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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 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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Canada’s double standard

The double standard of Israel-no-matter-what supporters can reach spectacular proportions. The recent case of Liberal Party leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s speech proves the point and also illustrates the tactics employed to demonize the Islamic community.

Montreal-based anti-Muslim website Point de Bascule and pro-Israel Jewish group B’nai Brith successfully turned Trudeau’s speech to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference last weekend into a controversy. With help from some right-wing media outlets they made a big deal of the fact that one of (17) sponsors of the Toronto event has been accused of aiding Hamas by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

In a bid to quiet the controversy the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN), which is challenging the CRA’s accusations in court, withdrew its sponsorship of the conference. Operating in a dozen countries, IRFAN is a leading Canadian Muslim charity that sponsored four thousand orphans at its high point.

In November 2004 then opposition MP Stockwell Day, backed by the pro-Israel Canadian Coalition for Democracies, called on the Liberal government to investigate IRFAN for any ties to Hamas. The CRA investigated the group but failed to register a serious complaint. Soon after Day and the Conservatives took power, the CRA audited IRFAN again. After a series of moves against the organization, in April 2011 the CRA permanently revoked the group’s charitable status, claiming “IRFAN-Canada is an integral part of an international fundraising effort to support Hamas.”

A big part of the CRA’s supporting evidence was that IRFAN worked with the Gaza Ministry of Health and Ministry of Telecommunications, which came under Hamas’ direction after they won the 2006 election. The Mississauga-based organization tried to send a dialysis machine to Gaza and continued to support orphans in the impoverished territory with the money channeled through the Post Office controlled by the Telecommunications Ministry.

This author cannot claim any detailed knowledge of the charity, but on the surface of it the charge that IRFAN was a front for Hamas makes little sense. First of all, the group was registered with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank when the Fatah-controlled PA was waging war against Hamas. Are we to believe that CRA officials in Ottawa had a better sense of who supported Hamas then the PA in Ramallah? Additionally, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) viewed the Canadian charity as a legitimate partner. In 2009 IRFAN gave UNRWA $1.2 million to build a school for girls in Battir, a West Bank village.

The CRA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating IRFAN. It appears that the Revenue Agency wanted to help their Conservative bosses prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”. And the recent controversy over Trudeau’s participation in the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference demonstrates how the CRA’s accusation can be used to demonize the million-strong Canadian Muslim community and specifically to deter them from associating with the Palestinian cause.

The case against IRFAN also illustrates the flagrant double standard between how Ottawa treats charities working in Israel versus those helping the much poorer Palestinians (Gaza’s per capita income is $1,483 whereas Israel’s is $31,000). It’s illegal for Canadians to aid any group directly or indirectly associated with the elected Hamas government in Gaza yet it’s legal — and government will foot part of the bill — to finance charities linked to Israeli settlements that contravene international law.

The Conservatives have reinforced Canada’s post 9-11 anti-terrorism laws that make it illegal to directly or indirectly assist a half dozen Palestinian political organizations all the while embracing tax write-offs for illegal Israeli settlements. Guelph activist Dan Maitland emailed former foreign minister Lawrence Cannon concerning Canada Park, a Jewish National Fund of Canada initiative built on land Israel occupied after the June 1967 War (three Palestinian villages were demolished to make way for the park). In August 2010 Maitland received a reply from Keith Ashfield, national revenue minister, who refused to discuss the particulars of the case but provided “general information about registered charities and the occupied territories.” Ashfield wrote “the fact that charitable activities take place in the occupied territories is not a barrier to acquiring or maintaining charitable status.” This means Canadian organizations can openly fundraise for settlements illegal under international law and get the government to pay up to a third of the cost through tax credits for donations.

The exact amount is not known but it’s safe to assume that millions of Canadian dollars make their way to Israeli settlements annually. Every year Canadians send a few hundred million dollars in tax-deductible donations to Israeli universities, parks, immigration initiatives and, more controversially, “charities” that aid the Israeli army in one way or another.

While a number of Jewish groups publicly promote their support for the Israeli military few Jewish charities openly tout their support for those stealing Palestinian land in violation of international law. Interestingly, it appears that Christian Zionist groups are more explicit about their support for West Bank settlers. One such charity registered with Ottawa, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC), says it supports “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria (and previously Gaza).” Judea and Samaria is the biblical term right wing Israelis use to describe the occupied West Bank. CFOIC explains that it “provide(s) Christians with deeper insight into the significance of Judea and Samaria — the heartland of Israel — and the people who live there. This is done by bringing groups of Christians to visit the communities, and providing information about the communities on an ongoing basis; and provide financial and moral support to the Jewish communities who are developing the land in faithfulness to their God.”

So here we have the blatant double standard for all to see: The current Canadian government uses “anti-terrorism” legislation to prevent a dialysis machine from being sent to Gaza but encourages, through tax write-offs, donations to illegal settlements that have terrorized and displaced thousands of Palestinians.

Shame on all those who voted for this government.

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We must organize to oppose Harper’s foreign policy

Could foreign policy be Stephen Harper’s Achilles’ heel?

According to a recent Leger Marketing poll Canadians care a great deal about their country’s international standing. Sixty-four percent of respondents said that “our country’s reputation in the world” was “very important” to them and 29 percent said it was “somewhat important”. After universal health care, Canada’s reputation was of second most importance among a dozen symbols, achievements and attributes (the monarchy and war of 1812 were at the bottom of the list).

Yet Harper’s policies have spurred an unprecedented international backlash against Canada. And, after nearly seven years of this government’s more belligerent and corporate centric foreign policy, displays of opposition are growing.

According to a video making the rounds online, during the Palestinian statehood vote at the UN two weeks ago foreign minister John Baird was the only speaker who wasn’t cheered by the General Assembly. This is only one sign of the growing awareness of the Conservatives’ extreme pro-Israel policy. The day before the UN vote the Toronto Star ran a picture of Palestinians marching on the office of Canada’s diplomatic representative in Ramallah carrying signs with a dog snout superimposed on Harper’s face next to the dismissive slogan “this dog doesn’t hunt”.

In another example of the world’s growing disdain for the Great White North, at the just completed Doha round of international climate change negotiations Canada won (with New Zealand) The Colossal Fossil, the Fossil of the Year Award. Unbelievably, this was the sixth year in a row that the Conservatives have won this award given out by hundreds of environmental organizations to the country most actively obstructing global efforts to reduce CO₂ emissions.

Criticism of the Conservatives’ climate policies has not been confined to environmental activists. Climate negotiators from other countries have repeatedly slammed Ottawa and after the Conservatives pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol last December many countries, including France, Brazil, India, China and South Africa, condemned the move.

In response to another one of the Conservatives ‘climate crimes’, US environmentalists have heaped scorn on Ottawa for its aggressive lobbying in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would take dirty oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. A November 23 New York Times article headlined “Pipeline Protest Draws Pepper Spray From Deputies” reported on protests outside Wells, Texas, in support of a two month long direct action to stop the construction of a segment of Keystone XL. 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.’”

Far from the highways of Eastern Texas, a number of European Union MPs have complained about Canada’s lobbying on behalf of tar sands interests, specifically the Conservatives’ bid to exclude Alberta’s heavy carbon emitting oil from the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive. Highlighting the unique nature of Canada’s campaign to exclude tar sands oil from the Fuel Quality Directive, Satu Hassi, a Finnish MP, told Reuters in May: “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.”

In October activists in England interrupted the Canadian environment minister’s speech at Chatham House. One of them took the stage to say “Peter Kent claims to be [in London] to talk about solving climate change, but actually he’s a member of a dangerous anti-environment group called the Canadian government who are committed to wrecking the climate.”

From Afghanistan to Haiti, the Congo to Honduras there are many examples of common citizens and government officials criticizing Canadian policy. But, only a small percentage of Canadians are aware of this growing international hostility. The poll mentioned above suggests that if more of us knew how much the Conservatives were besmirching Canada’s reputation, foreign affairs very well could become an election issue.

Not only do Canadians generally want this country to be liked, they disapprove of many specific Conservative foreign-policy priorities. The vast majority of Canadians say they are concerned about global warming and a number of polls have found support for international climate accords. Similarly, 87% of respondents to an online CBC poll supported Palestine’s observer status at the UN and a survey commissioned by the public broadcaster two weeks ago found that 48% of Canadians don’t want Ottawa to take sides between Palestinians and Israelis (27% said they wanted Ottawa to take sides, 19% of whom chose Israel and 6% Palestine). And, notwithstanding the Conservatives aggressive militarism, the public has consistently ranked increased military spending low on their list of political concerns and a number of recent polls show that they don’t want the military to focus on war making.

Unfortunately, popular attitudes on these issues are amorphous as few institutions of any influence are willing to overtly challenge Conservative foreign policy. To translate popular attitudes into hardened opinions on which individuals act necessitates a great deal of organizing (strengthening existing organizations, creating new ones, building left media etc.). But, in the short term one way to push back against this more belligerent foreign policy is for the groups and individuals working on these issues to consolidate their efforts by targeting a half-dozen ridings where Conservative MPs are vulnerable with an aggressive foreign policy focused campaign.

One point we would want to drive home to everyone in the chosen ridings is that Harper’s policies are unpopular around the world. We should also remind voters that the Conservatives have obstructed global efforts to reduce CO₂ emissions, supported Israel no matter what, made aid a tool of mining interests and diverted funds to the military instead of social programs.

If done properly this type of campaign could contribute to some Conservative MPs losing their seats and be a warning to politicians that there is a price to pay for international belligerence.

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We hate the UN, except when it does bad things in Haiti

The Conservatives and their supporters have taken an increasingly aggressive tone against the United Nations.

Since June, writers with The National Post and Sun Media as well as a Conservative MP have all called on Canada to withdraw (or consider withdrawing) from the international organization. During a September trip to New York, Prime Minister Stephen Harper snubbed the General Assembly, while Cabinet ministers have repeatedly criticized the UN.

