation in Haiti.” This appeal for assistance was flatly rejected by the world’s most powerful nations, but immediately after US/French/Canadian troops ousted the elected government the Security Council passed a motion calling for intervention to stabilize Haiti.

Immediately after US marines whisked Aristide from the country on February 29, 2004, 2000 US, French and Canadian soldiers were on the ground in Haiti. For years a Canadian led MINUSTAH’s police contingent and for six months 500 Canadian troops were part of the UN mission that backed up the coup government’s (2004-2006) violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. The UN force also killed dozens of civilians directly in pacifying Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for Aristide. The worst incident was on July 6, 2005 when 400 UN troops, backed by helicopters, entered the densely populated neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation. The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry, which fired “over 22,000 rounds of ammunition”, according to a US embassy file released through a Freedom of Information request. The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN initially claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme. (Graphic footage of victims dying on camera can be viewed in Kevin Piña’s Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.)

During the height of the violence Canadian diplomats pressured MINUSTAH to get tough. In early 2005 the head of the UN mission, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, told a congressional commission in Brazil that “we are under extreme pressure from the international community [specifically citing Canada, France and the US] to use violence.” Later Canadian Ambassador Claude Boucher openly called for greater UN violence in the pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil.

It is good UN soldiers will soon be removed from Haiti. Haitians, however, will continue to suffer the consequences of MINUSTAH for years.

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A day to remember

Remember.

Remember that today marks the culmination of a militarist, nationalist ritual organized by a reactionary state-backed group.

Every year the Royal Canadian Legion sells about 20 million red poppies in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. Remember that red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to “take up our quarrel with the foe” and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during World War I.

Remember that today, red poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans, or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s, or the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s, or the Koreans killed in the 1950s, or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on “our” side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous. But, Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.

While there’s some criticism of the nationalism and militarism driving Remembrance Day, the organization sponsoring the red poppy campaign receives little critical attention. Incorporated by an act of Parliament, the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League was formed in 1926. Renamed the Royal Canadian Legion in 1960, from the get-go it was designed to counter more critical veteran organizations. In The Vimy Trap: or, How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift write, “benefiting from government recognition, the Legion slowly supplanted its rivals. It was consciously designed as [a] body that would soothe the veterans temper and moderate their demands.”

In 1927 the federal government granted the Legion a monopoly over poppy distribution and the Veterans Affairs-run Vetcraft made the Legion’s poppies for 75 years. The Legion has benefited from various other forms of government support. Its branches have received public funds and the Governor General, head of the Canadian Forces, is the Legion’s Grand Patron and numerous prime ministers and defence ministers have addressed its conventions.

While its core political mandate is improving veterans’ services, the Legion has long advocated militarism and a reactionary worldview. In the early 1930s it pushed for military build-up and its 1950 convention called for “total preparedness.” In 1983 its president, Dave Capperauld, supported US cruise missiles tests in Alberta and into the early 1990s the Legion took “an uncompromising stand on the importance of maintaining a strong Canadian military presence in Europe through NATO, and by supporting the United States build-up of advanced nuclear weapons.”

The Legion has also espoused a racist, paranoid and pro-Empire worldview. In the years after World War II it called for the expulsion of Canadians of Japanese origin and ideological screening for German immigrants. A decade before WWII, reports Branching Out: the story of the Royal Canadian Legion, “Manitoba Command unanimously endorsed a resolution to ban communist activities, and provincial president Ralph Webb…warned that children were being taught to spit on the Union Jack in Manitoba schools.”

Long after the end of the Cold War the organization remains concerned about “subversives.” Today, Legion members have to sign a statement that begins: “I hereby solemnly declare that I am not a member of, nor affiliated with, any group, party or sect whose interests conflict with the avowed purposes of the Legion, and I do not, and will not, support any organization advocating the overthrow of our government by force or which advocates, encourages or participates in subversive action or propaganda.”

The veterans group has sought to suppress critical understanding of military history. In the mid-2000s the Legion battled Canadian War Museum historians over an exhibition about the World War II allied bomber offensive. After shaping its development, the Legion objected to a small part of a multifaceted exhibit, which questioned “the efficacy and the morality of the…massive bombing of Germany’s industrial and civilian targets.” With the museum refusing to give the veterans an effective veto over its exhibit, Legion Magazine called for a boycott. The Legion’s campaign led to hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs and a new display that glossed over a bombing campaign explicitly designed to destroy German cities. It also led to the director of the museum, Joe Guerts, resigning.

