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‘Alternative’ media outlet offers no alternative on Canadian foreign policy

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National Observer does not question Ottawa’s foreign policy

Why would an alternative media website that questions government and corporate policies about climate change and the environment have so much trouble understanding that the same sort of skepticism is necessary regarding Canadian foreign policy?

Imagine a self-declared progressive media outlet saying they don’t cover racism, patriarchy or the dispossession of First Nations because they don’t have the expertise. Most on the left would laugh or label that outlet racist, sexist and pro-colonial. But that seems to be the National Observer’s position regarding coverage of Canadian imperialism.

While they publish international affairs stories mimicking Ottawa’s view of the world from Canadian Press – owned by Power Corporation, Globe and Mail and Torstar – they cannot allow a critical voice who has written more than a half dozen books about Canadian foreign policy.

Recently I submitted an opinion article about Canada’s role in Haiti to Observer Managing Editor Laurie Few. Signed by Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019 members Marie Dimanche, Frantz André and myself, Few agreed to publish a story that began by discussing recent efforts to burn the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. In fact, she asked for an update about a demonstration Solidarité Québec-Haiti organized last Sunday and pictures from the march.

After the story failed to appear, I asked Few what was happening. Observer editor-in-chief Linda Solomon Wood replied that they don’t cover Canadian imperialism in Haiti. “There are many topics we simply don’t get into because we don’t know the issue well enough,” Wood wrote. “Before I would want to publish opinion on Haiti, I would want to have an in-depth reported feature or investigation from on the ground in Haiti.”

But, a quick Google search uncovered a half dozen stories the Observer published on Haiti this year. I sent them to Wood to which she replied: “Yes, but all Canadian Press, not our own reporters. Our staff does not have expertise here.”

In response I wrote, “I’m guessing that many of your left-wing readers would understand the political implications of National Observer being able to publish stuff on Haiti that comes from the Canadian Press but not activists/authors on the issue.”

While I thought it was obvious, Wood asked “what are the implications you are referring to?” So, I spelled it out: “That you can put out the official perspective on foreign-policy but not critical perspectives. Which is my sense of your coverage of Venezuela and now Haiti. Effectively you become a pro imperialist media outlet.”

To Wood’s credit she partly conceded. “You have a point about publishing CP content on foreign affairs, we trust CP’s quality and verification processes”, she wrote. “I’m going to give this some thought. There’s no real advantage to us publishing CP material on foreign stories unless they are about our topic areas. You make a good point.”

In the last two weeks the Observer has published CP stories headlined “[outgoing foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland will leave her mark”, “Can Justin Trudeau save NATO from ‘brain death?’”, “Military families sacrifice for Canada. Remembrance Day honours that painful cost”, “Canada supports genocide case against Myanmar government”, “Canada casts controversial UN vote for Palestinian self-determination”, “Pelosi suggests passing of NAFTA 2.0 is ‘imminent’” and “Brewing battle over future of NATO creates minefield for Canada”. All were typical, unquestioning, Canada-is-a-force-for-good-in-the-world “news” articles.

At the start of the year I noticed that the Observer was effectively backing Canadian imperialism in Venezuela. I wrote Wood and another editor, “from what I can tell the National Observer has failed to critically cover Canada’s role in seeking to overthrow Venezuela’s government. You have published a few stories effectively supporting Canadian intervention. Below is a submission critical of Canadian policy. I am certain that many of your readers and funders are opposed to this crass Canadian intervention or at minimum believe that an independent news outlet should provide both sides to the story.” The Observer didn’t, of course, publish my article. In subsequent months, however, they published a number of stories aligned with Canadian policy towards Venezuela.

More recently, the Observer has totally ignored Canada’s role in overthrowing Bolivian President Evo Morales. Similarly, the Observer has published many stories sympathetic to the armed forces, but I couldn’t find a single article from the climate-focused outlet dealing with the Canadian military’s carbon footprint.

If the National Observer wants to be taken seriously as a news outlet willing to tell the truth regardless of who the truth offends then it must be willing to challenge the status quo coverage of international affairs. At a minimum it must offer some critical voices. Its readers and supporters deserve at least that.

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OAS election observers subvert Bolivian democracy

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Organization of American States election observers have played an important role in subverting Bolivian democracy.

While some may find it hard to believe that a regional electoral monitoring body would consciously subvert democracy, their actions in the South American country are not dissimilar to previous US/Canada backed OAS missions in Haiti.

The OAS Election Audit That Triggered Morales’ Fall in Bolivia”, explained a New York Times headline. For his part, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the OAS “is in the service of the North American empire.”

After the October 20 presidential election, the OAS immediately cried foul. The next day the organization released a statement that expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results [from the quick count] revealed after the closing of the polls.” Two days later they followed that statement up with a preliminary report that repeated their claim that “changes in the TREP [quick count] trend were hard to explain and did not match the other measurements available.”

But, the “hard-to-explain” changes cited by the OAS were entirely expected, as detailed in the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission”. The CEPR analysis points out that Morales’ percentage lead over the second place candidate Carlos Mesa increased steadily as votes from rural, largely indigenous, areas were tabulated. Additionally, the 47.1% of the vote Morales garnered aligns with pre-election polls and the vote score for his Movement toward Socialism party. The hullabaloo about the quick count stopping at 83% of the vote was preplanned and there is no evidence there was a pause in the actual counting.

