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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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Trudeau’s position on Honduras reveals hypocrisy about Venezuela

Honduras Foreign Minister Maria Dolores Agüero with Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland discussing Venezuela.

The hypocrisy is head spinning. As Justin Trudeau lectures audiences on the need to uphold Venezuela’s constitution the Liberals have recognized a completely illegitimate president in Honduras. What’s more, they’ve formally allied with that government in demanding Venezuela’s president follow their  (incorrect) reading of that country’s constitution.

In November 2017 Ottawa’s anti-Venezuela “Lima Group” ally Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) defied  the Honduran constitution to run for a second term. At Hernandez’ request the four Supreme Court members appointed by his National Party overruled an article in the constitution explicitly prohibiting re-election.

JOH then ‘won’ a highly questionable  poll. With 60 per cent of votes counted opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead by five-points. The electoral council then went silent for 36 hours and when reporting resumed JOH had a small lead.

In the three weeks between the election and JOH’s official proclamation as president, government forces killed at least 30  pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central American country of nine million. More than a thousand were detained under a post-election state of emergency. Many of those jailed for protesting the electoral fraud, including prominent activist Edwin Espinal,  who is married to Canadian human rights campaigner Karen Spring, remain in jail.

Ottawa immediately endorsed the electoral farce in Honduras. Following Washington, Global Affairs tweeted that Canada “acknowledges confirmation of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of Honduras.” Tyler Shipley, author of Ottawa and Empire: Canada and the Military Coup in Honduras, responded: “Wow, Canada sinks to new lows with this. The entire world knows that the Honduran dictatorship has stolen an election, even the OAS (an organization which skews right) has demanded that new elections be held because of the level of sketchiness here. And — as it has for over eight years — Canada is at the forefront of protecting and legitimizing this regime built on fraud and violence. Even after all my years of research on this, I’m stunned that [foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland would go this far; I expected Canada to stay quiet until JOH had fully consolidated his power. Instead Canada is doing the heavy lifting of that consolidation.”

In 2009 Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya, which was justified on the grounds he was seeking to defy the constitution by running for a second term. (In fact, Zelaya simply put forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.) After the coup Ottawa failed to suspend aid to the military government or exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Programme.

A number of major Canadian corporations, notably Gildan and Goldcorp, were unhappy with some modest social democratic reforms implemented by Zelaya. Additionally, a year before the coup Honduras joined the Hugo Chavez led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), which was a response to North American capitalist domination of the region.

JOH’s National Party won the presidency and he took charge of the national assembly in the post-coup elections, which were boycotted by the UN, Organization of American States and most Hondurans.

Since JOH stole an election that he shouldn’t have been able to participate in the Trudeau government has continued to work with his government. I found no indication that Canadian aid has been reduced and Canadian diplomats in central America have repeatedly  met  Honduran representatives. JOH’s Foreign Minister, Maria Dolores Aguero, attended  a Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Canada organized in Montreal four months ago. Recently Canadian diplomats have lauded the “bonds of friendship  between the governments of Canada and Honduras” and “excellent relations  that exist between both countries.” Canada’s ambassador James K. Hill retweeted a US Embassy statement noting, “we congratulate  the President Juan Orlando Hernandez for taking the initiative to reaffirm the commitment of his administration to fight against corruption and impunity” through an OAS initiative.

While they praise JOH’s fight against impunity, Canadian officials have refused repeated requests by Canadian activists and relatives to help secure Edwin Espinal’s release from prison. In response to their indifference to Espinal’s plight, Rights Action director Grahame Russell recently wrote, “have the Canadian and U.S. governments simply agreed not to criticize the Honduran regime’s appalling human rights record … in exchange for Honduras agreeing to be a ‘democratic ally’ in the U.S. and Canadian-led efforts at forced government change in Venezuela?”

Honduras is a member of the “Lima Group” of countries pushing to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Last month Trudeau was photographed  with the Honduran foreign minister at the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa.

To justify recognizing the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, as president the “Lima Group” and Trudeau personally have cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution.” The Prime Minister even responded to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he (incorrectly) claims grants Guaidó the presidency.

Why the great concern for Venezuela’s constitution and indifference to Honduras’? Why didn’t Trudeau recognize Salvador Nasralla as president of Honduras? Nasralla’s claim to his country’s presidency is far more legitimate than Guaidó’s.

The hypocrisy in Trudeau allying with the illegitimate president of Honduras to demand Venezuela succumb to their interpretation of that country’s constitution would be absurdly funny if it didn’t put so many lives at risk.

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SNC Lavalin the corporate face of Ugly Canadian

Former SNC Lavalin board chair Gwyn Morgan and other company directors are still seen as pillars of Canada’s business community.

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million  in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth  up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled  a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange  an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in 15 countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated  in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest  private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated  in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and thecompany received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office  in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats  and Export Development  Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich  rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations  in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million  the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited  in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel  on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked  on and promoted  privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums.With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded  and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million  in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council  for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters  both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten  years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

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Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize

Irwin Cotler, left, is seen with guest speaker Alan Dershowitz, right.
Canadian Jewish News Photo

Hypocrisy, lying, disdain for the victims of ‘our’ policies and other forms of rot run deep in Canadian political culture.

The latest example is former prime minister Paul Martin nominating Irwin Cotler for the Nobel Peace Prize, which has been applauded by the likes of Bernie Farber, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather.

This supposed promoter of peace and former Liberal justice minister has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli violence and has recently promoted war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela.

In a story titled “Irwin Cotler’s  daughter running with Ya’alon, Gantz” the Jerusalem Post recently reported that Michal Cotler-Wunsh was part of the Israel Resilience and Telem joint election list. The story revealed that Irwin Cotler has been an unofficial adviser to Moshe Ya’alon for years. Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli military and defence minister between 2013 and 2016, Ya’alon recently boasted about his role in setting up the West Bank colony of Leshem and said Israel “has a right to every part of the Land of Israel.” In 2002 Ya’alon told Haaretz, “the Palestinian  threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it’s necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.”

Ya’alon’s Telem party is in a formal electoral alliance with Israel Resilience, which is led by Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief. To launch his party’s campaign, Gantz released a video boasting about his role in the killing of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014It actually notes that “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age.” Gantz faces a war crimes case in the Netherlands for his role in the deaths of civilians in Gaza.

Cotler has described illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank as “disputed territories” and the Canadian lawyer justified Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon that left 1,200 dead. He savagely attacked  Richard Goldstone after the South African judge led a UN investigation of Israeli war crimes during operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 dead in Gaza in 2008–09. Cotler called for the removal of Richard Falk as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and William Schabas from his position on the UN Human Rights Council’s International Commission of Inquiry into the killings in Gaza in 2014. Alongside attacking these three (Jewish) lawyers tasked with investigating human rights violations, Cotler promotes the notion of the “new anti-Semitism” to attack critics of Israeli policy.

In an indication of the unquestioning depths of his support for Israeli crimes, Cotler has repeatedly criticized his own party and government’s (mild) expressions of support for Palestinian rights. In May Cotler tweeted his “regret [of a] Canadian Government statement” criticizing Israeli snipers for shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, in Gaza. In 2000 Cotler complained when the government he was a part of voted for a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinian protesters. “This kind of resolution, which singled out Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment and appeared to exonerate the Palestinians for their violence,” Cotler said, “would tend to encourage those who violently oppose the peace process as well as those who still seek the destruction of Israel.”

In 2002 a half dozen activists in Montréal occupied Cotler’s office to protest the self-described ‘human rights lawyer’s’ hostility to Palestinians. Cotler’s wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a“close confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics.

‘Canada’s Alan Dershowitz’ has also attacked Iran incessantly. He supported the Stephen Harper government’s move to break off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012 and pushed to remove the MEK, which is responsible for thousands of Iranian deaths, from Canada’s terrorist list. As a member of the advisory board of “United Against Nuclear Iran”, Cotler opposed the P5+1Iran Nuclear Agreement. Recently, he called for Canada to invoke the Magnitsky Act to “impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes” on Iranian officials.

As well as promoting US/Israel propaganda about Iran, Cotler criticized Hugo Chavez’s government since at least 2009 when Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in response to killings in Gaza. In recent weeks Cotler has disparaged Venezuela’s government in a number of articles, including a National Post story headlined “Canadian unions helped fund delegation that gave glowing review of Venezuela election widely seen as illegitimate.” Cotler was quoted saying, “the notion that free and fair elections could possibly be taking place when you not only criminalize those who are on the opposition … but when you don’t have any allowance for expressions of freedom of speech, assembly, association and the like, simply is a non-sequitur.” But, as Dave Parnas wrote in response, “for two weeks we have been seeing pictures of streets filled with people who assembled, associated and spoke freely against President Nicolás Maduro.”

Cotler pushed for Canada to request the International Criminal Court investigate Venezuela’s government. Cotler was one of three “international experts” responsible for a 400-page Canadian-backed Organization of American States (OAS) report on rights violations in Venezuela that recommended referring Venezuela to the ICC. At a press conference in May to release the report, Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.” As this author wrote at the time: “Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered ‘subversives’ in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil?”

For four years Cotler has been working with Juan Guaidó’s “ultra right wing” Voluntad Popular party to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government. In May 2017 Cotler helped bring Lilian Tintori, wife of Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo López, to meet the Prime Minister and opposition leaders. The Guardian recently reported on Tintori’s role in building international support for the slow-motion coup attempt currently underway in Venezuela. Tintori acted as an emissary for Lopez who couldn’t travel to Ottawa because he was convicted of inciting violence during the deadly “guarimbas” protests  in 2014. A series of news outlets have reported that Lopez is the key Venezuelan organizer in the plan to anoint Guaidó interim president.

Cotler joined Lopez’s legal team in early 2015. At that time the Venezuelan and international media repeated the widely promulgated description of Cotler as Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer (a Reuters headline noted, “Former Mandela lawyer to join defence of Venezuela’s jailed activist”). In response, South Africa’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney, said, “Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer.” For his part, Nelson Mandela mentions a number of lawyers (he was one) in his biography but Cotler’s name seems absent.

Cotler’s human rights credentials are a sham. He is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes enemy states such as Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US.

For those appalled by the idea of Cotler receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Iranian-Canadian activist Mehdi Samadian has created a petition titled “Irwin Cotler does not deserve nomination for Nobel Peace Prize”.

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SNC Lavalin scandal blowback from corrupt Canadian foreign policy

SNC Lavalin has long shaped Canadian foreign policy.

This story also appears on the Real News Network.

Canada’s corrupt foreign policy practices have come home to roost on Parliament Hill.

Justin Trudeau’s government is engulfed in a major political scandal that lays bare corporate power in Ottawa. But, SNC Lavalin’s important role in Canadian foreign policy has largely been ignored in discussion of the controversy.

The Prime Minister’s Office has been accused of interfering in the federal court case against the giant Canadian engineering and construction firm for bribing officials in Libya. Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould claims she was repeatedly pressured to defer prosecution of the company and instead negotiate a fine.

Facing a 10-year ban on receiving federal government contracts if convicted of bribing Libyan government officials, SNC began to lobby the Trudeau government to change the criminal code three years ago. The company wanted the government to introduce deferred prosecution agreements in which a sentencing agreement would allow the company to continue receiving government contracts. At SNC’s request the government changed the criminal code but Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure from the PMO to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with the company headquartered in Montréal.

Incredibly, before Trudeau went to bat for SNC after the firm had either been found guilty or was alleged to have greased palms in Libya, Bangladesh, Algeria, India, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Cambodia and Zambia (as well as Québec). A 2013 CBC/Globe and Mail investigation of a small Oakville, Ontario, based division of SNC uncovered suspicious payments to government officials in connection with 13 international development projects. In each case between five and 10 per cent of costs were recorded as “‘project consultancy cost,’ sometimes ‘project commercial cost,’ but [the] real fact is the intention is [a] bribe,” a former SNC engineer, Mohammad Ismail, told the CBC.

While the media has covered the company’s corruption and lobbying for a deferred prosecution agreement, they have barely mentioned SNC’s global importance or influence over Canadian foreign policy. Canada’s preeminent “disaster capitalist” corporation, SNC has worked on projects in most countries around the world. From constructing Canada’s Embassy in Haiti to Chinese nuclear centres, to military camps in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factories in Belgium, the sun never sets on SNC.

Its work has often quite controversial. SNC constructed and managed Canada’s main military base in Kandahar during the war there; SNC Technologies Inc provided bullets to US occupation forces in Iraq; SNC has billions of dollars in contracts with the monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

Across the globe SNC promotes neoliberal reforms. The company greatly benefits from governments shifting to public-private partnerships. SNC is also a member or sponsor of the Canadian Council on Africa, Canadian Council for the Americas, Canada-ASEAN business council, Conseil des Relations Internationales de Montréal and other foreign policy lobby/discussion groups.

SNC has been one of the largest corporate recipients of Canadian “aid.” The company has had entire departments dedicated to applying for Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UN and World Bank funded projects. SNC’s first international contract, in 1963 in India, was financed by Canadian aid and led to further work in that country. In the late 1960s the firm was hired to manage CIDA offices in African countries where Canada had no diplomatic representation. In the late 1980s CIDA contracted SNC to produce a feasibility study for the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced more than a million Chinese. During the occupation of Afghanistan CIDA contracted SNC to carry out its $50 million “signature project” to repair the Dahla dam on the Arghandab River in Kandahar province ($10 million was spent on private security for the dam).

In 2006 SNC was bailed out by the Canadian aid agency after it didn’t follow proper procedure for a contract to renovate and modernize the Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects in the southern Indian state of Kerala. A new state government demanded a hospital in compensation for the irregularities and SNC got CIDA to put up $1.8 million for the project. (SNC-Lavalin initially said they would put $20 million into the hospital, but they only invested between $2 and $4.4 million.)

Company officials have been fairly explicit about the role Canadian diplomacy plays in their business. Long-time president Jacques Lamarre described how “the official support of our governments, whether through commercial missions or more private conversations, has a beneficial and convincing impact on our international clients.”

Even SNC’s use of bribery has a made-in-Ottawa tint. For years Canada lagged behind the rest of the G7 countries in criminalizing foreign bribery. For example, into the early 1990s, Canadian companies were at liberty to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, affording them an “advantage over the Americans”, according to Bernard Lamarre former head of Lavalin (now SNC Lavalin). In 1991, Bernard, the older brother to SNC Lavalin’s subsequent head Jacques Lamarre, told Maclean’s that he always demanded a receipt when paying international bribes. “I make sure we get a signed invoice,” he said. “And payment is always in the form of a cheque, not cash, so we can claim it on our income tax!”

In 1977, the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act outlawed bribes to foreign officials. Ottawa failed to follow suit until the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched its anti-bribery convention in 1997. The OECD convention obliged signatories to pass laws against bribing public officials abroad and two years later Canada complied, passing the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA). Still, for the next decade Canadian officials did little to enforce the law. The RCMP waited until 2008 to create an International Anti-Corruption Unit and didn’t secure a significant conviction under the CFPOA until 2011.

As the recent scandal demonstrates — and the Financial Post noted years ago — SNC has “considerable lobbying power in Ottawa.” Placing its CEO among the 50 “Top People Influencing Canadian Foreign Policy”,  Embassy magazine described SNC as “one of the country’s most active companies internationally”, which “works closely with the government.” The now-defunct weekly concluded, “whoever is heading it is a major player” in shaping Canadian foreign policy.

And, as it turns out, in shaping the way things are now done at home in Ottawa.

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Good riddance to NDP MP who is pro-Israel, pro-US empire

Israeli Ambassador Barkan with MPs Levitt, Sweet and Rankin as well as former MP Irwin Cotler.

Victoria MP Murray Rankin’s recent announcement that he won’t seek re-election is a victory for NDP members who stand for Palestinian rights and oppose regime change efforts in Iran and Venezuela.

Since taking his place in Parliament seven years ago Rankin has been a leading anti-Palestinian activist in the NDP. Here is a brief summary of his blindly pro-Israel, pro-US Empire activities as MP:

  • During Israel’s Summer 2014 destruction of Gaza, which left 2,200 Palestinians dead, he offered remarks supporting Israel (along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper) read at a Victoria Jewish Federation event to raise money for an emergency Israel Relief Fund. In 2016 Rankin went to Israel in a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs organized trip and was one of the MPs who blocked the “Palestine Resolution” from being discussed at the NDP convention in February. In December Rankin joined Ambassador Nimrod Barkan and other prominent anti-Palestinian politicians (Michael Levitt, David Sweet, Irwin Cotler) for an event at the Israeli Embassy.
  • An early endorser of Thomas Mulcair’s bid for the NDP leadership, Rankin is on the executive of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, which promotes “greater friendship” and “cooperation” between the two countries’ parliaments. In refusing to heed a call from 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from CIIG, Rankin told Huffington Post, “as a New Democrat, I am committed to advancing peace and justice, and a two-state solution, which can only be achieved through open dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians.” But, the claim of “dialogue” between Israelis and Palestinians conjures up famed South African activist Desmond Tutu’s insight that “if you neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Ironically, Rankin made the same point— though not about Palestinians – at a 2017 Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies event. At the Israel lobby group’s event he quoted Elie Wiesel saying, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
  • While he justifies participating in CIIG by citing “dialogue”, Rankin doesn’t specify whom he’s talking to. A quick Google search of CIIG’s Israeli partner — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — shows that all 13 of its members have expressed problematic views or proposed racist laws. Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group co-chair Anat Berko is openly anti-African  and recently pushed for expanding the Israeli forces powers to punish Palestinians. Berko told the Knesset: “When we  speak of revoking resident status or demolishing homes, it should happen immediately. The punishment cannot be [held up] in the High Court of Justice for 11 years.”
  • Since announcing his retirement the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, as well as CIIG colleagues Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, have tweeted their praise for Rankin. Extremist former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici‏, a former colleague of Rankin’s at the law firm of Heenan Blaikie, also praised him recently, which he retweeted.
  • Through his participation in CIIG Rankin has repeatedly attacked Tel Aviv’s regional bogeyman, Iran. Rankin participated in a recent press conference with CIIG chair Michael Levitt, vice-chair David Sweet and executive member Anthony Housefather calling for a new round of Canadian sanctions on Iran. Led by former CIIG executive Irwin Cotler, this effort flouts the NDP’s position on Iran. Rankin’s disagreement with NDP policy took place amidst the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and bid to force others to adhere to its illegal sanctions, by threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil.
  • With Cotler and Levitt, Rankin has participated in a number of events put on by the Canadian Section of Scholars at Risk, which is unduly focused on Iranian rights violations. In August Rankin attended the launch of a new advocacy group for political prisoners set up by Cotler who has devoted much of his career to defending Israeli human rights violations. (His wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a “close  confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. His daughters were part  of the Israeli military.)
  • Rankin is a regular at events led by Cotler, who has been attacking Iran and Venezuela incessantly for at least a decade. At one event Rankin said, “I feel a real honour to be on this stage with such giants of human rights as professor Cotler and Bill Browder.” A story on Rankin’s website about a joint event claims, “Irwin Cotler, who acted as counsel to Mandela.” But, when numerous media outlets repeated this claim after Cotler became a lawyer for right wing Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopezin 2015, South Africa’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney, said, “Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer.” For his part, Nelson Mandela mentions a number of lawyers (he was one) in his biography but Cotler’s name seems absent.
  • In 2015 Rankin participated in a press conference led by Cotler calling on the government to adopt the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Magnitsky Law). The legislation empowered Ottawa to sanction individuals outside the framework of international law. Thirty Russians, 19 Venezuelans and three South Sudanese officials were the initial targets of Canada’s Magnitsky Act.
  • In 2016 Rankin joined Cotler and the Executive Director of UNWATCH, Hillel Neuer, to urge Justin Trudeau’s government to oppose the election of Cuba and other countries to the UN Human Rights Council. A staunch anti-Palestinian, Neuer recently appeared  on Rebel Media’s The Ezra Levant Show to complain about Canadian funding to UNRWA, the UN body that supports Palestinian Refugees.
  • In 2016 Rankin joined Cotler and others “to mark the second anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing — and International Human Rights Day — by calling for the release of four political prisoners inspired by Mandela’s courage and commitment.” One was Iranian, Ayatollah Hossein Kazamani Boroujerdi, and another was Lopez who Rankin claimed, “was recently sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for his role in pro-democracy protests in a trial devoid of any semblance of due process or legality.” In fact, the Harvard-educated Lopez endorsed  the military 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez and the leader of the hardline Voluntad Popular party was convicted of inciting violence during the 2014 “guarimbas” protests that sought to oust President Nicolas Maduro. According to a series of reports, Lopez was the key Venezuelan organizer of the plan to anoint Juan Guaidó interim president of Venezuela.

Rankin’s departure weakens the anti-Palestinian, pro-imperialist camp in the NDP. It also offers an opportunity for a more internationalist minded politician to take his seat.

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When journalists rely on diplomats Ottawa ‘spins’ the news

Canadian diplomats abroad seek to shape coverage of their work. And the more nefarious their actions the harder they toil to “spin” what they’re doing as something positive.

During a recent interview Real News Network founder Paul Jay described how Canadian officials in Caracas attempted to shape his views of the country’s politics. Jay noted:

My first trip to Venezuela in 2004, I was producing the big debate show on Canadian TV called Counterspin on CBC Newsworld. … I was a known quantity in Canada. And so when I was in Venezuela, I said I’ll go say hello to the Canadian embassy. I was trying to figure out what was going on in Venezuela. I figured some Counselor would pat me on the head and say welcome to Venezuela.

“No, I got the number two chargé d’affaires that greeted me and brings me into a meeting room with seven members of the opposition who then for two hours beat me over the head with how corrupt the regime was, how awful it was, and so on…

“What business does a Canadian embassy have with bringing a Canadian journalist into a room with opposition people, essentially trying to involve me in a conspiracy against the Venezuelan government. Canadian government role in Venezuela was promote and nurture the opposition.”

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Canadian-led coup in Haiti.
Photo : Sgt Frank Hudec, Caméra de combat des Forces canadiennes

Around the same time Canadian officials sought to convince Jay that Hugo Chavez’s government was corrupt, former Montréal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery had a similar experience in Port-au-Prince. In Parachute Journalism in Haiti: Media Sourcing in the 2003-2004 Political Crisis”, Isabel Macdonald writes: “Montgomery recalled being given anti-[President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide disinformation when she called the Canadian embassy immediately after she had been held up by armed men while driving through Port-au-Prince days before the [US/France/Canada] coup. Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, told her, ‘We’ve got word that Aristide has given the order to the chimeres [purported pro- Aristide thugs] to do this kind of thing to international journalists because he’s not getting any support.’ According to Montgomery, Cook had urged her to tell the other international journalists who were staying at the same hotel: ‘I think you should let all your colleagues at the Montana know that it’s not safe for them.’”

Given only two days to prepare for her assignment, Montgomery was ripe for official manipulation. Though she later realized the ambassador’s claim was ridiculous, Montgomery told other journalists at Hotel Montana (where most international journalists stay in Port-au-Prince) that Aristide’s supporters were targeting them.

The Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince succeeded in influencing Canadian reporters’ coverage of the country. In her MA thesis titled “Covering the coup: Canadian news reporting, journalists, and sources in the 2004 Haiti crisis,” Isabel Macdonald concludes that the reporters dispatched to Port-au-Prince largely took their cues from official Canada. “My interviews revealed that journalists’ contacts with people working in the Canadian foreign policy establishment appear to have played a particularly important role in helping journalists to identify appropriate ‘legitimate’ sources.”

CBC reporter Neil Macdonald told Isabel Macdonald his most trusted sources for background information in Haiti came from Canadian diplomatic circles, notably the Canadian International Development Agency where his cousins worked. Macdonald also said he consulted the Canadian Ambassador in Port-au-Prince to determine the most credible human rights advocate in Haiti. Ambassador Cook directed him to Pierre Espérance, a coup backer who fabricated a “massacre” used to justify imprisoning the constitutional prime minister and interior minister. (When pressed for physical evidence Espérance actually said the 50 bodies “might have been eaten by wild dogs.”)

Almost all Canadian correspondents develop ties to diplomats in the field. Long-time Globe and Mail development reporter John Stackhouse acknowledges “Canadian political officers” in Indonesia for their “valuable insights” into the country during General Suharto’s rule. In Out of Poverty, Stackhouse also thanks “the Canadian diplomatic missions in Accra, Abidjan and Bamako [for their] … invaluable service in arranging interviews and field trips.” During a period in the mid-2000s when she wrote for the Globe and Mail and CBC, Madeleine Drohan conducted media workshops in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and elsewhere sponsored by the Canadian embassy, High Commission and Foreign Affairs (she taught journalist ethics!).

One of the best Canadian foreign correspondents of the 1970s,” Jack Cahill discusses some ways diplomats relate to reporters in If You Don’t Like the War, Switch the Damn Thing Off!: The Adventures of a Foreign Correspondent. “The Canadian government”, the former Toronto Star reporter notes, “can be good to foreign correspondents if it thinks they are reliable and I had two passports, one for general purposes and one for difficult countries.”

