Category Archives: Military

Where’s NDP on fighter jet purchase?

How about a little friendly pressure?

Hopefully that’s all it would take for Left NDP MPs to join Neil Young, Stephen Lewis, Teagan and Sarah, David Suzuki and many other notable Canadian and international figures in calling for government resources to “be used to eliminate boil water advisories on reserves, build light rail lines across the country and construct thousands of units of social housing”.

So far, it seems the federal NDP wants to be seen as supporting the “best equipment” for the military, even when the government plows $19 billion — $77 billion over the planes’ full lifecycle — into strengthening the force’s capacity to bomb in US-led wars.

As wildfires blaze in western Canada amidst record breaking heat waves, the Liberal government is planning to spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets”, explains a public letter released last week by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. The letter was signed by Canadian musicians Neil Young, Teagan and Sarah and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. The No New Fighter Jets for Canada statement is also endorsed by authors Michael Ondaatje Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as four former NDP MPs, city councillors, a senator, NDP MPP and former leader of the Ontario NDP Stephen Lewis. Prominent international figures such as Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also backed a call addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Green Party’s two MPs, Elizabeth May and Paul Manly, signed the statement. But no NDP MP was an initiating signatory. (After former NDP foreign affairs critic Svend Robinson complained on Twitter “Is there no NDP MP opposing this outrageous waste?” Leah Gazan signed on.)

I doubt that Matthew Green, Niki Ashton, Alexandre Boulerice or even other less internationalist minded members of the NDP caucus want public resources going to fighter jets over, as the letter puts it, “a just recovery, green infrastructure and investing in Indigenous communities.” But Randall Garrison is the NDP defence critic and he’s a staunch militarist, so they tread carefully on the issue.

Soon after the letter was released and MPs began receiving hundreds of emails about it Garrison replied. In a long message he wrote, “on fighter jets, New Democrats have called on the government to support the purchasing of fighters that can operate safely and effectively in the Arctic while also being interoperable with our allies in NATO and NORAD.” In response Robinson quoted part of Garrison’s statement and wrote “shame on the NDP”.

While Garrison is an extremist within the party, NDP militarism runs far deeper than him. The 2015 NDP platform said the party would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations”, which is more than 10 times the size of Environment and Climate Change Canada. In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes, initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government, endorsing the bombing of Libya. (Green leader Elizabeth May was the only MP to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role.) To the best of my knowledge the NDP has never apologized or suggested it erred in supporting a Canadian-led bombing campaign that was strenuously opposed by the African Union, which worried (correctly) that the conflict and weapons would spill southward.

Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011, military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers that the country would likely descend into civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.” Ten years later Libya has yet to fully extricate itself from the civil war.

The public letter about the warplanes notes that “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria.” The NDP opposed the first Iraq war and the 2014–16 bombing of Iraq/Syria. But it supported the illegal 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the Libya war so it’s not surprising elements of the party want to purchase expensive new fighter jets. But parts of Garrison’s reaction don’t add up.

The fighter jet purchase offers the NDP an opportunity to differentiate itself from the Liberals who are angling to buy the F-35 — they’ve paid hundreds of millions of dollars to remain part of the consortium — by reminding voters of Trudeau’s explicit promise not to do so. Oddly, Garrison didn’t even repeat his opposition to purchasing the F-35 in his long response to the public letter even though he could have stuck with a militarist lens by questioning spending huge sums on fighter jets when drone technology is advancing rapidly.

More substantively, the Covid-19 pandemic and destruction wrought by climate change — the heat wave and subsequent obliteration of Lytton, BC — is rapidly undermining militarist conceptions of “security”, as noted in a long commentary in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. It explained, “increasingly, the foes we have to fight aren’t foreign armies, but pandemics, climate change and other disasters that destabilize the world around us. Our armed forces should adapt accordingly”. In this political moment it’s hard for a progressive to argue that resources should be devoted to fighter jets rather than pandemic recovery and mitigating the climate crisis.

Perhaps a few hundred more phones calls, emails and tweets could move the NDP to just say no to spending “tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.”

 

Please take a minute to email all MPs to say NO to the $77 billion fighter jet purchase. 

 

Yves Engler’s Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military is available next month.

 

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Halting fighter jets is just the beginning: 100 public figures oppose warplanes

Progressives should be pushing to defund or abolish the Canadian military. But, first we need to stop bolstering its capacity to kill in US and NATO lead wars.