But, the OAS’ statements gave oxygen to opposition protests. Their unsubstantiated criticism of the election have also been widely cited internationally to justify Morales’ ouster. In response to OAS claims, protests and Washington and Ottawa saying they would not recognize Morales’s victory, the Bolivian President agreed to a “binding” OAS audit of the first round of the election. Unsurprisingly the OAS’ preliminary audit report alleged “irregularities and manipulation” and called for new elections overseen by a new electoral commission. Immediately after the OAS released its preliminary audit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further, saying “all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process.” What started with an easy-to-explain discrepancy between the quick count and final results of the actual counting spiraled into the entire election is suspect and anyone associated with it must go.

At Tuesday’s Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on Bolivia the representative of Antigua and Barbuda criticized the opaque way in which the OAS electoral mission to Bolivia released its statements and reports. She pointed out how the organization made a series of agreements with the Bolivian government that were effectively jettisoned. A number of Latin American countries echoed this view.

US and Canadian representatives, on the other hand, applauded the OAS’ work in Bolivia. Canada’s representative to the OAS boasted that two Canadian technical advisers were part of the audit mission to Bolivia and that Canada financed the OAS effort that discredited Bolivia’s presidential election. Canada is the second largest contributor to the OAS, which receives between 44% and 57% of its budget from Washington.

It’s not surprising that an electoral mission from the Washington-based organization would subvert Bolivian democracy. OAS electoral observers have played more flagrant role in undermining Haitian democracy. In late 2010/early-2011 the US/Canada used an OAS election “Expert Verification Mission” to help extreme right-wing candidate Michel Martelly become president. Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating and following the first round of voting in November 2010, forced the candidate whom Haiti’s electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. After Martelly’s supporters protested their candidate’s third place showing, a six person OAS mission, including a Canadian representative, concluded that Martelly deserved to be in the second round. But, in analyzing the OAS methodology, the CEPR determined that “the Mission did not establish any legal, statistical, or other logical basis for its conclusions.” Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.” In an interview he warned that “time is running out”, adding that “our ambassador has raised this with the president [Rene Préval] himself.” The CEPR described the intense western lobbying. “The international community, led by the US, 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.” This pressure included some Haitian officials having their US visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total was not increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of Haiti’s electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but the other half did not. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, 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. Official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this exercise in what they said was democracy. After Martelly won the second round with 16.7 percent of registered voters support Cannon declared: “We congratulate the people of Haiti, who exercised their fundamental democratic right to choose who will govern their country and represent them on the world stage.” The left weekly Haiti Progrès took a different view. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, the paper explained: “The form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

A decade earlier another OAS election mission helped sabotage democracy in Haiti. After voting for 7,000 positions an OAS team on site described the May 2000 elections as “a great success for the Haitian population which turned out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments.”

As the opposition protested the scope of Fanmi Lavalas’ victory, the OAS jumped on a technicality in the counting of eight Senate seats to subsequently characterize the elections as “deeply flawed”. The 50 percent plus one vote required for a first-round victory was determined by calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates, while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates. OAS concerns were disingenuous since they worked with the electoral council to prepare the elections and were fully aware of the counting method beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but they failed to voice any concerns until Fanmi Lavalas’ landslide victory. Finally, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome of the elections and even after Jean Bertrand Aristide got the seven Lavalas senators to resign (one was from another party) the “deeply flawed” description remained.

Haiti’s political opposition used the OAS criticism of the election to justify boycotting the November 2000 presidential election, which they had little chance of winning. The US and Canada used the claims of electoral irregularities to justify withholding aid and Inter-American Development Bank loans to the Haitian government. OAS Resolutions 806 and 822 gave non-elected opposition parties an effective veto over the resumption of foreign aid to Aristide’s government. The OAS claims of “deeply flawed” elections played an important part in a multipronged campaign to oust Aristide’s government.

In an editorial responding to the coup in Bolivia, People’s Voice called for Canada to withdraw from the Washington dominated OAS. Internationalist minded Canadians should support that position.

But we should also recognize the blow Morales’ ouster represents to any effort to subvert the OAS. The Bolivian President’s removal is a further setback to the Latin American integration efforts represented in forums such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. A potential replacement for the OAS, CELAC included all Latin American and Caribbean nations. But Canada and the US were excluded. By helping oust Morales the OAS has taken revenge on a politician who pushed an alternative, non-Washington based, model for ‘Nuestra America’.

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Is Trudeau really a climate criminal?

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 3.00.49 PMIs Trudeau really a climate criminal?

During a rally/press conference before the September 27 climate strike/protest in Montréal a friend interrupted the Prime Minister to label him a “climate criminal”. When Trudeau joined the enormous march, I dogged him yelling “criminel climatique/climate criminal”. A week later I was detained and given a $150 ticket for yelling “climate criminal” outside a café where Trudeau was holding a press conference. While some might consider it hyperbolic, the case for labeling Trudeau a “climate criminal” is overwhelming:

The Liberals spent $4.5 billion on the Trans Mountain pipeline and related infrastructure. This important government intervention is designed to expand extraction of heavy carbon emitting tar sands oil that must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate disturbances.

Two years ago Trudeau told oil executives in Houston, “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” With these words the PM made it clear his government chose business (and profits) as usual over the survival of human civilization.

The Liberals broke their pre-election promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Ottawa continues to offer a few billion dollars a year in different forms of aid to oil, gas and other fossil fuel firms.