In what may reflect his nationalism, Cahill dubs Canadian diplomats “more reliable” than their southern counterparts. Disparaging his US colleagues, he writes: “There is little doubt, however, that some US foreign correspondents depend almost entirely on their embassies, and thus indirectly the CIA, for their information. It is, after all, the natural thing to be attracted to the truth as propounded by one’s own countrymen in the Embassy offices, at the official briefings, and on the cocktail circuit. It’s this information, with its American slant on world affairs, that eventually fills much of Canada’s and the Western world’s news space.”

Jay described his experience at the Embassy in Caracas mostly to highlight Canada’s long-standing hostility to the Hugo Chavez/Nicolas Maduro governments. But, his story also helps make sense of the dominant media’s alignment with Ottawa’s push for regime change in Venezuela today.

Globe and Mail Latin America correspondent Stephanie Nolen, for instance, promotes Canada’s last ambassador to Venezuela. Describing Ben Rowswell as “widely respected by Venezuelans while he was there”, Nolen recently retweeted Rowswell claiming: “the coup happened in July 2017 when Maduro suspended the constitution. The question now is how to fill the void – by backing the president who uses force to remain in power after his term expires, or the leader of Venezuela’s last remaining democratically elected body?” Rowswell has been quoted in at least a half dozen Globe and Mail articles about Venezuela in recent weeks.

Diplomats’ influence over international correspondents is one way the foreign policy establishment shapes discussion of Canadian foreign policy.

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Canadian military flouts access to information law

If Canada’s armed forces exist to protect our democracy why does its leadership flout laws meant to protect citizens’ rights to know what the government is doing?

Recently the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese reported that top military officers denied the existence of an internal report even though they were warned doing so would be illegal under the Access to Information Act, which gives individuals the right to government records for a small fee.The office of the Canadian Forces’s top legal adviser, Judge Advocate General Commodore Geneviève Bernatchez, denied the existence of an internal report highlighting problems with the court martial system. But, in reality, there were electronic and paper copies of the document.

This incident falls on the heels of a DND official telling the pre-trial hearing of Vice Admiral Mark Norman that his superiors deliberately omitted his name from documents to skirt Access to Information rules. After receiving an access request concerning Norman, the official brought it to his superior. According to the testimony, “he gives me a smile and says … ‘Don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo. We made sure we never used his name [in internal communications]. Send back nil return.” (Feeling the need to protect  the military witness from reprisals, the judge ordered a publication ban on their name.)

In fact, DND has repeatedly broken access laws. Informed that an officer attended a talk that Rideau Institute director Steven Staples delivered about the war in Afghanistan on January 26, 2006, Pugliese requested all CF documents mentioning public speeches in Halifax between January 15 and 30 of that year. Department officials claimed they did “a thorough and complete search” and couldn’t find any record of an officer who attended the function and wrote a report. But, the officer assigned to Staples’ speech inadvertently left a record. When the Ottawa Citizen turned it over to the information commissioner, DND finally acknowledged the record existed.

The secrecy is long-standing. In 1996 Information Commissioner John Grace pointed to a “culture within ND[national defense]/CF of secrecy and suspicion of those seeking information.” As part of its cover-up of the murderers committed by Canadian soldiers in Somalia, CF officials illegally doctored documents concerning the brutal murder of Shidane Arone. As part of an investigation into the March 1993 slayings in Somalia, CBC reporter Michael McAuliffe requested briefing notes for officers dealing with the media. DND was caught hiding documents, wildly inflating the cost of releasing them and altering files. At the 1995-97 inquiry into the killings in Somalia, Chief of Defence Staff Jean Boyle admitted the CF deliberately violated the spirit of Access rules, while a colonel and commander were convicted by a military court of altering documents requested under that legislation. Dishonoured Legacy: The Lessons of the Somalia Affair: Report of the Commission of Inquiry Into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia described DND’s “unacceptable hostility toward the goals and requirements of access to information legislation.”

The secrecy is not about security. DND can restrict information under access legislation for numerous reasons. This includes if information is deemed “injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities.”

DND also has more explicit means of bypassing access requests since the law doesn’t apply to much of the military. Since the early 2000s DND has massively expanded the special forces — Canadian Special Operations Forces Command now has nearly 3,000  personnel — partly because they are not required to divulge any information about their operations. But, noted the late Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington, “a secret army within the army is anathema to democracy.”

It seems the military leadership would prefer the public only learn about the Canadian Forces what they deem necessary to release, despite laws that say otherwise.

Should we trust an institution that flouts the rules of democracy to defend democracy?

This article was initially published in Hill Times.

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Canadian military in Haiti. Why?

Why are Canadian soldiers in Haiti?
HIP Photo

Canadian troops may have recently been deployed to Haiti, even though the government has not asked Parliament or consulted the public for approval to send soldiers to that country.

Last week the Haiti Information Project photographed heavily-armed Canadian troops patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport. According to a knowledgeable source I emailed the photos to, they were probably special forces. The individual in “uniform is (most likely) a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) from Petawawa”, wrote the person who asked not to be named. “The plainclothes individuals are most likely members of JTF2. The uniformed individual could also be JTF2 but at times both JTF2 and CSOR work together.” (CSOR is a sort of farm team for the ultra-elite Joint Task Force 2.)

What was the purpose of their mission? The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country. HIP tweeted, “troops & plainclothes from Canada providing security at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince today as cars from Haiti’s National Palace also drop off PHTK govt official’s family to leave the country today.”

Many Haitians would no doubt want to be informed if their government authorized this breach of sovereignty. And Canadians should be interested to know if Ottawa deployed the troops without parliamentary or official Haitian government okay. As well any form of Canadian military support for a highly unpopular foreign government should be controversial.

Two days after Canadian troops were spotted at the airport five heavily armed former US soldiers were arrested. The next day the five Americans and two Serbian colleagues flew to the US  where they will not face charges. One of them, former Navy SEAL Chris Osman, posted on Instagram that he provided security “for people who are directly connected to the current President” of Haiti. Presumably, the mercenaries were hired to squelch the protests that have paralyzed urban life in the country. Dozens of antigovernment protesters and individuals living in neighborhoods viewed as hostile to the government have been killed as calls for the president to step down have grown in recent months.

Was the Canadians deployment in any way connected to the US mercenaries? While it may seem far-fetched, it’s not impossible considering the politically charged nature of recent deployments to Haiti.

After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010 two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. According to an internal file uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The government documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

The night president Aristide says he was “kidnapped” by US Marines JTF2 soldiers “secured” the airport. According to Agence France Presse, “about 30 Canadian special forces soldiers secured the airport on Sunday [Feb. 29, 2004] and two sharpshooters positioned themselves on the top of the control tower.” Reportedly, the elite fighting force entered Port-au-Prince five days earlier ostensibly to protect the embassy.

Over the past 25 years Liberal and Conservative governments have expanded the secretive Canadian special forces. In 2006 the military launched the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Regiment, Special Operations Aviation Squadron and Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit.

CANSOFCOM’s exact size and budget aren’t public information. It also bypasses standard procurement rules and their purchases are officially secret.While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment and other government agencies face at least nominal oversight, CANSOFCOM does not.

During a 2006 Senate Defence Committee meeting CANSOFCOM Commander Colonel David E. Barr responded by saying, “I do not believe there is a requirement for independent evaluation. I believe there is sufficient oversight within the Canadian Forces and to the people of Canada through the Government of Canada — the minister, the cabinet and the Prime Minister.”

The commander of CANSOFCOM simply reports to the defence minister and PM.

Even the U.S. President does not possess such arbitrary power,” notes Michael Skinner in a CCPA Monitor story titled “Canada’s Ongoing Involvement in Dirty Wars.”

This secrecy is an important part of their perceived utility by governments. “Deniability” is central to the appeal of special forces, noted Major B. J. Brister. The government is not required to divulge information about their operations so Ottawa can deploy them on controversial missions and the public is none the wiser. A 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence complained their operations are “shrouded in secrecy”. The Senate Committee report explained, “extraordinary units are called upon to do extraordinary things … But they must not mandate themselves or be mandated to any role that Canadian citizens would find reprehensible. While the Committee has no evidence that JTF2 personnel have behaved in such a manner, the secrecy that surrounds the unit is so pervasive that the Committee cannot help but wonder whether JTF2’s activities are properly scrutinized.” Employing stronger language, right wing Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington pointed out that, “a secret army within the army is anathema to democracy.”

If Canadian special forces were secretly sent to Port-au-Prince to support an unpopular Haitian government Justin Trudeau’s government should be criticized not only for its hostility to the democratic will in that country but also for its indifference to Canadian democracy.

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Step aside USA, Canada is the new bully in our South American ‘backyard’

Is this the new face of the Ugly Canadian?
Photo by G20 Argentina

Many Canadians are familiar with the Monroe Doctrine. First issued by the United States in 1823, it warned European powers against renewed colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Presented as anti-imperialist, the Monroe Doctrine was later used to justify US interference in regional affairs.

We may be seeing the development of a Canadian equivalent. The ‘Trudeau Doctrine’ claims to support a “rules-based order”, the “constitution” and regional diplomacy independent of the US. But, history is likely to judge the rhetoric of the Trudeau Doctrine as little more than a mask for aggressive interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

For two years Canada’s Prime Minister has been conspiring with Juan Guaidó’s hardline Voluntad Popular party to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro. In May 2017 Trudeau met Lilian Tintori, wife of Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo López. The Guardian recently reported on Tintori’s role in building international support for the slow-motion coup attempt currently underway in Venezuela. Tintori acted as an emissary for Lopez who couldn’t travel to Ottawa because he was convicted of inciting violence during the “guarimbas” protests in 2014. According to a series of reports, Lopez is the key Venezuelan organizer of the plan to anoint Guaidó interim president. Canadian diplomats spent “months”, reports the Canadian Press, coordinating the plan with the hard-line opposition. In a story titled “Anti-Maduro coalition grew from secret talks”, the Associated Press reported on Canada’s “key role” in building international diplomatic support for claiming the head of the national assembly was president. This included Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaking to Guaidó “the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”

Just before the recent Lima Group meeting in Ottawa Trudeau spoke with Guaidó and at the meeting of countries opposed to Venezuela’s president he announced that Canada officially recognized Guaido’s representative to Canada, Orlando Viera Blanco, as ambassador. The PM has called the leaders of France, Spain, Paraguay, Ireland, Colombia and Italy as well as the International Monetary Fund and European Union to convince them to join Canada’s campaign against Venezuela. “The international community must immediately unite behind the interim president”, Trudeau declared at the opening of the Lima Group meeting in Ottawa.

At the UN General Assembly in September Canada announced it (with five South American nations) would ask the International Criminal Court to investigate the Venezuelan government, which is the first time a government has been formally brought before the tribunal by another member. Trudeau portrayed this move as a challenge to the Trump administration’s hostility to the court and described the ICC as a “useful and important way of promoting an international rules-based order.” In other words, Trudeau would challenge Washington by showing Trump how the “international rules-based” ICC could undermine a government the US was seeking to overthrow through unilateral sanctions, support for the opposition and threatening an invasion, which all contravene the UN Charter.

While Trudeau claims to support an “international rules-based order”, his government has adopted three rounds of illegal sanctions against Venezuela. It has also openly interfered in the country’s affairs, which violates the UN and OAS charters.

The Trudeau Doctrine emphasizes its interpretation of Venezuela’s constitution. On a whole series of platforms the Prime Minister has cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution”, even responding to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he claims makes the head of the National Assembly president. It doesn’t.

More fundamental to the Trudeau Doctrine is the mirage of a regional coalition independent of the regional hegemon – the United States.

Ottawa founded the anti-Maduro Lima Group coalition with Peru. Amidst discussions between the two countries foreign ministers in Spring 2017, Trudeau called his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, to “‎stress the need for dialogue and respect for the democratic rights of Venezuelan citizens, as enshrined in the charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” But the Lima Group was established as a structure outside of the OAS largely because that organization’s members refused to back Washington and Ottawa’s bid to interfere in Venezuelan affairs, which they believe defy the OAS’ charter.

While many liberal Canadian commentators promote the idea that the Lima Group operates independently of Washington, their US counterparts are not deceived. In a story titled “Intervening Against Venezuela’s Strongman, Trump Belies ‘America First’” the New York Times described US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s influence over the Lima Group declaration of January 4 that rejected Maduro’s presidency. The paper reported that Pompeo is in “close contact with” Freeland “who has played a leading role in rallying global criticism of Mr. Maduro.”

The claim the Lima Group is independent of Washington conjures up a story Jean Chrétien recounts telling US President Bill Clinton in My Years as Prime Minister: “Keeping some distance will be good for both of us. If we look as though we’re the fifty-first state of the United States, there’s nothing we can do for you internationally, just as the governor of a state can’t do anything for you internationally. But if we look independent enough, we can do things for you that even the CIA cannot do.”

While currently focused on Venezuela, the nascent Trudeau Doctrine has wider regional implications. Freeland has justified Canada’s aggressive interference in Venezuela’s affairs by saying “this is our neighbourhood” while Trudeau’s personal representative for the G7 Summits and recent appointee to the Senate, Peter Boehm told CBC, “this is our backyard, the Western hemisphere. We have a role here.”

Describing Latin America as “our backyard” is the language favoured by so-called Ugly American politicians seeking to assert the Monroe Doctrine. Latin Americans should beware of the emergence of Ugly Canadians promoting the Trudeau Doctrine.

On February 23 protests are planned in Canada and around the world calling for “No War on Venezuela!”

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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Mainstream media boosts Trudeau’s popularity over Venezuela

US presidents have bombed or invaded places like Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Sudan to distract from domestic scandals or to gain a quick boost in popularity. But, do Canadian politicians also pursue regime change abroad to be cheered on by the dominant media as decisive leaders?

In a discussion on regime change in Venezuela after last Monday’s “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole praised Canadian policy but added that the Liberals used the meeting of countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro’s government to drown out criticism of their foreign policy. O’Toole claimed the “Lima Group” meeting was “put together quite quickly and I think there are some politics behind that with some of the foreign affairs challenges the Trudeau government has been having in recent months.” In other words, O’Toole believes the Liberals organized a gathering that concluded with a call for the military to oust Venezuela’s elected president to appear like effective international players.

Understood within the broader corporate and geopolitical context, O’Toole’s assessment appears reasonable. After being criticized for its China policy, the Liberals have been widely praised for their regime change efforts in Venezuela. In a sign of media cheerleading, CTV News host Don Martin began his post “Lima Group” interview with foreign minister Chrystia Freeland by stating “the Lima summit has wrapped and the object of regime change is staying put for the time being” and then he asked her “is [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro any step closer to being kicked out of office as a result of this meeting today?” Later in the interview Martin applauded the “Lima Group’s” bid “to put the economic pincers around it [Venezuela’s economy] and choking it off from international transactions.”

In recent days Ben Rowswell, a former Canadian ambassador in Caracas, has been widely quoted praising the Liberals’ leadership on Venezuela. “It’s clear that the international community is paying attention to what Canada has to say about human rights and democracy,” Rowswell was quoted as saying in an article titled “Trudeau’s Venezuela diplomacy is a bright spot amid China furor”.

Rowswell heads the Canadian International Council, which seeks to “integrate business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders”, according to its billionaire financier Jim Balsillie. Long an influential voice on foreign policy, CIC hosted the above-mentioned forum with O’Toole that also included the Liberal’s junior foreign minister Andrew Leslie and NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière. CIC’s post “Lima Group” meeting forum was co-sponsored with the Canadian Council of the Americas, which is led by Kinross, Kinross, ScotiaBank, KPMG and SNC Lavalin. On the day of the “Lima Group” meeting CCA head Ken Frankel published an op-ed in the Globe and Mail headlined “Venezuela crisis will be a true test of Canada’s leadership in the hemisphere.” Frankel told CPAC he was “always supportive of Canadian leadership in the Hemisphere” and “the Venezuela situation has presented … a perfect opportunity for the Trudeau government to showcase the principles of its foreign policy.”

At the CCA/CIC forum Laverdière made it clear there’s little official political opposition to Ottawa’s regime change efforts. The NDP’s foreign critic agreed with Canada’s recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, as she did on Twitter, at a press scrum and on CPAC during the day of the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa. (Amidst criticism from NDP activists, party leader Jagmeet Singh later equivocated on explicitly recognizing Guaidó.)

With the NDP, Conservatives, CIC, CCA, most media, etc. supporting regime change in Venezuela, there is little downside for the Liberals to push an issue they believe boosts their international brand. To get a sense of their brashness, the day of the “Lima Group” meeting the iconic CN Tower in Toronto was lit up with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. A tweet from Global Affairs Canada explained, “As the sun sets on today’s historic Lima Group meeting, Venezuela’s colours shine bright on Canada’s CN Tower to show our support for the people of Venezuela and their fight for democracy.”

The Liberals drive for regime change in Venezuela to mask other foreign-policy problem is reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s push to bomb Libya. Facing criticism for weakening Canada’s moral reputation and failing to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a Canadian general oversaw NATO’s war, seven  CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast.

The mission, which began six weeks before the 2011 federal election, may have helped the Conservatives win a majority government. At the time Postmedia published a story titled “Libya ‘photo op’ gives Harper advantage: experts” and Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom published a commentary titled “Libyan war could be a winner for Harper”.  He wrote: “War fits with the Conservative storyline of Harper as a strong, decisive leader. War against a notorious villain contradicts opposition charges of Conservative moral bankruptcy. The inevitable media stories of brave Canadian pilots and grateful Libyan rebels can only distract attention from the Conservative government’s real failings.”

Similar to Venezuela today, the regime change effort in Libya was unanimously endorsed in Parliament (three months into the bombing campaign Green Party MP Elizabeth May voted against a second resolution endorsing a continuation of the war). “It’s appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do,’’ said NDP leader Jack Layton. After Moammar Gaddafi was savagely killed six months later, NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”

Emboldened by the opposition parties, the Conservatives organized a nationally televised post-war celebration for Canada’s “military heroes”, which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Calling it “a day of honour”, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success.”

Today Libya is, of course, a disaster. It is still divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million.

But who in Canada ever paid a political price for the destruction of that country and resulting destabilization of much of the Sahel region of Africa?

A similar scenario could develop in Venezuela. Canadian politicians’ push for the military to remove the president could easily slide into civil war and pave the way to a foreign invasion that leads to a humanitarian calamity. If that happened, Canadian politicians, as in Libya, would simply wash their hands of the intervention.

Canadians need to reflect on a political culture in which governing parties encourage regime change abroad with an eye to their domestic standing.

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Canadian interference in Venezuela domestic affairs decades old

According to the official story that the Liberal government and most of the mainstream media have been trying to sell, Ottawa recently recognized the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly as that country’s president because Nicolas Maduro suspended the constitution 18 months ago and thus lost legitimacy. Thus, Ottawa intervened aggressively to re-establish democratic order there. But this narrative of Canada’s involvement omits its long-standing hostility to the Venezuelan government.

In recent days Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, has repeatedly claimed that Canada’s effort to overthrow Venezuela’s government began with Maduro’s call for a Constituent Assembly in July 2017, which Rowswell considers illegitimate. Canada’s “approach to democracy promotion … can be traced to the summer of 2017, when Nicolas Maduro suspended the constitutional order,” he wrote in a Globe and Mail op-ed.

Ottawa wasn’t overly concerned about democracy in April 2002 when a military coup took Chavez prisoner and imposed an unelected government.

But Rowswell knows this is not true. In fact, when he departed as ambassador in July 2017, he sang a different tune, boasting that “we established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

At the time, Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen, that anti-Maduro forces need not worry about his departure, “I don’t think they have anything to worry about because Minister (of Foreign Affairs Chrystia) Freeland has Venezuela way at the top of her priority list.”

Direct Canadian assistance to the opposition dates to at least the mid-2000s. In January 2005, Foreign Affairs invited Maria Corina Machado to Ottawa. Machado was in charge of Súmate, an organization at the forefront of efforts to remove Hugo Chavez as president. Just prior to this invitation, Súmate had led an unsuccessful campaign to recall Chavez through a referendum in August 2004. Before that, Machado’s name appeared on a list of people who endorsed the 2002 coup, for which she faced charges of treason. She denied signing the now-infamous Carmona Decree that dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and suspended the elected government, the attorney general, comptroller general, and governors as well as mayors elected during Chavez’s administration. It also annulled land reforms and reversed increases in royalties paid by oil companies.

Canada also helped finance Súmate. According to disclosures made in response to a question by NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough, Canada gave Súmate $22,000 in 2005–06. Minister of International Cooperation José Verner explained that “Canada considered Súmate to be an experienced NGO with the capability to promote respect for democracy, particularly a free and fair electoral process in Venezuela.”

Alongside large sums from Washington, Canada has provided millions of dollars to groups opposed to the Venezuelan government over the past 15 years. The foremost researcher on U.S. funding to opposition groups in Venezuela, Eva Golinger, cited Canada’s role, and according to a May 2010 report from Spanish NGO Fride, “Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance” to Venezuela after the U.S. and Spain.

In a 2011 International Journal article Neil A. Burron describes an interview with a Canadian “official [who] repeatedly expressed concerns about the quality of democracy in Venezuela, noting that the [federal government’s] Glyn Berry program provided funds to a ‘get out the vote’ campaign in the last round of elections in that country.” You can bet it wasn’t designed to get Chavez supporters to the polls.

Ottawa wasn’t overly concerned about democracy in April 2002 when a military coup took Chavez prisoner and imposed an unelected government. It lasted only two days before popular demonstrations, a split within the army, and international condemnation returned the elected government. While most Latin American leaders condemned the coup, Canadian diplomats were silent.

“In the Venezuelan coup in 2002, Canada maintained a low profile, probably because it was sensitive to the United States ambivalence towards Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez,” writes Flavie Major in the book Promoting Democracy in the Americas.

The Stephen Harper government didn’t hide its hostility to Chavez. When Chavez was re-elected president with 63 per cent of the vote in December 2006, 32 members of the Organization of American States — which monitored the election — supported a resolution to congratulate him. Canada was the only member to join the U.S. in opposing the message.

Just after Chavez’s re-election, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs, Thomas Shannon, called Canada “a country that can deliver messages that can resonate in ways that sometimes our messages don’t for historical or psychological reasons.” Six months later Harper toured South America to help stunt the region’s rejection of neoliberalism and U.S. dependence. (“To show [the region] that Canada functions and that it can be a better model than Venezuela,” in the words of a high-level Foreign Affairs official quoted by Le Devoir.)

During the trip, Harper and his entourage made a number of comments critical of the Chavez government. Afterwards the prime minister continued to demonize a government that had massively expanded the population’s access to health and education services. In April 2009 Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, “I don’t take any of these rogue states lightly.” A month earlier, the prime minister referred to the far-right Colombian government as a valuable “ally” in a hemisphere full of “serious enemies and opponents.”

After meeting opposition figures in January 2010, Minister for the Americas Peter Kent told the media, “Democratic space within Venezuela has been shrinking and in this election year, Canada is very concerned about the rights of all Venezuelans to participate in the democratic process.”

“During my recent visit to Venezuela, I heard many individuals and organizations express concerns related to violations of the right to freedom of expression and other basic liberties,” said Kent.

Virginie Levesque, a spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Venezuela, also accused the Chavez government of complicity with racism against Jews.

“The Canadian Embassy has encouraged and continues to encourage the Venezuelan government to follow through on its commitment to reject and combat anti-Semitism and to do its utmost to ensure the security of the Jewish community and its religious and cultural centers” said Levesque.

Even the head of Canada’s military joined the onslaught of condemnation against Venezuela. After a tour of South America in early 2010, Walter Natynczyk wrote:,“Regrettably, some countries, such as Venezuela, are experiencing the politicization of their armed forces.” (A Canadian general criticizing another country’s military is, of course, not political.)

After Chavez died in 2013 Harper declared that Venezuelans “can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.” And when Maduro won the presidential election later that year Ottawa called for a recount, refusing to at first to recognize the results.

Canada’s bid to oust Venezuela’s elected president is not new. These efforts have grown over the past year and a half mostly because of Venezuela’s economic troubles, the rightward shift in the region, and Donald Trump’s hawkishness on the issue.

This report first appeared on Ricochet

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What the mainstream media doesn’t tell you about Venezuela

The corporate media is wholeheartedly behind the federal government’s push for regime change in Venezuela. The propaganda is thick and, as per usual, it is as much about what they don’t, as what they do, report. Here are some important developments that have largely been ignored by Canada’s dominant media:

  • At the Organization of American States meeting called by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 25 the Canadian-backed interventionist resolution was defeated 18-16.
  • The “Lima Group” of governments opposed to Venezuela’s elected president was established 18 months ago after Washington, Ottawa and others failed to garner the votes necessary to censure Venezuela at the OAS (despite the head of the OAS’s extreme hostility to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro).
  • Most of the world’s countries, with most of the world’s population, have failed to support the US/Canada push torecognize National Assembly head Juan Guaidóas president of Venezuela.
  • The UN and OAS charters preclude unilateral sanctions and interfering in other countries’ affairs.
  • UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, recently condemned US/Canadian sanctions on Venezuela.