A decade earlier the Legion participated in a campaign to block the three-part series The Valour and the Horror from being rebroadcast or distributed to schools. The 1992 CBC series claimed Canadian soldiers committed unprosecuted war crimes during World War II and that the British-led bomber command killed 600,000 German civilians. The veterans groups’ campaign led to a Senate inquiry, CRTC hearing and lawsuit, as well as a commitment from CBC to not rebroadcast The Valour and the Horror without amendments.

Rather than supporting the militaristic, jingoistic, nationalism of the Legion, Canadians of good conscience should support peace organizations’ white poppy campaign to remember all victims of war.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel, Canada in Africa, Canada in Haiti, The Truth May Hurt, The Ugly Canadian

The Left in denial over Canadian imperialism

As hard as it is to admit for a former junior hockey player who spends many hours writing at the neighbourhood Tim Hortons, some things are better in the USA.

For example, comparing Green Party leader Elizabeth May to her American counterpart Jill Stein on foreign-policy issues puts Canada to shame. While Stein has articulated forthright criticism on various international issues, May spouts nationalist platitudes as often as she challenges unjust policies.

Recently, Stein endorsed the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, called for Washington and Moscow to work together and said, “US pursuit of regime change in Libya, Iraq, and Syria created the chaos that promotes power grabs by extremist militias. Many of the weapons we are sending into Syria to arm anti-government militias are winding up in the hands of ISIS. This isn’t a clever foreign policy — it’s disastrous militarism.”

For her part, May spent last weekend undermining her party’s internal democracy to protect the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund and Israel from censure. At their convention in Ottawa May and most of the Green leadership succeeded in eliminating any mention of the JNF in a resolution, which was rewritten from targeting that institution to call on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the status of all charities engaged in international human rights violations. Fortunately, the party leadership failed to block a resolution endorsing BDS in what is probably the single most significant pro-Palestinian victory in Canadian history.

While the Green members who bucked the party leadership to support the JNF and BDS resolutions deserve to be congratulated, the anti-Palestinian, right-wing Israeli nationalist groups who terrorized May in the lead-up to the convention raised an important, if disingenuous, point: Why were there only two resolutions dealing with foreign-policy at the convention? Why didn’t the Greens debate Canadian mining companies’ abuses abroad, special forces in Iraq/Syria, international tar sands promotion, troops on the Russian border, among numerous other important international issues?

The Green’s 2015 federal election foreign-policy platform paper was peppered with nationalist platitudes. It said “Canada is fundamentally a peaceful country” and “defender of human rights.” In laying out the party’s 2015 election position in Esprit de Corps magazine May wrote, “the world needs more Canada” and argued, “we should also support the United Nations’ ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine”, which was used to justify bombing Libya in 2011 and ousting Haiti’s elected government in 2004.

May backed the Conservative government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $30-$40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades. But the naval upgrade will strengthen Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries. The 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy details the navy’s extensive history of flexing its muscles, including dozens of interventions in the Caribbean and pressuring Costa Rica to repay money the Royal Bank loaned to an unpopular dictator. And it’s not just history; over the past 25 years the Canadian Navy has played an increasing pro-imperial role in the Middle East and off parts of Africa.

May and Green Party policy statements have also mythologized Canadian foreign policy, citing Lester Pearson as some sort of hero. May claimed “a Green Party approach to international issues will return Canada to the values of Lester B. Pearson.” But, as I detail in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, the former external minister and prime minister was an ardent cold warrior, who played a part in dispossessing Palestinians, creating NATO and helping the US wage war in Vietnam and Korea.

Of course, the problem runs deeper than May or the Green Party. Much of the Canadian ‘left’ is highly nationalistic, wedded to both the idea this country is a US “dependency” and international “peacekeeper”.

While far from what’s needed, internationalist minded Americans have helped expose US imperialism. Progressive people in this country have largely failed to do the same with Canadian imperialism. In fact, left-wing Canadian academics have probably written more books and articles criticizing US foreign policy than Canada’s.