Wednesday the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace released a public letter opposing Canada’s plan “to spend tens of billions of dollars on unnecessary, dangerous, climate destroying fighter jets.” Signatories include Canadian musicians Neil Young, Teagan and Sarah and Sarah Harmer as well as environmentalists David Suzuki and Naomi Klein. The No new fighter jets for Canada statement is also signed by authors Michael Ondaatje Yann Martel and Gabor Maté as well as sitting MPs, former MPs, city councillors, a Senator, MPP and former UN ambassador. Prominent international figures such as Roger Waters, Daryl Hannah and Noam Chomsky have also backed a call addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The jets are expected to cost about $19 billion but the full life cycle cost of the planes will be closer to $77 billion. These resources could fund clean drinking water on reserves, an exhaustive search of all unmarked graves at residential ‘schools’ and plenty of indigenous run cooperative housing. Or “$77 billion could turbocharge a just transition away from fossil fuels”, notes the letter.

While the letter highlights better ways to use the resources, it also points out that “purchasing new jets will entrench fossil-fuel militarism”. Fighter jets consume large amounts of heavy carbon emitting fuel and their high-altitude release point increases the climatic effect.

But, the primary reason to oppose fighter jets is their violent nature. “Canada’s current fleet of fighter jets has bombed Libya, Iraq, Serbia and Syria”, notes the letter. “Many innocent people were killed directly or as a result of the destruction of civilian infrastructure and those operations prolonged conflicts and/or contributed to refugee crises.”

Purchasing cutting edge new fighter jets will enhance the Canadian military’s capacity to kill alongside the most violent nation the world has ever seen. In essence, the planned jet procurement will channel massive amounts of public resources into one of the most destructive parts of the military, which is among the most damaging elements of our government.

While a vitally important campaign, stopping the fighter jet procurement is a rearguard action. We need to defund the military, which sucks up $30 billion a year. In his near successful campaign to lead the Green Party of Canada Dimitri Lascaris proposed reducing military spending by half. At the recent NDP convention one resolution called for “the phasing out of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Despite the commonly held view that states should have militaries, about 20 countries don’t have an active military force. They are mostly small Caribbean or South Pacific island nations, but the list also includes Costa Rica, Iceland and Panama. If the Canadian Forces were abolished, Canada would still have a coast guard, border services agency, municipal police forces and the quasi paramilitary RCMP.

Slashing military spending in half or abolishing the Canadian Armed Forces is important. But, the 100,000 Canadians (70,000 active soldiers and 30,000 reservists) in the force, as well as the 25,000 individuals working for the Department of National Defence, require alternative employment and ways to contribute socially.

How about training some soldiers to clean the huge amounts of ordnance, chemicals and other waste from bases as part of advancing reconciliation with first peoples? Once properly cleared, some of the land could be returned to First Nations (a great deal of indigenous land was taken to build bases). The CF could return 500 or 1000 square kilometres a year of its 20,000 square kilometers land over a decade or two, which would still leave it with about half the landmass of Switzerland.

It is also imperative to convert weapons production. But, those producing arms require more socially and ecologically sustainable employment. In some instances, this may be relatively straightforward. A light armoured vehicle production line can be rejigged to assemble buses, for instance. But, new plants and significant retraining may be required in other instances.

Progressives should be pressing to defund the military. But, first let’s block efforts to strengthen its capacities to drop bombs in US and NATO lead wars.

 

Please email all MPs to say NO to the $77 billion fighter jet purchase. 

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NDP defence critic ignores party policy

Why does the NDP defence critic promote militarism and anti-Palestinian racism? Shouldn’t all critics promote their party’s policies? And if they don’t, what should the party leader do?

Randall Garrison complained to the Hill Times that the government’s recent budget didn’t devote enough to the military. In “Opposition MPs say they’re worried about lack of defence spending in budget, as experts to future of NORAD” he’s quoted saying: “Defence doesn’t change just because there’s a pandemic. … We spent a decade not providing the military with an adequate operating budget to do the work we already asked them to do. It’s time to fix that.”

Garrison has repeatedly demanded more resources for the military, which has more than 10 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada. When the Liberals announced a 70 per cent increase in military spending in 2017 Garrison criticized the announcement for not putting up more money immediately, bemoaning (incorrectly) that “the money you’re proposing will not keep pace with the rate of inflation.”

Garrison supports spending $19 billion — $77 billion over their lifecycle — on 88 new aggressive, climate destroying, fighter jets. Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which could cost $286 billion over their lifecycle. He stayed silent on the issue after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated in February that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at over $77 billion, five times the initial estimate. And $77 billion is just the sticker price. Former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel at DND and Assistant Deputy Minister, Supply Operations Service in Public Works and Government Services Canada, Alan Williams, suggests the full life-cycle cost of the CSC will be an eye popping $286 billion.