As well, here are some flagrant double standards in Canadian policy the media have largely ignored:

  • “Lima Group” member Jair Bolsonaro won the recent presidential election in Brazil largely because the most popular candidate, Lula Da silva, was in jail. His questionable election took place two years after Lula’s ally, Dilma Rousseff, was ousted as president in a ‘parliamentary coup’.
  • Another “Lima Group” member, Honduras president Juan Orlando Hernandez, defied that country’s constitution a year ago in running for a second term and then ‘won’ a highly questionable
  • “At the same time”as Canada and the US recognized Juan Guaidó, notes Patrick Mbeko, “in Democratic Republic of Congo they refuse to recognize the massive recent victory of Martin Fayulu in the presidential election, endorsing the vast electoral fraud of the regime and its ally Félix Tshisekedi.”

Beyond what the media has ignored, they constantly cite biased sources without offering much or any background. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Globe and Mail has quoted Irwin Cotler in two recent articles on Venezuela. But, the decades-long anti-Palestinian and anti-Hugo Chavez activist lacks any credibility on the issue. At a press conference in May to release an OAS report on alleged rights violations in Venezuela, Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.” Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered “subversives” in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil?
  • CBC and Canadian Press (to a slightly lesser extent) stories about former Venezuelan Colonel Oswaldo Garcia, whose family lives in Montréal, present him as a democracy activist. But, notes Poyan Nahrvar, Garcia participated in a coup attempt last year and then launched raids into Venezuela from Colombia until he was captured by the Venezuelan military.
  • The media blindly repeats Ottawa’s depiction of the “Lima Group”, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described as an organization established to “bring peace, democracy and stability in Venezuela.” One report called it “a regional block of countries committed to finding a peaceful solution” to the crisis while another said its members “want to see Venezuela return to democracy.” This portrayal of the coalition stands its objective on its head. The “Lima Group” is designed to ratchet up international pressure on Maduro in hopes of eliciting regime change, which may spark a civil war. That is its reason for existence.

As part of nationwide protests against the “Lima Group” meeting taking place in Ottawa on Monday, activists in Montréal will rally in front of Radio Canada/CBC’s offices. They will be decrying not only Canada’s interference in Venezuela but the dominant media’s effort to “manufacture consent” for Canadian imperialism.

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Trudeau’s vacuous Haiti declaration ignores revolution, slavery

Justin Trudeau likes making high-minded sounding statements that make him seem progressive but change little. The Prime Minister’s declaration marking “Haiti’s Independence Day” was an attempt of the sort, which actually demonstrates incredible ignorance, even antipathy, towards the struggle against slavery.

In his statement commemorating 215 years of Haitian Independence, the Prime Minister failed to mention slavery, Haiti’s revolution and how that country was born of maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves delivered a massive blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy.

Before the 1791 revolt the French colony of Saint Domingue was home to 450,000 people in bondage. At its peak in the 1750s the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ provided as much as 50 per cent  of France’s GNP. Super profits were made from using African slaves to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and other commodities.

The slaves put a stop to that with a merciless struggle that took advantage of divisions between ‘big white’ land/slave owners, racially empowered though poorer ‘small whites’ and a substantial ‘mulatto’ land/slave owning class. The revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. Between 1791 and 1804 ‘Haitians’ would defeat tens of thousands of French, British and Spanish troops (Washington backed France financially), leading to the world’s first and only successful large-scale slave revolution. The first nation of free people in the Americas, Haiti established a slave-free state 60 years before the USA’s emancipation proclamation. (It wasn’t until after this proclamation ending slavery that the US recognized Haiti’s independence.)

The Haitian Revolution’s geopolitical effects were immense. It stimulated the Louisiana Purchase and London’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The revolutionary state also provided important support to South American independence movements.

Canada’s rulers at the time opposed the slave revolt. In a bid to crush the ex-slaves before their example spread to the English colonies, British forces invaded Haiti in 1793. Halifax, which housed Britain’s primary naval base in North America, played its part in London’s efforts to capture one of the world’s richest colonies (for the slave owners). Much of the Halifax-based squadron arrived on the shores of the West Indies in 1793, and many of the ships that set sail to the Caribbean at this time were assembled in the town’s naval yard. Additionally, a dozen Nova Scotia privateers captured at least 57 enemy vessels in the West Indies between 1793 and 1805. “Essential tools of war until the rise of large steam navies”, the privateers also wanted to protect the British Atlantic colonies’ lucrative Caribbean market decimated by French privateers. For a half-century Nova Scotia and Newfoundland generated great wealth selling cheap, high-protein cod to keep millions of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day”.

A number of prominent Canadian-born (or based) individuals fought to capture and re-establish slavery in the French colonies. Dubbed the “Father of the Canadian Crown”, Prince Edward Duke of Kent departed for the West Indies aboard a Halifax gunboat in 1793. As a Major General, he led forces that captured Guadalupe, St. Lucia and Martinique. Today, many streets and monuments across the country honour a man understood to have first applied the term “Canadian” to both the English and French inhabitants of Upper and Lower Canada.

Other “Canadians” played a part in Britain’s effort to corner the lucrative Caribbean slave plantations. Born into a prominent Québec military family, Charles Michel Salaberry “was part  of successful invasions of Saint-Dominique [Haiti], Guadeloupe and Martinique.” A number of monuments commemorate Salaberry, including the city in Québec named Salaberry-de-Valleyfield.

To commemorate Haitian independence the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community, Irwin LaRocque, also released a statement. Unlike Trudeau, LaRocque “congratulated” Haiti and described the day as “a timely reminderof the historic importance of the Haitian Revolution and its continued significance as a symbol of triumph over adversity in the quest for liberty, equality and control of national destiny.”

Trudeau should have said something similar and acknowledged Canadians’ role in the slave trade and crimes against the free people of Haiti.

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Where do NDP MPs stand on CBC story exposing Jewish National Fund?

An explosive CBC expose Friday on the Jewish National Fund should be the beginning of the end for this powerful organization’s charitable status. But, unless the NDP differentiates itself from the Liberals and Conservatives by standing up for Canadian and international law while simultaneously opposing explicit racism, the JNF may simply ride out this short bout of bad publicity.

According to a story headlined “Canadian charity  used donations to fund projects linked to Israeli military”, the JNF has financed multiple projects for the Israeli military in direct contravention of Canada Revenue Agency rules for registered charities. The organization has also funded a number of projects supporting West Bank settlements, which Global Affairs Canada considers in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The story also revealed that the Canada Revenue Agency, under pressure from Independent Jewish Voices and other Palestine solidarity activists, began an audit of the state-subsidized charity last year.

After detailing the above, (which provoked hundreds of mostly angry comments from readers) the story notes that the “JNF has had strong relations with successive Conservative and Liberal governments.” The CBC published a picture of politicians congregated at the Prime Minister’s residence above the caption “Laureen Harper poses with JNF Gala honorees during a group visit to 24 Sussex Drive in 2015.”

But the JNF, like all good lobbyists, has hedged it political bets and the story could have noted that the social democratic opposition party was represented at this JNF gala as well and has dutifully supported the dubious “charity”. NDP MP Pat Martin spoke at the JNF event Harper organized to “recognize and thank the people that have helped to make JNF Canada what it is today.” In 2016 NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière participated in a JNF tree planting ceremony in Jerusalem with JNF World Chairman Danny Atar and a number of its other top officials. The president of the Windsor-Tecumseh Federal NDP riding association, Noah Tepperman, has been a director of JNF Windsor since 2004 and has funded the organization’s events in London, Ontario.

In 2015 Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath published an ad in a JNF Hamilton handbook and offered words of encouragement to its fundraiser while Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter planted a tree at a JNF garden in 2011. Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer was honoured at a 2006 JNF Negev Dinner in Winnipeg and cabinet minister Christine Melnick received the same honour in 2011. During a 2010 trip to Israel subsequent Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger signed an accord with the JNF to jointly develop two bird conservation sites while water stewardship minister Melnick spoke at the opening ceremony for a park built in Jaffa by the JNF, Tel Aviv Foundation and Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable. (In 2017 Melnick won a B’nai Brith Zionist action figures prize for writing an article about a friend who helped conquer East Jerusalem and then later joined the JNF).

Besides NDP support for this dubious “charity”, the story ignored the JNF’s racist land-use policies. The JNF owns 13 per cent of Israel’s land, which was mostly taken from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947-1948. It discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.” Indicative of its discrimination against the 20% of Israelis who aren’t Jewish, JNF Canada’s Twitter tag says it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere.” Its parent organization in Israel — the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that “a survey  commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.” While such exclusionary land-use policies were made illegal in Canada seven decades ago, that’s the JNF’s raison d’être.

An organization that recently raised $25 million  for a Stephen Harper Bird Sanctuary, JNF Canada has been directly complicit in at least three important instances of Palestinian dispossession. In the late 1920s JNF Canada spearheaded a highly controversial land acquisition that drove a 1,000 person Bedouin community from land it had tilled for centuries and in the 1980s JNF–Canada helped finance an Israeli government campaign to “Judaize” the Galilee, the largely Arab northern region of Israel. Additionally, as the CBC mentioned, JNF-Canada build Canada Park on the remnants of three Palestinian villages Israel conquered in 1967.

A map the JNF shows to nine and ten-year-olds at Jewish day schools in Toronto encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, effectively denying Palestinians the right to a state on even 22 percent of their historic homeland. Similarly, the maps  on JNF Blue Boxes, which are used by kids to raise funds, distributed in recent years include the occupied West Bank. The first map on the Blue Box, designed in 1934, depicted  an area reaching from the Mediterranean into present-day Lebanon and Jordan.

The JNF is an openly racist organization that supports illegal settlements and the Israeli military. Many NDP activists understand this. The party’s MPs now have a choice: If they stand for justice and against all forms of racism, for the rule of international law and fairness in the Canadian tax system, they will speak up in Parliament to keep this story alive. The NDP needs to set itself apart from the Liberals and Conservatives by following up on the CBC’s revelations to demand the Canada Revenue Agency rescind the JNF’s charitable status.

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Canadian Jewish News reeks of hypocrisy over support for terrorism

What should we make of a media outlet that praises those who join or give money to a foreign army, which occupies territory belonging to another people, terrorizes the local population by destroying houses, restricting their movement, subjecting them to military courts and shooting unarmed protesters?

What should we call the Canadian Jewish News, an unfailing flatterer of Canadians who join or finance a military subjugating Palestinians? Would “promoter of terror tourism” be an appropriate description?

Over the past month the CJN has published at least four pieces celebrating Canadian support for the Israeli military. On November 22 it reported, “Bayli Dukes, who recently won the Israel Defence Forces’ Award of Excellence for the Southern Command of the IDF, was a biology student at York University in Toronto less than two years ago. Tired of sitting on the couch and posting on Facebook about the situation in Israel, she decided there was more she could be doing.”

A day earlier it posted an article titled “Hand-knitted  tuques – a very Canadian gift for IDF soldiers” described 80-year olds in Toronto knitting “for charitable causes, such as IDF soldiers in Israel.” Through the Hats for Israeli Soldiers initiative “more than 50,000 hats have been made for combat soldiers on Israel’s front lines”, the CJN reported. The paper quoted IDF soldier Dovid Berger’s thank you letter. “I’m currently a chayal in the 51st brigade of Golani. We are now on our way to a week-long drill in the cold and wet [occupied Syrian] Golan Heights, and last night we received our beautiful black hats you sent us. Thank you so much, some of us have been borrowing each other’s hats and now there’s enough for everyone to have at least one. It really makes a big difference to us to see how people from Canada and the U.S.A. (and everywhere in the world) are really caring about us.”

A photo in its November 14 print edition was titled “Honouring IDF veterans”. The caption read: “former Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon … makes presentation to Montrealers who served in the Israel Defence Forces…. during the Canadian Institute for Jewish research’s 30th anniversary Gala.”

An October 30 piece in the community paper reported, “former NHL player Keith Primeau was among more than 100 Canadians who cycled through Israel over five days this month, to raise funds for disabled veterans in that country. This was the 11th Courage in Motion Bike Ride, which is organized by Beit Halochem Canada.”

The CJN regularly promotes that organization. A search of its database for “Beit Halochem” found dozens of stories about fundraisers and other initiatives supporting Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel. A 2009 story titled “Israeli veterans enjoy 24th visit to Montreal” reported, “the annual visit was sponsored by the 25-year-old Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel), which raises funds for Israel’s Beit Halochem, a network of centres that provide therapy and support to more than 51,000 disabled vets and victims of terror.”

Another military initiative CJN promotes is Israel Defence Forces Widows & Orphans, which is partly funded by the Israeli government. “I served three years in the Nahal Brigade. I was in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”, Shlomi Nahumson, director of youth programs at Widows and Orphans, told the paper in advance of a Toronto fundraiser for the group.

Another military initiative popular with CJN is Sar-El, which was founded by Israeli general Aharon Davidi in 1982. “Toronto brothers volunteer for Sar-El at height of war”, “91-year-old volunteers on Israeli army base” and “Toronto artist’s mural unites Israeli army base” are a sampling of the headlines about a program in which about 150 Canadians serve each year as volunteers on Israeli army supply bases.

At least a dozen CJN stories have promoted the Association for the Soldiers of Israel in Canada. “IDF represents all Jews, female general says” and “Community shows support for Israeli soldiers”, noted headlines about a group established in 1971 to provide financial and moral support to active duty soldiers. The later story quoted a speaker claiming, “the IDF saves lives, and not just in Israel — all over the world.”

CJN has published a series of stories sympathetic to Tzofim Garin Tzabar, which recruits non-Israeli Jews into the IDF. A 2004 article about a program supported by the IDF, Israel Scouts, Jewish Agency and Ministry of Absorption was titled “Canadian youths serve in IDF: Motivated by zionist ideals, love of Israel.” It reported, “[Canadian Yakov] Frydman-Kohl is attending tank school at an Israeli army base somewhere near the West Bank town of Jericho. He recently completed a course in advanced training before his first deployment somewhere in the Gaza Strip.”

CJN lauded Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz’ Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers. “Philanthropists aid Israeli ‘lone soldiers’”, was the title of one story about the billionaire Toronto couple providing millions of dollars annually for these non-Israeli soldiers.

More generally, the paper has published numerous stories about Canadian ‘lone soldiers’. “Going in alone: the motivations and hardships of Israel lone soldiers”, “Parents of ‘lone soldiers’ discuss support group” and “Lone soldiers: young idealists and worried parents”, detailed Canadians fighting in the Israeli military. They’ve also publicized numerous books about Canadian and other non-Israelis joining the IDF. In one CJN quoted Abe Levine, an Ontarian who helped drive Palestinians from their homes in 1948, saying, “what I don’t understand is why Israelis don’t send 10 rockets back for every one fired from Gaza.”  The story continued, “during his time in the Machal [overseas military volunteers], Levine saw most Arabs as ‘the enemy.’ Though he said he had lines he would not cross – ‘I wouldn’t kill an Arab if I just saw him standing outside his house.’”

CJN promoted Nefesh B’Nefesh’s (Jewish Souls United) recruitment of Canadians to the IDF. “Nefesh B’Nefesh brings aspiring soldiers to Israel”, noted a headline about a group that facilitates “Aliyah” for those unsatisfied with their and their ancestors’ dispossession of First Nations and want to help colonize another indigenous people.

While CJN provides positive publicity to groups promoting the Israeli military, these groups (often registered Canadian charities) finance the paper. The previously mentioned story about Nefesh B’Nefesh ended with “the reporter’s trip was partly subsidized by Nefesh B’Nefesh.” More significantly, these organizations regularly advertise in the paper. “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base”, read a Sar-El ad while another noted “the Association for the soldiers of Israel invites you to show your support for the brave youth of the IDF at our gala dinner.”

Yet, while it promotes joining and financing a military actively killing Arabs, CJN accuses Palestinian Canadians of supporting terrorism. An August headline noted, “Canadian Arabic-language newspaper criticized for pro-terrorist op-ed” while a 2017 one stated, “B’nai Brith wants a Mississauga teacher fired for backing terrorists”.

The hypocrisy is glaring. While CJN accuses others, it may be this country’s biggest promoter of “terror tourism”.

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Canada backs repression, killing of protestors in Haiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rather than being critics, Liberals actually enable Saudi crimes

One has to admire the Canadian government’s manipulation of the media regarding its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite being partners with the Kingdom’s international crimes, the Liberals have managed to convince some gullible folks they are challenging Riyadh’s rights abuses.

By downplaying Ottawa’s support for violence in Yemen while amplifying Saudi reaction to an innocuous tweet the dominant media has wildly distorted the Trudeau government’s relationship to the monarchy.

In a story headlined “Trudeau says Canada has heard Turkish tape of Khashoggi murder”, Guardian diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour affirmed that “Canada has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record for months.” Hogwash. Justin Trudeau’s government has okayed massive arms sales to the monarchy and largely ignored the Saudi’s devastating war in Yemen, which has left up to 80,000 dead, millions hungry and sparked a terrible cholera epidemic.

While Ottawa recently called for a ceasefire, the Liberals only direct condemnation  of the Saudi bombing in Yemen was an October 2016 statement. It noted, “the Saudi-led coalition must move forward now on its commitment to investigate this incident” after two airstrikes killed over 150  and wounded 500 during a funeral in Sana’a.

By contrast when the first person was killed from a rocket launched into the Saudi capital seven months ago, Chrystia Freeland stated, “Canada strongly condemns the ballistic missile attacks launched by Houthi rebels on Sunday, against four towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh’s international airport. The deliberate targeting of civilians is unacceptable.” In her release Canada’s foreign minister also accepted the monarchy’s justification for waging war. “There is a real risk of escalation if these kinds of attacks by Houthi rebels continue and if Iran keeps supplying weapons to the Houthis”, Freeland added.

Ottawa has also aligned itself with Riyadh’s war aims on other occasions. With the $15 billion LAV sale to the monarchy under a court challenge in late 2016, federal government lawyers described Saudi Arabia as “a key military ally who backs efforts of the international community to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen. The acquisition of these next-generation vehicles will help in those efforts, which are compatible with Canadian defence interests.” The Canadian Embassy’s website currently claims “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

In recent years the Saudis have been the second biggest recipients of Canadian weaponry, which are frequently used in Yemen. As Anthony Fenton has documented in painstaking detail, hundreds of armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been videoed in Yemen.Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada– was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Between May and July Canada exported $758.6 million worth of “tanks and other armored fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

The Saudi coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.“Canada helped fuel the war in Yemen by exporting more rifles to Saudi Arabia than it did to the U.S. ($7.15 million vs. $4.98 million)”, tweeted Fenton regarding export figures from July and August.

Some Saudi pilots that bombed Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In recent years Saudi pilots have trained  with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada, which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montreal-based flight simulator company also trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East.

Training and arming the monarchy’s military while refusing to condemn its brutal war in Yemen shouldn’t be called a “tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.” Rather, Canada’s role should be understood for what it is: War profiteer and enabler of massive human rights abuses.

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When it comes to Saudi LAV sales, lobbyists will likely rule

Will they cancel the contract or won’t they? In order to understand Ottawa’s decision making process regarding General Dynamics’ massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia one must look closely at industry lobbyists.

While the Trudeau government is under substantial public pressure to rescind the $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale, to do so would challenge the company and the broader corporate lobby.

Last week a senior analyst with the GD-financed Canadian Global Affairs Institute boldly defended the LAV sale.“There has been no behaviour by the Saudis to warrant cancelling this contract”, said David Perry to the London Free Press. Perry must have missed the Kingdom’s violence in Yemen, repression in eastern Saudi Arabia and consulate murder in Istanbul.

Two weeks ago Perry told another interviewer that any move to reverse the LAV sale would have dire consequences. “There would be geopolitical implications. There would be a huge number of economic implications, both immediately and in the wider economy… cancelling this, I think, would be a big step because as far as I understand the way that we look at arms exports, it would effectively mean that we’ve changed the rules of the game.”

Amidst an earlier wave of criticism towards GD’s LAV sale, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute published a paper titled “Canada and Saudi Arabia: A Deeply Flawed but Necessary Partnership” that defended the $15-billion deal. At the time of its 2016 publication at least four of the institute’s “fellows” wrote columns justifying the sale, including an opinion piece by Perry published in the Globe and Mail Report on Business that was headlined “Without foreign sales, Canada’s defence industry would not survive.”

Probably Canada’s most prominent foreign policy think tank, Canadian Global Affairs Institute is a recipient of GD’s “generous” donations. Both GD Land Systems and GD Mission Systems are listed among its “supporters” in recent annual reports, but the exact sum they’ve given the institute isn’t public.

The Conference of Defence Associations Institute also openly supports GD’s LAV sale. Representatives of the Ottawa-based lobby/think tank have written commentaries justifying the LAV sale and a2016 analysis concluded that “our own Canadian national interests, economic and strategic, dictate that maintaining profitable political and trade relations with ‘friendly’ countries like Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, is the most rational option in a world of unpleasant choices.” Of course, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute also received GD money and its advisory board includes GD Canada’s senior director of strategy and government relations Kelly Williams.

Representing 150 top CEOs, the Business Council of Canada (formerly Canadian Council of Chief Executives) promoted a similar position.In a 2016 iPolitics column titled “We can’t always sell weapons to people we like” the corporate lobby group’s head, John Manley, wrote that LAVs are not “used in torture or persecution of women. We are selling military vehicles — basically fancy trucks.”

Another corporate lobby group applauded GD’s Saudi sale. In 2014 Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters president Jayson Myers labeled the LAV sale “an Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers … All Canadians should be proud of this record achievement.”

The armament industry’s primary lobby group also backed GD’s sale to the Saudis. In 2014 Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries president Tim Page celebrated the LAV sale as a “good day for Canada” and two years later its new president, Christyn Cianfarani, defended the deal from criticism, telling the press “we certainly don’t take positions on the judicial practices of other nations.” GD is a member of CADSI and GD Land Systems Vice President, Danny Deep, chairs its board. With an office near Parliament, CADSI lobbyists have likely spoken to government officials about reversing the Saudi LAV sale.

For its part, GD has been lobbying decision makers aggressively. According to an October 24 iPolitics article “General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada has filed almost a dozen communications requests with government officials in the last week.” Like other military companies, the London, Ontario, armoured vehicle maker maintains an Ottawa office to access government officials.

GD has contracted former military officials to lobby on its behalf and offered retired Canadian Forces leaders senior positions. Before becoming Defence Minister, Gordon O’Connor, a former Brigadier-General, represented GD as a lobbyist while GD Canada hired former Navy commodore Kelly Williams as senior director of strategy and government relations in 2012.

GD also advertises at events and in areas of the nation’s capital frequented by government officials. Similarly, it promotes its brand in publications read by Ottawa insiders.

If the government does not cancel the Saudi LAV sale it will be further proof of the corporate lobby’s political influence.

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Real hate taught inside Toronto school, not scrawled outside

Supporters of a private Toronto school that publicly promotes racism against Palestinians, flies an Israeli flag and then complains of “anti-Semitism” when pro-Palestinian graffiti is scrawled on its walls should give their heads a shake.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith labeled messages scrawled on Leo Baeck Day School “hateful” and “anti-Semitic”, but fair-minded individuals should be more concerned with the hatred taught inside the school.

Recently someone wrote “Free Palestine” and“Long Live Palestine” on the school’s sign and flagpole. On a picture of a rally with Israeli flags at or near Leo Baeck (reports differ) someone wrote “Long Life [sic] to the Hamas.”

Saying it received a call to its “Anti-Hate Hotline”, B’nai Brith claimed the school was “defaced  with antisemitic epithets”. FSWC and CIJA also put out statements denouncing “hatred”. A number of city councillors and MPs repeated their message with Mayor John Tory writing, “there is no place for hate” in Toronto.

But none of these groups or politicians mentioned the hate taught inside the school itself.

Leo Baeck is a bastion indoctrination and activism that meets most of the criteria of anti-Palestinian racism, as defined by the UK’s Jewish Voice for Labour.

An Israeli flag flies in front of the school and its publicity says it “instills” a “love of Israel” and  “a deep and meaningful connection to … the State of Israel” among students. The school has an Israel Engagement Committee and in 2012 it received United Jewish Appeal Toronto’s inaugural Israel Engagement Community Award. That same year the Israeli Consul General in Toronto, DJ Schneiweiss, attended the launch of a new campus at Leo Baeck.

A 2012 Canadian Jewish News article titled “Leo Baeck adopts  more Israel-centric curriculum” quoted the head of the school saying “one of the reasons people choose our school is a commitment to the State of Israel.” But, principal Eric Petersie told the paper, graduates felt unprepared to respond to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on university campuses so the school increased its Israeli teachings.

Leo Baeck was the first school to join UJA Federation Toronto’s shinshinim (emissary) program, which began in 2007. Partly funded by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the program sends young Israelis to interact with Canadian students and staff. Last year the school hosted Idan Aharon and Roni Alkalay for three days a week. According to the Canadian Jewish News, “one of the ways Leo Baeck and the Young Emissary Program ensure that students understand the realities of Israel is by re-introducing the previous year’s shinshinim to students by way of live video chat from their Israel Defence Forces barracks dressed in their military uniforms.”

