Category Archives: imperialism

Foreign policy nationalism must be named and challenged

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It is easy to love your country. The messages encouraging patriotism are everywhere. And it fulfills a need to belong. But nationalism in our foreign policy is a major obstacle to a more just world.

Reaction to the recent United Nations Security Council vote and opposition campaign highlights “Team Canada” thinking among progressives. Some on the left seemed to fear being viewed as unpatriotic, others simply ignore their country’s imperialism and still others actually believe the “world needs more Canada”.

Canada’s leading proponent of UN peacekeeping offers a stark example of how nationalism stunts common sense. For more than a decade Walter Dorn has fervently promoted military engagement through the UN. As the Rideau Institute adviser and stalwart in the peace movement recognized, far more Irish soldiers were part of UN missions than Canadians while there were slightly more Norwegians. Still, Dorn bemoaned Canada’s Security Council defeat to Norway and Ireland. But, if your central political objective is promoting peacekeeping and the other candidates vying for the two Western Europe Security Council positions are more engaged in UN missions, what’s to lament? In fact, Dorn ought to celebrate Ethiopia, Rwanda and Bangladesh’s foreign policy since they are the top contributors to UN peacekeeping. But, he’s too Canadian/Euro centric to countenance such a thing.

A similar dynamic was at play with most nuclear disarmament groups. Ireland’s position on nuclear disarmament is far better than Canada’s and Norway is a bit better. Still, few among the nuclear disarmament milieu supported Ireland or opposed Canada’s Security Council bid (most backed it).

Even some prominent pro-Palestinian activists refused to sign an open letter calling on countries to vote for Norway and Ireland instead of Canada due to its anti-Palestinian positions. According to research compiled by Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates, since 2000 Canada has voted against 166 General Assembly resolutions critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Ireland and Norway haven’t voted against any of these resolutions. Additionally, Ireland and Norway have voted yes 251 and 249 times respectively on resolutions related to Palestinian rights during this period. Canada has managed 87 yes votes, but only two since 2010.

Representatives of the primary victims of the Canadian state also engage in crass foreign policy nationalism. On the day of the UN Security Council vote Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde tweeted, “First Nations consider the work of the United Nations vital for global peace and security. Canada is an important voice to be heard at the United Nations Security Council. Good luck to minister Champagne and ambassador Blanchard on today’s vote!”

Bellegarde is an accommodating indigenous leader and the AFN is highly dependent on the federal government. But, as I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada, it’s not uncommon for First Nations leaders to make similar statements. In a January Georgia Straight commentary titled “Canada must stop violating Indigenous human rights for megaprojects” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip (co)wrote, “for generations, Canada has proudly supported human rights on the international stage at the United Nations forums while consistently failing to apply the same moral compass here at home.” According to this formulation, the state that bulldozes First Nations suddenly becomes a social justice seeking force when it operates in a sphere where it faces even fewer democratic constraints. It’s an absurd proposition, but not uncommon in Canadian political culture.

Another slightly less direct, though equally bizarre, form of nationalism can be found among strains of anarchism. Many who say they oppose borders and KKKanada were indifferent to the anti-Security Council campaign/defeat and Canadian imperialism more generally. No Borders Media provides a stark example. One would presume a group with such a name would take internationalism seriously. But a look through months of No Borders Media’s Twitter demonstrates complete Canada/US centrism. At what point, to paraphrase a slogan making the rounds, does ‘silence regarding Canadian imperialism become violence’ towards its largely black and brown victims?

One success of the No Canada on Security Council campaign was that it challenged foreign policy nationalism without pretense. It focused on Canada’s dubious record and suggested its Security Council competitors were more deserving of a seat on the international organization’s most powerful decision-making body. If you care about climate disturbances support Ireland and Norway because their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are far lower; if you care about Palestinian rights back those two countries since they don’t vote against UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights; if you oppose rich countries dumping their trash in poor nations support Ireland and Norway because they signed the Basel Ban Amendment, etc.

Canadian foreign policy nationalism needs to be named and challenged. It is an obstacle to building a more just world.