Garrison has also ignored media reports about extreme secrecy in the CSC procurement process. Nor has he commented on its radar tying the vessels into US Ballistic Missile Defense or arming the frigates with Tomahawk missiles that travel 1,700 kilometers.

None of this aligns with the views of most NDP members.

In mid-April 85% of NDP convention delegates voted for the Palestine Resolution. It calls for “Ending all trade and economic cooperation with illegal settlements in Israel-Palestine” and “Suspending the bilateral trade of all arms and related materials with the State of Israel until Palestinian rights are upheld.”

In response to Israel’s ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque and violence in Gaza, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called for an arms embargo on Israel and the party promoted a petition making this demand, which most MPs shared.

Garrison stayed quiet on the arms embargo and convention resolution. He also failed to criticize Israel’s violence and ethnic cleansing. Instead, he signed a statement at the end of May designed to shield Israel from criticism, which was promoted by anti-Palestinian lobby group Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). The statement Garrison signed was connected to his position on an unofficial task force lobbying social media firms to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) anti-Palestinian working definition of anti-Semitism.

Garrison is also vice-chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG). Three years ago 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members called on NDP MPs to withdraw from CIIG. Most ultimately did so. Garrison has refused to leave a group that promotes “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the Canadian and Israeli parliaments. As I detailed, CIIG has organized events with other pro-Israel lobby organizations and the co-chairs of its Israeli counterpart — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — have been stridently anti-Palestinian. Garrison’s ties to anti-Palestinian lobbying groups go beyond his role as vice-chair of CIIG. Garrison has participated in initiatives with the staunchly anti-Palestinian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and CIJA. He has also repeatedly promoted the notion that pro-Palestinian activism is anti-Jewish. Last summer Garrison was one of two NDP MPs who refused to sign Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East’s pledge to oppose Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank.

Garrison is clearly out of step with NDP members on Palestinian rights. His militarism is also not shared by most in the party.

It’s time Jagmeet Singh removed Garrison as defence critic.

 

Please take one minute to send a letter to the NDP leadership calling for Garrison’s removal as defence critic.

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Filed under Israel Lobby, Military, NDP

Canadian military is a patriarchal, authoritarian threat to democracy

Details of former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance’s sexual relations with a subordinate has put the patriarchal character of the military back in the spotlight. But there’s been insufficient discussion of the ways in which the issue highlights the authoritarian nature of the armed forces and its negative impact on pluralistic, democratic, values.

Six years ago former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps released a report detailing widespread sexual assault within the Canadian Forces (CF). Her 2015 investigation found a “culture of misogyny” in the CF “hostile to women and LGTBQ members.” In 2019 Deschamps told the House of Commons defence committee there had been little progress in eliminating sexism within the CF and between April 1 2016 and March 9 of this year there were 581 sexual assault and 221 sexual harassment complaints implicating CF members.

In a bid to change the culture of the military and offer greater protection to victims, Deschamps made 10 proposals. The most important suggestion was to establish a misconduct reporting system outside of the chain of command to receive reports of sexual assault and harassment. But the military largely failed to implement her proposals.

Instead of calling on the military to immediately move forward with Deschamps’ proposals, the Trudeau government responded to growing criticism of their complicity in Vance’s sexual misdeeds by asking another former Supreme Court judge, Louise Arbour, to conduct an … investigation. On CBC’s Power and Politics last week the panelists were clear that the government instigated a new investigation simply to change the channel on an embarrassing scandal. But they ignored broader questions about the military, ignoring the ways in which Deschamps’ proposals put into question not only CF patriarchy, but also its authoritarian and hierarchal, character.

Ranging from Private Basic/Ordinary Seaman to General/Admiral, there are nineteen ranks in the CF. In deference to authority, the lower ranks must salute and obey orders from higher ranks. CF uniforms, badges and bars help individuals know who they must salute and obey.

There are few ways to legitimately challenge authority in the CF. Military members are not permitted to sign petitions complaining of unjust conditions. Nor are the rank-and-file allowed to unionize. Majority rule or even influence runs counter to CF principles. The rank-and-file collectively refusing an order is considered mutiny and is punishable by life in prison (formerly by death).

Military personnel are not entitled to jury trials. Unlike a number of European countries, the CF military justice system is not under civilian authority. CF members are subject to military law and tried in military courts even when the alleged crimes are committed off-duty and aren’t related to military affairs.