The Liberals eliminated the planned toll on the recently opened $4.4 billion Champlain Bridge to the South Shore of Montréal. The move tells suburbanites the federal government will aggressively subsidize the most costly, unhealthy and ecologically destructive form of land transport for every metre of their 10, 40 or 80 kilometre daily drive (alone) into the city.

The Liberals spent tens of billions of dollars on heavy carbon emitting fighter jets and naval vessels. In the best-case scenario, these weapons will only emit greenhouse gases during training. In the worst-case scenario, they will spew GHG as well as destroy lives and ecosystems. Additionally, militarism is intimately tied to nation state competition, which undercuts the international cooperation needed to mitigate the climate crisis.

By themselves any one of these acts should be viewed as a form of climate criminality. Heck, I’d label as a climate criminal a prime minister who didn’t buy a tar sands pipeline, declare support for extracting tar sands, break its promise to end fossil fuel subsidies, eliminate an important auto toll or spend on arms procurement. Simply failing to declare, legislate and fund a massive justice-based transition off of fossil fuels should be viewed as an act of climate criminality.

The situation is dire. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is growing precipitously, increasing temperature and the number of “natural” disasters. Hundreds of thousands are already dying as a result of anthropocentric climate disturbances and the numbers are projected to grow.

The other reason it is criminal for a PM to fail to pursue a justice-based transition is Canada’s large current and accumulated carbon footprint. Per capita emissions in many African countries amount to barely one per cent of Canada’s rate. Even more startling is the historical imbalance among nations in global greenhouse gas emissions. According to a 2009 Guardian comparison, Canada released 23,669 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 1900 and 2004 while Afghanistan released 77 million metric tons, Chad 7 million metric tons, Morocco 812 million metric tons and Egypt 3,079 million metric tons. Canada’s contribution to global warming over this period was more than the combined total of every sub-Saharan African country.

A sense of ‘carbon equity’ demands a rapid cut in Canadian GHG emissions. So does economic justice. The wealthiest countries should be the first to leave fossil fuel wealth in the ground. Only a sociopath would suggest the Congo, Haiti or Bangladesh stop extracting fossil fuels before Canada. Additionally, Canada has far greater means to transition off of fossil fuels than many other places.

Is Andrew Scheer worse than Trudeau? Of course. But does acknowledgement that someone is worse make you less guilty?

Wherever he speaks Trudeau should be tagged as a climate criminal.

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Making foreign policy part of election

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Canada’s contribution to the climate crisis, anti-Palestinian policies, support for an illegitimate Haitian president, interference in Venezuela’s affairs, NATO deployments and arms sales to Saudi Arabia are some of the foreign policy topics that should motivate how we vote.

Activists with Disruption Network Canada are committed to raising these issues in the spirit of Greta Thunberg who eloquently told the politicians: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” If election campaigns are not the time to demand change from political leaders when is?

Yet when we disrupt the political rhetoric to point out the reality some question our motives.

“Ya, great work Yves Engler!!! Who do you work for?!?” That was one response to a Global News clip I posted in an NDP Grassroots Facebook group of me challenging Jagmeet Singh over the NDP suppressing Palestine solidarity activism. After the Singh event an audience member asked if the Liberals paid me to intervene.

During an intervention at a barbecue organized by Minister of La Francophonie and Tourism Mélanie Joly last month her flack repeatedly asked who funded me. In the weeks before the barbecue members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti #Petrochallenge 2019 interrupted two press conferences by Joly to call on the Liberals to stop propping up a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president.

In response to Canadian Dimension tweeting the story “Elizabeth May accepts right-wing billionaire’s debate” in which I questioned the Green Party leader’s participation in the right-wing Munk foreign policy election debate May wrote: “I accepted the invitation for the same reason Thomas Mulcair accepted it. It is a publicly accessible forum to debate issues. I do not recall an attack on the NDP for participating with the same organization hosting four years ago.” (I wrote two articles critical of the 2015 Munk foreign policy debate though admittedly they didn’t specifically target Mulcair.)

The truth is there is a great deal to dislike in the foreign policy positions of all the parties likely to win seats in the House of Commons and we don’t need to be funded to confront politicians with the truth. To slightly varying degrees they all support Canadian NATO deployments and giving $25 billion to the military annually, as well as the thrust of Ottawa’s policy towards Israel, Syria, Haiti and Venezuela.

But, less bad is, well, less bad. Additionally, the differences between the parties are greater on some significant domestic and ecological issues.

For that reason, I will almost certainly vote NDP. My riding is a contest between the NDP and Liberals and NDP candidate Nina Marouf, who I know little about, is married to Amir Khadir, who was one of the best elected officials in North America. In ridings where the incumbent is an NDP or Green I’d vote that way. Though if I lived in Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke I would definitely vote to defeat staunch anti-Palestinian, militarist, NDP MP Randall Garrison by voting for Green Party candidate David Merner.

If I were in a clear NDP, Liberal, Green or Conservative riding and there were a Communist or other more left-wing candidate I’d probably vote thusly. If my riding was a clear race between a Liberal and Conservative, I’d probably vote Liberal. Heck, if I lived in Beauce and the polls showed the Conservative candidate was the most likely to defeat Maxime Bernier I’d consider voting Conservative.

A federal election is but one — if significant — piece of the broader political puzzle. At this point leftists can do little to impact a race largely determined by massive media institutions, tens of millions of dollars, party machines and individual, ecological and political happenstance.