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In the struggle against racism and police violence, we can’t forget the victims of imperialism

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An RCMP officer training Haitian National Police recruits in 2005.

As recent events in the US, Canada and elsewhere demonstrate the world has a cop problem. Police act as if they are above the law; they lie to justify their actions; they especially target Black and indigenous people; they seem to care more about protecting property than people.

Interestingly this is also a description of imperialist foreign policy. The experience of people from the Congo, Haiti, Algeria, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Angola, Brazil, Ghana and dozens of other countries trying to establish economic and political independence mirrors that of North American indigenous and racialized communities asserting their rights to political, social and economic equality. The Freedom Riders, Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter, American Indian Movement, Idle No More and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs were met with demonization, violence and repression as were the struggles for independence and social change in the countries listed above.

Finally, after centuries of struggle, defamation, murder and countless other forms of oppression the majority of Canadians and Americans seem to now support equality for all their fellow citizens and have turned against the forces of repression as witnessed by thousands of demonstrations against police brutality over the past three weeks. But what about our fellow citizens of the world, not just those in our own country? What about the brutality and repression inflicted upon them?

We need to understand the common struggle and link them. This isn’t abstract. Training and funding police elsewhere is part of Canada’s pro-corporate, pro-Empire, white supremacist, foreign policy.

Alongside the US, Canada has funded, equipped and trained the neo-Nazi infiltrated National Police of Ukraine (NPU), which was founded after the anti-Russian Euromaidan movement overthrew Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. A former deputy commander of the far-right Azov Battalion, Vadim Troyan had a series of senior positions in the NPU, including acting chief. When a policeman was videoed in early 2019 disparaging a far right protester as a supporter of Stepan Bandera, the National Police chief, National Police spokesman, Interior Minister and other officers repudiated the constable by publicly professing their admiration for Bandera who carried out murderous campaigns against Poles and Jews during the Nazi occupation. Since 2016 between 20 and 45 Canadian police have been in the Ukraine to support and advise the NPU and Foreign affairs minister announced another $2 million contribution to the Ukrainian police in March.

Over the past 15 years Canada has spent tens of millions of dollars on building a force to take up the Israeli occupation’s security burden in the West Bank. Between a dozen and two dozen Canadian police, military and border service agents have built up a Palestinian security force designed to protect the corrupt Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building. Part of a US-led initiative, the Canadians train Palestinian security forces to suppress “popular protest” against the Palestinian Authority, the “subcontractor of the Occupation”. A heavily censored 2012 note from former Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs, released through an access to information request, explains that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.… most notably in security/justice reform.”

Since playing an important role in violently ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004 Canada has built up a repressive Haitian police apparatus to enforce its anti-democratic policies. The Canada-financed, trained and overseen police force terrorized Port-au-Prince’s slums and repeatedly shot at peaceful protests during the two year coup government.

Much to the delight of the country’s uber class-conscious, often racist, elite, Canada has ploughed over $100 million into the Haitian police and prison system over the past decade and a half. Since 2004 Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state. (The country’s army, created during the 1915–34 US occupation, was disbanded by Aristide in 1995.)

In recent years the Canadian trained and funded police have protected the neo-Duvalerists ruling Haiti. During the popular uprising against President Jovenel Moïse between July 2018 and November 2019 the police killed dozens, probably over 100. Amidst this violence, Canadian officials have repeatedly promoted and applauded the Haitian police.

In the struggle against racism and police violence we need to enlarge our circle of those who deserve our support to the entire world. The “cop problem” we face is intimately tied to wealthy, generally white, minorities imposing their will on the majority. Reforms of the police are doomed to fail until we overthrow unjust economic systems that require force to maintain minority rule.

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Security Council loss is opportunity to develop a more just foreign policy

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Ottawa’s failure to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council is a victory for those seeking a more just Canadian foreign policy. Spurred by the no Canada on Security Council campaign, the loss offers a unique opportunity to push for a fundamental reassessment of this country’s activities and relationships in every corner of our interconnected planet.