Ignored in all these attacks is the important role the UN plays in Haiti, a leading Canadian foreign policy concern. Since taking office, a bevy of Conservative ministers, including the prime minister twice, have visited the island while they’ve announced about $1 billion in “aid” to Haiti. Harper’s government has strongly backed UN policy in the Caribbean country, pushing to extend the UN military presence in Haiti.

In April 2009 Canada’s representative at the UN argued there was “no alternative” to staying the course in Haiti. Six months later foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said: “Canada was pleased to co-sponsor the resolution to extend the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, a priority mission for the international community that has enjoyed steady and significant progress.” In November 2011 Ottawa gave $19 million to MINUSTAH (as the force is known in Haiti), which was one of many Canadian payments for the 10,000 strong occupation force.

Notwithstanding the Conservatives’ aggressive promotion of the mission, among Haitians the UN force is highly controversial. By all accounts most of the country wants MINUSTAH to leave. There have been dozens of large protests against the UN military presence and a 2011 poll of Port-au-Prince residents by researchers from the Faculté d’Ethnologie de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti found that most of the city had a negative opinion of the foreign troops.

Since taking over from the US, French, and Canadian forces that helped oust former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected officials, the UN force has been a tool of political repression.

MINUSTAH backed up a violent political pacification campaign waged by the coup-government’s police force against poor neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince from March 2004 to May 2006. It also participated directly in attempts to pacify the slums, including UN raids on July 6, 2005 and Dec. 22, 2006 that each left at least a dozen civilians dead in Cité Soleil (a bastion of support for Aristide).

In April 2008 UN troops once again demonstrated that their primary purpose in the country was to defend the elite-dominated status quo. During riots over the rising cost of food, they put down protests that left a handful of demonstrators dead.

Aside from political repression, UN troops have been accused of various abuses ranging from having sex with minors to sodomizing boys. Video footage recently came to light of several Uruguayan soldiers sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian. The soldiers were sent home but no one has been punished.

In a bitter irony, UN soldiers from one of the poorest countries in Asia, Nepal, gave Haiti a disease that thrives in impoverished societies lacking adequate public sanitation and health systems.

Ten months after the earthquake, Nepalese troops brought a strain of cholera to Haiti that has left 7,000 dead and 700,000 ill. The October 2010 cholera outbreak began when excrement from soldiers at a base in Mirebalais was released into a nearby river.

Despite conclusive evidence that the UN base was the source, MINUSTAH has refused to take responsibility.

Prominent French cholera expert Renaud Piarroux said the way in which the disease spread suggests there were “symptomatic cases”—soldiers with heavy diarrhea—on the base in Mirebalais. In other words, some officials at the UN base would have at least suspected that soldiers carried the disease, yet the sewage from the base continued to be dumped into a stream from which people drank and bathed.

Ten months after their reckless sewage disposal caused the cholera outbreak, MINUSTAH forces displayed a similar disregard for Haitian health. On two occasions in August 2011 UN trucks were caught dumping feces and other waste in holes near water streams where people bathed and drank.

Evidence of MINUSTAH’s disregard for the poor majority’s well-being is overwhelming. But don’t expect to hear any Conservative criticism of the UN role in Haiti.

In that country, the international organization is pursuing policy that is popular with Washington and corporate interests. Harper’s Conservatives only oppose the UN when it stands up for Palestinian rights, pursues accords to reduce carbon emissions, or doesn’t do what the West wants in places like Iran or Syria.

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Canadian tax dollars aid Israel’s divide and rule tactics

Few aspects of Canadian foreign policy have been mentioned more times over the past two weeks than Ottawa’s $300 million five year “aid” program to the Palestinian Authority.

The Globe and Mail reported last month that Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened Mahmoud Abbas, the PA leader, that “there will be consequences” if he followed through on his plan to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade Palestine’s status.

Since then, there has been a great deal of speculation about whether Canadian “aid” would be cut off (“Harper took steps to stifle Palestinian statehood bid,” 26 November 2012). A quick Google search brings up hundreds of articles mentioning the $300 million dollars in funding yet none of them mention the highly politicized character of this “aid.”

After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 the Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority. 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: “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” (“Bernier stands firm in support of Israel,” Jewish Tribune, 23 January 2008).

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 (“Dayton’s mission: A reader’s guide,” 25 January 2011).

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 Times & Transcript aptly 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 (US Security Assistance to the Palestinian Authority, Congressional Research Service, 9 January 2010).

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 a the London Review of Books, Adam Shatz last year referred to how PA security forces stopped a group of their fellow Palestinians from taking part in a protest at the Huwwara checkpoint near Nablus. The May 2011 protest was held to commemorate the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

“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,” Shatz wrote. “This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank” (“Is Palestine next?”).

The Palestinian security force is largely trained in Jordan at the US-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. (“Palestinian support wanes for American-trained forces,” 15 October 2009). 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 (“Israel’s ‘new best friend’?” Al Jazeera English, 29 May 2010).

“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” (“Operation PROTEUS: Building a Palestinian security force,” 17 February 2010).

Part of the US 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 (“Canada’s continuous commitment,” 15 September 2010).

During a visit to the Middle East earlier this year, John Baird, the current foreign minister, told The Globe and Mail he was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which he said benefited Israel (“Canadian ministers take firm line with Palestinians,” 30 January 2012).

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.

Don’t expect the Conservative government to sever this “aid.”

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Where Canadian ‘self-interest’ leads: The Congo example

Thank you Julian Fantino.

The International Co-operation Minister caused a ruckus last week when he said that the Canadian International Development Agency should actively promote the country’s interests abroad rather than primarily focus on poverty reduction. Fantino defended “aid” that was given to groups partnering with Canadian companies building mines around the world. He said CIDA has “a duty and a responsibility to ensure that Canadian interests are promoted.”

While some commentators suggested the former Toronto police chief stuck his foot in his mouth, we should thank Fantino for his comments because they raise some important questions that Canadians seldom talk about.

How is Canadian foreign policy made? Which countries are we friendly towards and why? Which do we work against and why? What should be the primary purpose of Canadian foreign policy and aid?

As the author of five books on Canadian foreign policy, I know the answers to these questions can be controversial and complex. A short essay is certainly inadequate to properly address the subject. But a short story about Canada’s relationship with one of the poorest countries in the world might help answer these questions.

According to the CIA, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the planet’s lowest (228th in the world) per capita Gross Domestic Product. Coincidently (perhaps), this same country, Africa’s largest by landmass, may possess more mineral wealth ($24 trillion by one calculation) than any other.

So, what sort of relationship does Canada, home to the most mining companies in the world, have with the Congo?

Since April 2012, Rwanda has reasserted its military control over a large chunk of the Congo. Rwandan troops and the M23 militia group it sponsors recently captured Goma, a city of a million people in the mineral rich east part of the country.

While Rwanda’s proxies have now withdrawn to the outskirts of Goma, top officials in the city and province have been removed in place of individuals more sympathetic to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). In one of a number of insightful reports, the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes “a [new] layer of administrators, informers, police and other operatives [have been put in place] who will bolster M23’s economic power in the city — including their grip on the trade in ‘blood minerals’.”

Rwanda’s actions in the Congo have already led to significant suffering. About 650,000 people have been displaced from their homes over the past seven months and there have been many reports of looting, rapes and assassinations. In the days after Goma was captured, the Red Cross said it picked up 62 bodies from the city’s streets.

An ally of Washington and London, Paul Kagame’s Rwanda government has repeatedly invaded the Congo over the past 16 years. In the worst instance, a 1998 Rwandan (and Ugandan) invasion sparked a multi-country war that lasted five years and caused millions of deaths. Peer-reviewed studies by the International Rescue Committee found that up to 5.4 million people were killed as a result of the conflict. An October 2010 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the Congo from 1993 to 2003 charged Rwandan troops with engaging in mass killings “that might be classified as crimes of genocide.”

Ottawa has been decidedly ambivalent towards the recent Rwandan-sponsored war. Over the past six months Foreign Affairs has published four press releases on the matter, but only one sentence mentions Rwanda despite the UN reporting that Rwandan troops are once again involved and that the country’s defence minister commands the entire operation. That sentence reads: “We are extremely concerned by continuing allegations of Rwandan support of M23 and urge the immediate cessation of any form of assistance.”

The four press releases contain more criticism of the relatively powerless Congolese government than of Rwanda. In fact, one release is little more than an attack against the government in Kinshasa. In a statement about “the increasing instability in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Foreign Affairs urges “the Congo to ensure the protection of human rights is central in their daily deliberations.” With no mention of Rwanda or the M23, it goes on to state: “The rapidly rising number of displaced persons and refugees is a troubling trend and needs to be addressed immediately.”

Over the past year the Conservative government has produced more statements and comments critical of Congolese president Joseph Kabila than of the M23. “Canada Concerned by Post-election Situation in Democratic Republic of Congo” and “Minister of State Valcourt Encourages Reforms in Democratic Republic of Congo,” noted two of the statements. During an October trip to the Francophonie summit in Kinshasa, Prime Minister Harper and his staff repeatedly complained about the Kabila government’s human rights record. After meeting representatives of the political opposition Harper described the “complete unacceptability of failures in the electoral process and the abuse of human rights that are taking place in this country.”

While there are major question marks surrounding the legitimacy of the December 2011 Congolese poll in which Kabila was re-elected, it was certainly as free and fair as the most recent Rwandan election. But when Kagame “won” re-election in August 2010, the Conservatives’ release noted that “Canada commends the people of Rwanda on participating in their country’s presidential election…” The harshest criticism in the statement was that Canada was “concerned” by violence, “intimidation of political opposition” and “restrictions on the media.”

While Rwanda is in Ottawa’s good books, the Conservatives are generally hostile towards the Kabila government. Kabila angered Western countries when he signed a $6 billion resource infrastructure deal with China in 2008. The Conservatives are also concerned about the government’s move to regain control over the country’s natural resources, including the $3 billion in Canadian mining investment in the Congo.