Soldiers must follow a DND code of values and ethics and Queens Regulations and Orders, which reinforce hierarchy and undercut solidarity. Members are required to reveal secrets about their peers when supervisors ask. Failure do so is severely punished.

CF members are restricted in what they can say publicly or post online. Under the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives and Queens Regulations and Orders, soldiers are not allowed to discredit the CF or discourage other troops from their duties. Any “enunciation, defence or criticism, expressed or implied, of service, departmental or government policy” is forbidden.

The military’s authoritarian ways seep into other areas of Canadian life. The largest and oldest government-funded youth program, 50,000 kids participate in the cadets.  The CF boasts that cadets “develop a great sense of pride and discipline through their involvement in a hierarchical system that allows them to hone their leadership skills.”

The cadets have also been embroiled in sexual assault scandals. In 2006 Ottawa agreed to pay $8 million to 35 former sea cadets who were sexually assaulted and a 2016 suit launched by former cadets in the Atlantic provinces alleged the organization created an environment “which encouraged or fostered silence and obedience” when abuse took place. Some suggest that abusers are attracted to cadet training positions since it puts them in contact with children and the hierarchical structure — having to obey commanding officers — enables abuse.

The authoritarian, hierarchical, nature of the military isn’t simply a danger to those abused. CF culture and structures are frequently in opposition to pluralistic, democratic, values. So are the demands of warfare. This is the reason why people with extreme right-wing beliefs are often attracted to the military as it conforms to their views on how society should function.

Loyalty, conformity and obeying orders are considered essential by the CF. There’s little room to challenge authority or injustices and voting is nearly nonexistent. Political meetings are not allowed on base and it is prohibited to establish a feminist, environmental or socialist club.

The military command structures reinforce the most undemocratic and ignorant impulses of Canadian society while the patriarchal, authoritarian, nature of the Canadian Forces is a threat to many within the institution. Fixing this will not be simple.

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Navy performing provocative manoeuvres in South China Sea

Interesting how the military “defends” this country by sending ships 7,000 kilometres from Canadian soil.

Canada’s navy is running provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea. While they claim to be upholding the “international rules based order” in these missions, their main partner refuses to recognize the Law of the Sea.

At the end of last month HMCS Calgary passed near the Spratly Islands claimed by both China and the Philippines. In response Chinese vessels shadowed Calgary through the South China Sea.

In recent years Canadian vessels have repeatedly been involved in belligerent Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercises through international waters — claimed by Beijing — in the South China Sea, Strait of Taiwan, and East China Sea. To counter China’s growing influence in Asia, Washington has stuck its oar into long-standing territorial and maritime boundary disputes between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of these efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the US Navy has engaged in regular FON operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters.

Last year the Canadian Press obtained documents showing that FON efforts in the South China Sea were approved at the highest levels of government. When HMCS Ottawa traveled through the South China Sea’s Taiwan Strait the government said it “demonstrated Canadian support for our closest partners and allies, regional security and the rules-based international order.”

But Canadian FON missions are principally designed to demonstrate support for the US, which is one of only a handful of countries that has refused to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The US has failed to ratify UNCLOS even after gaining broad changes to the convention in 1994. Failing to ratify UNCLOS is but one of many examples of Washington’s hostility to the “international rules based order” the Trudeau government claims to uphold.

US Naval patrols in the region regularly violate UNCLOS. In “Do US Actions in the South China Sea Violate International Law?”, scholar Mark J. Valencia points out that their employment of sonobuoys (radar) to search for submarines is prohibited by UNCLOS. Valencia also questions whether FON exercises to pressure China violate the UN Charter. Irrespective of legal interpretations, Washington’s expressed concern over China’s failure to adhere to international norms in maritime disputes shouldn’t be taken too seriously given its own flagrant refusal to accept the Law of the Sea.

Ottawa is under pressure to increase its military contribution in a region with a significant US presence. (Le Monde Diplomatique pointed out that despite China’s 14,000 kilometers of coastline, it collides with the US military, which has bases sprinkled all around region, as soon as it goes out to sea.) Recently the Globe and Mail published “Canada urged to play bigger role with allies to counter China in the Indo-Pacific”. The story called on Ottawa to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes the US, India, Japan and Australia.

Incredibly, Canada may join an alliance focused on an area some 7,000 kilometers from Canada’s coast. Earlier this year, the Canadian Air Force participated in an anti-submarine warfare exercise in Guam known as Sea Dragon with the Quad nations for the first time.