The Trudeau government’s defeat is simultaneously unsurprising and remarkable. As I detail here, the international community’s rejection of Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council is not a surprise since Liberal foreign policy has largely mimicked that of Stephen Harper, who lost a similar bid in 2010.

Conversely, the victory is remarkable because Canada had many advantages over its competitors Ireland and Norway for the two “Western Europe and Others” Security Council seats. It is a member of the G7 and has a seat on the boards of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. A member of the Commonwealth and Francophonie, Canada also speaks the two main colonial languages. Canada is richer than Ireland and Norway and, notwithstanding commentary suggesting otherwise, actually distributes more international “aid” (which is portrayed much too positively by liberal commentators). Canada spends about five times more on overseas development assistance than Ireland and a few hundred million dollars more than Norway. (Norway spends a great deal more as a percentage of its GDP on ODA and Ireland contributes a slightly higher percentage.)

Canada has a far larger diplomatic apparatus than Ireland or Norway. In the lead-up to the UN vote, Canada’s diplomats published a slew of commentaries in international papers vaunting Canada’s ties to Namibia, Lebanon, etc. Canadian diplomats across the globe also produced Security Council related videos and a Twitter campaign.

But, the #NoUNSC4Canada campaign effectively pushed back against the government’s international Twitter drive. Even if Canada would have won the seat, I would have considered the No Canada on UN Security Council campaign a success since it generated significant critical discussion of foreign policy. Launched formally a month ago (after a multi-month Covid-19 delay) with an open letter in the Toronto Star calling on countries to vote against Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council due to its militarism, support for controversial mining companies, anti-Palestinian positions and climate policies. The Canadian Press, Radio Canada and other major Canadian media outlets reported on the letter signed by numerous prominent individuals, including David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Pam Palmater and Roger Waters. Many left Canadian media outlets published the letter and dozens of Spanish, French and English language international media outlets reported on the campaign. More than a half dozen videos, including one from Roger Waters and another from Québec National Assembly member Ruba Ghazal, were produced in support of the effort.

Beyond highlighting immoral policies, the original Canadian Foreign Policy Institute open letter was signed by more than 30 organizations and 3,500 individuals. Another Just Peace Advocates letter asking UN ambassadors to vote for Ireland and Norway instead of Canada due to its anti-Palestinian positions was signed by 100+ organizations and dozens of prominent individuals.

The all-volunteer campaign (bravo Karen Rodman, Bianca Mugyenyi, David Heap, David Kattenburg, Robert Assaly, Lorraine Guay, Tamara Lorincz and Arnold August) stimulated 1298 individuals to deliver letters to every UN ambassador urging them to vote against Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat due to its anti-Palestinian record. Additionally, 471 individuals emailed all UN ambassadors with the general open letter, 169 individuals emailed Caribbean ambassadors with a statement critical of Canada’s role in the Caribbean and 118 letters were sent to all African ambassadors critical of Canada’s role on that continent. Two days before the vote a #NoUNSC4Canada Twitter ‘storm’ targeting UN ambassadors with messages opposed to Canada’s Security Council bid generated enough online chatter to be mentioned by Radio Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne were questioned directly about the campaign. In the clearest example of how the campaign disrupted the government’s bid, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, delivered a letter to all countries’ permanent missions at the UN responding to the Palestine-focused effort.

It’s hard to gauge the impact the no Canada on the Security Council campaign had on the individuals who privately cast the ballots. But, Canada received fewer votes on Wednesday than in 2010.

Whether one views this failure to earn a Security Council seat as a victory or a loss, it is clearly time to fundamentally reassess Canadian foreign policy. A good place to begin is a broad discussion about whether this country’s international affairs should continue to be driven by Washington and corporate interests or whether another sort of foreign policy is possible.

 

Please sign this petition calling for a fundamental reassessment of Canadian foreign policy.

 

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NGO coalition aligns with imperialism

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The Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) exists primarily to lobby for increased aid. As a result, the NGO umbrella group broadly aligns with Canadian imperialism.

When Justin Trudeau recently set off for an African Union Summit to build support for the government’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council the CCIC reiterated its call for increased aid. In an interview with Radio Canada International, CCIC CEO Nicolas Moyer suggested that if “Canada is back”, as Trudeau has previously stated, it needed to increase aid spending.