Certainly the US left has built more of an infrastructure/culture willing to genuinely challenge US foreign policy. A number of prominent academics are highly critical of US foreign policy and left-wing US media outlets such as CounterPunch, Z, Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, etc. shun foreign-policy apologetics.

In Canada the most prominent ‘left-wing’ foreign-policy think tank is led by Peggy Mason who was a key adviser to Conservative foreign minister Joe Clark in the late 1980s and has held numerous diplomatic postings and UN positions since. During a 2012 National Defence Committee parliamentary meeting on NATO the head of the Rideau Institute noted, “I’m talking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working with NATO.” Mason trained NATO commanders for peace and crisis stabilization operations and boasted she trained the general Charles Bouchard, who led the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, which the Rideau Institute head described as a “very important mission.”

The Rideau Institute’s lead collaborator/advisor is an employee of the Canadian Forces who aggressively supported Canada’s worst foreign-policy crime of the first decade of the 21st century (the coup in Haiti). Walter Dorn’s Rideau Institute reports are usually co-published by Canada’s leading left think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. While the CCPA Monitor publishes some articles critical of Canadian foreign policy, its international affairs reports, which receive the bulk of resources, do not offer serious criticism. A number of recent reports have called for adjustments to military priorities while accepting the broad outlines of Canadian militarism. In February they co-published Unprepared for Peace?: The decline of Canadian peacekeeping training (and what to do about it). On the cover of the report a white Canadian soldier, with a massive M-16 strapped around his shoulder, is bent over to hold the hand of a young black boy. In the background are Canadian and UN colours. A call for the Canadian Forces to offer its members more peacekeeping training, Unprepared for peace? is premised on the erroneous notion that UN missions are by definition socially useful and it repeatedly implies that Canada’s most significant recent contribution to a UN mission — the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — was an operation we should be proud of.

Last year the CCPA and Rideau Institute co-published Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military, which introduces the issue this way: “When the Harper government came to power in 2006, it pledged to rebuild Canada’s military. But for nine long years, it has failed to deliver on most of its promises, from new armoured trucks and supply ships to fighter jets and search-and-rescue planes.” Author Michael Byers peppers the report with various militarist claims. Canada “faces challenges at home and abroad that require a well-equipped and capable military,” he writes. At another point he says “the Canadian Army cannot deploy large numbers of troops overseas because of a shortage of armoured trucks.” In other words, let’s improve Canada’s military capacity.

While mostly providing a counterpoint to the dominant media, Rabble also publishes some blatantly establishment foreign-policy pieces. It regularly runs Gerald Caplan’s apologetics for the US–Britain–Canada backed Paul Kagame, Africa’s most bloodstained dictator. In late 2015 Rabble ran interviews by CCPA research affiliate Christopher Majka of Libyan, Syrian and Russian invitees to the Halifax International Security Forum, which is sponsored by NATO, the Department of National Defence and various arms firms.

Last week Rabble published a blog by Penney Kome, former editor of the now defunct left website Straight Goods, claiming Donald Trump is soft on Russia. She wrote: “Three of Trump’s top aids have extensive Russian connections, (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page) and Trump’s policies — such as they are — are strongly pro-Russian. It’s only fair to wonder what his Russophillia means for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and for former Soviet Union countries that Vladimir Putin may still want to annex, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.” Kome’s piece comes a few weeks after Ottawa announced it would send 450 troops and armoured vehicles to Latvia to be permanently stationed on Russia’s border.

During his campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination Bernie Sanders, who largely avoided foreign-policy before endorsing a hawk for president, at least criticized Washington’s role in overthrowing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Salvador Allende in Chile as well as the US war in Indochina. It made me wonder if a leading Canadian politician had ever criticized a past foreign policy.

It’s hard to imagine an NDP leader saying, “we shouldn’t blindly follow Washington’s war aims since that led Lester Pearson’s government to deliver US bombing threats to North Vietnam in violation of international law.” Or, “as we evaluate our support for this UN mission let’s not forget the blow Canadian peacekeepers delivered to central Africa when they helped undermine Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.”

It’s as if there’s a sign hanging in Parliament that says: “foreign policy mythologizers only.” A maxim Elizabeth May seems to have embraced, to the shame of all Canadians who really do want this country to be a force for good in the world.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel, Canada in Africa, Canada in Haiti, The Truth May Hurt, The Ugly Canadian