This isn’t an argument against engaging with the election rather a question of how to spend one’s energy. The “Fire Freeland” campaign to defeat Canada’s foreign affairs minister in Toronto should be pursued rigorously. Freeland has worked strenuously to overthrow Venezuela’s government, supported antidemocratic policies in Haiti and Honduras, and anti-Palestinian measures, to list but a few examples.

Disruption Network Canada seeks to mobilize activists to challenge politicians through peaceful, direct action. Already, activists affiliated with the DNC have successfully interrupted events by Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Justin Trudeau and Liberal cabinet ministers.

Beyond the Liberal-Conservative nexus, it would be wonderful if activists took advantage of the heightened focus on political affairs over the next month to attend talks by Elizabeth May or Jagmeet Singh to ask them to call for Canada to withdraw from NATO and slash military spending. As I argued here, Singh should be directly challenged for the NDP leadership’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism.

But, if you challenge the NDP expect howls of outrage from partisans who believe the left must fall into line with the party leadership. Personally, I am happy to assume both the backlash and any undesired impact from interventions targeting Singh. If — in some highly improbable scenario — a few NDP MPs lose to Liberals because activists challenged the party’s suppression of Palestine solidarity activism it would be a useful lesson and a good thing over the long-term.

Building international solidarity — treating others the way we want them to treat us — is the only way to save our planet. That is more important than if the NDP wins 22 or 25 seats.

 

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Anti-Racist Canada promotes video by anti-Palestinian, FOX News filmmaker

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American filmmaker Ami Horowitz

Why would Anti-Racist Canada (ARC) promote a video by a FOX News filmmaker who compares the Left to the KKK and claimed Swedish police refuse to go into immigrant neighbourhoods? Is it because the ARC collective is an example of people who fight racism except if it is anti-Palestinian?

Recently, ARC retweeted long-time anti-Palestinian activist Bernie Farber noting: “If anyone wants to read how anti-Israel invective morphs into antisemitism, then read this frightening piece. This happened this week at Duke.” Farber linked to a Jewish Journal article about a University of North Carolina/Duke University conference on the “Conflict over Gaza: people, politics and opportunities”.

The primary claim leveled against the conference is what rapper Tamer Nafar said at a concert the night before two days of talks by prominent professors, including a number who are Jewish. “This is my anti-Semitic song”, Nafar told the crowd. “Don’t think of Rihanna when you sing this, don’t think of Beyonce — think of Mel Gibson. … Let’s try it together because I need your help. I cannot be anti-Semitic alone.”

Responding to the slander campaign, conference attendee Lara Friedman wrote: “His satirical song ‘Mom, I fell in love with a Jew,’ jokingly introduced Tamer Nafar, a well-known rapper and actor (and a Palestinian citizen of Israel), as an ‘anti-Semitic’ song. His statements indeed sounded to many people, including me, politically deaf or even painful. But to put it bluntly: The song is not anti-Semitic and has not even been controversial so far. The video became popular in Israel two years ago when it was released. The Israelis correctly understood the song as a cheeky broadcast of the thorny realities underlying Jewish-Arab relations within Israel.”

In claiming “frightening” antisemitism at the conference about Gaza, Farber/ARC ignored other attendees’ perspectives and the individual at the heart of the controversy. Last month Nafar was featured in a New York Times story titled “Boycott Israel’s Election? A Palestinian Rapper Says No”, which was picked up by the Times of Israel, i24NEWS, Haaretz, etc.

More surprisingly, ARC/Farber ignored that the individual responsible for misrepresenting Nafar’s performance to attack the conference is a prominent anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian activist who regularly appears on FOXNews. Ami Horowitz recently produced a video titled “The Left and the KKK may be separate, but they are equal!” and another that disparaged the Central American migrant caravan. In a 2017 video Horowitz claimed Swedish police refused to enter heavily immigrant areas. “These are areas that cops won’t even enter, because it’s too dangerous for them. This is the policy of the national police authority in Sweden”, Horowitz told an interviewer. Donald Trump repeated this obvious lie, as discussed in a Times of Israel story titled “Meet the gonzo Jewish filmmaker behind Trump’s fake news on Sweden.”

Promoting Horowitz’ distortion is not the first time ARC has regurgitated Farber’s anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim and anti-Left positions. Earlier in April the collective retweeted the former Liberal party candidate’s link to a New York Times story titled “Anti-Semitism Is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes. Why?” The story disparaged Somali Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and long-time anti-racist British politician (Palestinians included!) Jeremy Corbyn.

Two months ago, I asked ARC (and some other self-declared antiracist organizations) why they had never criticized the Jewish National Fund, which is the only explicitly racist institution sanctioned by the Canadian state to give tax write-offs. (My commentary on anti-racist organizations’ silence on Independent Jewish Voices’ StopJNFCanada campaign will appear in the upcoming edition of Canadian Dimension.) A politically and financially powerful organization, JNF does not hide its racism. In a 2007 Canadian Jewish News article titled “Human rights complaint accuses JNF of racism” its Executive Vice President Joe Rabinovitch admitted the organization discriminates in the provision of housing in Israel.

In my email exchange with ARC on the JNF I pointed out that they should tread carefully with Farber: “I presume you’re familiar with some of his [Farber] background, which is steeped in vicious anti-Palestinian rhetoric and a great deal of Islamophobia. He has righted some of the wrong he has done on demonizing Muslims, not so much on Palestinians. Here is an overview I did on him.”

ARC’s promotion of Farber’s anti-Palestinian politics is shameful. An anti-racist collective promulgating the anti-Palestinian views of a prominent anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim FOX News filmmaker is an embarrassment.