While increasing, the Canadian navy’s presence in the region is nothing new. In 2012 it came to light the military sought a small base with a port facility in Singapore to keep an eye on China. For two decades the Canadian navy has made regular port visits to Asia and since its 1971 inception Canada has participated in every Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is a massive US-led maritime warfare training action every two years.

During the early 1950s Korean War Canadian ships bombed North Korean and Chinese troops. They hurled 130,000 rounds at Korean targets. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, “during the war, Canadians became especially good at ‘train busting.’ This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea’s coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight.” Canadian Naval Operations in Korean Waters 1950-1955 details a slew of RCN attacks that would have likely killed civilians.

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

A Canadian naval presence off China’s coast isn’t new. But running provocative maneuvers to support a nation that refuses to recognize the Law of the Sea is a bizarre way to uphold the “international rules based order”.

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Why the NDP needs a new defence critic

Randall Garrison with Canadian soldiers in Mali

What should be expected from a “defence critic” for a left-wing political party? An easy answer might be criticism from the left, but in the case of the NDP that doesn’t happen much.

The Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces is far and away the largest federal government department. It has the biggest budget, staff, public relations machine and intelligence-gathering capacities of any ministry. With approximately 120,000 employees, DND spends $30 billion annually, 15 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Across the country, DND manages the “largest infrastructure portfolio in the federal government” with its many bases and stations covering over two million hectares. DND/CF is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government.

Offensively oriented, the Canadian military has innumerable ties to the “greatest purveyor of violence”, in Martin Luther King’s words, the world has ever seen. Canada has hundreds of cooperation agreements with the US military and Canadian Forces are deployed on more than 20 international missions.

Despite numerous accords, deployments, expenditures, etc. that warrant questioning, the NDP defence critic barely challenges DND (with the exception of sexism within the force). In fact, Randall Garrison mostly advocates for those within the force. As the NDP defence critic told Canadian Defence Review, “if we’re going to send people out and ask them to do tough work we better make sure they’ve got the equipment they need to do it.”

Garrison has stayed silent on Canadian naval vessels taking over NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic, North and Norwegian seas. He has also said nothing about Canadian vessels participating in provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea or Canadian vessels engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. Nor has the NDP defence critic mentioned rotations of Canadian pilots in Romania or the small detachment of troops at a US base in Saudi Arabia. He openly backed Canada’s sizable ‘training’ deployments to Iraq, Ukraine and Latvia.

Garrison has stayed mum on Canadian Defence Attachés promoting arms exports. Nor does he appear concerned with the costly, ecologically damaging and violent nature of Canada’s planned fighter jet purchase.

As I wrote recently, Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which is the largest in Canadian history. “Amidst growing media criticism,” I noted in early January, “Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.”

The silence continued after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated last month that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at $77 billion. Three times the initial estimate, $77 billion is just the sticker price. In a recent Hill Times article former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel at DND and Assistant Deputy Minister, Supply Operations Service in Public Works and Government Services Canada, Alan Williams, suggests the full life-cycle cost of the CSC will be an eye popping $286 billion. That would cover tuition for every university student in the country for 15 years or guarantee safe drinking water on every reserve 100 times over. But the CSC’s ballooning costs haven’t elicited a peep from Garrison. He supports plowing a quarter trillion dollars into strengthening the navy’s ability to subjugate others.

To get a sense of Garrison’s deference to the military, he responded to a September Canadian Defence Review question about spending millions of dollars into the ecologically destructive public relations tool that are the Snowbirds by saying: “I go with what the Canadian Forces say they need and want to do, so I don’t have a personal opinion about whether this is what they need to do. If the Canadian Forces tell me, and they clearly have, that this is an important part of what they do and we need to spend money on it, then I’ll support them.”

NDP members, activists and MPs shouldn’t accept this. It is past time Garrison was removed as party defence “critic”.

 

If you are interested in hearing voices that question the military, check out the April 3 discussion on “Why Canada should leave NATO”

 

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Why isn’t NDP critic Randall Garrison questioning $200 billion navy procurement?

The job of the opposition in Parliament is to hold the government accountable, in part by asking questions. The role of an NDP critic should be to criticize from the left. So why the silence from Randall Garrison after Canada’s leading military reporter David Pugliese published a 5,000 word expose on the Canadian Surface Combatant headlined, “Billions in trouble: How the crown jewel of Canada’s shipbuilding strategy became a possible financial disaster waiting in the wings.”