The school promotes the Israeli military in other ways. Last year’s Grade 8 class organized a school-wide fundraiser to support Beit Halochem Canada/Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel and a choir “paid tribute  to Israel’s fallen heroes.”

In another crude form of anti-Palestinianism, Leo Baeck works with the explicitly racist  Jewish National Fund, which excludes the 20-25% of non-Jewish Israelis from its vast landholdings mostly stolen from Palestinians in 1948. Some “students took  virtual walk across Israel in school thanks to JNF map and guidance”, noted a 2015 tweet.  But, the JNF map  shown to the nine and ten-year-olds encompasses the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza, effectively denying Palestinians the right to a state on even 22 percent of their historic homeland. In all likelihood, Leo Baeck works with JNF Canada’s Education Department, which has produced puzzles and board games to convince young minds of its colonialist worldview, and organizes celebrations of JNF day  at Jewish schools.

While B’nai Brith, FSWC and CIJA’s statements on the graffiti present the school as sacrosanct, apolitical, terrain, they didn’t object when a politician used it as a backdrop to express his anti-Palestinian bonafides. During a 2012 tour of Leo Baeck then Liberal Liberal party leadership contender Justin Trudeau criticized Iran, celebrated Israel and distanced himself from his brother Alexandre’s support for Palestinians.

Over the past year the Canadian Jewish News has published at least three stories about the growing attention devoted to Israel education at Jewish schools. A 2017 cover story titled “What to teach Jewish students about Israel?” detailed the growing importance given to classes on Israel at Jewish day schools. While students have long been “taught from a young age to see Israel as the land of milk and honey”, in recent years Jewish day schools have ramped up their indoctrination in reaction to “anti-Israel student groups on campuses throughout North America.”

When a school engages in partisan political activity in support of a foreign country, when it supports racism and intolerance against an oppressed people, when it indoctrinates children in these views, surely it cannot be surprised that some would be upset, and might illustrate their displeasure.

One can debate the merits of writing political graffiti on school grounds, but what news reports described was certainly not anti-Semitic.

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Doctors choose capitalism over better public health

Doctors’ aggressive opposition to a more equitable tax code reflects a capitalist ethos that’s often been at odds with public health.

The Canadian Medical Association, Coalition of Ontario Doctors, Ontario Association of Radiologists, Canadian Association of Radiologists and Ontario Medical Association all joined the newly formed Coalition for Small Businesss Tax Fairness. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Canadian Federation of Independent Business are also part of this large coalition established to scuttle a government initiative to lessen tax advantages for wealthy small business owners and remove loopholes that incentivize incorporation for high paid professionals (two thirds of doctors have a corporation to reduce their taxes).

The government’s proposal would restrict business owners’ ability to lower their tax rate by sprinkling income to family members — who do no work for the firm — in lower tax brackets. The changes would also limit certain companies’ investments in stocks and real estate and the ability to convert a corporation’s regular income into capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate. The government says the proposed changes would have almost no impact on anyone making under $150,000 a year, but doctors often make $300,000, $500,000 or more and the higher the income the greater the savings under the current rules. According to a summary of the 2014-15 fiscal year, 500 Ontario doctors received over $1 million from the provincial government with the top-biller claiming $6.6 million.

Currently high paid doctors and other professionals often pay lower taxes rates than nurses. That injustice and the Ontario Medical Association president’s claim the proposed tax changes would harm patient care prompted the Canadian Nurses Association to endorse the government’s tax plan. The CNA noted, “should the proposed changes pass, provincial and territorial governments should see an increase in revenues which can be invested in strengthening our publicly-funded health services, which in themselves employ thousands of salaried, highly-skilled professionals who pay their fair share of personal income taxes.”

While nurses defend public health care, doctors have long promoted a capitalist model of medicine that maximizes their wealth and power. In 1962 doctors in Saskatchewan, the birthplace of Canada’s universal health care system, went on strike for 23 days to block Medicare and other health reforms that weakened their power over medicine. After working to stymie the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation’s proposed health reforms for two years, in July 1962 doctors withdrew their services and launched a massive public relations campaign when the government introduced its long promised health improvements.

As part of the research for The Year We Became Us: A Novel About the Saskatchewan Doctors Strike, Gary Engler examined the Moose Jaw Times Herald‘s coverage of the work stoppage. The rhetoric was over the top. One editorial was headlined “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and another “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan.” That story claimed, “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

The Saskatchewan doctors’ fight against Medicare was assisted financially by the American Medical Association, which has long been a major obstacle to public health insurance in the U.S. According to Stan Rands in Privilege and Policy: A History of Community clinics in Saskatchewan, “by 1920 the American Medical Association, fearing that public financing would lead to public control of medical practice, had opposed health insurance regulation by any state or federal government. The AMA saw health insurance as a threat to its independence and, like the CMA, proposed that health insurance be carried through private companies.”

Fortunately, the CCF (NDP predecessor) government remained steadfast and the doctors lost their battle against universal health insurance, which was extended to the rest of the nation a few years later. But, the Saskatchewan doctors won a number of concessions, notably fee-for-service billing. Unlike Britain where most doctors are salaried employees of the National Health Service, Canadian doctors are overwhelmingly paid per visit/x-ray/operation. Remunerated based upon the number of clients they see, doctors have a financial self-interest in treating rather than preventing ill health.

Careful consideration of the efficacy of every test or treatment, which should underpin all medical evaluations, is too often overlooked when financial benefits are to be had. In fact, one reason drugs are overprescribed is that doctors are generally paid the same whether they stay with a patient for two or twenty minutes. While a prescription can be written in seconds, it takes time to fully understand an individual’s health history and to offer them ways to avoid illness.

Doctors draw their income and prestige largely from curative medicine, but advances in life expectancy and overall health have largely been shaped by improved public health measures such as sanitation, pollution controls, workplace safety regulations, infection control standards, etc. Further improvements will most likely come through broader sociological dynamics such as reductions in inequality and poverty, or improvements in education, healthier food systems, exercise-oriented urban planning, etc.

In Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health Laurie Garrett estimates that “86 per cent of increased life expectancy was due to decreases in infectious diseases. The same can be said for the United States, where less than 4 per cent of the total improvement in life expectancy since the 1700s can be credited to twentieth century advances in medical care.” While Garrett may be overstating her case, public health measures that seek to prevent illness are what works.

By aligning with corporate lobbyists opposed to a more equitable tax code, doctor associations have provided an opening to those who believe a mistake was made at the dawn of Medicare. Like almost everyone whose income comes from public funds, doctors should be paid a salary. This would better align their interests with Medicare, public pensions and many other social programs that have improved overall health as well as working class Canadians who overwhelmingly support a fair tax system to pay for improved government services.

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Using the big lie to undermine Palestinian solidarity

The big lie is a propaganda technique generally employed when telling the truth would be unfavorable to your side. It goes like this: never admit doing any wrong and instead always insist on a story that portrays your side as the good guys. What really happened is irrelevant. The key is repetition. Do it often enough and loudly enough until most people believe you.

While the big lie is most often associated with authoritarian governments, its use is actually quite widespread. For example, the Montreal Gazette recently published a front page article claiming Jewish students at Concordia University were “feeling like the target of a hate campaign.” The reason cited, as far as this writer can tell, was simply that many students were standing in solidarity with Palestinians.

At the end of November, the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organized BDS Week. Without citing a single incident of actual racism, the Gazette painted a picture of the discussion series as hateful. Reporter Karen Seidman simply quoted an individual decrying “a hostile environment on campus” and another who denounced “speakers slandering Israeli tactics and spewing hate.”

In her article, Seidman also labeled a referendum held last year in which undergraduates voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as “contentious” and downplayed its significance by saying only “a tiny fraction” of the overall student body participated.

So why is this a big lie?

First, the side favored is portrayed as a victim of “hate” with no evidence presented except criticism of the Israeli state causing hurt feelings. Second, and most important, the article blissfully ignores any historical background that would present Palestinian sympathizers in a positive light or even provide context for what they are doing.

It abjectly fails to even get any comment from any supporter of BDS. The reporter writes that she tried and failed to get a comment from the organizers, but it should surely not be beyond a reporter’s ability to get an alternative pro-BDS voice.

And while portraying a rather modest week of solidarity events as hateful, the reporter also ignores how a well-funded Concordia institute has engaged in an effort to erase Palestinians from historical memory.

In 2011, multibillionaire David Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to set up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies.

The institute established the first minor degree program in Israel studies at a Canadian university.

This wasn’t a disinterested, apolitical donation. Azrieli, an Israeli-Canadian real estate magnate who died last year, was a staunch defender of Israel. He did not hide his affiliation, happily asserting that “I am a Zionist and I love the country.”

During the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he was an officer in a largely Anglo-Saxon brigade of the Haganah, a Zionist military force. Led by Major Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian veteran of the Second World War, the Seventh Brigade played a leading role in the infamous Operation Hiram.

Dozens of villages in the north of Palestine were depopulated and destroyed during that offensive.

The operation, initiated in October 1948, included several massacres of Palestinian villagers.

As many as 94 Palestinians were killed in the village of Saliha alone. A Jewish National Fund official, Yosef Nahmani, noted in his diary that between 50 and 60 peasants in Safsaf were killed and buried in a pit after the village’s inhabitants “had raised a white flag.”

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes that few brigade names appear in the oral testimonies that have been gathered about the Nakba: “However, Brigade Seven is mentioned again and again, together with such adjectives as ‘terrorists’ and ‘barbarous.’”

Since opening at Concordia, the Azrieli Institute has proven a potent advocate for Israel on campus.

In June, the institute hosted the Association for Israel Studies’ annual conference.

After attending the conference, the right-wing Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg described Azrieli’s $5 million donation as part of a “counterattack” against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.

The institute is largely designed to erase Palestinians from their historical connection to their homeland. Its website fails to even mention the word Palestine.

In a December 2014 letter to the Montreal Gazette, Nakina Stratos noted: “Browsing through the website of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, I was not able to find the words ‘Palestine’ or ‘Palestinian people.’ How can an institute that teaches about the history of Israel not mention Palestine on its website? This, to me, intersects with the far-right Israeli narrative, which is a total confiscation of Palestinian history, and an attempt to erase the concept of Palestine from the dictionary of the Middle East.”

But rather than investigate how Palestinian students feel about a richly endowed university institute that erases their existence, the Gazette’s education reporter chose to focus on assertions of persecution by those who would do the erasing.

The perpetrators of oppression and their supporters instead become victims. Those who stand up for the oppressed are portrayed as bullies.

That is the big lie at work.

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New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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Our shame: Canada supported apartheid South Africa

It’s enough to make one who knows even a little history gag.

The death of Nelson Mandela has led to an outpouring of vapid commentary about Canada’s supposed role in defeating South African Apartheid. “Canada helped lead international fight against Apartheid”, noted a Toronto Star headline while a National Post piece declared, “Canada’s stance against apartheid helped bring freedom to South Africa.”

Notwithstanding this self-congratulatory revisionism, Canada mostly supported apartheid in South Africa. First, by providing it with a model. South Africa patterned its policy towards Blacks after Canadian policy towards First Nations. Ambiguous Champion explains, “South African officials regularly came to Canada to examine reserves set aside for First Nations, following colleagues who had studied residential schools in earlier parts of the century.”

Canada also supported South African apartheid through a duplicitous policy of publicly opposing the country’s racist system yet continuing to do business as usual with this former British Dominion. It’s true that in 1961 John Diefenbaker’s Conservative government called for South Africa to be expelled from the British Commonwealth. But this position was not a moral rebuke of apartheid. “Nothing has been more constant in Diefenbaker’s approach than his search for a tolerable way of averting South Africa’s withdrawal,” commented an External Affairs official at the 1961 Commonwealth meeting where South Africa left the organization. Diefenbaker pushed for South Africa’s exclusion in an attempt to save the Commonwealth. The former British colonies — notably in South Asia and Africa — threatened to leave the Commonwealth if South Africa stayed. This would have been the death of the British Empire’s Commonwealth. Diefenbaker’s lack of principled opposition to apartheid helps explain his refusal to cancel the 1932 Canada-South Africa trade agreement.

Sentenced to life in prison in 1964, Mandela, joined 1,500 black political activists languishing in South African jails. In June 1964 NDP leader Tommy Douglas told the House of Commons: “Nelson Mandela and seven of his associates have been found guilty of contravening the apartheid laws … [I] ask the Prime Minister if he will make vigorous representation to the government of South Africa urging that they exercise clemency in this case”? Lester Pearson responded that the “eight defendants … have been found guilty on charges of sabotage and conspiracy … While the matter is still sub judice [before the courts] it would, I believe, be improper for the government to make any public statement on the verdict or on the possible sentences.” This author found no follow up comment by Pearson regarding Mandela.

Widely viewed as a progressive internationalist, Pierre Trudeau’s government (1968-1984) sympathized with the apartheid regime not the black liberation movement or nascent Canadian solidarity groups. Throughout Trudeau’s time in office, Canadian companies were heavily invested in South Africa, enjoying the benefits of cheap black labour.  In October 1982 the Trudeau government delivered 4.91 percent of the votes that enabled Western powers to gain a slim 51.9 percent majority in support of South Africa’s application for a billion-dollar IMF credit. Sixty-eight IMF members opposed the loan as did 121 countries in a nonbinding vote at the U.N. General Assembly. Five IMF executive directors said South Africa did not meet the standards of conditionality imposed on other borrowers. The Canadian minister of finance justified support for the IMF loan claiming that “the IMF must be careful … not to be accused of meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign states.” A few months later, Ottawa opposed IMF funding for Vietnam because of its occupation of Cambodia (largely to stop the Khmer Rouge’s killing).

Officially, the Trudeau government supported the international arms embargo against South Africa. But his government mostly failed to enforce it. As late as 1978 Canadian-government financed weapons continued to make their way to South Africa. Canadair (at the time a Crown company) sold the apartheid regime amphibious water bombers, which according to the manufacturer, were useful “particularly in internal troop-lift operations.” (The official buyer was the South African forestry department.) In the early 1970s the Montréal Gazette discovered that the RCMP trained South African police in “some sort of liaison or intelligence gathering” instruction.

Supporters of apartheid would say anything to slow opposition to this cruel system. At a 1977 Commonwealth meeting, Trudeau dodged press questions on post-Soweto South Africa suggesting that Idi Amin’s brutal regime in Uganda should be discussed along with southern Africa. For its part, the Globe and Mail argued in 1982 that “disinvestment would be unwittingly an ally of apartheid” since foreign investment brought progressive ideas.

After decades of protest by Canadian unions, churches, students and others, Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government finally implemented economic sanctions on South Africa in 1986. The Conservatives only moved after numerous other countries had already done so. “The record clearly shows”, notes Ambiguous Champion, “that the Canadian government followed rather than led the sanctions campaign.” Unlike Canada, countries such as Norway, Denmark New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina also cut off diplomatic ties to South Africa. Even U.S. sanctions, due to an activist Congress, were tougher than those implemented by Ottawa.

From October 1986 to September 1993, the period in which economic sanctions were in effect, Canada’s two-way trade with South Africa totaled $1.6 billion — 44 percent of the comparable period before sanctions (1979-1985). Canadian imports from South Africa averaged $122 million a year during the sanctions period.

Canada did business with the apartheid regime and opposed the liberation movements. Ottawa’s relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) was initially one of hostility and then ambivalence.

Canada failed to recognize the ANC until July 1984 and then worked to moderate their direction. In an August 1987 letter to the Toronto Star, Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark explained the government’s thinking: “Canada has been able to develop a relationship of trust with the … African National Congress that it is hoped has helped to strengthen the hand of black moderates.”

With apartheid’s end on the horizon, Ottawa wanted to guarantee that an ANC government would follow pro-capitalist policy, contrary to the wishes of many of its supporters. The man in charge of External Affairs’ South African Taskforce said that Ottawa wanted an early IMF planning mission to the country to ensure that the post-apartheid government would “get things right” from the start. One author noted: “The Canadian state has entered fully in the drive to open South Africa to global forces and to promote the interests of the private sector.”

Ottawa’s policy towards apartheid South Africa was controversial among Canadians. There was an active solidarity movement that opposed Canadian support for the racist regime and to the extent that Canadian politicians played a role in challenging South African apartheid it was largely due to their efforts.

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Inequality grows as CEOs blackmail the rest of us

Last week in Switzerland big money staved off an important challenge to big paychecks. But the sentiment that spurred a Swiss effort to tie executive compensation to common workers’ wages will not be defeated so easily.

A Sunday ago Swiss voters said no to a referendum question that would have capped executive compensation at 12 times the lowest paid worker in the firm. After gaining over 130,000 signatures to put the question to voters, proponents of the initiative were overwhelmed by a flood of money claiming a ‘yes’ vote would drive companies away. Early polls found 46% of the Swiss public opposed to the 12:1 pay measure but with opponents spending up to 50 times more than the ‘yes’ campaign, 65% ultimately voted ‘no’.

According to supporters of the measure, the average Swiss CEO made 43 times the average wage in 2011, up from six times in 1984. A number of top Swiss CEOs make more than 200 times their employees’ wage.

But Switzerland’s CEO-to-worker pay differential appears socialistic compared to North America’s. After the US, Canada has the second highest CEO-to-worker pay ratio. Last year, for instance, the CEO of BCE, George Cope, received $11.1-million in compensation. This staggering sum is nearly 200 times more than what a Bell Canada technician in Toronto makes and 2,000 times the pay of an Indian call-centre worker who responds to Bell customers.

Despite making 200 times the average industrial wage, Cope was not the best-paid executive in Canada. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ summary of Canada’s 100 highest paid CEOs in 2011, the $11.1 million Cope made in 2012 would have placed him just off the top 15. Incredibly, the CEO of Canadian Pacific, Hunter Harrison, took home four and a half times Cope’s pay.

In recent years the difference between regular employees’ pay and CEO compensation has grown rapidly. A recent Globe and Mail survey found that ratio has reached 122-1 at Canada’s biggest firms, up from an average of 84-1 a decade ago. Using a different set of data, the CCPA and AFL-CIO put the Canadian CEO-to-worker pay ratio significantly higher.

As a flagrant symbol of growing inequality, executive pay is increasingly facing political challenge. While the 12:1 initiative was defeated, in March more than two-thirds of Swiss voters supported a referendum question requiring companies to give shareholders a binding annual vote on executives’ pay, while outlawing bonuses to executives joining or leaving a business or as part of a takeover. Similarly, some EU officials have suggested that shareholders should be given the right to vote on the ratio between a company’s best and worst paid workers.

The French government took office last year saying it would limit executive salaries at state-controlled companies to a maximum of 20 times that of the lowest-paid employees and on Wednesday Ontario New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath called for the salaries of CEO’s at the province’s hospitals, electrical utilities and other public sector agencies to be capped at $418,000, twice the premier’s annual salary.

Politicians should legislate a maximum pay differential between the best and worst paid workers in all companies. How about a ratio of 20 times that’s steadily reduced over time?

It may be difficult, but I’m sure CEOs like Bell’s George Cope could learn to cope on a million bucks a year.

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Harper raising funds for racist organization

At the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will help raise funds for an organization that practices discriminatory land use policies long outlawed in this country.

In a first for a sitting prime minister, Harper will address the 100-year-old Jewish National Fund of Canada. While it is illegal to restrict the sale of property to certain ethnic or religious groups in Canada, the JNF does just that in Israel.

Into the 1950s restrictive land covenants in many exclusive neighborhoods and communities across Canada made it impossible for Jewish, Black, Chinese, Aboriginal and others peoples deemed to be non-“white” to buy property.

It was not until after the Second World War that these policies began to be successfully challenged in court.

In 1948, Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish.

During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property contained the following clause: “The lands and premises herein described shall never be sold, assigned, transferred, leased, rented or in any manner whatsoever alienated to, and shall never be occupied or used in any manner whatsoever by any person of the Jewish, Negro or coloured race or blood, it being the intention and purpose of the Grantor, to restrict the ownership, use, occupation and enjoyment of the said recreational development, including the lands and premises herein described, to persons of the white or Caucasian race.”

Noble and Wolf tried to get the court to declare the restriction invalid but they were opposed by the Beach O’Pines Protective Association. Both a Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist covenant.

But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In a six-to-one decision the highest court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property.

The publicity surrounding the case prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants.

In 2009 the federal Conservative government defined the Noble and Wolf vs. Alley Supreme Court case “an event of national historic significance” in the battle “for human rights and against discrimination on racial and religious grounds in Canada.”

Six decades after the Supreme Court delivered this blow to racist property covenants, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be promoting a charity that discriminates in land use.

A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report found that the JNF systematically discriminates against Arab citizens of Israel — who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.

According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

More recently, the US State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted: “Approximately 93 percent of land [Israel] was in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

For their part, JNF Canada officials are relatively open about the discriminatory character of the organization.

In May 2002, JNF Canada’s executive director for eastern Canada, Mark Mendelson, explained: “We are trustees between world Jewry and the land of Israel.”

JNF Canada’s head Frank A. Wilson echoed this statement in July 2009: “JNF are the caretakers of the Land of Israel on behalf of its owners, who are the Jewish people everywhere around the world.”

The JNF’s bylaws and operations are clearly incompatible with Canadian law concerning racist property covenants.

Yet JNF Canada, which raises about $8 million annually, is a registered charity in this country. As such, it can provide tax credits for donations, meaning that up to 40 percent of their budget effectively comes from public coffers.

Does Stephen Harper support racist land use policies?

 

 

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The real story about Canada’s role in Haiti

Step one for everyone trying to make the world a better place should be listening to those they wish to help.

This is certainly true in the case of Haiti, a long-time target of Canadian ‘aid’. But, while Haitians continue to criticize Ottawa’s role in their country, few Canadians bother to pay attention.

After Uruguay announced it was withdrawing its 950 troops from the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti last month, Moise Jean-Charles, took aim at the countries he considers most responsible for undermining Haitian sovereignty. The popular senator from Haiti’s north recently told Haiti Liberté:

Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay are not the real occupiers of Haiti. The real forces behind Haiti’s [UN administered] military occupation — the powers which are putting everybody else up to it — are the U.S., France, and Canada, which colluded in the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’etat against President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide. It was then they began trampling Haitian sovereignty.”

For the vast majority of Canadians, Jean-Charles’ comment probably sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person. When the media in this country focuses on Haiti, it is typically to highlight Canadian aid projects. Yet, here is one of Haiti’s most popular politicians telling the press (and audiences throughout South America) that Canada helped overthrow its elected government and continues to undermine its sovereignty.

Jean-Charles’ opinion is not uncommon in Haiti. Since Aristide’s government was overthrown in February 2004, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force,” “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times. Haiti’s left-wing weeklies have detailed Ottawa’s role in planning the coup; destabilizing the elected government; building a repressive Haitian police force; justifying politically motivated arrests and killings; militarizing post-earthquake disaster relief; pushing the exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating in elections.

While the above-mentioned information has been copiously detailed in Haitian newspapers, as well as English-language books, reports and left-media, Canada’s dominant media rarely critically discusses this country’s role in Haiti. During Montréal’s recent municipal election, for instance, the media largely ignored the eventual winner’s role in undermining Haitian democracy and justifying repression. Aside from a piece in the Montréal Media Co-op by Dru Oja Jay, no media seems to have discussed Denis Coderre’s previous position as Prime Minister Paul Martin’s point person on Haiti.

Will the dominant media also ignore the 10-year anniversary of the coup? Without pressure it is likely, even though the date remains a potent political symbol.

Haiti continues to be occupied by the UN force brought by the U.S./France/Canada military invasion to overthrow Aristide. And that UN force’s neglect for Haitian life has led to an ongoing cholera outbreak that has left 8,500 dead and nearly 700,000 ill.

At the electoral level, the party Ottawa helped overthrow, Fanmi Lavalas, continues to be excluded from participating in elections. This has been to the benefit of Haiti’s notoriously corrupt political class, including current president Michel Martelly, who is unlikely to have won a fair election (and is facing growing protests calling on him to resign).

It is clear that Martelly does not have the legitimacy or the credibility to lead the country,” Senator Jean-Charles told this week’s Haiti Liberté after 10,000- 50,000 took to the streets of Port-au-Price. “We are asking the Americans, French, and Canadians to come and collect their errand boy because he cannot lead the country any more.”

On February 28, 2014 tens of thousands are likely to hit the streets across Haiti to once again express their rejection of the U.S./France/Canada coup. Is any major news agency in this country prepared to mark the occasion by telling Canadians what their government has done over the past decade to undermine Haitian sovereignty and democracy?

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CETA is more than a trade deal and not in a good way

Since announcing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) three weeks ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly labelled those questioning the deal as “anti-trade.” But this Canada-European Union accord is one part trade and four parts corporate bill of rights.

While the government has promoted the part of the agreement that would eliminate 98 per cent of all tariffs, this masks the fact that these are already low (or non-existent) on most goods traded between Canada and the EU. A Royal Bank report released last week notes that mining, oil and gas products represent 45 per cent of Canada’s exports to the EU and most of these materials already enter the EU duty free.