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Nationalism blinds Québecers to oppression at home and abroad

To protect its culture Québec has decided veiled women shouldn’t be allowed to teach. But the crucifix adorning the National Assembly can stay, as well as a large cross atop the highest point in Montréal, not to mention the streets named after Catholic saints. The government has decided laïcité (secularism) should be pursued on the backs of the most marginalized immigrants.

Underlying support for this cultural chauvinism is a blindness to power relations that has long been part of Québec’s self-image and is especially evident in international affairs.

The week the governing party, Coalition Avenir Québec, announced it would prohibit public workers in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, Québecer Catherine Cano was confirmed in the No. 2 position at la Francophonie. After former Governor General Michaëlle Jean failed to win a second term as leader of L’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), Ottawa/Québec City secured a return to the organization’s previous leadership structure. Between 2006-15 Québec diplomat Clément Duhaime was No. 2 at the Paris based OIF.

Second biggest contributor to la Francophonie, Ottawa gives $40 million annually to OIF and the other institutions of la Francophonie. A member in its own right, Québec says it provides “over 10 million dollars per year … to international solidarity activities in developing countries that are members of La Francophonie.” Québec’s international affairs ministry is named Le Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie.

La Francophonie seems to stir linguistic chauvinism within Québec nationalist circles. During the 2016 OIF Summit in Madagascar Le Devoir bemoaned the decline of la langue de Molière in the former French colony. Titled “Quel avenir pour le français?: À Madagascar, la langue de Molière s’étiole”, the front page story cited an individual calling the post-independence focus on the country’s majoritarian, Indigenous language “nothing less than a ‘cultural genocide.’” According to the head of OIF’s Observatoire de la langue française, Alexandre Wolff, it was “urgent to show French can be useful” in the island nation. The progressive nationalist paper’s hostility to Malagasy wasn’t even presented as a battle with the dominant colonial language. The story noted that “English is practically absent” there.

OIF reinforces cultural inequities in former French and Belgian colonies. While OIF is largely designed to strengthen the French language, is there any place aside from Québec where French has been the language of the oppressed?

Even more than the English, French imperialists used language as a tool of colonial control. Schooling in French African colonies, for instance, was almost entirely in French, which stunted the written development of local languages as well as the rise of a common national or regional language. It also oriented the intellectual milieu towards the colonial metropole.

At the same time newly independent African countries attempted to promote indigenous languages, Ottawa channeled hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to link Québec with “French” countries. Efforts to strengthen the ‘common’ linguistic heritage between Québec and Algeria stunted its post-independence moves towards strengthening Arabic. Though less stark, the same dynamic played out in the Congo with Lingala, in the Central African Republic with Sango and in Senegal with Wolof. In Haiti Québec’s large (linguistically inspired) presence has reinforced the stark French-Creole linguistic/class divide. While basically everyone speaks Haitian Creole, less than 10 per cent of Haitians speak French fluently. French is the language of Haiti’s elite and language has served as a mechanism through which they maintain their privilege. (In terms of Haitians adopting a more useful common second-language, Spanish would facilitate ties with the eastern half of the island while English would enable greater relations with other parts of the Caribbean.)

Ottawa greatly expanded its aid to “Francophone” nations to weaken the sovereignty movement in the mid-1960s. In an influential 1962 internal memo, long time External Affairs official Marcel Cadieux argued that channeling foreign aid to “French” Africa was the most politically expedient means of demonstrating concern for Quebecker’s nationalist aspirations. Canadian aid to former French colonies skyrocketed through the late 1960s and Canada provided as much as a third of the budget for the institutions of OIF.

Ottawa/Québec’s interest in former French colonies isn’t only about culture of course. Namesake of the 1965 Doctrine that made projecting French the objective of Québec’s international relations, Paul Gérin-Lajoie built up Québec-based companies as head of the Canadian International Development Agency in the 1970s. SNC Lavalin was hired to manage CIDA offices in Francophone African countries where Canada had no diplomatic representation. Six years after Algeria won its independence from France, SNC’s vice president of development Jack Hahn described their plan to enter Algeria: “They might be interested in North American technology offered in French.”

In February Ministre des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie du Québec Nadine Girault spoke to the SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Rio-Tinto, etc. sponsored Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal on “Le Québec à la conquête des marchés étrangers: tirer profit de 50 ans d’affirmation à l’international” (Québec seeks to conquer foreign markets: profiting from 50 years of international affirmation). Girault focused on employing Québec’s substantial linguistically inspired presence in Africa and elsewhere to benefit corporations, noting “we will take advantage of 50 years of affirmation to conquer foreign markets.”

While framed as a defence against English domination in North America, promoting French in Haiti, Senegal or Algeria can appear progressive only if you ignore imperialism and international power relations. But many Québecers have been willing to do just that.

Like Canadian cultural chauvinists who never let the truth stop them from claiming their country is a benevolent international force, nationalism has blinded many Québecers to their oppression abroad and at home. Protecting Québec culture by targeting the most marginalized immigrants is a similar type of cultural chauvinism.

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Let’s build the kind of Left that demands Canada withdraw from NATO

Even the father of Medicare, Tommy Douglas, fell victim to NATO propaganda.

Final in a four-part series on the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The first two installments discussed how NATO was set up to blunt the European  left and to enable global  dominance while the third focused on NATO’s role in spurring conflict  and military spending. This article details the Left’s relationship with NATO.