Despite revelations over the past month of costs growing to over $200 billion, extreme secrecy, the addition of ballistic ‘missile defence’ and Tomahawk missiles that travel 1,700 kilometers, there has been nary a comment from the NDP defence critic on the 15 new frigates.

Initially pegged at $14 billion, the official price tag for the frigates later rose to $26 billion and now sits at $60 billion. In 2019 the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost about $10 billion higher and an updated frigates cost estimate next month is expected to reach $80 billion. To keep information about the swelling costs under wraps the military has resorted to extreme secrecy, reported Pugliese in the expose.

The recent winner of a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom followed his investigation into the cost and secrecy surrounding the frigates with a story about government officials criticizing companies for speaking out. Subsequently, Pugliese published a story headlined “Top of the line Canadian-made naval equipment shut out of $70-billion warship program” about government subsidized firms cut out of the Lockheed Martin led consortium set to build the frigates. As a result, Thales Canada’s government funded naval radar, which is being used on German, Danish and Dutch warships, won’t be part of the Canadian Surface Combatant.

In response to Pugliese’s reporting, the Ottawa Citizen editorial board criticized the frigate purchase in “Choppy waters for Canada’s warship program”. In November the Hill Times also published a commentary titled “Canada’s surface combatant costs might be taking on water” and a front-page story titled “DND says budget for Surface Combatants remains unchanged; PBO report expected in late February”. Two days before Christmas CBC reported an astounding estimate for the lifecycle cost of the frigates. Initially detailed in Esprit de Corps, former defence official Alan Williams’ concludes that the 15 frigates will cost $213 – 219 billion over 40 years!

One explanation for the astronomical cost of the 15 frigates is the radar system that’s been chosen. According to a CBC story from early December, the radar can be easily upgraded to a ballistic missile defence system, which successive Canadian governments have resisted joining. In the mid 2000s the Canadian Peace Alliance, Échec à la guerre, Ceasefire.ca and others forced the Liberal government to shelve its plan to formally join the US Ballistic Missile Defence. (It’s called “missile defence” because it’s designed to defend US missiles when they use them in offensive wars.)

In November a number of military focused publications reported on the weaponry expected on the vessels. “Canada’s New Frigate Will Be Brimming With Missiles”, is how The Drive described the ships. In a first outside the US, Canada’s surface combatants look set to be outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometers away. As such, the frigates could be near London and hit Berlin or, more plausibly, docked in Panama City and strike Caracas, Venezuela.

As I recently detailed in Jacobin, Ottawa has long used naval force as a “diplomatic” tool. Early Canadian ‘gunboat diplomacy’ included pressing Costa Rica to repay the Royal Bank in 1921 and helping a dictator as he was massacring peasants in El Salvador in 1932. In recent years Canadian warships have gone to war with Libya and Iraq.

Amidst growing media criticism, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.

This is abysmal. What is the point of having an NDP defence critic if they are unwilling to question or challenge the largest procurement in Canadian history?

At the NDP convention in April members need to press Garrison to clarify his position on these violent, $200 billion frigates.

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New frigates to project Canadian ‘power’ with cruise missiles

A recent report about the weapons on Canada’s new Navy frigates is frightening. Equally troubling is the lack of parliamentary opposition to expanding the federal government’s violent “maritime power projection” capacities.

Naval News recently reported on the likely arsenal of Canada’s new surface combatant vessels, which are expected to cost over $70 billion ($213-219 billion over their lifecycle). The largest single taxpayer expense in Canadian history,the 15 vessels “will be fitted with a wide range of weapons, both offensive and defense, in a mix never seen before in any surface combatant.”

The 7,800 tonne vessels have space for a helicopter and remotely piloted systems. The frigates have electronic warfare capabilities, torpedo tubes and various high-powered guns. It will have a Naval Strike Missile harpoon that can launch missiles 185 kilometers. Most controversially, the surface combatants look set to be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometres away. US-based Raytheon has only ever exported these Tomahawk missiles to the UK and if the Royal Canadian Navy acquires them it would be the only navy besides the US to deploy the missiles on surface vessels.

Canada’s New Frigate Will Be Brimming With Missiles”, is how The Drive recently described the surface combatant vessels. In the article War Zone reporter Joseph Trevithick concludes, “the ships now look set to offer Canada an entirely new form of maritime power projection.”

What has Canada’s “maritime power projection” looked like historically?