In November 2019 CCIC co-organized a Summit on Canada’s Global Leadership. The event included Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance, minister for international development Karina Gould, Trudeau advisor Bob Rae, former Trudeau foreign policy advisor Roland Paris, former head of the Canadian International Development Agency Margaret Biggs, former CSIS director Richard Fadden and others. Describing himself as a lobbyist for greater aid, Moyer said in an interview before the Summit on Canada’s Global Leadership that it was important to bring together different sectors of Canadian foreign policy because “there is no path which leads towards increased federal commitments to ODA [overseas development assistance] which can exist without a strong ambition for Canada’s role in the world. We need champions in other sectors that also want an ambitious and impactful foreign policy.” Willing to include the military as part of his grand foreign policy coalition, Moyer added, “it’s why I am looking forward to discussions at the summit, for example between Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance and Canada’s Ambassador for Women Peace and Security Jacqueline O’Neill.”

It makes sense that an organization focused on increasing aid spending would do-si-do with the military. Since the 1950-53 Korean War military interventions have elicited substantial boosts in aid spending. Call it the ‘intervention-equals-aid’ principle or ‘wherever Canadian troops kill Ottawa provides aid’ principle. The largest concentration of aid spending in Canadian history was in Afghanistan. During the 2000s $2.2 billion worth of development assistance was pumped into Afghanistan with NGOs flooding into the country alongside Canadian troops.

(No matter the popular portrayal, the primary objective of Canadian overseas assistance has long been to advance Western interests, particularly keeping the Global South tied to the US-led geopolitical order. Aid has also been designed to help Canadian companies and to co-opt internationalist minded young people into aligning with Canadian foreign policy. While most individual aid projects offer some social benefit, they’ve also helped justify the imprisonment of Haiti’s constitutional prime minister, rewrote Colombia’s mining code to benefit corporations, assisted Filipino landlords blocking much-needed land reform with violence, etc.)

More damaging than the CCIC’s dalliance with the military is its reluctance to criticize Canadian foreign policy. In September 2018 the CCIC co-organized a conference titled “Is Canada Back: Delivering on Good Intentions?” Publicity for the event noted, “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” Formulating the question this way ignores the government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, backing for brutalmining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, failure to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, backing for an unpopular Haitian president, refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, promotion of military spending, etc.

Many progressive minded Canadians look to international NGOs as a counterweight to government abuses. Instead of challenging unjust Liberal policies, the CCIC has largely shilled for the liberal (aid) arm of Canadian foreign policy.

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Is Canada a colony or imperialist power?

 

0It seems strange to even ask this question, but some who call themselves socialists do, so it is good to revisit the it every so often. Is Canada best described as a colony or imperialist power?

Recent issues of the Economist and Northern Miner highlight the weakness of the dominant “staples trap” political economy perspective. Regardless of its popularity in left nationalist intellectual circles, Canada is not a victim of international capitalism. Instead it has long had a privileged place in an extremely hierarchical global economy.

In “How a Canadian firm has taken on Wall Street’s private-equity titans” The Economist reported that Brookfield Asset Management is as big as famed Wall Street competitors Carlyle and Blackstone. The Toronto-based company has “over $385 billion in assets under management” and owns businesses in “more than 30 countries around the world.”

Brookfield has been the quintessential rebuttal to left nationalism for decades. Begun in 1899, Brookfield’s predecessor (otherwise known as Brazilian Traction, Brascan or the Light) employed almost 50,000 Brazilians at its high point in the 1940s. Trolleys and electricity production were the company’s backbone, but it also owned a sardine cannery, fishing boats, a tin mine, a brewery, banks as well as real estate. Possibly the biggest firm in Latin America by the end of the 1950s, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Between 1918 and 1952 more than $200 million ($2.5 billion today) was taken out of this ‘underdeveloped’ country and sent to Canada.