On combined bilateral trade of $85 billion a year, EU exporters currently pay $670 million in tariffs while Canadian producers pay only $225 million in duties. To put this sum into perspective, eliminating all current Canada-EU tariff payments will barely cover the increased drug costs caused by another part of the agreement. The extension of Canadian patents under CETA is expected to drive up already high pharmaceutical drug costs in this country by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study. In other words, Harper’s Conservatives are proposing to add a billion dollars or more to the cost of our health care system, in return for a cut of less than $900 million in tariffs, most of which will benefit European producers. Is this really a good deal for ordinary Canadians?

And, one might ask, what does extending patents have to do with free trade? In fact, as a type of monopoly, patents stifle competition, which is supposed to be a pillar of free trade ideology. Of course the powerful brand-name drugmakers pushing the patent extension are more interested in increasing their profits than economic theory.

Another part of CETA that has little to do with expanding free trade is the investor state dispute settlement process. Modelled after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11, this aspect of the accord will give corporations based in Canada and the EU the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process in CETA even though there’s been a growing international backlash to these type of accords and under NAFTA’s investor dispute process Canada currently faces more than $2 billion in lawsuits.

A number of other CETA provisions also strengthen investors’ rights to the detriment of democracy. For example, the agreement gives multinational corporations unprecedented rights to bid on public contracts. This will weaken provincial and municipal agencies ability to buy local and pursue other environmental and socially minded policies.

Concurrently, the accord makes it more difficult to set up new publicly operated social services. For instance, a municipality unhappy with private water delivery could face a suit if they tried to remunicipalize (or de-privatize) this service.

CETA also locks in reforms to the Telecommunications Act buried in last year’s 450-page omnibus budget. The Conservatives’ changes allow foreign-controlled corporations to buy a majority stake in telecommunications companies holding up to 10 per cent of the Canadian market (and then grow without limit from there). Under the banner of “free trade,” CETA will make it extremely difficult for a future Canadian government to reverse recent reforms to the Telecommunications Act. This is just one more example of the Conservatives sneaking through their ideological agenda without proper, transparent debate in Parliament.

Recently International Trade Minister Ed Fast told the House of Commons that “the NDP remains beholden, both financially and organizationally, to the big union bosses and anti-trade activist groups.” For his part, Harper told the press that “ideological opposition to free trade in Canada is really, today, part of a very small part of the political spectrum — a very small and extreme part — and for that reason I think you will find very few Canadians who are opposed in principle to having a free-trade agreement with Europe.”

Yes, few Canadians oppose trade with Europe “in principle,” but CETA is only partly about trade. The deal mostly benefits multinational corporations and it isn’t “anti-trade” to say so.

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What would a people’s trade agreement look like?

What would a trade agreement intended to benefit all Canadians look like?

This is of more than academic concern right now as the Harper Conservative government will eventually unveil the full details of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

From what we know about it now this agreement is little more than a ‘corporate bill of rights’. It gives corporations even more power to shift investment as they see fit and directly strengthens their interests in everything from public procurement to patent laws.

The one-sidedly pro-corporate nature of the agreement reflects the power that corporations yield over discussions of international trade. Despite the corporate world’s current stranglehold over international economic decisions, a here and now People’s Alternative to CETA is feasible.

To protect multinationals from the scourge of “discriminatory” government policies, CETA includes an investor-state dispute settlement process. This will give corporations based in Canada and the EU a new supranational tool to sue governments for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making.

But rather than giving even more power to the top 0.1% richest people in the world, who are the investor class, an economic accord driven by a People’s Alternative would set up a labour-state dispute settlement process. In these tribunals workers could sue governments that fail to force employers to abide by labour law and International Labour Organization statutes.

CETA also gives multinational corporations unprecedented rights to bid on public contracts. In a bid to create a “level playing field” for multinationals in public procurement, the agreement will weaken provincial and municipal agencies ability to “buy local” and pursue other environmental and socially minded policies.

Instead of undermining public agencies’ ability to pursue ecological and social goals when tendering contracts, a progressive economic accord would prod firms to follow the highest ecological and social standards within the trading area. A People’s Alternative would give priority to firms that cut their carbon emissions in line with the stronger levels mandated by the EU. It would also prioritize companies that establish works councils, which give workers some formal voice in the operation of the firm and are common throughout Europe.

Under CETA Canada will lengthen the time drugs remain under patent, which is expected to drive up already high Canadian pharmaceutical drug costs by more than $850 million a year. Instead of extending Canadian patent laws to more closely reflect Europe’s rules, why not harmonize daycare programs to reflect the best of the trading area?

Most European countries provide public day care services, which have both costs and benefits to the economy. According to the logic that says trading partners are supposed to be on similar economic footing, it makes as much sense to standardize daycare systems as it does patent rules.

Another argument presented to justify extending patents is that it will lead to more research and development taking place in Canada. But, over the long-term, publicly funded day care would better accomplish this objective. Particularly beneficial to the intellectual development of poor kids, quality public day care increases the likelihood that disadvantaged children will be successful in school and contribute to future innovation.

With the corporate perspective so thoroughly dominating public debates on international trade it can be difficult for critics to do anything more than oppose the current policy direction. But when we disentangle the “economy” from what’s good for corporations a pro-people international economic accord is entirely feasible.

If we enjoyed real democracy, our governments would consult the people about their priorities in trade agreements.

If we lived in an economic system of one-person-one-vote, rather than the one-dollar-one-vote corporate system we have today, trade would flourish but trade agreements would look much different. They would be concerned with benefiting ordinary people, not just the already wealthy and powerful.

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Conservatives, capitalists and more

The Harper Conservatives have forcefully championed the interests of international investors and corporations, but it has not been enough for the “greed is good” business pundits who earn their living pimping the interests of the rich and powerful.

Last November a Canadian Business headline asked “Is Canada closed to foreign investment?” while more recently there’s been a number of apoplectic commentaries about Ottawa blocking an Egyptian billionaire from acquiring Winnipeg-based MTS Allstream on national security grounds.

In a particularly hyperbolic column the National Post‘s Andrew Coyne complained: “investors in this country should be on notice. Their assets are protected by neither law nor policy, but are vulnerable to whatever whim or grudge crosses the government’s mind. They may be confiscated, in whole or in part, at any time and for any reason. Or, indeed, for no reason.”

Coyne can’t be serious. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news knows that the Conservative government is an unabashed supporter of corporations and foreign investors. Their policy moves designed to favour those interests are many.

The Conservatives have slashed environmental oversight; attacked workers and labour unions; opened Canada’s telecommunications sector up to majority foreign ownership; tripled the financial threshold at which point the federal government must do a “net benefit” test of a foreign corporate takeover. On the international stage they’ve done almost everything possible to support Canada’s huge mining industry.

The Conservatives established diplomatic relations with a country simply to advance mining interests (Mongolia), signed a free trade agreement largely to protect Canadian miningcompanies (Peru) and obstructed international efforts to reschedule a poor country’s foreign debt after the government revoked a Canadian company’s concession (the Congo).

They’ve also ploughed tens of millions of “aid” dollars into supporting controversial mining projects and were recently caught spying on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry in an apparent bid to aid the many Canadian resource companies active in that country. Partly to protect Canadian mining investments in Africa and Latin America, the Conservatives have gone on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) signing spree. They’ve already concluded five FIPAs’ this year and are negotiating with another 12 countries.

Modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11 investor state dispute process, all these FIPAs’ give corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in private investor-friendly tribunals for lost profits. But the Canada China FIPA signed last year is particularly onerous.

Once adopted, future governments will be locked into the accord for a whopping 31 years. With only slight hyperbole Leadnow.ca explains: “If FIPA passes, China’s companies can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the Conservatives have negotiated with the European Union is an even bigger sop to international investors. The Council of Canadians’ trade campaigner Stuart Trew points out: “if ever cancelled by either party CETA’s investment protections would live on like a zombie for 20 years, five years longer than in the [China] FIPA.”

While the final text of the accord has yet to be made public, leaked negotiating documents suggest it was the Conservatives who pushed the EU for an investor state dispute settlement process in CETA. The Ontario NDP claims: “The inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement process in CETA is, in fact, one of Canada’s only requests in the negotiations.”

The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process even though there’s been a growing backlash to these highly undemocratic accords. Recently Australia, India, South Africa and many Latin American countries have all stopped signing investor state treaties or are revising existing ones.

The Conservatives also don’t seem to care that Canada has been sued more than any industrialized country under investor state accords. The federal government is currently facing over $2 billion in outstanding lawsuits under NAFTA’s investor dispute process.

In one example, Indianapolis based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced a “Notice of Arbitration” that it will sue Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its patent for the ADHD drug Strattera and antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.

The courts found that Eli Lilly’s drugs failed to fulfill the promises the company made when the patents were filed and thus invalidated them. Washington-based Public Citizen explains: “[Eli Lilly] presumes to declare what Canada’s standard of patentability policy should be — that Canada must issue a patent and allow a drug firm to charge monopoly prices if an invention simply claims utility without demonstrating it. This is a critical point: Eli Lilly is asking the NAFTA investor-state tribunal to award compensation for a violation of its investor rights because Canada enforced its patentability standards, even though the underlying NAFTA provisions covering patents provide signatory countries flexibility to determine their own substantive standards for patentability.”

Clearly, big business has gotten almost everything it has wanted from Harper’s Conservatives. What should we learn from the fact that it still pushes for more? Perhaps a simple truth about capitalism: There is never enough profit.

Everyone who understands there are limits to growth needs to think about this. Capitalists are never satisfied. They always want more. That’s the way of the system.

The current Canadian government is just a small part of the problem we face.

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NDP should move to the left on its foreign policy

Is the NDP the solution or part of the problem for those us who promote a Canadian foreign policy that favours ordinary people around the world?
While pushing arms control measures and oversight of Canadian mining companies, this ‘Left’ party generally backs the military and a Western pro-capitalist outlook to global affairs.

In 2011 the party supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya. The party’s most recent election platform called for maintaining the highest level of military spending since World War II. In a more recent display of militarism NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer joined some veterans in criticizing an agreement between retailer Target and the Royal Canadian Legion allowing red poppies to be sold outside the company’s stores. “We agreed that outside the front doors would be ideal and obviously if the weather is inclement or they prefer they are welcome to stand inside the double doors as well,” said Target spokesperson Lisa Gibson at the end of last month.

But this wasn’t good enough for many red poppy sellers who want to set up inside. So Stoffer demanded that Target “let these veterans into their stores, set up their tables and sell the poppies” and called on the company “to allow them [red poppy sellers] to come into the store at all times.”

Remembrance Day Poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in recent years or the Iraqis killed two decades ago or the Koreans killed in the early 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on ‘our’ side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous, a sentiment often used to promote wars.

One wonders if the NDP is willing to call on Target to allow peace organizations to set up tables and sell anti-war white poppies?

The same day Stoffer criticized Target, Michael Byers, a former NDP candidate and Thomas Mulcair leadership campaigner, co-authored aNational Post opinion piece titled “Putting Politics Before Soldiers”. Based on a report Byers co-authored for the Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the article argued that Harper’s Conservatives are spending $2 billion to buy tanks that are no longer necessary since the US military has shifted its counterinsurgency tactics. The article glowingly cited the Petraeus Doctrine, which is named after General David Petraeus who was in charge of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The doctrine calls for soldiers to engage with and support local people so as to erode any incentive they might have to side with insurgents.”

The article said nothing about the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed by the US-led forces implementing the Petraeus Doctrine. Nor does Byers’ report call for a reduction in Canada’s high-level of military spending.

While promoting US counterinsurgency tactics and red poppy sellers, the NDP was quiet on the recent visit to Toronto by Africa’s most blood-stained leader, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. Nor have they said much about Ottawa’s support for the Egyptian military’s ongoing repression or foreign minister John Baird’s anti-Iran efforts with the Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies.
It wasn’t always this bad.

A new biography about one of the NDP’s more courageous MPs touches on the party’s tendency to support the foreign policy establishment. In a published excerpt of Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics, Vancouver NDP MP Libby Davies told the book’s author: “Some people are concerned that we’ll slide, especially on foreign affairs. He [Robinson] was an outstanding voice on foreign affairs when he was critic for so many years. He never shied away from things… People wanted it. They wanted a party that actually had a real, critical position on foreign affairs — that wasn’t the Time magazine version … and that’s, I fear, what we’ve come around more to now.”

Robinson was willing to aggressively and creatively challenge the foreign-policy establishment. He was a founder of the Canadian wing of Parliamentarians for East Timor and questioned Canada’s role in the 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. In a particularly principled action, Robinson responded to Israel’s effort to seal off Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah by trying to travel there in October 2002. This act of solidarity unleashed a media storm, prompting NDP leader Alexa McDonough to strip Robinson of his role as foreign affairs critic.

Robinson’s time as foreign critic represents a shining moment for the party’s international policy (It should be noted, however, that Robinson backed the 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia, only turning critical over a month after it began.). His term also highlights the tension within the party between those who support a critical approach and those basically willing to go a long with the Canadian foreign policy establishment. Unfortunately, the latter group has generally determined the NDP’s international policy.

At its 1949 convention the CCF, the NDP’s predecessor, passed a resolution supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Even worse, the party also expelled two elected legislators who were critical of NATO.

While officially the West’s response to an aggressive Soviet Union, in fact NATO was established to blunt the European Left and extend North American/European power in light of the de-colonization taking place in Asia and the Middle East. NATO planners feared a weakening of self-confidence among Western Europe’s elite and the widely held belief that communism was the wave of the future. External Minister Lester Pearson was fairly open about NATO’s purpose telling the House of Commons in March 1949: “The power of the communists, wherever that power flourishes, depends upon their ability to suppress and destroy the free institutions that stand against them. They pick them off one by one: the political parties, the trade unions, the churches, the schools, the universities, the trade associations, even the sporting clubs and the kindergartens. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meant to be a declaration to the world that this kind of conquest from within will not in the future take place amongst us.” Tens of thousands of North American troops were stationed in Western Europe to deter any “conquest from within”.
The other major motivating factor for the North American elite was a desire to rule the world. For Canadian officials the north Atlantic pact justified European/North American dominance across the globe. As part of the parliamentary debate over NATO 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.”

In the eyes of Pearson and the US leadership NATO’s first major test took place far from the north Atlantic in Korea. After the Communists took control of China in 1949 the US tried to encircle the country. They supported Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, built military bases in Japan, backed a right-wing dictator in Thailand and tried to establish a pro-Western state in Vietnam. The success of China’s nationalist revolution also spurred the 1950-1953 Korean War in which eight Canadian warships and 27,000 Canadian troops participated. The war left as many as four million dead.

The 1950 CCF convention endorsed Canada’s decision to join the US-led (though UN sanctioned) war in Korea. It wasn’t until huge numbers had died and China entered the war that the CCF started questioning Ottawa’s military posture.

In the early 1950s Iranians pushed to gain greater benefit from their huge oil reserves. But the British had different plans. As one of the earliest sources of Middle Eastern oil, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (British Petroleum’s predecessor) had generated immense wealth for British investors since 1915.

With Anglo-Iranian refusing to concede any of their immense profits, Iran moved to nationalize the country’s oil industry. It was a historic move that made Iran the first former colony to reclaim its oil.

Despite calling for the nationalization of numerous sectors of the Canadian economy, the leader of the CCF criticized Iran’s move. On October 22 1951 M.J. Coldwell told the House of Commons: “What happened recently in Iran [the nationalization of oil] and is now taking place in Egypt [abrogation of a treaty that allowed British forces to occupy the Suez Canal region] is an attempt on the part of these reactionary interests to use the understandable desire of the great masses of the people for improvements in their condition as an excuse to obtain control of the resources of these countries and to continue to exploit the common people in these regions.” The CCF leader then called on the federal government to “give every possible aid to the United Kingdom in the present crisis.”

Mohammad Mossadegh’s move to nationalize Iran’s oil would lead the US and UK to orchestrate his overthrow in 1953. The CCF failed (or at least it’s not recorded in the Hansard parliamentary debate) to criticize Ottawa for backing the overthrow of Iran’s first popularly elected Prime Minister.

No issue better reflects international policy tensions within the party than Israel/Zionism. Initially the CCF opposed the nationalism and imperialism associated with Zionism. In 1938 CCF leader J.S. Woodsworth, stated: “It was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to agree to a Jewish colony, as long as it was somewhere else. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ consideration.” At its 1942 convention the CCF condemned Nazi anti-Semitism but refused to endorse Zionism. “The Jewish problem can be solved only in a socialist and democratic society, which recognized no racial or class differences,” explained a party resolution.

But before Israel’s creation the CCF officially endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In September 1945 new CCF leader M. J. Coldwell said the Zionist record in Palestine “in terms of both social and economic justice” spoke for itself. Three decades later, in 1975, NDP MP and former leader Tommy Douglas told Israel’s racist Histadrut labour federation, “The main enmity against Israel is that she has been an affront to those nations who do not treat their people and their workers as well as Israel has treated hers.” This speech was made eight years into Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip and a quarter century after 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed during the 1948 war.

While better today, this extreme deference to Israel has yet to be expunged from the party. In May 2008 the soon-to-be NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, was quoted in the Canadian Jewish News saying, “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.”

The NDP ought to shake off its history of supporting the Canadian foreign policy establishment. Beyond the moral imperative, sticking to mild and safe criticisms may be a losing electoral strategy.

Forceful and creative criticism of the Conservatives’ foreign policy could be a way to pushback against Jason Kenney’s successful outreach with immigrant communities (more than 20% of Canadians are born outside the country). The Conservatives have played off the fact that immigrant communities are generally more socially conservative. While this may be true, individuals with a strong connection to another country would also tend to be less supportive of Western domination, which the Conservatives have strongly pushed.

Additionally, Harper’s foreign policy has been designed to please the most reactionary sectors of the party’s base — evangelical Christians, right-wing Jews, Islamophobes, the military-industrial-complex as well as mining and oil executives. To a certain extent the Conservatives view international policy as a relatively low political cost way to please the party’s right wing base (the clearest example of them taking a more extreme position on foreign policy is the Conservatives’ refusal to give Canadian aid to projects abroad that include abortions — even for rape victims — but Harper strongly opposes efforts to challenge abortion domestically).

Could this same thinking not work for the NDP? Is there not a counter block of individuals and organizations focused on issues ranging from international climate negotiations to Palestine, global peace to mining justice? Wouldn’t a forceful and principled NDP position on these issues help galvanize party activists?

With average Canadians more knowledgeable and interested in international affairs than ever before, it is likely. But party strategists fear that the dominant media will lambaste the NDP for expressing forthright criticism on many international issues. The media would. But the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions on issues such as the recent coup in Egypt or Canada’s indifference to Paul Kagame’s murderous escapades in the East of the Congo.

Ultimately, the options for the NDP is reasonably straightforward: work to create an electoral strategy that significantly improves Canadian foreign policy or continue to make opportunistic appeals to veterans, the military and those who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs. The latter option is tantamount to being complicit with current policies and — if elected — becoming the agent of a pro-corporate/pro-empire Canadian foreign policy.

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Ottawa lines up with Washington against rest of hemisphere

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s recent mission to Latin America cannot mask Canada’s unprecedented diplomatic isolation in the hemisphere. Despite shifting ‘aid’ to the region and claiming to have made Latin America a priority, Ottawa is increasingly offside with a region breaking free from centuries of Western imperialism.

On July 9 the Organization of American States (OAS) held a meeting to discuss four European countries’ refusal to let Bolivia’s presidential plane enter their airspace. Six days earlier Evo Morales was returning from a meeting in Moscow where he said Bolivia could be open to giving political asylum to former CIA contractor Edward J. Snowden, who is wanted by Washington on espionage charges.

The US apparently suspected that Snowden, who was then stuck in the Moscow Airport, was on Morales’ plane. As such, the Obama administration pressed France, Portugal, Spain and Italy to block Morales’ plane in a bid to capture the whistleblower or to deliver a warning to other governments thinking about granting Snowden asylum.

Dubbed a “hostile act” by Bolivia, the OAS condemned the European countries’ “actions that violate the basic rules and principles of international law such as the inviolability of Heads of State.” All 34 OAS members backed the resolution except the US and Canada, which both added an appendix to the resolution saying they didn’t support it.

Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly sided with Washington’s unpopular policies in the region. They’ve ramped up Canada’s contribution to fighting the ‘war on drugs’ at the same time as Latin America has backed away from this repressive model. Recently, Uruguay legalized marijuana and more and more officials in the region are publicly questioning a policy framework that has left tens of thousands dead and done little to stop the flow of illicit product. In May the OAS released a study advocating a re-think of the war on drugs, including a proposal to abandon the fight entirely.

A briefing note prepared for Diane Ablonczy, then-minister of state for the Americas, outlines Ottawa’s response to these shifting attitudes. “One of the objectives in our engagement in the Americas is to combat transnational crime and our programming investments demonstrate our commitment to this issue,” read the note obtained by Postmedia for a meeting Ablonczy had with Latin American ambassadors in November. “Canada looks forward to robust engagement in this process and sharing our domestic experience in addressing illicit drugs.”

Interestingly, the note was prepared by the Defence Department, which reflects the Canadian military’s growing role in the ‘war on drugs’. In recent months the military has deployed surveillance aircraft, naval vessels and submarines to the Caribbean and East Pacific as part of US drug interdiction missions. According to National Defence, the total cost of operations in the region has increased from $25.3 million in 2008-09 to $282.2 million this year.

Additionally, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has contributed millions of dollars to train police and promote other anti-drug initiatives.

Over the past quarter-century Washington has used the ‘war on drugs’ as a pretext to intervene in the region. For their part Latin America’s traditional elite have generally supported the militarization of society that accompanies the ‘war on drugs’ in order to undercut progressive social change.

Another means by which Washington and the elite have blocked reform efforts in the region is by removing governments that challenge their interests.

On June 22 of last year the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61-years of one party rule, Paraguay’s traditional ruling elite claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc. But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government.

A week after the coup Harper’s Conservatives participated in an OAS mission that many member countries opposed. Largely designed to undermine those countries calling for Paraguay’s suspension from the OAS, delegates from the US, Canada, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico traveled to Paraguay to investigate Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.

In 2009 the Harper government tacitly supported an even more controversial coup when the Honduran military removed elected president Manuel Zelaya. In response, the OAS expelled Honduras and many countries broke off diplomatic ties. But Ottawa refused to even suspend its training program with the Honduran military and Canada was the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. The World Bank, European Union and even the US suspended some of their planned assistance to Honduras after the coup.

Two years ago Canada’s diplomatic isolation was formalized. Founded in December 2011, the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) includes every country in the hemisphere except Canada and the US. Some hope this new body will eventually replace the Washington-based OAS and unlike that body Cuba is a member of CELAC. In explaining the need for CELAC Evo Morales said, “A union of Latin American countries is the weapon against imperialism. It is necessary to create a regional body that excludes the United States and Canada.”

By tying itself to Washington’s unpopular policies, Ottawa has found itself more isolated than ever in the region.

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Harper promotes Canadian militarism

The Conservatives’ militarism is unrelenting.

Last month the Harper government launched a Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative at the University of Alberta. The program “allow[s] people to simultaneously obtain a university degree while also gaining leadership experience in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Reserves.” The four-year Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative will be “co-directed by the University of Alberta and the CAF” and the government hopes to export this “test model” to other universities.

The program is an attempt to reestablish the Canadian Officer Training Corps, which was offered at universities from 1912 until 1968. According to Lee Windsor, deputy director of the University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society, the Canadian Officers Training Corps program “introduced university undergraduates to a form of military service on campus, providing them with leadership and other military training and preparing them to join the reserve or the regular force if they wished to do so.”

This latest move onto campus is part of a multifaceted effort to expand the military’s role in Canadian society. When the Conservative government updated the citizenship handbook, ‘Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship,’ they added over a dozen photos of armed forces personnel. Citizenship and Immigration Canada also decreed that citizenship ceremonies include a military speaker. Introduced at the start of the ceremony, the veteran should declare: “As a Canadian citizen, you live in a democratic country where individual rights and freedoms are respected. Thousands of brave Canadians have fought and died for these rights and freedoms. The commitment to Canada of our men and women in uniform should never be forgotten.”

Huge sums of public money have been spent promoting the military at Canada Day festivities, the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian National Exhibition, Santa Claus Parades, the Grey Cup, NHL hockey games and other cultural and sporting events. Of recent, the Canadian Forces have been spending over $350 million a year and directing 650 staff members to carrying out these public relations efforts.

The federal government’s deference has gone to the military’s heads. Five years into the Conservative government, the Canadian Forces openly proclaimed that it should determine public opinion. In November 2011 Embassy reported: “An annual report from the Department of National Defence says Canadians should appreciate that their values are shaped in part by their military. That represents a shift from past annual departmental reports that said departmental activities were informed by Canadian interests and values. Now it’s the other way around.”

While strengthening the military’s role in the cultural and ideological arena, the Conservatives have also taken a decidedly pro-military position on arms control. Ottawa has refused to ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which is designed to limit weapons from getting into conflict zones or into the hands of human rights violators.