Over the past three years Canadian vessels have repeatedly been involved in belligerent “freedom of navigation” exercises through international waters that Beijing claims in the South China Sea, Strait of Taiwan and East China Sea. To “counter China’s” growing influence in Asia, Washington has sought to stoke longstanding territorial and maritime boundary disputes between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the US Navy engages in regular “freedom of navigation” operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters.

A Canadian frigate has regularly patrolled the Black Sea, which borders Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Georgia and Ukraine. In July 2019 HMCS Toronto led a four ship Standing NATO Maritime Group exercise in the Black Sea. Soon after, it participated with two-dozen other ships in a NATO exercise that included training in maritime interdiction, air defence, amphibious warfare and anti-submarine warfare as part of sending “a strong message of deterrence to Russia.”

During the 2011 war on Libya Canadian vessels patrolled the Libyan coast. Two rotations of Canadian warships enforced a naval blockade of Libya for six months with about 250 soldiers aboard each vessel. On May 19, 2011, HMCS Charlottetown joined an operation that destroyed eight Libyan naval vessels. After the hostilities the head of Canada’s navy, Paul Maddison, told Ottawa defence contractors that HMCS Charlottetown “played a key role in keeping the Port of Misrata open as a critical enabler of the anti-Gaddafi forces.”

A month before the commencement of the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes and through the 1990s Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions on Iraq. During the first Iraq war Canada dispatched destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and Athabaskan and supply vessel Protecteur to the Persian Gulf before a UN resolution was passed.

Historically the Canadian Navy’s influence has been greatest nearer to home. In a chapter of the 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy titled “Maple Leaf Over the Caribbean: Gunboat Diplomacy Canadian Style” military historian Sean Maloney writes: “Since 1960, Canada has used its military forces at least 26 times in the Caribbean to support Canadian foreign policy. In addition, Canada planned three additional operations, including two unilateral interventions into Caribbean states.”

At the request of Grenada’s government Ottawa deployed a vessel to the tiny country during its 1974 independence celebration. In Revolution and Intervention in Grenada Kai Schoenhals and Richard Melanson write, “the United Kingdom and Canada also sent three armed vessels to St. George’s to shore up the [Eric] Gairy government”, which faced significant pressure from the left.

When 23,000 US troops invaded the Dominican Republic in April 1965 a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo, noted Defence Minister Paul Theodore Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.” Two Canadian gunboats were deployed to Barbados’ independence celebration the next year in a bizarre diplomatic maneuver designed to demonstrate Canada’s military prowess. Maloney writes, “we can only speculate at who the ‘signal’ was directed towards, but given the fact that tensions were running high in the Caribbean over the Dominican Republic Affair [US invasion], it is likely that the targets were any outside force, probably Cuban, which might be tempted to interfere with Barbadian independence.” Of course, Canadian naval vessels were considered no threat to Barbadian independence.

Immediately after US forces invaded Korea in 1950, Ottawa sent three vessels to the region. Ultimately eight RCN destroyers completed 21 tours in Korea between 1950 and 1955.

Canadian ships transported troops and bombed the enemy ashore. They hurled 130,000 rounds at Korean targets. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, “during the war, Canadians became especially good at ‘train busting.’ This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea’s coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight.” Canadian Naval Operations in Korean Waters 1950-1955 details a slew of RCN attacks that would have likely killed civilians.

Canadian warships were also dispatched to force Costa Rica to negotiate with the Royal Bank in 1921, to protect British interests during the Mexican Revolution and to back a dictator massacring peasants in El Salvador in 1932.

Where do the political parties stand on new frigates “brimming with missiles”? The Stephen Harper Conservatives instigated the massive naval outlay and the Liberals have happily maintained course. The NDP has supported the initiative and the Bloc pressed for more shipyard work in Québec. The Greens have stayed silent.

Surely there must be at least one Member of Parliament who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to spend $200 billion to strengthen the federal government’s bullying naval capacities in support of the US Empire and Canadian corporations abroad.

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Time for nuclear disarmament movement to ruffle government feathers

ICAN Activists mobilize to prohibit nuclear weapons.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The people versus war profiteers and their propaganda machine

Despite polls that suggest most Canadians do not support warplanes used to kill and destroy things around the world, the federal government seems determined to spend tens of billions of dollars to expand that capability. While there is a growing movement afoot to block the Liberals’ fighter jet purchase, it will require significant mobilization to overcome the powerful forces seeking cutting edge new warplanes.

At the end of July Boeing (Super Hornet), Saab (Gripen) and Lockheed Martin (F-35) submitted bids to manufacture fighter jets for the Canadian Air Force. The sticker price for 88 new warplanes is $19 billion, but the full lifecycle cost of purchasing the jets will likely top $40 billion.