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the NDP’s predecessor, backed NATO. In early 1949 the National Council of the party announced, “the CCF  believes that Canada should support and join a North Atlantic security pact.” At its 1950 convention the party passed a resolution supporting NATO and, in coded reference to his aggressive response to its opponents, long time party secretary David Lewis writes, “the NATO  issue did not disappear. It had to be dealt with at every subsequent convention, and always produced one of the most heated debates.” Army Captain and party advisor Desmond Morton describes the battle over a compromise resolution on military alliances at the NDP’s founding convention in 1961. The motion to abandon NORAD, but stay in NATO, was “subjected  to a bitter, emotional attack from the floor. As they had done in so many CCF conventions, [MJ] Coldwell, [Tommy] Douglas and Lewis came to the microphones to hammer back the unilateralists.”

Party leaders did not only employ the power of persuasion. In addition to benefiting from the dominant ideological winds, the leadership employed the levers of power within the party. On one occasion, Coldwell threatened to resign as party leader if members did not support the North Atlantic treaty. When a group of Manitoba CCF members, including individuals elected to the provincial legislature, organized an anti-NATO group the provincial secretary blocked their access to the party’s mailing list. Federal MP and future party leader, Stanley Knowles also intervened to pressure the Manitoba CCF to punish prominent opponents of NATO and the provincial party expelled two former members of the Manitoba legislature for campaigning against the North Atlantic accord.

Two decades after its creation the NDP finally called on Ottawa to withdraw from NATO. But, its 1969 position was partially reversed in the mid-1980s, culminating in a 1987 “security” policy paper that equivocated on the subject. When members have submitted  resolutions critical of NATO at recent NDP conventions they have been buried. In a 2015 federal election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called the NDP “proud  members of NATO” and said his government would make the alliance a “cornerstone” of its foreign policy. There’s little indication that new leader Jagmeet Singh has changed  the party’s position.

On the eve of the 1980 referendum the Parti Québecois’ 1979 White Paper (Québec-Canada: A New Deal. The Québec Government Proposal for a New Partnership Between Equals: Sovereignty-Association) said an independent Québec would continue its membership in NATO. More recently, the PQ’s 2012 election platform pledged to remain in NATO. In its platform Québec’s other main sovereigntist party, Québec Solidaire, calls for “Canada’s  immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD.”

The Green Party has questioned “maintaining  membership in NATO” and called for “shifting our focus away from NATO war missions towards UN Peacekeeping contributions”, but they don’t appear to have explicitly asked to withdraw from the alliance. The Communist Party  and other smaller Left parties have called for withdrawing from NATO.

For decades the ‘house of labour’ backed NATO. The Canadian Labour Congress’ predecessors – the Canadian Congress of Labour and Trades and Labour Congress – supported the formation of NATO and the CLC’s inaugural convention called on the “Canadian  government not to falter or fail in its support of NATO”, which it described as a measure for “self-protection against aggression.” In 1957 the CLC “reiterated its support of NATO in the memorandum submitted to the government of Canada.” As part of an effort to promote the military alliance, the newly formed labour federation distributed 11,000 copies of a booklet titled “The Trade Unions and NATO”. The pamphlet explained, “unfortunately we still do have to spend large sums on defence, and the responsibility for the fact rests with international communism. Canadian labour firmly supports NATO.”

Through the 1960s the CLC continued to back NATO. It wasn’t until 1976 that the CLC “urged  the federal government to … deemphasize the military role of the North Atlantic organization.” In recent years the CLC and its affiliates have said little about NATO.

A number of peace organizations – Pugwash  Canada, Project Ploughshares, etc. – have taken ambiguous positions  towards NATO. The president of the antiwar Rideau Institute Peggy Mason attended  all NATO Council meetings when she was a lead adviser to Progressive Conservative MP and foreign minister Joe Clark from 1984 to 1989. During a 2012 National Defence Committee parliamentary meeting Mason noted, “I’m  talking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working with NATO.” The Rideau Institute president trained NATO commanders for peace and crisis stabilization operations and, according to Mason’s LinkedIn profile, continued in this role after taking over RI.

For their parts, the Canadian Peace Congress, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, Canadian Peace Alliance and others openly call for Canada to withdraw from NATO, which shouldn’t be a controversial position for progressive organizations.

Though it would elicit howls of outrage from the militarists, withdrawing from NATO would not be particularly radical. European countries such as Sweden and Finland aren’t part of the alliance, nor are former British dominions Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Canada’s NAFTA and G7 partners Mexico and Japan. Still, withdrawing from NATO would dampen pressure to spend on the military and to commit acts of aggression in service of the US-led world order. It’s long past time to do so.

 

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Defence of European empires was original NATO goal

National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, centre, and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance as Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at NATO headquarters.

Second in a four-part series on the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The first installment  in this series discussed how NATO was set up partly to blunt the European Left. The other major factor driving the creation of NATO was a desire to bolster colonial authority and bring the world under a US geopolitical umbrella.

From the outset Canadian officials had an incredibly expansive definition of NATO’s supposed defensive character, which says an “attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.” As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO external minister Lester Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” Two years later he said: “The defence of the Middle East is vital to the successful defence of Europe and north Atlantic area.” In 1953 Pearson went even further: “There is now only a relatively small [5000 kilometre] geographical gap between southeast Asia and the area covered by the North Atlantic treaty, which goes to the eastern boundaries of Turkey.”