The Harper government also watered down Canada’s adherence to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, Laura Cheeseman, explained “Canada cannot claim to have banned cluster bombs when it proposes to allow its military to help others use the weapons, and even leaves open the possibility of Canadian forces using them.”

Along with its ambivalence towards UN arms control measures, the Conservatives have expanded the list of nations that Canadian defence companies can export prohibited weapons to. In April 2008 Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List was increased from 20 to 31 states and in December they added Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the Americas, to the List. Now, they are looking to add four more countries to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List.

The Conservatives have helped military companies in numerous other ways. They have been supporting the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the arms industry’s main lobby group, through grants and dedicated trade commissioners. CADSI is also benefiting from direct political support. Senior representatives from the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Forces, Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) have participated in recent CADSI trade missions. After a December 2011 visit to sell weapons to the Kuwaiti monarchy, CADSI president Tim Page applauded what he described as the Conservatives “whole of government effort.”

During the Harper reign the CCC, whose board is appointed by the government, has taken on a more expansive role as a go-between on military sales with foreign governments. According to a June 2011 Embassy article, “the Canadian Commercial Corporation has been transformed from a low-profile Canadian intermediary agency to a major player in promoting Canadian global arms sales.” Traditionally, the CCC sold Canadian weaponry to the US Department of Defense under the 1956 Defence Production Sharing Agreement but during the Conservative government it’s begun emulating some aspects of the US defence department’s Foreign Military Sales program, which facilitates that country’s global arms sales.

In June of last year, Embassy noted: “In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.” According to CCC president Marc Whittingham, who wrote in a May 2010 issue of Hill Times that “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission,” the agency is “partnering with government ministers to get the job done.”

The Conservatives have worked hard to expand Canadian arms sales as well as to convince the public that it should support this country’s military-industrial complex.

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Morality be damned in Canada’s support for Israel

The extremism of Canada’s support for Israel just keeps growing.

The latest example is the Conservative government in Ottawa helping convince theEuropean Union to list Hizballah’s military wing as a “terrorist” organization. After that decision was taken, Foreign Minister John Baird declared, “We are thrilled that the European Union unanimously has agreed to designate Hizballah as a terrorist organization. We’ve been pushing for this.”

The National Post detailed Canada’s behind-the-scenes effort to get the EU to list Hizballah as a “terrorist” organization. Despite opposition from the Lebanese government, a foreign ministry official told the paper that this was “a clear priority that was set out by the minister.”

Canadian diplomats held bilateral talks with various European countries and also pushed for Hizballah to be listed at numerous multilateral meetings. At both a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime meeting and a UN conference on radicalization in Europe, Canadian officials pressed key EU officials to define Hizballah as a “terrorist” group (“Canada pushed EU to add Hezbollah to list of banned terrorist organizations, official says,” 24 July 2013).

Canadian law enforcement and security officials were also part of the lobbying effort. Reportedly, they’ve been feeding their European counterparts information about the supposed threat Hizballah poses to both Canada and Europe.

The Conservatives push to get the EU to list Hizballah was given a boost when six Israelis were killed in Bulgaria in July last year. Within hours of the bus bombing, Israel claimed Hizballah was responsible, yet more than a year later it’s still unclear exactly who committed this crime.

With a Canadian passport holder allegedly implicated in the bombing, Ottawa jumped at the opportunity to get involved in the investigation. Presumably, Canadian investigators shared information with their Bulgarian counterparts designed to steer them towards the conclusion that Hizballah was responsible.

In response to the EU listing its military wing as a terrorist group the Hizballah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said: “Why don’t you classify the state of Israel as a terror state? Why don’t you classify Israel’s military wing … as a terror organization if you recognize Israel is occupying Arab lands and refuses to implement international decisions for decades now? The entire world bares witness to the massacres perpetrated by Israel” (“Nasrallah to EU: Why not brand IDF as terror group?,” Ynet, 24 July).

Nasrallah raises an important point that Canadian foreign affairs professionals must be familiar with. It’s a simple fact that Israeli forces have killed far more civilians than the military wing of Hizballah.

The Israeli military and its allies in Lebanon have killed thousands of civilians. In fact, Hizballah was created in large part to fight the Israeli occupation of that country. Israel has conducted scores of targeted assassinations in many countries across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Certainly, Canadian foreign affairs officials must remember Gerald Bull. This Canadian engineer and designer of the Iraqi “supergun” was, according to CBC journalist Linden MacIntyre, shot dead by Israel’s secret service Mossad outside his residence inBelgium in 1990 (“Murdered by the Mossad?”, CBC The Fifth Estate, 12 February 1991).

And what about members of the current Israeli government who support illegal settlersand the killing of dozens of Palestinian civilians?

But apparently none of this “terrorism” bothers Prime Minister Stephen Harper’sgovernment. The Conservatives are either ignorant or relish their hypocrisy.

Though they are allowed to support the Israeli military, Canadians can go to jail for sending money to a group operating a school or medical clinic in Lebanon “directly or indirectly” associated with Hizballah, which comprises an important part of the Lebanese governmental and social service structure.

Dozens of Canadian companies sell to the Israeli army and many groups with charitable status promote the Israeli military. The Canadian Jewish News is full of advertisements for such groups: “Express your Zionism by serving as a civilian volunteer on an Israeli army supply base,” reads one ad. Another advertiser, the Libi Fund, runs educational projects for the Israeli military.

Established in 1971 the Association for the Soldiers of Israel in Canada also provides financial and moral support to the Israeli military. A June 2009 Canadian Jewish Newsad promoting the group invited readers to “show your support for the brave youth of the IDF at our gala dinner.”

Prominent Toronto couple Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, who own or control more than two thirds of Chapters/Indigo/Coles bookstores, created the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers. Reisman and Schwartz provide up to $3 million per year for post-military scholarships to individuals without family in Israel who join the Israeli army. After completing their military service these non-Israeli “lone soldiers” gain access to this scholarship money.

For the Israeli high command (Heseg’s board has included a number of generals and a former head of Mossad) “lone soldiers” are of value beyond their military capacities. Foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to reassure Israelis weary of Israel’s behavior. Schwartz and Reisman’s support for Heseg has spurred a campaign to boycott Chapters/Indigo/Coles, which controls 70 percent of Canada’s retail book trade.

The Harper government is plowing full steam ahead with its support for Israel. Double standards and morality be damned.

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Inequality thrives where cars dominate

A recent study looking at how social mobility varies across US cities found that the poor are less likely to rise the socio-economic ladder the more residents are geographically segregated. In other words, the further apart different social classes live the more entrenched inequality becomes.

The Equality of Opportunity Project study shows that relatively compact cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston have greater social mobility than their more sprawling counterparts Memphis, Detroit and Atlanta. In relatively transit and pedestrian oriented San Francisco, for instance, someone born into the poorest fifth of income distribution has an 11 per cent chance of reaching the top fifth while in car oriented Atlanta this number is only 4 per cent.

In an article on the study New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blamed the inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility on the poor (and carless) being unable to reach available jobs. “The city may just be too spread out,” he wrote about Detroit, “so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods.”

This is no doubt part of the explanation, but it ignores the broader political impact of automobile-generated sprawl. In Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, Bianca Mugyenyi and I argue that the private car spurs right-wing (anti-egalitarian) politics by chaining would-be political actors to their jobs with debt, reducing intermixing between different social groups while in transit and atomizing communities into suburbs.

But it’s even more fundamental than that as the private car perpetuates class domination in a number of other ways. Since the dawn of the auto age, the car has been an important means for the wealthy to assert themselves socially. Prior to our modern day acquiescence to the automobile, a private car was viewed as an obtrusive and ostentatious display of wealth. A 1904 edition of the US farm magazine, Breeders Gazette, called automobile drivers, “a reckless, bloodthirsty, villainous lot of purse-proud crazy trespassers” while in 1906 Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, declared, “Possession of an auto car is such an ostentatious display of wealth that it will stimulate socialism.”

Among the wealthy, the automobile was popular partly because it reaffirmed their dominance over mobility, which had been undermined by rail. Prior to the train’s ascendance in the mid 1800s the elite traveled by horse and buggy, but the train’s technological superiority compromised the usefulness of the horse drawn carriage. Even for shorter commutes, streetcars became the preferred mode of transport by the early 1900s. More available to various classes of society, the train and streetcar blurred class lines. The automobile, on the other hand, provided an exclusive form of travel.

The automobile’s capacity to create social distance appealed to early car buyers. Prominent auto historian, James J. Flink remarked that, “the automobile seemed to proponents of the innovation, to afford a simple solution to some of the more formidable problems of American life associated with the emergence of an urban industrial society.”

In a car, one could remain separate from perceived social inferiors while in transit. Down the Asphalt Path’s Clay McShane writes about the elite’s disdain for public transit riders:

Trolleys were dirty, noisy, and overcrowded. It was impossible for middle-class riders to isolate themselves from fellow riders whom they perceived as social inferiors. Distancing themselves from blacks, immigrants, blue collar workers, and, in general those stereotyped as the ‘great unwashed,’ was often precisely why the middle classes had moved to the [streetcar] suburbs.

The car has made it possible to live far from the poor (or anyone else without an automobile). In one of the most extreme examples of modern day segregation, people barricade themselves into gated communities. Across the U.S., especially in the car-dominated Southwest, millions of affluent families have retreated into these exclusive and exclusionary residences.

If we want a more egalitarian society, we must reverse geographical segregation and build communities and cities where people can get around without the private automobile.

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When spin becomes fact in foreign affairs

What’s the difference between fact and political spin in Canada’s “national” newspaper?

Not much if a recent Globe and Mail article is any indication.

In an article about the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, foreign affairs reporter Campbell Clark claims Ottawa faced a “conundrum in responding to” Morsi’s ouster since “the Harper government [is] normally critical of any military takeover”.

Did anybody bother to check if this was true? If anybody had, it would have quickly become obvious that Clark’s claim has no basis in fact. The Harper government has backed military coups, opposed pro-democracy movements and deepened ties to monarchies from Morocco to Saudi Arabia.

The Conservatives stuck with the military-backed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak until literally the last possible minute of his 29-year reign. After 18 days of popular protest and about three hours before Mubarak’s resignation was announced publicly on February 11, 2011, Stephen Harper told a Newfoundland audience: “Our strong recommendations to those in power would be to lead change. To be part of it and to make a bright future happen for the people of Egypt.” Unlike many allied countries, the PM failed to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure.

The Harper government took a similar position towards the Tunisian pro-democracy protests that erupted weeks before Mubarak’s downfall. Harper stuck with the 23-year dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the bitter end despite protests by Tunisian Canadians and various international organizations.

According to internal documents acquired by Postmedia, two weeks into mounting popular protests, on December 30, 2010, Freedom House asked Foreign Affairs to make a statement on the “ever-worsening situation” in Tunisia. The Conservatives stalled, waiting for the US/European reaction to Ben Ali’s repression. “Given that like-minded (allies) have not issued statements and the time lag since events, we do not see a strong rationale to issue something now,” one internal email explained. Twenty-six days after the protests began, on January 12, Foreign Affairs finally released a somewhat tepid statement criticizing Ben Ali’s worst excesses. And, after Ben Ali stepped down on January 14, Ottawa immediately endorsed his political party’s bid to maintain control through a dubious transition plan.

On June 22 of last year the left-leaning president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was ousted in what some called an “institutional coup”. Upset with Lugo for disrupting 61 years of one-party rule, Paraguay’s ruling class claimed he was responsible for a murky incident that left 17 peasants and police dead and the senate voted to impeach the president. The vast majority of countries in the hemisphere refused to recognize the new government. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) suspended Paraguay’s membership after Lugo’s ouster, as did the MERCOSUR trading bloc.  But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government.

Paraguay was not the first Latin American country where the Conservatives played the role of Ugly Canadians. In 2009 the Harper government tacitly supported the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya.

While the coup government shut down numerous media outlets, imposed a curfew and killed demonstrators, Minister of State for Latin America, Peter Kent, continued to highlight Zelaya’s alleged transgressions. The Conservatives also refused to suspend its small training program with the Honduran military and Canada was the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. The World Bank, European Union and even the US suspended some of their planned assistance to Honduras after the coup.

Politicians often tout their support for democracy but the mere fact of proclaiming something doesn’t make it so. Serious journalists look beyond the government’s claims and investigate their actions, before deciding what is true.

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Aid to Palestine or Israel?

A recently uncovered government document confirms that Ottawa has delivered millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority in a bid to advance Israel’s interests. The internal memorandum also sheds light on Canada’s efforts to build a security apparatus to protect the Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

Last week Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume reported on a Canadian International Development Agency note outlining Israel’s desire for Canada to continue its $300 million five-year “aid” program to the Palestinians, which the Conservatives threatened to severe after the PA pursued UN statehood last fall.

“There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” reads the November 2nd 2012 note signed by CIDA president Margaret Biggs. “The Israelis have noted the importance of Canada’s contribution to the relative stability achieved through extensive security co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

The heavily censored note suggests the goal of the Canadian “aid” is to protect a corrupt PA from popular backlash. Biggs explains that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

These recent revelations from CIDA confirm the highly politicized nature of Canadian aid to the Palestinians. After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 the Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the PA.

When Hamas officials were ousted from the Palestinian unity government in June 2007, the Conservatives immediately contributed $8 million “in direct support to the new government.” Then in December 2007 the Conservatives announced a five-year $300 million aid program to the Palestinians, which was largely designed to serve Israel’s interests.
As a Saint John Telegraph-Journal headline explained at the time: “Canada’s aid to Palestine benefits Israel, foreign affairs minister says.”

In January 2008 Maxime Bernier, then Canada’s foreign minister, said: “We are doing that [providing aid to the PA] because we want Israel to be able to live in peace and security with its neighbors.”

Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general. The immediate impetus of the Canadian aid was to create a Palestinian security force “to ensure that the PA maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News.

American General Keith Dayton, in charge of organizing a 10,000-member Palestinian security force, even admitted that he was strengthening Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah against Hamas, telling a US audience in May 2009 his force was “working against illegal Hamas activities.” According to Al Jazeera, between 2007 and early 2011 PA security forces arrested some 10,000 suspected Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

The broader aim of the US-Canada-Britain initiated Palestinian security reform was to build a force to patrol the West Bank and Gaza. In a 2011 profile of Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Allison, “Dayton’s chief of liaison in the West Bank” for a year, Allison’s hometown newspaper the Times & Transcript reported: “The Dayton team was concerned with enhancing security on the West Bank of Palestine and was all geared towards looking after and ensuring the security of Israel.”

We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” Dayton told the Associated Press in June 2009, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the State of Israel and they agree to it.” For instance, Israel’s notorious internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, vets all of the Palestinian recruits, according to US government reports.

The Israelis supported Dayton’s force as a way to keep the West Bank population under control. Like all colonial authorities throughout history, Israel looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden.

Writing in the July 2011 London Review of Books, Adam Shatz detailed how “The PA already uses the
American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation.”

He continued: “It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. “This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank.”

The Palestinian security force is largely trained in Jordan at the U.S.-built International Police Training Center (established to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). In October 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported: “[Palestinian] recruits are trained in Jordan by Jordanian police, under the supervision of American, Canadian and British officers. The number of military trainers in the West Bank varied slightly but in mid-2010,eighteen Canadian troops worked with six British and ten US soldiers under Dayton’s command.”

“The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton to The Maple Leaf, the monthly publication of the Canadian army. Canadians are particularly useful because, Dayton said, “US personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But, our British and Canadian members do not.”
Calling them his “eyes and ears” Dayton added: “The Canadians … are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”

Part of the U.S. Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank (dubbed Operation PROTEUS) includes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers as well as officials from the foreign ministry, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

In a September 2010 interview with The Jerusalem Post, Peter Kent, then Canada’s deputy foreign minister, said Operation PROTEUS was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it receives “most of the money” from the five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to the PA.

During a visit to the Middle East in January 2012, foreign minister John Baird told The Globe and Mail he was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which he said benefited Israel.

In effect, Canada has helped to build a security apparatus to protect a corrupt PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in January 2009, but whom the Israeli government prefers over Hamas.

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Oh Canada, Our Home and Dirty Oil Land

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has transformed Canadian diplomacy into the lobbying arm of dirty oil. They’ve spent tens of millions of dollars pushing the Keystone XL pipeline in the US but they have also engaged in significant lobbying efforts in Europe.

Over the next week Prime Minister Harper as well as ministers Joe Oliver, John Baird and Ed fast are traveling to various European capitals partly to try and convince local officials to undermine the European Union Parliament’s move to favour lower carbon emitting fuels. The current trip is part of the nearly four year-old Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy.

In response to growing public opposition to the destruction wrought by Alberta’s Tar Sands, Foreign Affairs laid out a Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy designed to “protect and advance Canadian interests related to the oil sands,” and reframe “the European debate on oil sands.” According to internal documents, Canadian embassies tailor messages for each country “based on lines from Ottawa”, which focus on government efforts to reduce the industry’s environmental and social impacts.

As part of the strategy, Canadian diplomats have been offered trips to Alberta and industry-sponsored conferences; instructed to monitor environmental activism; told to engage in public relations geared at combatting “significant negative media coverage”; and instructed to share “intelligence” with “likeminded allies,” including European energy giants BP, Statoil, Total and Shell, which have “huge investments” in Alberta. In August 2010 the Pan-European Oil Sands team reported: “Oslo [Canadian embassy in Norway] holds regular meetings with Statoil to update on each others’ activities and coordinate where appropriate. Hague is enhancing its engagement with the private sector and met with Shell recently. Paris has regular meetings with Total … London is also in regular contact with the private sector including meetings with Shell, BP and Royal Bank of Scotland as well as Canadian oil companies.”

The Canadian government has also trained its diplomats to promote the Tar Sands. A February 2011 retreat brought diplomats from 13 different European offices together with a number of federal government departments, Alberta’s energy minister and representatives from Total, Shell, Statoil and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. At this “training,” diplomats were given “an industry perspective” as well as information on the official positions of both the Canadian and Albertan governments. An email summarizing this meeting to officials from Foreign Affairs, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada explained that: “Two key messages from day one were: oil sands advocacy in Europe is now recognized as a priority for all concerned; and there is a clear need for regular in-house training to equip those of us on the ground with the expertise to deal with this highly technical file.”

The central goal of Harper’s current lobbying efforts and the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy more generally is to oppose the designation of the Tar Sands in the EU’s proposed Fuel Quality Directive. The Fuel Quality Directive would force suppliers to shun heavy carbon emitting oil in favour of lower-emission fuels.

Since Europe does not import tar sands oil the legislation would have little direct effect on the industry but it could bolster movements (such as those fighting the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines) against the Tar Sands elsewhere. “While Europe is not an important market for oil sands-derived products, Europe legislation/regulation, such as the EU Fuel Quality Directive, has the potential to impact the industry globally,” a Canadian diplomat in London, Kumar Gupta, explained in an April 2011 email released through access to information legislation.

This country’s diplomats have lobbied forcefully against the EU Fuel Quality Directive’s designation for the tar sands. According to internal documents, diplomats have been tasked with “targeting” and lobbying key European politicians, “especially from the ruling and influential parties.” Friends of the Earth Europe found that Canadian officials met British and European representatives 110 times between September 2009 and July 2011 in a bid to derail the new fuel legislation. The goal was to ensure “non-discriminatory market access for oil sands-derived products”, according to documents uncovered by Friends of the Earth.

Chris Davies, a British member of the European parliament, told Reuters last May that Canada’s lobbying campaign “has been stunning in its intensity.” Highlighting the unique nature of Canada’s campaign, Satu Hassi, a Finnish MP, said: “There have been massive lobbying campaigns by the car industry, by the chemicals industry, banks, food giants, etc. But so far I have not seen such a lobbying campaign by any state.”

As the EU has debated the Fuel Quality Directive, the Conservatives have issued ever more extreme threats in their bid to have the Tar Sands exempted. At the start of last year David Plunkett, Canada’s ambassador to the EU, addressed a letter stating that: “If the final measures single out oil sands crude in a discriminatory, arbitrary or unscientific way, or are otherwise inconsistent with the EU’s international trade obligations, I want to state that Canada will explore every avenue at its disposal to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organization.” The Ottawa Citizen summed this up plainly: “Canada threatens trade war with EU ahead of oilsands vote.” Canada has also issued warnings to the EU that its support for action on climate change risks disrupting world oil supplies.

The Conservatives’ strategy seems to have born some fruit. In February 2012, the Globe and Mail described an EU vote as having “given the Canadian government a win in its battle to preserve international markets for oil sands producers against an environmental lobbying effort, which wants refiners worldwide to pay financial penalties for using the carbon intensive Alberta crude as well as other sources of ‘dirty’ fuel.” After the vote, Friends of the Earth Europe spokesperson Darek Urbaniak lamented this influence, insisting that: “some European governments have given in to Canadian and oil lobby pressure, instead of saying no to climate-hostile Tar Sands.”

The industry plans to more than double Tar Sands production by 2030 so it needs the world to accept Canada’s carbon heavy oil. With the European Parliament voting on the Fuel Quality Directive later in the year the Harper government wants to eliminate this hindrance to ever-expanding Tar Sands production.

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Canada and gunboat diplomacy

People seldom think of Canadian foreign policy when the term “gunboat diplomacy” is used, but they should. It is not just the USA, Great Britain, France or other better-known imperial powers that use military force as a “diplomatic” tool.

For example, Postmedia recently revealed that a Canadian naval vessel stopped a boat carrying Jamaica’s former prime minister. Bruce Golding was aboard his fishing trawler last spring when Canadian forces questioned him just outside Jamaican waters.

This incident led to the discovery that Canadian ships fired .50-calibre heavy machine guns in Jamaican territorial waters without authorization. Ottawa claimed the Canadian Navy’s actions were the result of outdated maps.

While this may be technically true the Canadian navy has long taken an aggressive posture in the region. In a 2000 book chapter titled “Maple Leaf Over the Caribbean: Gunboat Diplomacy Canadian Style” Royal Military College 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.”

In May 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined U.S., British and French warships that “conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti’s] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government.” The 1963 mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Duvalier did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later thousands of U.S. troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the U.S. invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.”

The next year two Canadian gunboats were deployed to Barbados’ independence celebration in a bizarre diplomatic maneuver designed to demonstrate Canada’s military prowess. Maloney notes: “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 U.S. 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 (which regularly dock in Barbados on maneuvers) were considered no threat to Barbadian independence. Intervening in another country to defend it from possible outside intervention may be the pinnacle of the imperial mindset.

Four decades later the Canadian Navy continues to be active in the Caribbean as the recent incident in Jamaican waters makes clear. In another example, a May 2008 Frontline magazine article describes a trip to the region aboard HMCS Iroquois designed “to reaffirm the fact that Canada takes the Caribbean seriously as an area of strategic interest.”

Canada’s military presence reaches beyond the high seas. In 2011 Ottawa signed an agreement to set up a small base to house soldiers and equipment at a base in Kingston and the newly created Canadian Special Operational Regiment has been heavily involved in training Jamaica’s military.

Canada has trained Jamaica’s security forces since not long after the country’s independence in 1958. Canadian Caribbean Relations in Transition explains: “[Canada] cooperated closely with Jamaica in setting up the latter’s national security organizations. Cadet training schemes were followed by reciprocal high-level military visits and consultations. Aircraft were sold to Jamaica and pilot training was undertaken. Technical assistance was initiated and expanded to include joint training exercises.”

Canadian military training in Jamaica has been particularly controversial. When “a battalion of 850 Canadian troops landed in the mountainous Jamaican interior to conduct a tropical training exercise” in the early 70s, Abeng, a leftist Jamaican paper, cried foul. The paper’s editors claimed Ottawa was preparing to intervene to protect Montréal-based Alcan’s bauxite facilities in the event of civil unrest and/or in case a socialist government took office.

While numerous books dealing with Canadian-Caribbean relations scoff at Abeng’s accusations, the archives confirm the paper’s suspicions. “Subsequent [to 1979] planning for intervention seems to bear out the Abeng accusations,” notes Maloney. Code-named, NIMROD CAPPER, “the objective of the operation revolved around securing and protecting the Alcan facilities from mob unrest and outright seizure or sabotage.”

Later, Canadian military planning resumed from where NIMROD CAPPER began with an exercise titled “Southern Renewal,” beginning in 1988. Maloney explains: “In this case a company from two RCR [Royal Canadian Reserves] was covertly inserted to ‘rescue’ Canadian industrial personnel with knowledge of bauxite deposits seized by Jamaican rebels and held hostage.”

Some Canadians might explain this away as overzealous military planning, but a historically minded Jamaican nationalist would have every reason to be concerned.

Canadian soldiers garrisoned Bermuda from1914-1916 and St. Lucia from 1915-1919. They also replaced British forces in Jamaica from 1940-1946, as well as in Bermuda and the Bahamas during segments of this period.

Perceptions of race underlay the use of Canadian troops during World War Two. According to Canadian Defence Minister Norman Rogers, the governor of Jamaica “had intimated that it will be risky to remove all white troops.”