In response to the government moving forward with the planned warplane purchase, a campaign has taken off to oppose the massive government outlay. There have been two days of action at two dozen MPs offices against the warplane purchase, which is planned for 2022. Hundreds of individuals have sent emails to all MPs on the issue and a recent Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and World BEYOND War webinar pierced parliamentary silence on the planned fighter jet purchase. The October 15 “Challenging Canada’s $19 Billion Warplane Purchase” event included Green Party MP and foreign critic Paul Manly, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison and Senator Marilou McPhedran as well as activist Tamara Lorincz and poet El Jones. Manly spoke out directly against the fighter jet purchase and recently raised the issue during Question Period in the House of Commons (Green leader Annamie Paul echoed Manly’s opposition to the purchase in a recent Hill Times commentary). For her part, McPhedran suggested more sensible priorities for the large sums devoted to the warplane procurement. A noted anti-Palestinian, Garrison equivocated. He said the NDP opposed purchasing the F-35 but was open to purchasing some other bombers depending on industrial criteria.

The no warplane campaign should take heart from a recent Nanos poll. Bombing campaigns were the least popular of eight options offered to the public when asked “How supportive, if at all, are you of the following types of Canadian forces international missions.” Only 28% supported “Having the Canadian Air Force involved in airstrikes” while 77% of those polled backed “Participating in natural disaster relief abroad” and 74% supported “United Nations peacekeeping mission”. Fighter jets are largely useless for natural disasters, humanitarian relief or peacekeeping, let alone a 9/11 style attack or a global pandemic. These cutting-edge new planes are designed to enhance the air force’s ability to join belligerent US and NATO bombing campaigns.

But, using the military to support NATO and allies was also a relatively low priority of those polled. Asked by Nanos “In your opinion, what’s the most appropriate role for the Canadian Armed Forces?” 39.8% chose “Peacekeeping” and 34.5% “Defend Canada”. “Support NATO missions/allies” received the backing of 6.9% of those polled.

The no fighter jet campaign should link the $19 billion warplane purchase to Canada’s recent history of participating in US-led bombings such as Iraq (1991), Serbia (1999), Libya (2011) and Syria/Iraq (2014-2016). All these bombing campaigns – to varying degrees – violated international law and left those countries worse off. Most obviously, Libya remains at war nine years later and violence there spilled southward to Mali and across much of Africa’s Sahel region.

The no fighter jets campaign is also right to highlight warplanes contribution to the climate crisis. They are carbon-intensive and purchasing a fleet of expensive new ones is completely at odds with Canada’s stated commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. During the 2011 bombing of Libya, for instance, Canadian jets burnt 14.5 million pounds of fuel and their bombs destroyed the natural habitat.

Most Canadians have no idea about the scope of the air force and military’s ecological destruction. To mark Disarmament Week NDP MP Leah Gazan recently asked on Twitter “Did you know that according to the 2017 Canadian Armed Forces Defence and Environment Strategy, all military operations and activities are EXEMPT from national emission reduction targets!!??”

DND/CF is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government. In 2017 it released 544 kilotons of GHGs, 40 percent more than Public Services Canada, the next largest emitting ministry.

While the background issues and polling numbers suggest campaigners are well placed to mobilize public opinion against the $19 billion fighter jet purchase, there is still a huge hill to climb. The military and associated industries are well organized and conscious of their interests. The Canadian Forces want new jets and the CF/DND has the largest public relations operations in the country.

There are also powerful corporations set to gain substantial profits off the contract. The two main competitors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, finance think tanks such as the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Conference of Defence Associations. All three companies are also members of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which supports the fighter jet purchase. Boeing and Lockheed advertise aggressively in publications read by Ottawa insiders such as iPolitics, Ottawa Business Journal and Hill Times. To facilitate access to government officials Saab, Lockheed and Boeing maintain offices a few blocks from Parliament. They actively lobby MPs and DND officials and have hired retired Air Force generals to top executive positions and contracted retired Air Force commanders to lobby for them.

Scrapping the entire 88 warplane purchase won’t be easy. But people of conscience can’t sit idly by as huge sums are devoted to one of the most destructive parts of the military, which is among the most damaging elements of our government.

To stop the fighter jet purchase, we need to create a coalition of those who oppose war, are concerned about the environment and anyone who believes there are better uses for our tax dollars. Only by mobilizing large numbers to actively oppose the warplane purchase can we hope to overcome the power of war profiteers and their propaganda machine.

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