During the recent Francophonie summit in Kinshasa, Harper called on Kabila to improve the country’s business climate, “especially in the natural resources sector.” At the G8 in June 2010 the Conservatives inserted an entire declaration to the final communiqué criticizing Kinshasa’s treatment of foreign investors, because the Congo revoked a mining concession held by Vancouver-based First Quantum.

Months earlier Ottawa began to obstruct international efforts to reschedule the country’s foreign debt, which was mostly accrued during more than three decades of Joseph Mobuto’s dictatorship and the subsequent war. Canadian officials “have a problem with what’s happened with a Canadian company,” Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said, referring to the government’s move to revoke a mining concession that First Quantum acquired under dubious circumstances during the 1998-2003 war. “The Canadian government wants to use the Paris Club [of debtor nations] in order to resolve a particular problem,” explained Mende. “This is unacceptable.”

But the Conservatives did not stop with trying to obstruct the Congo’s debt forgiveness. They also took the issue to other international forums. The Financial Post reported: “Harper will raise the case of Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals Ltd. with representatives from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other governments that do business in the DRC.”

Just the Conservatives looking after “Canadian interests,” one could argue.

And this pro-corporate meddling in the Congo is nothing new. It’s certainly not the first time Canada has worked against the Congo’s population, which remains impoverished despite almost a century and a half of foreigners “developing” the country’s resources.

In the early 1890s, Halifax native William Stairs led a 1,950-man mission to conquer the resource-rich Katanga region of the Congo on behalf of Belgium’s King Leopold II. The Royal Military College in Kingston maintains a plaque devoted to Stairs’ work even though he was notoriously racist and barbarous. Some 10 million Congolese were killed under Leopold’s rule.

Canada also played an important role in the UN mission to the Congo that facilitated the murder of independence leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961. Apparently a Canadian officer handed Lumumba over to the CIA and Belgium operatives who would later dispose of the prime minister.

We ask again: How is Canadian foreign policy made? Which countries are we friendly towards and why? Which do we work against and why? What should be the primary purpose of Canadian foreign policy and aid?

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Stephen Harper’s crimes

What do you call someone who pursues policies knowing that they contribute to large numbers of deaths?

A murderer? A politician?

At a minimum they should be investigated for crimes against humanity.

The point?

A slew of studies have detailed the growing toll anthropogenic global warming is having on millions of people around the world. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor has estimated that climate disturbances are already responsible for some 400,000 deaths per year with most of the victims living in poor countries that discharge few greenhouse gasses.

A September report commissioned by 20 governments found that over 100 million people will die by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change and carbon-intensive economies. “A combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade,” the report conducted by humanitarian organization DARA explained. According to the study, five million die each year because of air pollution, hunger and disease caused by climate change and carbon-intensive economies. By 2030 that toll is expected to reach six million if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue.

Despite mounting evidence of runaway global warming and an overwhelming consensus among Canadians that something must be done to reduce carbon emissions, Stephen Harper’s government has been at the forefront of efforts to block and reverse progress in this area. “Canada killing European effort to cut emissions” and “Canada blocking [Commonwealth] consensus on climate change,” explained Globe and Mail headlines concerning two different international meetings in 2007. In late 2008, the Climate Action Network said Canada was the country most active in undermining UN climate negotiations in Poland.

At every turn Harper’s government has blocked progress on setting minimally serious targets for reducing CO2 emissions or providing aid to poor countries to implement similar measures. In December 2011, Canada led an effort to scuttle a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol at a UN climate change conference in South Africa. During the COP 17 (Conference of Parties) in Durban, Canada received six “fossil of the day” awards handed out by environmental groups to countries obstructing negotiations. It became so normal that on the day Canada did not receive the award Montreal daily Le Devoir ran a story about it.

At the 2011 conference Canada was also crowned with the “colossal fossil” for being “the country which has done the most day after day to prevent a climate treaty.” This marked the fifth consecutive year Canada received this dubious honour given by 700 international civil society organizations from 90 countries.

Last year Canada became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that commits the leading industrial economies to reducing their CO2 emissions below 1990 levels. “France, China, Japan Hammer Canada Over Kyoto,” noted a headline.

Montreal Gazette banner captured the international mood: “Kyoto rejection cements Canada’s rogue reputation.”

In addition to undermining international climate accords, Harper’s government has aggressively opposed efforts to reduce carbon emissions from fuel sources in the U.S. and Europe.

This country’s diplomats have lobbied forcefully against the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, which designated tar sands oil as a high-polluting fuel source. 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.

Chris Davies, a British member of the European parliament, told Reuters in 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.”

The Conservatives also worked feverishly to beat back U.S. legislation that might curtail tar sands exports, establishing the United States Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy. As part of this effort, they’ve tried to undermine California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and Section 526 of Washington’s Energy Security and Independence Act. Both of these measures were designed to deter the use of high-carbon fuel sources.

In January, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote: “The Harper government put Canada’s entire diplomatic apparatus in the US behind the Keystone [pipeline] campaign” to ship tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Canadian embassy in Washington and all of Canada’s 22 consular offices in the U.S. have been ordered to advocate for dirty oil.

The Conservatives’ actions have spoken to the world. Harper doesn’t care if climate disturbances imperil millions of people’s lives.

One must ask again: What exactly should a politician obstructing all international efforts to reduce carbon emissions be called?

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Remembering our struggles

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

— Philosopher George Santayana

History is political, which why is why it was troubling to read a email appeal. The opening paragraph explained: “Remembrance Day is changing as the veterans of the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War, pass away. More attention is being paid to current and more controversial conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan and Libya.”

The claim that Canada’s participation in World War I or Korea was and is not controversial is a striking example of a supposedly progressive organization accepting the establishment’s version of Canadian foreign policy history.

Fifteen million people were killed and another 20 million wounded in the conflict between rising imperial power Germany and leading colonial powers England and France. With both sides entrenched, the western front of the First World War barely moved from September 1914 to July 1917. Millions of young men lost their lives fighting over a few kilometers of territory. Among them were nearly 60,000 Canadian soldiers. Another 150,000 were wounded.

In August 1917 Robert Borden’s government passed the Military Service Act. The conscription of young men sparked widespread dissent, particularly in Quebéc. On the west coast, police forces tracked down and killed anti-war labour leader Ginger Goodwin after he refused to fight.

About 27,000 Canadians fought in the 1950-53 Korean War. Cold War Canada summarizes the incredible violence unleashed by the US commanded 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.”

If involvement in this barbaric affair is not considered controversial what is?’s acceptance of the elite version of history is harmful because it obscures the imperial interests that have motivated Canadian foreign policy. It also erases decades of international solidarity and anti-war activism that has, to some extent, civilized the Canadian military.

Last year’s bombing of Libya and the ongoing war in Afghanistan may help illustrate the point. These conflicts have caused significant suffering yet they haven’t been nearly as destructive as the war in Korea. But the Canadian military didn’t simply discard their most violent methods. Instead their actions have been constrained (to some extent) by anti-war and international solidarity movements.

Perpetuating ignorance of our military’s history has the effect of weakening the movements struggling valiantly to civilize Canadian foreign policy. It’s akin to erasing the role of unions in restricting child labour, dangerous working conditions, long working hours etc. The labour movement builds its strength by pointing to these gains and the same should be done by anti-war and solidarity organizations.

Instead of promoting a sanitized version of Canadian military history, anti-war groups would do better by helping the public understand the role struggle and protest has played in lessening the military’s worst excesses. Ultimately this knowledge will do more than anything to help fuel campaigns to build a sense of collective humanity.

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Quebec proves activism works

Usually it takes social movements years, even decades, to significantly affect public policy. The movement unleashed by Quebec students last spring has had a much quicker impact.

Beyond politicizing a generation, it has spurred a more socially and ecologically progressive political climate. It is within this context that Pauline Marois’ government has adopted more progressive reforms in its first days in office than any other provincial government in recent Canadian history.

After rescinding the Charest government’s special bill that criminalized student demonstrations, they abolished the tuition increase that universities had already begun charging (many students have received a rebate). The Parti Québecois also eliminated a highly regressive two hundred dollar per person health tax and have moved to shut down a controversial nuclear power plant.

In another decision prioritizing the environment and people’s health, they placed a long-term moratorium on hydraulic fracking and eliminated subsidies for asbestos mining, which prompted the federal Conservative government to announce it would no longer block the Rotterdam Convention from listing chrysotile asbestos as a toxic product.

In addition to these reforms, the PQ appears to be re-evaluating the $3 billion Turcot Interchange highway expansion that the Montréal city council has criticized and the Plan Nord resource extraction initiative, which has been criticized by environmental, socialist and Indigenous groups.

Even though the PQ has a history of backing free ‘trade’ agreements, the Marois government looks set to obstruct the Harper Conservatives’ negotiations around the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe, which would further entrench corporate rights. Marois may even embarrass Harper at the upcoming Francophonie summit by supporting African countries in their call for a permanent UN Security Council seat.

To pay for abolishing the health tax and tuition freeze the government announced a tax increase for those making over $130,000 and another higher tax bracket for those making over $250,000.

Additionally, the government announced that it will increase certain corporate taxes and reduce capital gains tax exemptions, which allow those who make their money from investing to pay lower tax rates than those who make their money from working.

Not surprisingly the corporate media is up in arms about these developments. Right-wing commentators are complaining that Marois’ ministerial appointees are too ecologically minded and not sufficiently concerned about business interests. They are particularly angry about the tax increases.

To a large extent these reforms by the PQ government, which had drifted to the right in recent years, are the fruit of the last eight months of protests. But don’t expect the dominant media to credit all those unnamed individuals who demonstrated, put their bodies on the line or risked their entire school semester to defend socially progressive ideals. To do so might spur further activism.

But that’s exactly what is needed. The grassroots movements that have developed need to continue pushing for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable society.

The minority PQ government is especially vulnerable to popular protests as it looks to capture the broadly progressive electorate and squeeze out Québec Solidaire, the left-wing party that has two members in the National Assembly. At the same time the PQ is facing a backlash from right-wing commentators and corporate lobbyists who are most powerful when the streets are quietest.