The situation in the Bahamas was even more sensitive. In June 1942 rioting broke out over the low wages received by black labourers. Canadian troops arrived in the Bahamas just after the riots and their main task was to protect a paranoid governor, the Duke of Windsor.

Not only does the current Canadian government engage in gunboat diplomacy, our country has a long, shameful and mostly hidden history of doing so.

 

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Harper helping the rich get richer around the world

If the Harper government were honest about its policies, it would proclaim for all to hear: “Our goal is to make the rich richer.”

Many Canadians would agree that has been the effect of Conservative domestic policies, but may be surprised to learn it is also true in international affairs.

“Austerity should not be abandoned, says Canada’s finance minister,” blared a headline in London’s Financial Times earlier this month. Before recent G7 meetings Jim Flaherty told the international business paper he was worried that some officials were “pulling back” from slashing public spending and pursuing deficit targets.

“What I worry about is those that suggest that austerity should be abandoned,” noted Canada’s long-serving finance minister. “I think that’s the road to ruin quite frankly.”

Flaherty’s comment was a response to growing challenges to austerity, notably the European Commission’s move to give France and Spain more time to meet EU-mandated deficit targets. It was also a reminder of the Conservatives’ banker-friendly response to the worst economic crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

Even with youth unemployment rates in a number of countries at 25 to 50 per cent or higher, Ottawa has repeatedly supported the German-led push for European governments to cut social spending.

The Conservatives have backed this thinly veiled ruling-class effort to weaken labour’s bargaining position and roll back the European welfare state.

During a June 2011 visit to Athens Harper forcefully backed austerity measures bitterly resisted by much of the Greek population.

“I certainly admire the determination of Prime Minister Papandreou, and the very difficult actions he’s had to undertake in response to problems his government did not create. So we are very much all on his side.”

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Ottawa in August of last year Harper reiterated his support for austerity measures. “There are additional things that have to be done” by European governments to end the continent’s economic troubles, he said.

“One of the things I appreciate about Chancellor Merkel’s leadership is the willingness, including at times of urgency and stress, to not just find any solution but to find correct and good solutions,” Harper added.

While supporting austerity measures, the Conservatives have publicly opposed efforts to tax and regulate the banks largely responsible for the economic collapse.

The Conservatives denounced efforts to better regulate speculation in international financial markets. In November 2009 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed a tiny (ranging from .005 per cent to one per cent) tax on international financial transactions. Worried about the plight of investment bankers, Flaherty immediately dismissed the idea of a global ‘Tobin Tax’.

“That’s not something that we would want to do. We’re not in the business of raising taxes,” said Flaherty.

For his part, Harper admitted to blocking the G20’s bid for an international banking tax.

“Whether it’s taking strong and clear positions, for instance, at the G20 on something like a global financial regulation and a banking tax, we don’t just say, ‘Well, a consensus is developing for that. We’ll go along with it.’ It was not in our interest. It actually happens to be bad policy as well,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in the July 2011 issue of Maclean’s.

The Conservatives also spoke out against Washington’s late 2011 move to restrict some of the high-risk/high-return banking activities that led to the 2008 economic collapse (the so-called “Volcker rule”). Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney both sent letters to U.S. decision-makers criticizing the reforms.

“I am writing to express my concerns regarding the proposed Volcker rule, which could have material adverse effects on Canadian financial institutions and markets,” wrote Flaherty in February 2012.

Flaherty and Carney intervened following a bid by U.S. bankers to spark international opposition to the reforms. That combined with Canadian banks owning major assets in the United States helps explain the Conservatives’ position.

The Harper government has consistently supported Canada’s banks and the global-investor class. In fact, their entire foreign policy is largely designed around the question: How can we make the world’s richest 0.1 per cent even richer?

This article first appeared on The Tyee

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The Korean War Gangnam Style

Do a billion YouTube hits justify a war that left four million dead? A Conservative minister thinks so.

At a Quebec City celebration of the 70th anniversary of World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic last weekend, Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, Steven Blaney, responded to a question about Canadian military sacrifice with the statement: “There would be no ‘Gangnam Style’ if it had not been for the sacrifice of Canadians, and members of the United Nations who fought off Communism.”

While I enjoy Psy’s South Korean hit as much as Minister Blaney to say it was worth one of the most brutal and least understood wars of the 20th century is a bit of a stretch.

After the Communists took control of China in 1949 the US tried to encircle the country. They supported Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, built military bases in Japan and backed a right-wing dictator in Thailand. One of Washington’s early objectives in Vietnam was to “establish a pro-Western state on China’s southern periphery.” The success of China’s nationalist revolution also spurred the 1950-53 Korean War in which eight Canadian warships and 27,000 Canadian troops participated. The war left as many as four million dead.

At the end of World War II the Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea, which borders Russia. US troops controlled the southern part of the country. A year into the occupation, a cable to Ottawa from Canadian diplomats in Washington, Ralph Collins and Herbert Norman, reported on the private perceptions of US officials: “[There is] no evidence of the three Russian trained Korean divisions which have been reported on various occasions … there seems to be a fair amount of popular support for the Russian authorities in northern Korea, and the Russian accusations against the conservative character of the United States occupation in civilian Korea had a certain amount of justification, although the situation was improving somewhat. There had been a fair amount of repression by the Military Government of left-wing groups, and liberal social legislation had been definitely resisted.” Noam Chomsky provides a more dramatic description of the situation: “When US forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.” 

In sharp contrast to its position on Japan and Germany, Washington wanted the (Western dominated) UN to take responsibility for Korea in 1947. The Soviets objected, claiming the international organization had no jurisdiction over post- WWII settlement issues (as the US had argued for Germany and Japan). Instead, Moscow proposed that all foreign forces withdraw from Korea by January 1948. Washington demurred, convincing member states to create the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to organize elections in the part of Korea occupied by the US. For its part, the Soviet bloc boycotted UNTCOK. Canada joined UNTCOK even though Prime Minister Mackenzie King noted privately “the [US] State Department was simply using the United Nations as an arm of that office to further its own policies.”

The UN sponsored election in South Korea led to the long-term division of that country and Canada’s involvement in a conflict that would cause untold suffering. On May 10, 1948 the southern part of Korea held UNTCOK sponsored elections. In the lead-up to the election leftwing parties were harassed in a campaign to “remove Communism” from the south. As a result leftwing parties refused to participate in elections “wrought with problems” that “provoked an uprising on the island of Cheju, off Korea’s southern coast, which was brutally repressed.”

After the poll Canada was among the first countries to recognize the Republic of Korea in the south, effectively legitimizing the division of the country. External Affairs minister Lester Pearson sent Syngman Rhee, who became president, a note declaring “full recognition by the Government of Canada of the Republic of Korea as an independent sovereign State with jurisdiction over that part of the Korean peninsula in which free elections were held on May 10 1948, under the observation of the United Nations Temporary Commission.” Conversely, Ottawa refused to recognize the North, which held elections after the South, and opposed its participation in UNTCOK reports. For Pearson the South held “free elections” while those in the North “had not been held in a democratic manner” since the Soviets did not allow UNTCOK to supervise them. After leaving office Pearson contradicted this position, admitting “Rhee’s government was just as dictatorial as the one in the North, just as totalitarian. Indeed, it was more so in some ways.”

The official story is that the Korean War began when the Soviet-backed North invaded the South on June 25, 1950. The US then came to the South’s aid. As is the case with most official US history the story is incomplete, if not downright false. Korea: Division, Reunification, and US foreign Policy notes: “The best explanation of what happened on June 25 is that Syngman Rhee deliberately initiated the fighting and then successfully blamed the North. The North, eagerly waiting for provocation, took advantage of the southern attack and, without incitement by the Soviet Union, launched its own strike with the objective of capturing Seoul. Then a massive U.S. intervention followed.”

Korea was Canada’s first foray into UN peacekeeping/peacemaking and it was done at Washington’s behest. US troops intervened in Korea and then Washington moved to have the UN support their action, not the other way around.

The UN resolution in support of military action in Korea referred to “a unified command under the United States.” Incredibly, United Nations forces were under US General Douglas MacArthur’s control yet he was not subject to the UN. Canadian Defence Minister Brooke Claxton later admitted “the American command sometimes found it difficult to consider the Commonwealth division and other units coming from other nations as other than American forces.”

After US forces invaded, Ottawa immediately sent three gunboats. Once it became clear US forces would not be immediately victorious, Canada sent thousands of grounds troops into an extremely violent conflict.

Two million North Korean civilians, 500,000 North Korean soldiers, one million Chinese soldiers, one million South Korean civilians, ten thousand South Korean soldiers and 95,000 UN soldiers (516 Canadians) died in the war. The fighting on the ground was ferocious as was the UN air campaign. US General MacArthur instructed his bombers “to destroy every means of communication and every installation, factory, city and village” in North Korea except for hydroelectric plants and the city of Rashin, which bordered China and the Soviet Union, respectively.

New York Times reporter, George Barrett, described the scene in a North Korean village after it was captured by UN forces in February 1951:“A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were holding up the advance, and nowhere in the village have they buried the dead because there is nobody left to do so. This correspondent came across one old women, the only one who seemed to be left alive, dazedly hanging up some clothes in a blackened courtyard filled with the bodies of four members of her family. The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294 for a $2.98 ‘bewitching bed jacket — coral.’ There must be almost two hundred dead in the tiny hamlet.”

Canadian troops denigrated the “yellow horde” of North Korean and Chinese “chinks” they fought. One Canadian colonel wrote about the importance of defensive positions to “kill at will the hordes that rush the positions.” A pro-military book notes dryly that “some [soldiers] allowed their Western prejudices to develop into open contempt for the Korean people.”

Cold War Canada summarizes the incredible violence unleashed by UN forces in Korea: “The monstrous effects on Korean civilians of the methods of warfare adopted by the United Nations — the blanket fire bombing of North Korean cities, the destruction of dams and the resulting devastation of the food supply and an unremitting aerial bombardment more intensive than anything experienced during the Second World War. At one point the Americans gave up bombing targets in the North when their intelligence reported that there were no more buildings over one story high left standing in the entire country … the overall death toll was staggering: possibly as many as four million people. About three million were civilians (one out of every ten Koreans). Even to a world that had just begun to recover from the vast devastation of the Second World War, Korea was a man-made hell with a place among the most violent excesses of the 20th century.”

But, it was all worth it, according to the Conservative government. After all South Korea has given us ‘Gangnam Style’.

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Harper’s Conservatives promote military ties to Israel

While the Harper Conservative government has loudly proclaimed its close ties to Israel, most Canadians would be surprised to learn the Tories have decided to make the two countries blood brothers. In the international affairs equivalent of a Mafia initiation ceremony Canada has sworn undying loyalty and to be a faithful soldier in Israel’s cause.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider the following:

• Since Stephen Harper took office the two nations defence ministers and top generals have repeatedly visited each other’s country. These visits have resulted in various accords and “the [two] countries have agreed to exchange secret defense information,” according to a June 2012 CBC summary of government briefing notes.

• The week before last the head of Canadian Forces visited Israel to deepen “cooperation between the two militaries.” Reportedly, Thomas Lawson met his Israeli counterpart, the Defense Minister and various other senior military officers. According to a Jerusalem Post summary, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for Canada and Israel to “further increase their cooperation in the fight against terror in light of the upheaval in the Middle East and Iran’s role in fueling the region’s conflicts.”

• In 2008 Canada and Israel signed a wide-ranging public security agreement and for the first time in its history in 2011 Israel named a defense attaché to Ottawa. Until at least the end of 2010 the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv served as Israel’s Contact Point Embassy to NATO, the military alliance of Western nations. The embassy served as the liaison between Israel and NATO, assisting with visits of NATO officials to Israel. According to internal government documents examined by The Dominion, Ottawa worked to strengthen Israel’s partnership with the military alliance, helping its “pursuit of a Status of Forces Agreement, getting access to the NATO Maintenance Supply Agency, [redacted].”

• In February 2010 deputy foreign minister Peter Kent implied that Canada already considered Israel a member of NATO, which operates according to the principle that an attack on any member is considered an attack against all members. Reflecting the alliance’s purported principle, Kent said “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada” and in July 2011 defence minister Peter MacKay reiterated this position privately. According to briefing notes uncovered by CBC he told Israel’s top military commander, Gabi Ashkenazi that “a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada.”

• At the same time as official military relations have intensified there has been an increase in weapons sharing and relations between Israeli and Canadian arms manufacturers. At a November 2011 press conference with his Israeli counterpart defense minister MacKay described the two countries’ “growing relations in the defense sector.” Among the more significant examples, the Canadian military bought the Israeli-made Heron drone for use in Afghanistan and Israel’s Elisra Electronics Systems is working on upgrading a dozen Halifax-class warships.

• Despite the Israeli Defense Force’s many human rights violations, many Canadian companies sell weapons directly to Israel. According to a 2009 Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade report, more than 140 Canadian weapons makers export products to Israel. Last year British Columbia-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates won a $90+ million contract to supply Israel Aerospace Industries with satellite technology. The December 2011 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs detailed some Canadian military exports to Israel. “Ottawa’s Allen Vanguard Corporation provides ‘counterterrorist’ equipment and training. iMPath Networks of Ottawa and Halifax design solutions for real-time video surveillance and intrusion detection technology. Mecachrome Technologies, based in Montréal and Toronto, provides components for military aircraft. And MPB Technologies of Pointe Claire, Edmonton, Airdrie and Calgary manufacturers, among other things, communications equipment and robotics for [Israeli] military use. … British Columbia-based 360 Surveillance sells technology for Israel’s apartheid wall and checkpoints.”

• Taxpayers often underwrite ties between Canadian and Israeli military companies. The multimillion dollar Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation funds research projects (including many in the “security” field) between the two countries’ corporations. (For details see Kole Kilibarda’s Canadian and Israeli Defense -Industrial and Homeland Security Ties: An Analysis).

To the extent that the dominant media questions the Harper government’s pro-Israel policies they focus on public pronouncements, UN votes and other diplomatic moves such as foreign minister John Baird’s recent meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem (a rare occurrence designed to further legitimize Israel’s illegal control over that part of the city). But, deepening Canadian security ties with Israel may be more significant than the Conservatives anti-Palestinian public statements and UN votes.

For instance, what role do growing ties between the two countries’ military leadership play in the Conservatives extremely hostile position towards Iran? Or, is there a connection between the Canada Israel public security agreement and the RCMP’s highly suspect recent claim that two operatives with “direction and guidance” from “al-Qaeda elements in Iran” planned to blow up a major Canadian bridge? Finally, what role do growing military ties play in spurring the Conservatives’ anti-Palestinian diplomatic moves?

Though little discussed, the military is an important element of the Conservatives ‘Israel no matter what’ policy. In addition to the Jewish establishment, Christian Zionism and the role Israel plays as a Western outpost in the Middle East, the Conservatives militaristic tendencies lead them to support that country. Harper’s government, for instance, is close to the Canadian military companies that sell to Israel and do business with that country’s top-flight weapons industry. Additionally, Canadian military leaders appreciate the tactical information and expertise Israel’s well-practiced military shares.

Like a wanna-be gangster looking up to a Mafia boss, the Harperites are impressed by the large role Israel’s military plays in the country’s affairs.

Ordinary Canadians should be concerned. Very concerned.

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Calling us a boss, is that the worst they can they say?

“I am not here to take marching orders from union bosses,” said Mr. Poilievre. “I represent taxpayers and frankly taxpayers expect us to keep costs under control so that we can keep taxes down. It is for those taxpayers that we work. Not union bosses.”
– May 1 Conservative Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilievre
Why do the most right-wing politicians and corporate news outlets always use the term “union boss”? Because the worst thing they can think of is to say the leader of a labour organization acts like a capitalist? Or the capitalist’s lackey?
Perhaps the irony of insulting a democratically elected representative of workers by calling him/her a boss is beyond the understanding of most of the term’s users, but it’s interesting to point out nonetheless.
Apparently, right wing editorial page or news editors understand (at least at one level) that most working people are dissatisfied with the arbitrary power unelected bosses have over their lives. By associating unions with widely disliked bosses – the Ottawa Sun, for example, often calls a labour leader “union boss” multiple times in a short article – they act as if they believe this term will discredit labour leaders.
Strangely, one of the main reasons workers seek to unionize is to protect themselves from the arbitrary power of bosses. Often a desire for rules dealing with seniority and discipline, not better wages and benefits, is what prompts people to unionize. Unions fulfill workers’ yearning for some workplace democracy.
In the process they challenge capitalists’ control over the workplace. And by bringing some organizational structure to the amorphous working class, unions also weaken capitalist power in the political arena. This, of course, displeases media outlet owners, the bosses they hire and the right-wing editors whose job it is to be the sycophants of the rich and powerful one percent who run the world.
So, to please their bosses and the bosses of their bosses, these professional flatterers call union leaders “bosses”. Am I the only one who finds this more than a little surreal?
Surely a really good capitalist bootlicker could come up with a more insulting word, one that wasn’t in such direct conflict with their professed admiration for our economic system and all the real bosses who run it?
But nothing works quite like “boss” precisely because that word challenges the whole idea of workers democratically electing their leaders, which is what happens in most unions.
So, perhaps the epithet “union boss” is not really aimed at the presidents, secretary-treasurers or other heads of unions at all. Rather, it is an insult aimed at all workers, who these right-wing minions think are too stupid to participate in the democratic process of choosing a leader.
These yes men of the super rich cannot conceive of workers running their own organizations. When you make your living as a toady you have a hard time imagining anyone else thinking for him or herself. Instead you believe workers always take orders from bosses. After all that’s what you do.

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Canadian tax agency protected Jewish National Fund from scrutiny

In 2010 the Canada Revenue Agency was asked whether it would “investigate or revoke” the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status, internal documents seen by The Electronic Intifada show. But this request seems to have been ignored in deference to a “charity” that has long participated in the erasure of Palestinians’ presence from their historic homeland.

Through an access to information request, Montreal-based activist Ron Saba received dozens of Canada Revenue Agency documents concerning the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Canada in March (documents may be viewed at the end of this article).

In probably the most explosive revelation, the Canada Revenue Agency was questioned if it would revoke the charitable status of the JNF: “If a registered charity undertakes illegal activities abroad, what action will the CRA take? Will the CRA investigate or revoke the registered status of the Jewish National Fund?”

While the document does not make clear who authored it, context suggests it came from Canada’s Auditor General.

Released by the Canada Revenue Agency after Saba’s freedom of information request, the document takes the form of questions and answers based on Chapter 7 of the 2010 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. The JNF is the only specific charity to be challenged in the 30 questions, most of which address issues of performance and targets.

The CRA did not return emails or phone messages from Saba seeking to clarify whether the Office of the Attorney General authored the document.

JNF violates Canadian law

Shutting out Palestinian citizens of Israel, JNF lands can only be leased by Jews. A 1998 United Nations Human Rights Council report finds that the JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population. According to the UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination” (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “Consideration of Report Submitted by States Parties Under Articles 16 and 17 of the Covenant,” 14 December 1998, E/C.12/1/Add.27).

In 2005, Israel’s high court came to similar conclusions. It found that the JNF, which owns 13 percent of the country’s land and has significant influence over most of the rest, systematically excluded Palestinian citizens of Israel from leasing its property (“A racist Jewish state,” Haaretz, 20 July 2007).

There is a strong case to be made that the Jewish National Fund’s bylaws and operations violate Canadian policy and law. Discrimination in the provision of housing is illegal under the Canadian Human Rights Act. And a September 2003 Canada Revenue Agency public policy statement titled “Registering Charities that Promote Racial Equality” makes clear that racial equality is a stated aim of Canadian charitable policy.

Registered charities that operate abroad are supposed to adhere to domestic policy or else lose their ability to provide donors with tax subsidies. “An organization is not charitable at law if its activities are contrary to Canadian public policy,” explains the Canada Revenue Agency.

But the CRA and politicians in Ottawa have shown little interest in applying the rules in the Jewish National Fund’s case. They seem to have ignored the call to investigate whether the JNF’s practices contravene Canadian law. In particular, the CRA has not properly addressed the question of whether the JNF is a racist organization.

The internal documents suggest the CRA has spent hundreds of hours devising strategies to respond to complaints about the JNF and covering up what Ron Saba has dubbed “the Racist JNF Tax Fraud.”

Protecting the JNF

This public relations strategy is spelled out explicitly in a document of “Media Lines” on the JNF prepared for use by the Canada Revenue Agency’s media handlers — another of the documents released to Ron Saba.

It notes that Saba has been “questioning the legitimacy of the charitable status of the JNF” through a “wide distribution list, including members of Parliament, senators, Canadian and international media and human rights and social justice groups.” The document also expresses concerns that while “the JNF has not generated any mainstream media coverage” so far, “because of Mr. Saba’s wide distribution list, the potential for media interest remains.”

The document then specifies some general lines about information access requests and charities, along with several specific lines on the JNF. The latter do not address the reality of the JNF’s racist policies that exclude non-Jews. Instead they claim that the “Federal Court of Appeal has ruled, in the [2002] case of Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel v Canada, that there is no clear public policy prohibiting charitable activities in the Occupied Territories” — avoiding the point.

In what seems to be part of this effort to protect the JNF from scrutiny, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Caitlin Workman emailed Canada Revenue Agency media spokespersons in 2011, suggesting they “monitor” an Independent Jewish Voices sponsored talk in Ottawa.

Under the headline “Event you may want to monitor,” Workman sent a 13 May 2011 communication stating “author of the Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Yves Engler, will give a talk on Canada and the Jewish National Fund.”

The tax agency’s protection should not be surprising. Conservative officials have strongly backed the JNF — even though the internal documents show that since 2007, six different Conservative ministers have received documentation detailing the racist nature of JNF policies (at least two of the ministers circulated the information).

Challenges and successes

Over the past nine months, immigration minister Jason Kenney and foreign minister John Baird have spoken at Jewish National Fund galas, while environment minister Peter Kent toured southern Israel with officials from the organization in December. At the end of the year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set to be honored at the JNF Negev Dinner in Toronto, which will be the first time a sitting Canadian prime minister has spoken to a JNF gala in the organization’s 100-year history.

Hopefully, Harper will be greeted by protesters. While getting the prime minister to speak is obviously a boon for the JNF, it also provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to an institution that most people are unfamiliar with.

It’s time to turn Independent Jewish Voices’ nascent campaign to revoke the JNF’s charitable status into a major element of pro-Palestinian activism in Canada. Groups elsewhere have had successes on this front recently.

In 2011, Stop the JNF in England sucessfully pushed Prime Minister David Cameron to withdraw his patron status from the JNF. Additionally, 68 members of parliament have endorsed a call to revoke the organization’s charitable status because “the JNF’s constitution is explicitly discriminatory by stating that land and property will never be rented, leased or sold to non-Jews.”

In Scotland, the Green Party and Friends of the Earth have endorsed the Stop the JNF campaign and the Green Party of England and Wales have also called for JNF to lose its charitable status. In 2011, legendary US folksinger Pete Seeger distanced himself from a previous event with the JNF, and a board member of the US organization quit in protest over the JNF’s role in the eviction of a Palestinian family from East Jerusalem. And at the start of this year, Stop The JNF prompted the new owners of a major South African toy retailer, Reggies, to sever ties with the organization.

While the political climate is more difficult in Canada, there’s no reason that a major campaign can’t bring successes. If made aware, most Canadians would be uncomfortable with the idea that public money is supporting an openly racist institution. They would also be appalled by the JNF Canada’s direct (and documented) role in displacing Palestinians since the late 1920s.

While it’s hard to imagine the Canada Revenue Agency (under Stephen Harper) revoking the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status — at least without a lengthy and expensive legal battle — the campaign can play an important educational role. The organization is at the heart of Israeli apartheid and drawing attention to this institution is a way to discuss the racism intrinsic to Zionism.

You can download the original document by clicking here.

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Canadian ‘aid’ is really about helping the 1%

The Canadian International Development Agency is no longer. In its recent budget the Conservative government collapsed CIDA into Foreign Affairs, creating the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

While there was plenty of commentary on the Tories’ move, no one — from the mainstream right to the development NGO left — pointed out that Canadian aid has primarily been about maintaining and/or extending the grip the world’s richest one percent holds over the entire globe.

Canada began its first significant (non-European) allocation of foreign aid through the Colombo Plan. With Mao’s triumph in China in 1949, the 1950 Colombo Plan’s primary aim was to keep the former British Asian colonies, especially India, within the Western capitalist fold.

To justify an initial $25 million ($250 million in today’s dollars) in Colombo Plan aid External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons: “Communist expansionism may now spill over into South East Asia as well as into the Middle East … it seemed to all of us at the [Colombo] conference that if the tide of totalitarian expansionism should flow over this general area, … the Free World will have been driven off all but a relatively small bit of the great Eurasian landmass. … We agreed at Colombo that the forces of totalitarian expansionism could not be stopped in South Asia and South East Asia by military force alone.”