In one sense the popular portrayal of NATO as a defensive arrangement was apt. After Europe’s second Great War the colonial powers were economically weak while anti-colonial movements could increasingly garner outside support. The Soviets and Mao’s China, for instance, aided the Vietnamese. Similarly, Egypt supported Algerian nationalists and Angola benefited from highly altruistic Cuban backing. The international balance of forces had swung away from the colonial powers.

To maintain their colonies European powers increasingly depended on North American diplomatic and financial assistance. NATO passed numerous resolutions supporting European colonial authority. In the fall of 1951 Pearson responded to moves in Iran and Egypt to weaken British influence by telling Parliament: “The Middle  East is strategically far too important to the defence of the North Atlantic area to allow it to become a power vacuum or to pass into unfriendly hands.”The next year Ottawa recognized the colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as “associated states” of France, according to an internal report, “to assist  a NATO colleague, sorely tried by foreign and domestic problems.” More significantly, Canada gave France hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment through NATO’s Mutual Assistance Program. These weapons were mostly used to suppress the Vietnamese and Algerian independence movements. In 1953 Pearson told the House: “The assistance  we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo-China.” Similarly, Canadian and US aid was used by the Dutch to maintain their dominance over Indonesia and West Papua New Guinea, by the Belgians in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, by the Portuguese in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and by the British in numerous places. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European countries through the NATO Mutual Assistance Program.

The role NATO played in North American/European subjugation of the Global South made Asians and Africans wary of the organization. The Nigerian Labour Party’s 1964 pamphlet The NATO Conspiracy in Africa documents that organization’s military involvement on the continent from bases to naval agreements. In 1956 NATO established a Committee for Africa and in June 1959 NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the organization’s main political decision-making body, warned that the communists would take advantage of African independence to the detriment of Western political and economic interests.

The north Atlantic alliance was designed to maintain unity among the historic colonial powers — and the US — in the midst of a de-colonizing world. It was also meant to strengthen US influence around the world. In a history of the 1950-53 US-led Korean war David Bercuson writes that Canada’s external minister “agreed with [President] Truman, [Secretary of State] Dean Acheson, and other American leaders that the Korean conflict was NATO’s first true test, even if it was taking place half a world away.”

Designed to maintain internal unity among the leading capitalist powers, NATO was the military alliance of the post-WWII US-centered multilateral order, which included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, International Trade Organization (ITO) and the United Nations. (For its first two decades the UN was little more than an arm of the State Department.)

A growing capitalist power, Canada was well placed to benefit from US-centered multilateral imperialism. The Canadian elite’s business, cultural, familial and racial ties with their US counterparts meant their position and profits were likely to expand alongside Washington’s global position.

NATO bolstered colonial authority and helped bring the world under the US geopolitical umbrella, from which the Canadian elite hoped to benefit.

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As Israel’s racism grows more Canadian Jews turn against it

Jewish Home leader Michael Ben Ari (left) speaks during a ceremony honouring the late Jewish extremist leader Meir Kahane.

The anti-Palestinianism of Canada’s establishment Jewish organizations is extreme. Fortunately, a growing number of Canadian Jews appear to be rejecting their racism and support for Israeli violence.

According to a recent Canadian Jewish News article, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and United Jewish Appeal Toronto both declined to comment on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party. For their parts, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee both criticized Netanyahu’s push to merge Jewish Power and Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) to increase the far-right parties’ chance of garnering the minimum 3.25 per cent of the total vote needed to serve in the Knesset. Subsequently, Israel’s Supreme Court banned the leader of Jewish Power, Michael Ben-Ari, from standing in next month’s election.

Jewish Power is not operating in the Ukraine, but rather in an openly Jewish supremacist state. From the law of return to the nation state law, there are over 65 explicitly racist Israeli laws. Netanyahu recently wrote, “Israel is not  a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”

From what I can find, CIJA and UJA Toronto have failed to criticize or distance themselves from Netanyahu’s statement. In fact, they denounce any mention of Israeli apartheid. One wonders how explicit Israeli racism needs to be before CIJA recognizes/criticizes the obvious?

More generally, how many Palestinians does Israel need to kill before the established Jewish organizations back away from their staunch support? They’ve endorsed Israeli forces weekly killing of peaceful March of Return protesters in Gaza over the past year. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed and another 6,000 injured by live fire in these demonstrations. Not a single Israeli has died.

In a particularly disturbing comment on Israel’s supporters, aggression has been good for fundraising. Following the IDF killing of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014, UJA Toronto launched an emergency appeal for Israel, which raised over $5.6 million. Amidst the June 1967 war, leading Canadian capitalist Samuel Bronfman initiated a $25 million campaign for Israel. Similarly, during the October 1973 war Canadians purchased over $100 million in Israel Bonds. After Israel’s summer 2006 destruction of Lebanon another $42 million was raised.

Jewish Power’s ideological allies in Canada — the Jewish Defense League — remain more influential with the established Jewish organizations than the substantially larger and more humanistic/internationalist Independent Jewish Voices. In response to pressure from the JDL, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg recently canceled its sponsorship of an event by Lex Rofeberg because the 4th year rabbinical student is a member of the anti-occupation (though not anti-zionist) US Jewish group IfNotNow. Rofeberg wasn’t even going to speak about Israel. (The subject of his planned talks were “‘Winnipeg Jets or Winnipeg Jews,’ on the intersection of Judaism and sports, and ‘Your Podcast is My Synagogue,’ on the ever-growing world of digital Judaism.”) To explain their bowing to pressure from extremists, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg President Laurel Malkin said, “the values of the speaker are not in-line with ours.”