For those in Québec, recent gains should inspire further mobilizations. For those outside, the PQ’s reforms are a reminder that determined grassroots movements can create a political climate in which governments place environmental concerns and social rights over the interests of corporations and the wealthy.

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Harper wins the Richard Nixon Prize

At a ceremony in New York today the Appeal of Conscience Foundation will present Stephen Harper with its World Statesman of the Year award. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger will deliver the prize.

Canada’s Prime Minister is really racking up the hardware. This morning a coalition of international and community groups announced that Harper has won the first ever Richard Nixon Prize. The award is given to a leader for pursuing “principled, forthright and steadfast international policies in the interests of the rich and powerful, regardless of the consequences” to everyone else.

The decision to grant Harper the Richard Nixon Prize was made after a thorough review of his foreign policy.

The grantees cited Harper’s “consistent backing of the interests of North America’s top 1% of income earners, with a special emphasis on supporting those who make their billions from resource extraction, weaponry and banking.”

The committee applauded Harper for bombing Libya into democracy. It took special note that this was probably also good for certain oil and gas interests.

“In the best tradition of Richard Nixon who could always keep a straight face,” the committee praised Harper for at the same time “standing by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak until the final hours of his 30-year presidency.”

In Afghanistan the Prime Minister has stayed committed to war even though most Canadians want to bring the troops home, the prize committee said in a statement. Harper’s decision to continue to deploy 1,000 troops as well as special forces is exactly what America’s 37th president would have done. “Canadian special forces play an important role in US-led nighttime assassination raids. When a parliamentary committee began asking inappropriate questions about Afghan detainees Harper refused to buckle and simply closed shop,” said the committee’s statement. “Richard Nixon would have been proud.”

The committee also analyzed several more obscure aspects of Harper’s international policy.

“We applaud Canada’s decision to send 2,000 troops to Haiti days after the 2010 earthquake. It took real courage to send troops to ‘secure order’ for Haiti’s elite when many other countries misguidedly focused on search and rescue teams to pull injured people from under rubble.”

Despite Harper’s Conservative government being the biggest backer of the world’s mining industry, ordinary Canadians just don’t understand how valuable this is to the wealthy, the committee said. “We appreciate the Prime Minister’s commitment to advancing Canadian mining companies’ interests abroad. All investors benefit.”

As for calls that Ottawa should regulate Canadian mining corporations’ behavior abroad, “Conservative officials have repeatedly pointed out that most companies have corporate social responsibility programs to take care of any problems they may face with noisy indigenous communities in Latin America or elsewhere. That’s exactly the position Richard Nixon would have taken.” The prize committee also noted that many of the individuals running big Canadian mining companies are good people who fund university programs, think tanks and other initiatives designed to defend the way of life of the 1%.

As for one of the most controversial foreign affairs issues he’s dealt with Harper’s made a simple — and correct — calculation, the committee said. While almost the entire world backs the Palestinians in their bid for a small state, why should we? As Richard Nixon certainly believed, Canada’s job is to support the United States and the West, in that order.

Finally, the Richard Nixon Prize grantees said they thoroughly support Harper’s international environmental policy. “The Prime Minister has firmly challenged those in Washington and Europe who call the tar sands “dirty oil”. At international climate negotiations Harper has made the tough decision to support more carbon in our atmosphere rather than simply accede to an overwhelming international consensus. His government repeatedly blocked climate negotiations and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, what he once correctly called a ‘socialist scheme’ to suck money out of rich countries.”

The Richard Nixon Prize will be given to Prime Minister Harper the next time he visits Honduras, where he helped overthrow the elected president, who was such a pain in the ass.

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Canada lobbies for more greenhouse gases

While scientists are reporting a stunning reduction in Arctic sea ice Canada’s ambassador in the U.S. is stumping for heavy carbon emitting oil.

Last Tuesday Ambassador Gary Doer spoke at Washington D.C.’s Johns Hopkins University in support of heavy polluting tar sands oil. According to Sun News, Doer touted the job benefits of Calgary-based TransCanada’s plan to build a $7 billion pipeline to take oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the U.S.

Incredibly, lobbying for tar sands interests may be the main thing Canada’s top U.S. diplomat does. Both Maisonneuve magazine and The Tyee have published articles detailing Ambassador Doer’s voluminous efforts on behalf of the tar sands. “Doer has devoted much of his professional energy to promoting the oil sands industry, flying to industry roundtables, meeting with US policymakers, and speaking to national magazines,” noted Tyee reporter Geoff Dembicki in an April 2011 article.

It’s not just the ambassador. Through the United States Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy the Harper Conservatives have directed Canada’s entire diplomatic apparatus to work to beat back U.S. legislation that might curtail tar sands expansion. According to the Embassy, “some suggest that the energy file is by far the biggest issue that the Canadian-US diplomatic network deals with, and consumes the most personnel and resources.” A Foreign Affairs spokesperson refused Embassy’s August 2010 request to break down the resources devoted to tar sands lobbying. “What I can tell you is that numerous employees in the Canadian Embassy’s Washington Advocacy Secretariat, which includes the Province of Alberta’s office, are engaged in various aspects of energy advocacy, as is the Ambassador and other sections within the Embassy.”

Canadian lobbying has targeted both federal and state policies to reduce carbon emissions from fuel. In 2007 California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the world’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) into law. The bill mandated California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) to assign carbon footprints to different fuels in a bid to deter oil suppliers from using high-carbon fuel sources. According to investigative journalist Geoff Dembicki, Canadian officials intervened at least five times to affect how California defined its LCFS. In February 2008, then Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson wrote CARB chairman Mary D. Nichols asking her not to unfairly target the tar sands. Government emails obtained by Climate Action Network Canada suggest Wilson’s letter was part of a tar sands “advocacy strategy” developed by three federal departments in late 2008.

After California faced stiff opposition from oil companies and Canadian officials no other U.S. state has passed a LCFS. When Wisconsin proposed a LCFS in its Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2010 Canadian officials formally intervened. Canadian consuls Brian Herman and Georges Rioux read a statement before the State’s Senate Select Committee on Clean Energy. “I would like to leave you with one request,” Rioux told the Wisconsin legislators. “While you pursue new energy policies including a potential [LCFS] please ask the question: Will this result in Wisconsin becoming more dependent on oil from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela because we’ve cut off supply from our northern neighbours, our friends and allies?”

The Conservatives first pro-tar sands lobbying target in the U.S. was an obscure piece of federal legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush at the end of 2007. Section 526 of the Energy Security and Independence Act effectively forbids government agencies, including the heavy consuming U.S. military, from buying oil with a high carbon footprint. According to internal emails unearthed by the Pembina Institute, a few weeks after Section 526 was passed, Canadian embassy officials alerted the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, Marathon, Devon and Encana. “As yours is a company involved in the production of oil sands in Canada,” then Canadian energy counselor Paul Connors wrote an Exxon Mobil lobbyist, “I wanted to bring this issue [526] to your attention.”

To monitor the provision the American Petroleum Institute formed a committee, which immediately met representatives from the Canadian embassy and Alberta’s Washington office. Embassy officials worked with the American Petroleum Institute and the Center for North American Energy Security, a creation of the American Petroleum Institute, to ensure that 526 would not apply to the tar sands as was intended by Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman who introduced that section of the Energy Security and Independence Act.

In addition to building a coalition of domestic oil lobbyists, Canadian officials protested Section 526 through official diplomatic channels in Ottawa. Canadian and Alberta officials met top US military officials and Congress members about 526.

Canadian officials feared that 526 could set an “important precedent” for wider bans on tar sands oil, according to internal emails the Pembina Institute obtained. Energy counsellor Paul Connors described the longer term fear to an Exxon lobbyist: “We see the debate on Section 526 as part of a larger debate by some to have the US consider either a tailpipe or a lifecycle low carbon fuel standard (Lieberman-Warner) for transportation fuels.”

The issue that has sparked the most vociferous lobbying by the Harper government has been the Keystone XL pipeline. The US environmental movement mounted significant opposition, pressing Obama to deny TransCanada a permit to construct the pipeline.

Appalled that the pipeline might be rejected, Harper has fought back ferociously. On a number of occasions the Prime Minister pressed Obama to approve Keystone XL while a number of ministers visited Washington to press the matter with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Immigration minister Jason Kenney tweeted last September: “Keystone pipeline will offset US imports of Venezuelan oil w/CDN oil. Why does the left prefer Hugo Chavez oil to CDN’s ethical oil?”

For his part, Ambassador Doer has spent a large amount of his time pushing the pipeline. He responded to critical press commentary and pressed state officials to support Keystone XL. When Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman came out against the pipeline 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 which require clarification,” Ambassador 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, knowing full well that planned tar sands expansion would make this objective impossible to reach.

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,” a congressional staffer told the online news site. In January 2012 Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote: “The Harper government put Canada’s entire diplomatic apparatus in the US behind the Keystone campaign.” Canada’s 22 consular offices in the US were 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.

Those who thought consular officials spend their days helping hard-pressed individuals retrieve lost documents or extricate themselves from difficult circumstances may be surprised that it turns out Canada’s diplomats are really on the frontline of advocacy for dirty oil.

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It’s time to challenge Harper’s foreign policy

Last Tuesday the Appeal of Conscience Foundation announced that Stephen Harper would receive its world statesman of the year award. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger will present the prize at the end of the month.

That another pro-Israel U.S. group has chosen to honour Harper for being “a champion of democracy, freedom and human rights” should come as little surprise. But the lack of critical Canadian response is much more disturbing.

Despite a laundry list of international misdeeds, the limited critical commentary on Harper’s award has focused on his domestic failings. A United Food and Commercial Workers press release criticizing the award focused on the government’s expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. While this exploitative program deprives many of their rights and drives down wages and working conditions it is only tangentially connected to international affairs. Similarly, Bob Hepburn in the Toronto Star lambasted the Appeal of Conscience Foundation for ignoring Harper’s destructive domestic policies. “The foundation should have known that anointing Harper, who has displayed such a casual disrespect for democracy at home, as its World Statesman of the Year would be seen as a sad joke on all Canadians struggling to protect their democracy.”