As Brascan sucked cash from Brazil, the company also squeezed local competitors. “The Monopoly created by the Light Company inhibited Brazilian initiatives”, notes Rosana Barbosa in Brazil and Canada: Economic, Political, and Migratory Ties, 1820s to 1970s. “[It] slowly absorbed the local competition.”

Putting the squeeze on local businesses went hand and hand with poor labour practices. In a confidential September 1923 letter between Brascan’s Rio and Toronto offices, company officials admitted they paid their workers poorly even by Brazilian standards. The letter further noted that “our secret agents have just informed us that [some] of our men are taking part in meetings at which an early strike is advocated and we are all becoming somewhat concerned over the situation.”

Brascan was well connected in Ottawa. The initial group of investors included Senator George Albertus, Canadian vice consul for Argentina Frederic Nicholls and Sir Henry Pellatt, who financed the 98-room Casa Loma as his private residence in Toronto. The (close) nephew of former Prime Minister Robert Borden later became Brazilian Traction president and Liberal ministers Robert Winters and Mitchell Sharp held top positions in the company.

Brascan’s political clout helped the company get public support. Brascan was the first firm to receive World Bank financing in Latin America. In 1949 it was given $75 million and received a total of $120 million ($1 billion today) from the World Bank through 1959.

Brascan had influence with pro-business politicians and the company actively supported Brazil’s right wing. Like its earlier spying on union activists the company spied on politicians as well. In 1957 the Canadian ambassador to Brazil stated: “During a recent conversation, a senior executive of the Light told me that his office had been keeping track of the number of Brazilian politicians who’ve been officially invited to visit the USSR and that during the last 18 months the list of visitors had grown to some 300.”

Spying was part of Brascan’s role in beating back rising economic nationalism in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Brascan officials participated in the moves and operations that led to the 1964 coup against social democratic President João Goulart, whose government made it more difficult for companies to export profits. The post-coup military dictatorship was good for business. Between 1965 and 1974 Brascan drained Brazil of $342 million ($2 billion today).

Today Brascan’s successor is among the largest private equity and property management firms in the world. Would one expect to find such an internationally powerful corporation in a colony?

If you’re still not convinced by the Economist story about Brookfield that Canada is better described as an imperialist power, the September 2 Northern Miner highlights Canadian dominance over another major rapaciously imperialist industry.

On the front page of the Toronto-based paper was a story on a Canadian company extracting resources in Chile and another focused on a firm operating in Papa New Guinea as well as an ad for a mineral conference in Chile. There were articles about a Canadian firm in Armenia and stories about Greenland and one titled “Security measures critical amid heightened risk in West Africa.” The “leading authority on the mining industry in Canada” published two stories about Canadian companies extracting resources in Nevada and one about a firm in Idaho. The biweekly paper had a six-page supplement on mining in Mexico, which included 300-word briefs on nine TSX listed firms operating there. The supplement included three longer articles on specific companies and a story headlined “President of Mexico says ‘no new mining concessions’”. The September 2–15 issue of the Northern Miner had a single story dealing with mining in Canada.

Last week the head of Franco-Nevada Pierre Lassonde complained that Canada was losing its major mining head offices, a position some left nationalists would sympathize with. But, with only 0.5% of the world’s population Canada is home to half of all mining companies. Given that reality, complaining about the “hollowing out” of Canadian mining is like foreign visitors complaining there are not enough gourmet restaurants in Haiti.

Left nationalists think Canada is “a ‘rich dependency’, skewed in its industrial development by a weak manufacturing base and massive staples exports to the US market.” As such, explains Greg Albo, left nationalists generally believe it’s necessary to develop “an industrial strategy backed by an alliance between national capitalists and Canadian workers” rather than simply promote socialist measures to democratize the economy.

Looking at the world through a left nationalist lens generally leads individuals to ignore, or downplay, the destruction wrought by Canadian corporations abroad and Canada’s power on the international stage. While there’s a role for nationalist economic policies in constraining the power of capital, improving working conditions and enabling environmental transformation, nationalist ideology is dangerous in powerful, imperialist, states. It seems to blind people to the imperialist forest as they focus on the clear-cut colonial trees.

 

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