Two years later Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was even more explicit about the carrot and stick approach to defeating left wing nationalism (“communism”). In September 1952 St. Laurent explained “in South East Asia through the establishment of the Colombo plan not only are we trying to provide wider commercial relations but we are also fighting another Asiatic war against Communism in the interests of peace, this time with economic rather than military weapons. We Canadians know that in the struggle against Communism there are two useful weapons, the economic and the military. While we much prefer to use the economic weapons as we are in the Colombo plan, we know that we may have no choice but to use the military weapons as we have been forced to do in Korea [27 000 Canadian troops participated in this war that left 3 million dead].”

In other words, if some of India’s post-colonial population had not set their sights on a socialistic solution to their troubles — with the possibility of Soviet or Chinese assistance — Canada probably would not have provided aid. Five years into the Colombo Plan, Pearson admitted “Canada would not have started giving aid if not for the perceived communist threat.”

The broad rationale for extending foreign aid was laid out at a 1968 seminar for the newly established Canadian International Development Agency. This day-long event was devoted to discussing a paper titled “Canada’s Purpose in Extending Foreign Assistance” written by Professor Steven Triantas of the University of Toronto. Foreign aid, Triantas argued, “may be used to induce the underdeveloped countries to accept the international status quo or change it in our favour.” Aid provided an opportunity “to lead them to rational political and economic developments and a better understanding of our interests and problems of mutual concern.” Triantis discussed the appeal of a “‘Sunday School mentality’ which ‘appears’ noble and unselfish and can serve in pushing into the background other motives … [that] might be difficult to discuss publicly.”

A 1969 CIDA background paper, expanding on Triantas views, summarized the rationale for Canadian aid: “To establish within recipient countries those political attitudes or commitments, military alliances or military bases that would assist Canada or Canada’s western allies to maintain a reasonably stable and secure international political system. Through this objective, Canada’s aid programs would serve not only to help increase Canada’s influence within the developing world, but also within the western alliance.”

This type of thinking continues to drive aid policy. Largely ignored in recent commentary, there are innumerable documented instances of Canadian aid advancing highly politicized geopolitical objectives over the past 25 years.

As an early advocate of International Monetary Fund/World Bank structural adjustment programs, since the early 1980s Canada has channeled hundreds of millions in “aid” dollars to supporting privatization and economic liberalization efforts in the Global South. At the start of the 2000s Ottawa plowed millions of dollars into supporting the Western-backed “coloured revolutions” in Eastern Europe and opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti. More recently, the Conservatives have ramped up aid spending in Latin America to combat independent-minded, socialist-oriented governments. Barely discussed in the media, the Harper government’s shift of aid from Africa to Latin America was largely designed to stunt Latin America’s recent rejection of neoliberalism and U.S. dependence by supporting the region’s right-wing governments and movements.

An entirely unacknowledged, though increasingly obvious, principle of Canadian aid is that where the USA wields its big stick, Canada carries its police baton and offers a carrot. Or to put it more bluntly, where U.S. and Canadian troops kill Ottawa provides aid.

During the 1950-53 Korean War the south of that country became a major recipient of Canadian aid and so was Vietnam during the U.S. war there. The leading recipient of Canadian aid in 1999/2000 was the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia and Iraq and Afghanistan were top two recipients in 2003/2004. Since that time Afghanistan and Haiti (where Canadian and U.S. troops helped overthrow the elected government in February 2004) have been the leading recipients. Tens of millions in Canadian “aid” dollars have been spent to reestablish foreign and elite control over Haiti’s security forces.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of discussion about aid being used as a tool to maintain/extend Western capitalist dominance. NGO critics of aid policy are generally unwilling to point out the geopolitical underpinnings of Canadian aid because their jobs depend on keeping quiet. They stick to criticizing the ways in which foreign assistance is used to benefit specific corporate interests. This stakeholder criticism generally amounts to no more than NGOs saying: “Give the aid money to us not the corporations, because we’ll do a better job of whatever it is you want to accomplish.”

If you tell truth to power by saying Canadian aid is largely designed to maintain Western capitalist dominance of the Global South you’re not likely to have your grant renewed.

The funny thing is, with the Conservatives in power, if you’re doing anything remotely useful to ordinary people, you’re not likely to anyway.

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The divine right of kings or democracy?

The current Canadian government has a thing for monarchy. In fact the Conservatives seem to like it better than democracy.

First it seemed quirky and quaint when they ordered portraits of Queen Elizabeth II to be put up in Canada’s overseas missions and promoted British royal visits. Then it got a little embarrassing when they reinstated “Royal” to the Canadian Air Force and the Navy’s official name.

But since the “Arab Spring” democracy struggles that began in 2011 Stephen Harper’s government has gotten down right scary, apparently supporting the divine right of kings over rule by the people.

Since 2011 the Tories have publicly backed ruling royal families from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. They’ve signed (or are negotiating) ‘free’ trade agreements and foreign investment protection agreements with Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Morocco — all ruled by kings.

During a trip to the Middle East last week Foreign Minister John Baird met royal officials in Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In praising the leadership of these countries, the minister failed to mention human rights or the suppression of democratic struggles in these monarchies.

Baird’s comments about Bahrain, a small island nation sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were particularly odious. He blamed opposition to the 218-year monarchy on Iran and criticized the pro-democracy protesters.

“We should be very clear that Iran’s interference in some of its neighbors’ internal political affairs is something that’s distinctly unhelpful, and it’s never motivated by good,” Baird told reporters inquiring about Bahrain.

“The regime in Iran should refrain from interfering in other countries’ affairs,” he added at a press conference in the capital of Manama.

The kingdom’s press gleefully reported Baird’s comments but there’s little evidence that Iran is responsible for the political upheaval that’s gripped the country for the past two years. Even the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, set up by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah to investigate the country’s political conflict, found no evidence of such a link.

Baird also attacked Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement, mocking the idea that the activists were “peace-loving protesters.” “There is violence, where police officers have been targeted,” Canada’s foreign minister declared. “There’s been Molotov cocktails. Even potential use of or planned actions of improvised explosives. There have been other connections to nefarious tactics, including terrorists trying to blow up the causeway. A plot was foiled there.”

This is a highly partisan distortion of the last two years of political struggle that has left at least 87 pro-democracy activists dead. At the start of the Arab Spring major protests broke out against the monarchy in Bahrain. Protesters initially focused on greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shia Muslim population, but after security forces killed four and injured dozens on February 17, 2011, calls for the king to go grew more common.

Over the next month, protests against the monarchy gained in strength with 200,000, a quarter of the country’s adult population, marching on February 22, 2011. The regime looked to foreign security forces for protection. They brought in Sunni Muslims from Pakistan and after a month of growing protests 1,500 troops from the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were sent to shore up the Al Khalifa regime. A day after these well-armed foreign soldiers arrived, the Bahraini king declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. That same day, March 15, Bahraini security forces killed two more demonstrators and within days protesters camped out in central Manama’s Pearl Roundabout were violently dispersed, leaving five dead and hundreds wounded. The regime also began late night raids in Shia neighborhoods. They’ve arrested thousands, including bloggers, internationally recognized human rights activists and doctors accused of caring for injured protesters.

In the early days of the regime’s crackdown Foreign Affairs released two (mildly) critical statements. But with the international media paying less attention, Ottawa has not made any further comment about the repression even though the regime continues to brutally repress protesters.

While Baird claims covert Iranian meddling, the Conservatives avoided directly criticizing Saudi Arabia’s high-profile military intervention to prop up the monarchy. Rather than challenge Saudi policy, the Tories have deepened military, business and diplomatic ties with the House of Saud. At least seven Conservative ministers have visited the country, including four in the past year. As a result of one of the visits, the RCMP will train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” Most ominously, in 2011 the Conservatives approved arms export licenses worth a whopping $4 billion to Saudi Arabia.

A General Dynamics factory in London, Ontario, has produced more than 1,000 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) for the Saudi military, who used these vehicles when they rolled into Bahrain. “The LAV-3 and other similar vehicles that Canada has supplied to the Saudi Arabian National Guard,” noted Project Ploughshare’s Ken Epps, “are exactly the kind of equipment that would be used to put down demonstrations [in Bahrain] and used against civilian populations.”

Already equipped with hundreds of Canadian-built LAVs, the Saudis contracted General Dynamics Land Systems for another 724 LAVs in 2009. (These sales are facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation and Canadian colonel Mark E.K. Campbell oversees General Dynamics Land Systems LAV support program in Saudi Arabia.)

Since the vehicles were scheduled to be delivered weeks after the invasion of Bahrain, the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute called for a suspension of further arms shipments to the Saudis. The Conservatives ignored the call and instead, as mentioned above, they approved $4 billion worth of arms exports in 2011.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The Saudi royal family is a savagely conservative force in the region, as well as being extremely misogynistic and repressive domestically. Religious law prevails.

One is left to speculate how deep a commitment the Conservatives have to democracy, even here in Canada.

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For sale: A bridge in Moose Jaw

When a US-led coalition invaded Iraq the forward-looking Canadian government stayed out of the war. And if you believe that I have a bridge for sale in Moose Jaw at an excellent price.

As part of the tenth anniversary of the invasion many media outlets lauded Canada’s refusal to join the second Iraq war. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien got the ball rolling by boasting that he never believed Iraq had amassed weapons of mass destruction and that staying out of the war “is a decision that the people of Muslim faith and Arab culture have appreciated very much from Canada, and it was the right decision.”

While the more liberal end of the dominant media regurgitated the former PM’s claim, it’s completely false to say Canada did not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As Richard Sanders has detailed, dozens of Canadian troops were integrated in US units fighting in Iraq; U.S. warplanes en route to that country refueled in Newfoundland; With Canadian naval vessels leading maritime interdiction efforts off the coast of Iraq, Ottawa had legal opinion suggesting it was technically at war with that country; Canadian fighter pilots participated in “training” missions in Iraq; three different Canadian generals oversaw tens of thousands of international troops there; Canadian aid flowed to the country in support of US policy. As such, some have concluded that Canada was the fifth or sixth biggest contributor to the US-led war.

But the Jean Chrétien government didn’t do what the Bush administration wanted above all else, which was to publicly endorse the invasion by joining the “coalition of the willing”. Notwithstanding Chrétien’s claims, this wasn’t because he distrusted Bush’s pre-war intelligence or because of any moral principle. Rather, the Liberal government refused to join the “coalition of the willing” because hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets against the war, particularly in Quebec. With the biggest demonstrations taking place in Montréal and Quebecers strongly opposed to the war, the federal government feared that openly endorsing the invasion would boost the sovereignist Parti Québecois vote in the next provincial election.

So the Chrétien Liberals found a middle ground between the massive anti-war mobilization and Canada’s long-standing support for US imperialism.

Tenth anniversary stories in the mainstream media have mostly erased the role popular protest played in this important decision, focusing instead on an enlightened leader who simply chose to do the right thing.

Of course the Iraq war was not the first time that popular movements forced the hand of foreign policy decision-makers. Or the first time that the “official story” ignored the role of protesters. Or the first time that the myth makers twisted the truth to promote the notion of a benevolent Canadian foreign policy.

Take the example of Ottawa’s move to adopt sanctions against apartheid South Africa in 1986. While former PM Brian Mulroney and many media commentators now boast that Canada sanctioned South Africa, they rarely mention the two decades of international solidarity activism that exposed and opposed Canadian corporate and diplomatic support for the racist regime. (And as with the Liberals refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, Canadian sanctions against South Africa were half measures). Even though Ottawa prioritized corporate and geostrategic interests above the injustices taking place there for four decades, today much is made about Canada’s morally righteous position on apartheid South Africa.

The dynamics were similar with the 1973 coup in Chile. The Pierre Trudeau government was hostile to Salvador Allende’s elected government and predisposed to supporting Augusto Pinochet. Days after the coup against Allende, Andrew Ross, Canada’s ambassador to Chile cabled External Affairs: “Reprisals and searches have created panic atmosphere affecting particularly expatriates including the riffraff of the Latin American Left to whom Allende gave asylum … the country has been on a prolonged political binge under the elected Allende government and the junta has assumed the probably thankless task of sobering Chile up.”

Canadian leftists were outraged at Ottawa’s support for the coup and its unwillingness to accept refugees hunted by the military regime. Many denounced the federal government’s policy and some (my mother among them) occupied various Chilean and Canadian government offices in protest. The Trudeau government was surprised at the depth of the opposition.

Similar to Chrétien on Iraq, the Trudeau government tried to placate the protesters all the while pursuing a pro-US/pro-corporate policy. Canadian investment and business relations with Chile grew substantially after the coup. Ottawa did allow refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship asylum in Canada but continued to support the pro-Pinochet and pro-investment policies directly responsible for the refugee problem. As a result of the protests, thousands of refugees from the Pinochet (1973-90) dictatorship gained asylum in Canada, leaving many with the impression that Canada was somehow sympathetic to Chile’s left. But, this view of Canada’s relationship to Chile is as far from the truth as Baffin Island is from Tierra del Fuego.

Like Iraq, the partial activist victories regarding South Africa and Chile have been twisted to reinforce the idea that Canadian foreign policy is benevolent. And this myth, which obscures the corporate and geostrategic interests that overwhelmingly drive Canadian foreign policy, is an obstacle to building effective opposition to Ottawa’s destructive role in international affairs.

With politicians and establishment commentators refusing to credit activists, it’s important we write our own history. A better understanding of the power of solidarity and especially our victories will strengthen our movements.

But at the same time it’s important to be conscious of current limitations. Canadian foreign policy so overwhelmingly prioritizes corporate and geostrategic interests that full-scale victories are nearly impossible in the short or medium term. We’ll achieve no lasting change without fundamentally changing Canada’s corporate dominated political system.

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One law for us, another for the rich and powerful

One law for the rulers and another for the rest of us — wasn’t that supposed to have ended with feudalism?

If a poor person is caught taking a computer or some other piece of property from a federal building you can bet police will be called and the thief will go before a judge to decide if she/he goes to jail. Yet when a Senator who is paid at least $132,000 per year in salary illegally claims many times the value of a stolen computer as a “living expense” they simply have to return the money.

Of course so-called white-collar crime is generally treated less severely than other forms of illegal activity, which is another way of saying there are different rules for ‘important people’ than the rest of us. If you have high enough status you can usually buy your way out of crime.

For example when Griffiths Energy recently pled guilty to bribing officials in Chad to gain access to lucrative energy properties, the Calgary-based corporation agreed to pay $10.35 million under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. But no individual at the privately held company will be pursued criminally. Apparently, you can pay a multi-million dollar bribe to gain access to a poor country’s natural resources and then simply pay some more money when you are caught.

Griffiths is only the second significant conviction rendered under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and no business leader has gone to jail since this legislation came into force in 1999.

In Canada the poor — and Indigenous — are much more likely to find themselves locked up. Despite making up only 4 per cent of the general public, 23 per cent of Canada’s federal prison population is Aboriginal). This is partly because they lack the resources to adequately fight their cases. But anti-poor and working class bias runs much deeper than an individual’s financial means.

Recently the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a study showing that people on welfare face discrimination when seeking publicly financed healthcare.

Posing as either a welfare recipient or a bank employee, the researchers called 375 family physicians and general practitioners in the Toronto area to book an appointment and ask if the doctor was accepting new patients. “We found that if you were of apparently high socio-economic status, you had a 23 per cent chance of getting an appointment, but if you were of apparently low socio-economic status that dropped to 14 per cent,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Stephen Hwang.

These biases are deeply rooted in our economic and social system and the last quarter century of ‘free’ market reforms have greatly exacerbated inequities in our society.

In January Statistics Canada released a study showing that the income of the top 1% of earners has dramatically increased since 1982. The top earners have seen an average pay increase of $91,800 taking their median income to $283,400 a year while the other 99% received an extra $400 over the same period raising their median wage to $28,400.

Over the next decade the number of Canadians worth at least $30 million is expected to swell nearly 35 per cent. According to the Knight Frank report, the number of super wealthy in this country will rise from 4,922 to 6,637 by 2022.

The top 1%, especially the top of the top 0.1%, have benefited from the erosion of Canada’s progressive tax system. Corporate tax rates are at their lowest level in decades and top income tax rates have dropped as well. The super wealthy also benefit from various tax provisions that are biased in favour of wealth holders. The federal government provides anywhere between a 100 per cent and 50 per cent tax exemption on capital gains, which means that those who make their money from investing pay lower tax rates than those who make their money from working.

Is it any surprise that this bias in favour of wealth would also be seen in the treatment of criminality? And, if current economic policy continues, the legal bias is likely to get worse.

In a recent story about individuals with tens of millions of dollars in RRSPs the Globe and Mail Report on Business noted:

For those who don’t want to give their money away, there is a radical tax-minimizing step: leave the country. Although it hardly seems fair that Canadians who decamp should get preferential tax treatment, that’s the case when it comes to RRSPs. Those who become non-residents can collapse their plan and pay a 25-per cent tax, far better than the rates near 50 per cent they would pay if they remained in Canada.

What do you think the chances are that the current government will change tax rules that give wealthy RRSP holders a huge incentive to leave the country?

It’s more likely that Harper would ask a Senate committee to investigate. And then a few years from now we’ll learn that five of eight senators on the committee took the opportunity to move to another country, cash out their RRSPs and claim moving expenses.

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Keystone pipeline a potential existential threat to Conservatives

The protests against the Keystone XL pipeline have already focused a great deal of attention on the Conservatives’ terrible environmental record and if Obama rejects the project it would deliver a major blow to their tar sands oriented economic policy. It could also precipitate a sort of existential crisis within the ardently pro-US Conservative party.

Opposition to Keystone XL is increasingly portrayed as a challenge to the Conservatives environmental policies. “Canada defends climate record amidst U.S. Keystone XL protests‏,” noted a recent CBC.ca headline while a Globe and Mail business article explained: “Ottawa, meanwhile, is guilty of its own folly. It’s cultivated a reputation as an international global warming villain at just about every recent climate conference. The federal government now has no capital in the bank with which to fight off environmental attacks on the Keystone XL pipeline.”

When Obama talked about climate disturbances in his inauguration speech it was seen as a rebuke of the Canadian Conservative government. Afterwards the front-page of the Globe and Mail read: “U.S. ambassador warns Ottawa to heed Obama on energy.” Alluding to Keystone XL, the paper noted, “the ambassador’s remarks send a message that Canada’s action on greenhouse-gas emissions are a factor in the country’s trade interests, especially in oil.”

Prior to the recent Keystone protests the Conservatives had been responding to questions on all different topics in the House of Commons by denouncing the NDP’s “job-killing carbon tax”. But their aggressiveness on this front may have come back to bite them. In an Ottawa Citizen article titled “Conservatives have only themselves to blame if Keystone XL goes awry” Michael Den Tandt notes: “These past six months, believing they were crafting a lethal [“job-killing carbon tax”] narrative for the NDP, the Conservatives were shaping one about themselves. With the country’s economic future hanging in the balance, they now belatedly see their mistake. They can do little but eat crow, shut up about the ‘job-killing carbon tax’ already, and hope U.S. economic self-interest prevails.”

While one may take issue with Den Tandt’s views on Keystone XL, the protests in the US have definitely forced the Conservatives to shift (rhetorical) gears on climate policy. (A similar groundswell of popular opposition in BC to the Northern Gateway pipeline prompted the Conservatives, who want to preserve a number of seats in that province, to back away from their claims that “foreign financed” environmental “radicals” were sabotaging Canada’s economy by participating in the pipeline permit process.)

The Conservatives are worried that if Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and other export pipelines are not approved, Alberta’s oil will continue to sell at a steep discount from international market prices. This might imperil the industry’s plan to triple tar sands output over the next two decades.

Opposition to the pipelines is already weighing on stock prices, according to a recent Globe and Mail Report on Business article that tied the drop to the industry becoming “a global symbol of environmental destruction.”

“This year, nearly every company with major oil sands exposure is down by double digits and some investors may regard them as bargains. However, oil sands equities don’t yet seem cheap enough to compensate for all the risks. Even an optimist has to believe it’s now going to take years to build the pipelines the industry so desperately needs.”

The Conservatives have put a lot of their economic eggs in the tar sands basket and they are pulling out all the stops to convince Obama to grant TransCanada the pipeline permit. “Canada gives full-court press to Keystone approval” noted a recent Globe and Mail headline. A slew of Conservative ministers and provincial premiers have flown to Washington to push the pipeline while Canada’s ambassador has taken an increasingly belligerent tone. Gary Doer recently bemoaned the Hollywood stars opposed to the project and the media’s coverage of the issue. He’s also repeatedly slurred Venezuela’s elected, saying “If you ask the question: Do you want your oil from (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez or (Alberta Premier) Alison Redford, I think I know the answer.”

Privately, leading Conservative officials, reports the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson, say that if Obama rejects Keystone XL “relations between Canada and the United States will enter a deep freeze the likes of which have never been seen.”

Of course that is hogwash. The Conservatives have limited room to maneuver. The Obama administration knows full well that a large portion of Canadians dislike the Prime Minister and oppose tar sands expansion (they are desperate to get Keystone approved partly because they are having difficulty building pipelines through BC).

A recent New York Times business article speculated that Ottawa was threatening to pull back from purchasing Lockheed Martin’s F35 fighter jets if Obama doesn’t approve KXL. While many would rejoice at such a development, from the government’s perspective this would be like cutting off its nose to spite its face. Their friends among the military leadership and Canadian military industry would not be pleased.

More generally, militarism is a bedrock of the Conservative ideology. And being pro-military in today’s world means supporting the US, the leading global military power.

Alongside that pro-American outlook, the Conservatives have pushed to deepen continental integration on a host of security and economic issues. Are they going to back away from these efforts?

It’s doubtful. The Conservatives have angered so much of the Canadian public with their wedge politics and belligerence that they are limited to their core 35% slice of the political pie. And that core is precisely the pro-military and pro-continental integration segment of Canadians.

Stephen Harper’s government is locked in an unprecedented battle with the largest climate movement in US history. If the environmentalists win, the Conservatives may not fully recover.

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Canada denounced: Hope you’re happy Harper

On February 17, as part of Presidents Day weekend, tens of thousands of pipeline opponents are expected to converge on the White House, many of them denouncing Canada.

For the first time in its 120 year history, the million member Sierra Club USA has endorsed civil disobedience actions on that day.

What’s going on?

Stephen Harper’s government is locked in an unprecedented political battle with millions of American environmentalists. Alongside one of this country’s biggest corporations, the Conservatives have entangled Canada in one of the most controversial decisions of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The Harper government has lobbied vigorously in support of Calgary-based TransCanada’s plan to build a $7 billion pipeline to take up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The prime minister has pressed Obama to approve Keystone XL while his ministers have visited Washington to pursue the matter with the Secretary of State. When he visited Washington last month foreign minister John Baird told the press Keystone XL was his main priority.

Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Gary Doer, has also spent a large amount of his time pushing the pipeline, prompting TransCanada to send him a “thank you” note on August 30, 2011. “Gary,” reads an email from the pipeline firm, “I just wanted to send a quick note to thank you and your team for all of the hard work and perseverance in helping get us this far, I know it has made a big difference.”

The ambassador responded to critical media commentary and pressed state officials to support the pipeline. When Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman initially came out against the project Doer visited him in Omaha. Similarly, the 28 members of Congress who urged the State Department to consider the “major environmental and health hazards” posed by Keystone XL received an immediate letter from Canada’s ambassador and Alberta’s minister of intergovernmental relations. “I believe it necessary to address several points in your letter,” Doer wrote. The ambassador’s letter trumpeted Canada’s plan to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. “[This is] a benchmark we intend to meet,” Doer wrote, even though planned tar sands expansion will make this objective difficult to reach.

In an article that was part of a series dubbed the “The War for the Oil Sands in Washington” the Tyee described the intensity of Canadian lobbying efforts on behalf of Keystone XL. One congressional aide compared Canadian officials to “aggressive” car salesmen. It “was the most direct encounter I’ve had with a lobbyist representing a foreign nation,” another congressional staffer told the online news site.

Canada’s 22 consular offices in the US have also been ordered to take up the cause. When the New York Times ran an editorial titled “Say No to the Keystone XL” Canada’s consul general in New York wrote a letter supporting the project.

TransCanada has been equally aggressive in its lobbying. The company has spent millions to convince federal and state politicians. In Nebraska alone TransCanada has spent almost $1 million lobbying lawmakers and also helped set up a non-profit called Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence. The group paid for a robocall that contained the following: “Please Press 1 now to authorize us to send a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will help to lower gas prices, create American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

On the other side environmentalists  have used social media and traditional protests to heap scorn on TransCanada and Canada. A November 23 New York Times article headlined “Pipeline Protest Draws Pepper Spray From Deputies” reported on protests outside Wells, Texas. The paper reported that 40 protesters “chanted ‘Go back to Canada’ and waved signs with messages like … ‘Don’t mix Canadian tar with Texas water.’”

Protesters dogged the President on Keystone XL throughout 2011, leading Obama to postpone his decision until after the 2012 presidential election.

Many Canadians share American environmentalists concerns about the tar sands’ ecological footprint. But, even those who do not should worry about the impact on this country’s reputation of the Harper government’s lobbying.

Once upon a time Canada was seen as a beacon to progressive Americans. What will we be known for in years to come?

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