Certainly the UFCW and Hepburn could have found many international policies to criticize. How about Harper backing Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak until his last hours in office? Or maybe, the Harper government’s bid to sabotage the international climate negotiations? Bombing Libya? Complicity with coups in Honduras and Paraguay? Support for Israel’s bombing of Gaza and Lebanon? Extending the war in Afghanistan? The deployment of troops rather than Heavy Urban Search and Rescue teams to post-earthquake Haiti? Unyielding support to destructive Canadian mining operations?

To be fair, at least UFCW and Hepburn publically challenged the award. The NDP has said nothing about the “honour” and little about his extreme pro-corporate/pro-empire foreign policy. A case in point is the official opposition’s inability to clearly oppose Canada’s low-level war against Iran.

On Wednesday, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar was rebuffed by party leader Tom Mulcair after he meekly criticized the Conservatives’ recent move to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran (and list that country as a state sponsor of terrorism). “For us to make a difference, we have to be there [in Iran],” Dewar told CTV News. “We have to show up, and now we’re walking away.”

But that was too much for Mulcair. “I think one of the concerns that Paul [Dewar] was expressing there was with Canadians who are currently in prison, so it becomes difficult for them. But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that there were serious concerns, we don’t have the same information but it would appear that there might be some very solid information that would have led the government to that decision [to cut relations with Iran], so until we have that information it’s hard to comment further.” In other words, the Conservatives can do what they want to Iran because they have more information on the matter.

Mulcair and many establishment commentators have alluded to secret information that may explain the suspension of diplomatic relations. But, the Conservatives’ timing was at least partly a response to a very public Iranian diplomatic victory. Two weeks ago Iran succeeded in breaking U.S.-led efforts to isolate it by hosting 120 nations from the Non-aligned Movement, which included 60 heads of state and the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, who attended the summit despite aggressive Canada/Israel/U.S. lobbying.

In justifying the Conservatives’ move, a number of commentators claimed the 14-person Iranian embassy in Ottawa was spying on this country (it probably was). Yet these commentators ignore stronger evidence suggesting Canadian spying in Tehran. (In his 2010 book former Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, admits to spying for the CIA during his time there, while in November 2006 a group of Iranian parliamentarians called the Canadian Embassy a “den of spies” and the book Unexpected War claims that some Foreign Affairs officials wanted Canada’s headquarters in Afghanistan located in the west of the country “so that Canada could get a better window on Iran”. Moreover, the Conservatives have greatly boosted the 2000-employee Communications Security Establishment, which engages in international spying.)

The most propagandistic commentators claim Canada severed diplomatic relations to stop the Iranian embassy in Ottawa from engaging in terrorist plots in this country. They, of course, provide no evidence for their claims. And, in fact, it’s more likely that Canadians may have had a role, or perhaps knowledge of, coordinated attacks in Iran than the other way around. How could anyone believe otherwise when there haven’t been any recent foreign-sponsored terrorist attacks in Canada, while there have been several of what appear to be targeted killings (of nuclear scientists) in Iran?

After the Harper government severed diplomatic relations with Iran, a number of media outlets began to crazily fear-monger. Sun media asked readers “Do you think Iran is a threat to Canada?” while a front page Ottawa Citizen headline noted “U.S. eyes missile defence for East Coast. System could also protect Canada from Iranian strikes.”

No media dared ask whether Canada is a threat to Iran, even though the defence minister recently mused about the Canadian military preparing for an assault on that country. On top of that, Canadian troops occupy a country bordering Iran and Canadian naval vessels run provocative manoeuvres off its coast. Despite all this and the economic sanctions that have been imposed no one in the Canadian mainstream media even calls this what it is, a low level war.

The embassy closure should be seen as one more escalation in this war. It reflects the depths of the Conservatives’ longstanding campaign against Iran. Ottawa’s bid to stop all economic relations with Iran has been so successful that Harper can shutter the embassy with little difficulty. After all, most of what Canadian embassies do is facilitate business deals. In Iran, because of Conservative policies, there are none to be made.

That’s the real reason why Harper closed the embassy.


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Harper’s war against Iran

Is Canada at war with Iran? The evidence is growing.

Two weeks ago an earthquake in northwest Iran killed 300, injured 3000 and affected 300,000 more people yet Canadians have raised relatively little for the victims. The reasons include a dearth of Canadian charities in Iran, general media indifference to suffering in an “enemy” country and, according to a North Shore Outlook headline, “Confusion over sanctions keeps Iran aid money in Canada.” Apparently, many in North Vancouver’s large Iranian diaspora community fear that donating to the relief could contravene the near total sanctions Ottawa has imposed.

They are right to be concerned. At the start of July Toronto Dominion began canceling the bank accounts of Iranian Canadians who had received money from, or transferred money to, Iran. The bank said it was simply complying with the government’s Special Economic Measures (Iran) Regulations. In a bid to suffocate the country’s economy, the Conservatives (along with the US and Britain) have blocked virtually all financial transactions with Iran.

The sanctions are part of a low-level war the US and Israel have been waging against the country in recent years. Some Iranian scientists have been assassinated, the country’s computer structure sabotaged and Washington has distributed tens of millions of dollars to violent and nonviolent opposition groups.

Beyond economic sanctions, Ottawa has contributed to the war in various ways. Conservative officials have compared Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the Prime Minister recently claimed Iran’s leaders “frighten me”. In an August 23 letter calling on UN Secretary-General Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reconsider attending the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Iran, foreign minister John Baird wrote: “Iran’s current rulers will use your presence to further their own, hateful purposes. … Such a visit would only serve to legitimize and condone the record of this regime, which Canada views as the single most significant risk to global peace and security today.”

In March defence minister Peter MacKay said the military was preparing for a possible military attack against Iran. “We are pursuing every diplomatic means, but the fact remains we have to be prepared for what may come and that’s something the national defence department takes very seriously,” MacKay told Sun News. “We are always planning, always preparing.”

This isn’t abstract planning. Canadian soldiers continue to occupy Afghanistan, a country bordering Iran and in February the Canadian Press reported that small numbers of Canadian military trainers were sent to Herat in western Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. For much of Harper’s time in office the Canadian navy has been patrolling near Iran’s waters. In January a Canadian warship departed to the Mediterranean Sea, according to the Ottawa Citizen, “for at least one year to provide a persistent Canadian presence near potential flashpoints.” Two months ago HMCS Regina was also dispatched to the region to join the growing US military presence off Iran’s coast. The National Post reported: “Having the Charlottetown and other Canadian warships near Iran fits with the Harper government’s strong opposition to Iran’s suspected plan to acquire nuclear weapons.”

A number of media reports in 2008 described Canadian naval vessels running provocative manoeuvres off Iran’s coast. In July of that year, a National Post reporter on board a Canadian naval vessel explained: “The usual tense games were played this weekend as this Canadian warship responsible for refuelling and replenishing a coalition task force in the Indian Ocean passed in a heavy haze through one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Iranian radio operators trying to hail the [Canadian vessel] Protecteur were interrupted by Omanis who firmly told their neighbours not speak to the Canadians who were making an ‘innocent passage’ through Omani territorial waters.”

To justify their aggression, the Conservatives have tried to create the impression that Iran was preparing to attack Israel with nuclear weapons. During a visit to Israel six months ago foreign minister John Baird compared the situation with Iran to the Nazi holocaust. “Obviously you can understand why the Jewish people and why Israel would take [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] seriously. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf more than a decade before he became Chancellor of Germany. And they take these issues pretty seriously here.”

Despite both US and Israeli intelligence agencies concluding that there is no proof of an Iranian nuclear arms program, the Prime Minister told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in February it was “beyond any doubt” Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons. Harper went on to say he was “absolutely convinced” Iran “would have no hesitation about using nuclear weapons.”

As Canadian Peace Alliance co-chair Derrick O’Keefe pointed out at the time: “This last comment is extraordinary; Harper is in effect claiming to know for a fact that the regime in Tehran is suicidal… Any attack by Iran, let alone its use of hypothetical nuclear weapons, would result in its total obliteration.”

The strange thing is that it is Israel that possesses nuclear weapons and threatens to attack Iran, not the other way around. While Ottawa considers Iran’s nuclear energy program a major threat, Israel’s 100 atomic bombs have not provoked similar condemnation. At a number of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings the Harper government abstained on votes asking Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under IAEA controls.

In September 2009 Ottawa condemned as “unbalanced” an IAEA resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and have its nuclear facilities inspected. The Conservatives tried to block the vote. Ultimately, 100 countries supported the resolution while Israel opposed it. Canada, India, Georgia and the US abstained. In September 2010 Bloomberg cited Canada as one of three countries that opposed an IAEA probe of Israel’s nuclear facilities as part of an Arab-led effort to create a nuclear-weapons free Middle East.

US and Israeli officials have been claiming Iran is on the cusp of producing nuclear weapons for decades. An April 24, 1984, United Press International article headlined “‘Ayatollah’ Bomb in Production for Iran” warned that Iran was moving “very quickly” towards a nuclear weapon. Three years later the Washington Post published an article titled “Atomic Ayatollahs: Just What the Mideast Needs – an Iranian Bomb.” At different points in the 1990s Israeli Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu both said Iran would build a nuclear bomb by the end of that decade.

The double standards and power imbalance in the conflict between Israel/US and Iran are staggering. Iran has no atomic bomb while Israel has over 100 and the US has 5,000 nuclear warheads. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded in 2011 that Washington devotes more money to nuclear weapons than the rest of the world combined. At just over $60 billion a year, this is more than four times Iran’s entire military budget.

The decision-makers in Washington and Tel Aviv are not threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons. Rather they worry about Iran’s challenge to their regional domination. And, like a good follower, Harper has enthusiastically gone along with his friends’ war.