While most Canadian Jews, particularly the powerful and moneyed, seem to support Israeli racism and violence two recent polls suggest that a growing proportion of Jewish Canadians don’t. An Independent Jewish Voices and United Jewish People’s Order commissioned EKOS poll  found that 37 percent of a random sample of 359 Jewish Canadians surveyed have a negative opinion of the Israeli government, 31 percent oppose the military blockade of Gaza and 30 percent think Palestinians’ call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable.

The IJV/UJPO poll is in line with a more extensive Environics Institute Survey conducted in partnership with the University of Toronto, York University and the main Jewish Federations. It found that nearly 3 times more Canadian Jews believe West Bank settlements hurt Israel’s security than the opposite. Additionally, most of the respondents doubted the Israeli government’s sincerity about making peace. Generally, notes the executive summary, “younger Jews are considerably less likely than older Jews to consider caring for Israel an essential aspect of Jewishness.”

It’s long past time to directly challenge CIJA, the Jewish Federations and the politicians who embolden them. It’s time for those who believe in peace and international justice to treat CIJA and the Federations the same way they treat Palestinians, as enemies to be overcome.

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Canada’s next target after Venezuela: Cuba?

“First we take Caracas then we take Havana.”

That’s the thinking driving the Donald Trump administration’s policy towards Venezuela, according to a Wall Street Journal story titled “U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks First Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America.” Adding credence to this thesis, on Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.”

Despite Washington’s hope that toppling President Nicolás Maduro could hasten the fall of Cuba’s government, the Justin Trudeau government, which is supposed to have good relations with Havana, has played a central role in the US-led bid to oust Maduro. It has also echoed some of the Trump administration’s attacks on Cuba’s role in Venezuela. Why would a ‘friend’ of Cuba do this?

While much is made of Ottawa’s seemingly cordial relations with Havana, the reality is more complicated than often presented, as I detail here. Most significantly, Canada has repeatedly aligned with US fear-mongering about the “Cuban menace” in the region.

Just days after the April 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker claimed the Cuban government was a threat to the security of the hemisphere and “a dictatorship  which is abhorrent to free men everywhere.” Two years later Ottawa’s representative to a NATO ministerial meeting was tasked with saying, “the Canadian government, of course, holds no sympathy for the present dictatorial regime in Cuba …. We remain deeply disturbed by the presence in the Western Hemisphere of a communist regime aligned with the Soviet Union and by the transformation of Cuba into an area which still retains a potential for disturbing East-West relations and the stability of the Hemisphere.”

Canada backed the US-led Alliance for Progress, which was the John F. Kennedy administration’s response to the excitement created in Latin America by the 1959 Cuban revolution. Ottawa began delivering aid to the newly independent Commonwealth Caribbean partly to counter Cuba’s appeal. In the early 1960s External Affairs officials, notes Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy: The Canadian Navy and Foreign Policy, “singled out Cuban revolutionary activity as the main threat to political and thus economic stability in the region and implied that developmental aid staved off Cuban interference.”

In 1963, that book notes, HMCS Saskatchewan was deployed to Haiti largely to guarantee that François Duvalier did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerilla movement did not seize power. Three years later two Canadian gunboats were deployed to Barbados’ independence celebration in a bizarre diplomatic maneuver designed to demonstrate Canada’s military prowess and to send a ‘signal’ to Havana. Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy explains, “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 [1965 US invasion], it is likely that the targets were any outside force, probably Cuban, which might be tempted to interfere with Barbadian independence.”

When 7,000 US troops invaded Grenada in 1983 to reassert US hegemony in a country supposedly overrun by Cuban doctors, Canadian officials criticized Grenada’s government and abstained on a UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops (predominantly American) from that country.The next year Canadian ambassador to Panama, Francis Filleul, complained that “Nicaragua has been penetrated so badly by Cuba and other [eastern bloc] countries that it is destabilizing. It was not that the people of Nicaragua … chose to welcome the Russians and the Cubans. It was that the FSLN [Sandinistas] had gained control of the revolutionary movement and that was their policy.” As with the US Caribbean Basin Initiative, the 1986 Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) sought to isolate Cuba from the region.

According to a 2006 cable released by Wikileaks headlined “Canada’s new government: opportunities and challenges”, the US embassy in Ottawa pushed the Stephen Harper government to begin “engaging more actively in other hemispheric trouble spots such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba.” In the spring of 2008 the Canadian embassy in Panama teamed up with the US National Endowment for Democracy to organize a meeting for prominent members of the opposition in Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela to respond to the “new era of populism and authoritarianism in Latin America.” In 2012 Canada was alone with the US in opposing Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas.

While purportedly sympathetic to Cuba, Justin Trudeau’s government has criticized Cuba’s actions in Venezuela. In a recent article titled “Canada  at odds with Cuban ‘ally’ over Maduro’s fate”Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC that Cuba’s role in Venezuela is “concerning” and that“we have heard directly from the Venezuelan opposition that they’re concerned by the role that some Cubans are playing in their country.” The article, written by extreme Canadian officialdom sycophant Evan Dyer, quoted an opposition group claiming thousands of Cuban agents “direct centres of torture in Venezuela.”

Compared to Washington, Ottawa has had cordial relations with Havana since the Cuban revolution. Still, Canada has generally sided with US fear mongering about the “Cuban menace”, which is propaganda largely designed to justify keeping the region subservient to western capitalist domination.

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