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The Conservatives and Saudis

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have strengthened military, business and diplomatic ties with one of the most misogynistic and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as Saudi Arabia’s constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in the country are banned from owning bibles or attending church.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the “Arab Spring” democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of establishment political movements and by deploying 1500 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain. The Saudi monarchy may be the worst regime in the world. (The US, of course, is responsible for far more violence but it is relatively free domestically. North Korea is as repressive but its foreign policy is benign compared to Saudi Arabia’s.)

The Conservatives have been extremely deferential towards the Saudi leadership. When Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud died in June foreign minister John Baird gushed with praise. “Saudi Arabia has lost an honourable man of great achievement who has dedicated his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia.” In fact, Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, interior minister for three and a half decades, was considered a fairly conservative member of the Al Saud family who resisted the weakening of Wahhabi religious doctrine as a threat to the monarchy’s grip on power.

When defence minister and deputy premier Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud died in October 2011 Baird issued a similar assessment. “The Kingdom has lost a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.” Appointed defence and aviation minister in 1962, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was a leading figure in the country for five decades. He pushed a stridently anti-communist position and was implicated in a number of major corruption scandals.

The Conservatives released two press releases praising the lives of Saudi princes but they stayed quiet when the regime took the lives of “Arab Spring” protesters. This author could find no direct Canadian criticism of Saudi Arabia’s role in crushing the democracy movement in Bahrain. Nor did the Conservatives release any statement about the Saudi’s domestic repression. Alongside the upsurge in protest across the region, small numbers demonstrated in Riyadh and other major centres. They were quickly disbursed in what Amnesty International called a new “wave of repression” that saw hundreds of reformists arrested and imprisoned after “grossly unfair” trials. Similarly, when the long oppressed Shia Muslim minority in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia began agitating for change many were arrested or killed.

Not a single one of the 300+ statements released by Foreign Affairs since the beginning of 2011 has concerned the repression in Saudi Arabia.

Even when the monarchy targeted Canadians, the Conservatives generally stayed silent. For example, when Shaykh Usama Al-Atar led a group prayer in October 2011 the Edmonton-based Shia imam was beaten and arrested by police in Medina, but the Conservatives said little. “We were a bit surprised the Canadian government hasn’t taken the role that it should and there’s no support for him right now in Medina where he needs it most. He needs to be visited by consular officials,” Massoud Shadjareh, spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission told CTV’s Canada AM.

Al-Atar’s experience reflected a pattern. The Conservatives refused to act when 21-year-old Nazia Quazi’s father forced her to remain in Saudi Arabia by taking her Canadian and Indian passports as well as other identification. Nazia’s case was similar to that of long-time Montréaler Nathalie Morin whose Saudi husband refused to let her and their three Canadian-born children leave the country. The Conservatives said or did little.

What explains the Conservatives refusal to confront the Saudis? The answer is support for the monarchy’s pro-US foreign policy and the Saudi monarchy’s growing role in international financial markets. Much to Washington’s pleasure, the Saudi’s led opposition to the “Arab Spring” and are aggressively hostile to Iran. The Kingdom is also home to a number of the world’s biggest investment funds. In a bid to entice investment in Canadian companies ministers Peter Van Loan and John Baird (as well as former prime ministers, turned corporate lobbyists, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien) recently visited Prince Alwaleed, 95% owner of the $20 billion Kingdom Holding Company.

Under the Conservatives there has been growing diplomatic, business and military relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. Conservative ministers Lawrence Cannon, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, John Baird, Ed Fast (upcoming) and Stockwell Day (twice) visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes. These trips spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. Bombardier and SNC Lavalin, for instance, have received some $600 million in Saudi contracts in recent years.

The Conservatives also developed military relations with the Saudis. For the first time, on January 10, 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel. In another first, Saudi pilots began training in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Cold Lake, Alberta in 2011 with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada (NFTC). Dubbed “the benchmark for military flying training”, NFTC is run by the Canadian Forces and Bombardier.

At the start of 2010 the government-backed Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries sent its first-ever trade mission to Saudi Arabia. It was successful. According to a February 2012 Postmedia report, in 2011 the Conservatives approved arms export licences worth a whopping $4 billion to Saudi Arabia. Canadian small arms, ammunition as well as various weapons systems and components, have made their way to Saudi Arabia. But, Canada’s main export to the Saudis are the wheels of war. A General Dynamics factory in London, Ontario has produced more than a 1,000 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) for the Saudi military, which used the vehicles when their forces rolled into Bahrain in March of last year.

Already equipped with hundreds of Canadian-built LAVs, the Saudis contracted General Dynamics Land Systems for another 724 LAVs in 2009. 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 as mentioned they approved $4 billion worth of arms exports in 2011, which included many more (Canadian Commercial Corporation facilitated) LAVs.

Canada didn’t just sell the vehicles to Saudi Arabia. A Canadian colonel, Mark E.K. Campbell, also leads General Dynamics Land Systems Saudi Arabian LAV support program.

The Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate the absurdity (even on their terms) of Harper’s claim that “we are taking strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.”

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Harper and NATO

Harper’s Conservatives are enamored with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Canada played a central role in last year’s NATO-led bombing of Libya and nearly 1000 Canadian military “trainers” continue to participate in a war the organization is waging in Afghanistan. Last year Defense Minister Peter MacKay justified a plan to establish 7 Canadian military bases around the world, partly on the grounds that “we are big players in NATO.”

The Conservatives’ position is a throwback of sorts. For the first two decades of the organization NATO was at the heart of this country’s foreign policy. Only exaggerating slightly, Pierre Trudeau claimed that in the years prior to him becoming Prime Minister in 1968 “we had no defence policy, so to speak, except that of NATO. And our defence policy had determined all of our foreign-policy. And we had no foreign policy of any importance except that which flowed from NATO.”

Established in 1949, some believe NATO was a Canadian idea. External Affairs Undersecretary Lester Pearson began thinking about a formal western military alliance in 1946 and in March 1948 he represented Canada at top secrets talks with the US and Britain on the possibility of creating a north Atlantic alliance.

Officially, NATO was the West’s response to an aggressive Soviet Union. The idea that the US, or even Western Europe, was threatened by the Soviet Union after World War II is laughable. Twenty-five million people in the Soviet Union lost their lives in the war while the US came out of WWII much stronger than when they entered it. After the destruction of WWII, the Soviets were not interested in fighting the US and its allies, which Canadian and US officials admitted privately.

Rather than a defence against possible Russian attack, NATO was conceived as a reaction to growing socialist sentiment in Western Europe. 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. NATO was largely designed, as Pearson explained in an 1948 internal memo, “to raise in the hearts and minds and spirits of all those in the world who love freedom that confidence and faith which will restore their vigour.” The External Minister was fairly open about NATO’s purpose. In March 1949 Pearson told the House of Commons: “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”.

Blunting the European Left was a big part of the establishment of NATO. 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.”

Two years later the external minister said: “The defence of the Middle East is vital to the successful defence of Europe and north Atlantic area.” In February 1953 Pearson went even further: “There is now only a relatively small [5000 kilometre] geographical gap between southeast Asia and the area covered by the North Atlantic treaty, which goes to the eastern boundaries of Turkey.”

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

To maintain their colonies European powers increasingly depended on North American diplomatic and financial assistance. NATO passed numerous resolutions supporting European colonial authority. In the fall of 1951 Pearson responded to moves in Iran and Egypt to weaken British influence by telling Parliament: “The Middle East is strategically far too important to the defence of the North Atlantic area to allow it to become a power vacuum or to pass into unfriendly hands.”

The next year Ottawa recognized the colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as “associated states” of France, according to an internal report, “to assist a NATO colleague, sorely tried by foreign and domestic problems.” More significantly, Canada gave France tens of millions of dollars in military equipment through NATO’s Mutual Aid Program. These weapons were mostly used to suppress the Vietnamese and Algerian independence movements. In 1953 Pearson told the House: “The assistance we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo- China [Vietnam].” Similarly, Canadian and US aid was used by the Dutch to maintain their dominance over Indonesia and West Papa New Guinea, by the Belgians in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and by the British in numerous places.

NATO propped up European colonial authority but it did so in the context of expanding Washington’s influence over the Global South. Leading NATO proponents such as US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, President Harry Truman and Lester Pearson all saw the 1950-53 US-led Korean War as NATO’s first test, even though it took place thousands of miles from the north Atlantic area. Designed to maintain internal unity among the leading capitalist powers, NATO was the military alliance of the post- World War II US-centered multilateral order, which included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and International Trade Organization (ITO).

Sixty years later NATO continues to enforce a US-led geopolitical and economic system, which explains the Conservatives strong support for the organization.

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Canada supports another Latin American coup

Six weeks ago 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. Last week the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported: “Not a single Latin American government has recognized [Federico] Franco’s presidency.”

But Canada was one of only a handful of countries in the world that immediately recognized the new government. “Canada notes that Fernando Lugo has accepted the decision of the Paraguayan Senate to impeach him and that a new president, Federico Franco, has been sworn in,” said Diane Ablonczy, deputy foreign minister, the day after the coup. This statement was premature. After a confusing initial statement, Lugo rejected his ouster and announced the creation of a parallel government.

A week after the coup Stephen Harper’s Conservatives participated in an Organization of American States 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. Ablonczy said the aim of the OAS mission was to “provide important context from Paraguay to inform international reaction. It is important that we avoid a rush to judgment and focus on the best interests of the Paraguayan people.” The delegation concluded that the OAS should not suspend Paraguay, which displeased many South American countries.

In an interview three weeks after his ouster Lugo alluded to Ottawa’s hostility. “With the current polarization between the United States, Canada and Mexico on one end and South America on the other, we have tried to find regional alternatives. The coup d’etat now attempts to attack the [South American] regional integration efforts.” Both the Canadian Labour Congress and the newly formed international labour federation IndustriALL Global Union criticized the Conservatives move to recognize the new government.

On a couple of occasions the overthrown president has claimed Canadian economic interests contributed to the coup. “Those who pushed for the coup are those who want to solidify the negotiations with the multinational Rio Tinto Alcan, betraying the energetic sovereignty and interests of our country,” Lugo told his supporters one month after the coup. IndustriALL Global Union concurred with the president, sending a letter to the CEO of Rio Tinto. “Rio Tinto, which has a legendary association with the government of Canada, has been quick off the mark to resume negotiations on behalf of Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan for a $4 billion aluminum plant,” wrote Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union. The labour federation called on “Rio Tinto to publicly disclose its interest and involvement, if any, in the coup d’état in Paraguay and the ousting of a legitimately elected democratic government of Fernando Lugo.”

In 2010 Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, began lobbying the Paraguayan government for subsidized electricity to set up a massive aluminum plant near the Paraná River. The company was seeking a 30-year contract that could cost Paraguay’s government hundreds of millions of dollars and they received Ottawa’s backing. According to international media reports, the Canadian embassy in Buenos Aires, which is in charge of this country’s diplomatic relations in Paraguay, lobbied the government on Rio Tinto Alcan’s behalf.

The Lugo government was divided over the project, which would consume more energy than the country’s entire 6.5 million population and damage the environment in various other ways. Three weeks before Lugo’s ouster Vice-President Federico Franco, who represented an opposition party, complained to Ultima Hora newspaper: “I told the President of the Republic (Lugo): why did you send me to Canada to study the [aluminum] project if, finally, a Deputy Minister (Mercedes Canese) was going to oppose it.” After the coup the vice-president became president and Franco announced that negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan would be fast tracked.

Harper’s Conservatives must be happy.

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The truth about Lester Pearson

The Top 10 things you don’t know about Canada’s most famous statesman, Lester B. Pearson

10 Asked in Parliament, he refused to call for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

9. He had Canada deliver weapons to the French to put down the Algerian and Vietnamese independence movements.

8. The Kennedy administration helped Pearson win his first minority government.

7. He incited individuals to destroy a peace group after it called for the outlawing of nuclear weapons.

6. Pearson backed the CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala.

5. He described the formation of NATO, not peacekeeping, as the “most important thing I participated in.”

4. Pearson threatened to quit as external affairs minister if Canada failed to deploy ground troops to Korea.

3. He agreed to have Canada’s representatives to the International Control Commission for Vietnam spy for the US and deliver their bombing threats to the North.

2. The world’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, considers Lester Pearson a war criminal.

1. Stephen Harper’s foreign policy resembles that of Pearson more than any Liberal would ever admit.

Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping — The Truth May Hurt, published by Fernwood, is now available for sale at Turning the Tide Books.

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What explains Harper’s slavish support for Israel?

Pro-Israel politicians regularly claim their position is a defense of the Jewish community. Its rare when they say their goal is to mobilize those who believe a Jewish “return” to the Middle East will hasten end times or that Israel is a prized ally as a heavily militarized “white” outpost near much of the world’s oil.

Last Fall Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines investigated Stephan Harper’s one-sided support for Israel. Widely disseminated in pro-Palestinian circles, the Avi Lewis narrated TV program effectively highlighted the divide between Canada’s pro-Israel government and growing grassroots support for Palestinians. But, by focusing entirely on Jewish organizations, Fault Lines left the viewer with the impression that Harper’s pro-Israel policy is simply designed to placate the mainstream Jewish community.

Many Canadian supporters of the Palestinian cause seem to support this view that Harper’s over-the-top support for Israel is driven by ethnic politics. But the numbers don’t add up.

First of all, there are about three times as many Muslim and Arab Canadians as Jews. Just over one per cent of the population in the 2006 census, 315,120 Canadians, identified their origin as Jewish, either alone or combined with another ethnicity (the actual number of Jews is slightly higher but religion is counted every other census). Jews were the 25th largest group defined by ethnic origin, and only in a handful of electoral ridings are they a significant minority of the electorate. Of these ridings, just a couple have competitive races.

While it’s true that Jews have high levels of political engagement, are well represented in positions of influence and are a relatively prosperous minority group, the importance of supporting Israel can easily be exaggerated. In fact, historic voting patterns suggest few Canadian Jews vote based on Ottawa’s policy towards Israel. While this may have shifted slightly in the most recent election, historically there is actually an inverse correlation between pro-Israel governments and Jewish support. Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien, for instance, garnered more support from the Jewish community than Brian Mulroney. Yet Mulroney was more supportive of Israel than Trudeau and Chretien.

The truth is pro-Israel Jewish lobbyists appear influential because they operate within a favourable political climate. They are pushing against an open door. How much power they really have can be seen when they confront an important source of power. There have been two major instances when that has taken place.

In 1979, at the instigation of Israeli PM Menachem Begin, short-lived Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark announced plans to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city. Arab threats of economic sanction pushed the CEOs of Bell Canada, Royal Bank, ATCO and Bombardier, which all had important contracts in the region, to lobby Clark against making the move. An embarrassed federal government backtracked, more worried about an important sector of corporate power than the pro-Israel Jewish lobby.

Similarly, in 1956, when Israel invaded Egypt along with Britain and France, Canada helped undermine the aggressors, by siding with the U.S. Fearing the invasion would add to Moscow’s prestige in a geo-strategically important region, Washington opposed it. Moreover, the rising world hegemon wanted to tell London and Paris that there was a new master in the Middle East. In helping to establish a U.N. peacekeeping force to relieve the foreign troops, Ottawa chose to side with Washington, not the pro-Israel Jewish lobby.

Rather than “Jewish votes” Harper’s “Israel no matter what” policy has more to do with mobilizing his rightwing, evangelical base on an issue (unlike abortion) that the government believes has limited electoral downside. While a cross section of Protestants has long supported Zionism, backing is particularly strong among evangelicals who believe Jews need to “return” to the Middle East to hasten the second coming of Jesus and the Apocalypse.

A year ago B’nai Brith’s Jewish Tribune reported on a Conservative MP’s speech to a major Christian Zionist event in Toronto. “Jeff Watson, Conservative MP for Essex, delivered greetings from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The creation of the state of Israel fulfills God’s promise in Deuteronomy to gather the Jewish people from all corners of the world, he said.”

About 10 per cent of Canadians identify themselves as evangelicals (including a number of cabinet ministers). The president of the rightwing Canadian Centre for Policy Studies, Joseph Ben-Ami, explains, “The Jewish community in Canada is 380,000 strong; the evangelical community is 3.5 million. The real support base for Israel is Christians.”

In addition to mobilizing some evangelicals and Jews, Harper’s affinity for Israel is also motivated by that country’s militarism. Conservative leaders are impressed by the large political, cultural and economic role Israel’s military plays in the country’s affairs. In recent years Canada-Israel military ties have grown rapidly with both countries top generals and defence ministers visiting each other’s countries. At the same time there has been an increase in weapons sharing and relations between arms manufacturers in the two countries have grown considerably. (For details see Kole Kilibarda’s Canadian and Israeli Defense —Industrial and Homeland Security Ties: An Analysis).

Historically, Canadian support for Israel has largely mirrored different governments’ relations to the U.S. Empire. The federal governments most enthralled to Washington, Mulroney and Harper for instance, have been Israel’s biggest cheerleaders. Canadian policy towards the Middle East has generally been designed to enable U.S. imperial designs on a strategic part of the planet. And Ottawa’s longstanding support for Israel has been based on the idea that it is a valuable Western military outpost.

External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson, a staunch supporter of Israel and leading foreign policy decision-maker for decades, explained this thinking in a 1952 memo to cabinet: “With the whole Arab world in a state of internal unrest and in the grip of mounting anti-western hysteria, Israel is beginning to emerge as the only stable element in the whole Middle East area.” Pearson went on to explain how “Israel may assume an important role in Western defence as the southern pivot of current plans for the defence” of the eastern Mediterranean.

Politically, culturally and economically dependent on North America and Europe, Israel is a dependable Western imperial outpost in the heart of the (oil-producing) Middle East.

Due to its Jewish/’White’ supremacist character Israeli society is overwhelmingly in opposition to its neighbours, heightening its geopolitical reliability. In all other U.S.-backed Middle Eastern countries, for instance, the population wants their government to have less to do with Washington while Israelis want closer ties.

Recent developments in Colombia may help illustrate this point. For most of the past decade Colombian President Alvaro Uribe acted as a U.S.-backed bulwark against the rising tide of support for a left-leaning Latin American integration that was sweeping South America. But, recent events suggest this dynamic may be coming to an end with Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos. Colombians simply have too much in common with their neighbours (be it language, history, culture) so the new government has begun to reorient the country’s regional policy against Washington’s wishes. Colombians “South American character” makes them unreliable long-term allies.

In contrast Israeli’s European and North American colonial character is seen to make them reliable.

The power of empire has tilted Ottawa towards Israel and until there is a significant source of power in Canada (or internationally) backing the Palestinians it is likely to stay that way. Social justice, humanism and morality rarely motivate Canadian foreign policy. Instead, power is what drives foreign affairs and Palestinians have never had much of it.

Long under Ottoman rule, then British control after World War I, the Palestinians were an oppressed and relatively powerless people. Palestinians also had the misfortune of living on land claimed by a predominantly European political movement: Zionism.

Historically, Ottawa has sided with colonial powers and opposed national liberation struggles. Canada opposed calls for the withdrawal of Dutch troops from Indonesia in the late 1940s. For decades Canada supported British colonialism in Africa while throughout the late 1950s it sided with France against the Algerian liberation movement. Into the 1970s, Ottawa backed Portugal as it waged a colonial war against the people of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. It took decades of struggle within Canada — and a shift in the international climate — for Ottawa to withdraw its backing for the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Considering this history, it’s not surprising that Ottawa opposes the Palestinian national liberation struggle. To focus on the Jewish lobby is to downplay Canada’s broader pro-colonial, pro-empire foreign policy. It is a mistake to view Ottawa’s support for Israel in isolation. That support should not be divorced from a wider foreign-policy discussion. The Palestinian solidarity movement needs to make its critique of Canadian foreign-policy more explicit.

We should “de-ethnicize” the conflict. This is not an Arab or Jewish issue but rather one of global importance about basic human dignity.

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension.

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Parking ruins cities, destroys environment

Last Friday activists and artists were celebrating PARK(ing) Day in hundreds of cities around the world.

Begun in San Francisco six years ago the aim of the annual event is “to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “‘PARK(ing)’ spaces: temporary public places.” Organizers generally add benches or fake grass to pieces of public property usually taken up by a private car. Some are more adventurous, filling spots with ping-pong tables, basketball hoops or even a knitted garden in a PARK.

Incredibly, PARK(ing) Day participants often find themselves contravening the law, even when they fill the meter. In many cities only a motorized vehicle is allowed to occupy a parking space unless the city has granted a special permit.

PARK(ing) Day successfully draws attention to a topic that receives little in the way of social commentary. Beyond the seemingly endless quest for an empty spot, parking is rarely discussed, yet it shapes urban environments. Parked 95 percent of the time, personal cars require a huge amount of storage space and whether on the exurban fringe or downtown, parking blight is a plague upon the land.

“Perhaps nothing has made American cities less memorable,” write John Jakle and Keith Sculle in Lots of Parking. “Parking lots have eaten away cities in the United States like moths devouring a lace wedding gown,” chimes in Mark Childs.

History reinforces his vivid imagery. In the first half of the century, many charming centers were stripped of their character as historic buildings were razed to make way for surface parking. In 1910, for instance, Detroit’s Cadillac Square met its end and became a giant parking lot.  “All across the United States,” write Jakle and Sculle, “especially in county seat towns with court house squares, public space was systematically diverted to parking, thus eroding traditional open space in favor of auto storage.”

No great city has an abundance of parking. At least, that was the conclusion of Better Neighborhoods, a study by the San Francisco planning department, which described places like Joe DiMaggio’s childhood neighborhood of North Beach as a dying breed:

If we had to rebuild a place like North Beach under today’s [government imposed] parking requirements, as much as a third of the space where people live would be given up for parking. We would lose much of the street-life — the shops and cafes, the vendors and the stoops — that make areas like North Beach vibrant and interesting. We don’t build places like these today because we require so much parking. There are plenty of examples of the kinds of buildings our parking requirements result in. We just need to imagine a city composed entirely of these buildings, and ask ourselves if this is the kind of city we want in the future.

Contrary to orthodox planning, great streets do well without “enough” parking. In the vibrant central district of Carmel, California for instance, off-street parking is prohibited. Similarly, Boston, New York and San Francisco limit parking downtown (though they require it everywhere else).

In 1923, Columbus, Ohio, became the first city to make off-street parking mandatory for all new apartment buildings. Twenty-five years later, 185 cities had introduced parking requirements for land uses ranging from hospitals and theatres to office buildings and houses. “By 1960,” Jakle and Sculle explain, “nearly every large American city included parking requirements in its zoning program not just for tall buildings but for all buildings.” Even Houston — a city without zoning — requires off-street parking for every imaginable land use (restaurants, shops, apartments and more).

In many counties, five parking spaces — about 1,500 square feet — are required for every 1,000 square feet of shop or restaurant floor space. In one especially arduous stipulation, Montgomery County, Maryland, required funeral parlors to provide 83 parking spaces (24,900 square feet) per 1,000 square feet of floor area. Perhaps that explains the high cost of dying.

Divorce Your Car author Katie Alvord reflects upon the priorities of a California city that required 2.8 public library books per thousand residents and 2.2 parking spaces for every housing unit; a 4,000 unit development with an average of 2.7 people per unit would need 30 new library books and 8,800 parking spaces (2,640,000 square feet). This could be why more people seem to know the make and model of a car than the capital of the neighboring state.

Unlike most zoning ordinances that simply prohibit something, parking requirements are proscriptive: They tell developers exactly what to do. No city bans the construction of apartments with one bedroom or bathroom. Many, however, ban the construction of apartments with only one parking spot. Converting buildings to different uses is difficult in places with supercharged parking requirements. In many cities, a new business simply cannot move into a building that formerly housed an operation with lower parking requirements without adding more spaces (or obtaining a variance).

Extensive parking requirements have reduced many architects to designing buildings around parking laws. “Form follows parking requirements,” laments parking guru, Donald Shoup. This was already the case in 1948 Los Angeles, when the Journal of American Institute of Planners noted that, “in many cases, the number of garage spaces actually control the number of dwelling units which could be accommodated on a lot.”

Since all units, irrespective of size, are generally required to have a parking spot, apartments have become larger and more expensive. The financial and logistical burden created by parking requirements restricts the rooming supply. “Zoning requires a home for every car, but ignores homeless people,” writes Shoup. “By increasing the cost of housing, parking requirements make the real homelessness problem even worse.”

Mandatory parking is almost always “free” (the law sometimes stipulates that it must be). In Los Angeles, for example, commercial and office spaces must provide at least three free parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet. Even when zoning laws don’t mandate free parking, the saturated “market” creates an expectation that parking will be free.

Would there be any need for parking requirements if people were willing to pay? Wouldn’t profit-oriented businesses sell as much parking as they could charge for? Yet, drivers park free for 99 percent of all car trips. “It is no doubt ironic,” quipped German auto historian, Wolfgang Zuckermann, “that the motorcar, superstar of the capitalist system, expects to live rent-free.”

The push for subsidized parking began in the 1910s and 20s. Cities across the USA began devoting tens of millions of dollars to widen streets and cut down trees to increase parking space. Today it’s hard to find a street without space for curb parking, which Shoup argues, “may be the most costly subsidy Americans cities provide for most of their citizens.”

The cost of “free” parking is almost always hidden. Be it at Wal-Mart, McDonalds or a hospital, the free parking that lurks in the backyard of almost all private enterprise is buried in product prices.

“Seemingly, everyone but the motorist pays for parking,” lament Jakle and Sculle. The cost of “free” parking is astronomical. In 2002, for instance, the total subsidy for off-street parking in the USA was between $127 billion and $374 billion. Shoup argues that, “The cost of all parking spaces in the U.S. exceeds the value of all cars and may even exceed the value of all roads.”

The financial and social costs of automobile storage are enormous. PARK(ing) Day helps shine a spotlight on this little discussed topic.

To participate in next year’s events go to

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UN force’s filthy record in Haiti

How much is a Haitian life worth to the UN? Apparently, not even an apology.

On 6 August, a unit of the 12,000 member United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (Minustah) based in the central plateau city of Hinche was caught dumping faeces and other waste in holes a few feet from a river where people bathe and drink. After complaints by locals and an investigation by journalists, city officials burned the waste near the Guayamouc river. The mayor of Hinche, André Renaud, criticised Minustah’s flagrant disregard for the community’s health and called for the expulsion of some foreign troops.

On 21 August, the UN was again accused of improper sewage disposal, 10 miles from Hinche.

As is their wont, Minustah officials simply deny dumping sewage. Last week, the UN released a statement claiming they had no reason to dump waste since the base in Hinche built a treatment plant and sewage disposal on 15 June.

“The United Nations Mission for Stabilisation in Haiti (Minustah) formally denies being responsible for the dumping of waste in Hinche or elsewhere in the territory of Haiti.”

For anyone who has followed Minustah’s operations this denial rings hollow. Ten months ago, reckless sewage disposal at the UN base near Mirebalais caused a devastating cholera outbreak (pdf). In October 2010, a new deployment of Nepalese troops brought the water-borne disease to Haiti that has left 6,200 dead and more than 438,000 ill.

The back story to this affair is that the waste company managing the base, Sanco Enterprises SA, disposed of faecal matter from the Nepalese troops in pits that seeped into the Artibonite River. Locals drank from the river, which is how the first Haitians became infected with cholera. Officials for the UN and the contractor have passed the blame back and forth: the former saying the contractor is responsible for the dump site; the latter saying the UN and a previous contractor established the “procedures” for waste management.

Despite a mountain of evidence collected from local and international researchers, the UN refuses to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak. A November investigation by prominent French epidemiologist, Renaud Piarroux, pointed to the Nepalese troops as the probable origin of the cholera strain, as did a study published by the journal of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and an investigation by Nepalese, Danish and Americans researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona. Released last Tuesday, the latter study showed that the genomes of bacteria from Haitian cholera patients were virtually identical with those found in Nepal when the peacekeepers left their country in 2010.

A week ago, Minustah spokesperson Vincenzo Pugliese said the international organisation was aware of the new study but maintained that “we follow the recommendations of the report released by the group of experts appointed by the secretary general.” That report refused to pinpoint any single source for the cholera outbreak, concluding it was caused by a “confluence of circumstances”.

The debate over cholera’s origin takes places as the disease continues to ravage the country. In June, the beginning of the rainy season, there were a shocking 1,800 new cases per day.

Despite the ongoing impact of cholera and widespread anger at Minustah over the issue, the UN’s sewage disposal has been of little interest to the international media. Recently, the weekly Haiti Liberté published a picture of a UN vehicle dumping sewage into a river on its front page, but an English-language Google search found no reports in the global press about the criticism towards the international organisation’s waste disposal (aside from passing mentions in the leftist San Francisco Bay View and Truthdig).

Media indifference to the UN’s lax health standards is mirrored in the aid world. Supposedly concerned with Haitian well-being, the innumerable foreign NGOs working in Haiti have said little about Minustah’s waste disposal and disregard for public health. In fact, when the cholera outbreak began, various international humanitarian organisations belittled those calling for an investigation into its source.

A few weeks after the outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières’ head of mission in Port-au-Prince, Stefano Zannini, told Montreal daily La Presse, “Our position is pragmatic: to have learnt the source at the beginning of the epidemic would not have saved more lives. To know today would have no impact either.” For their part, Oxfam criticised those who protested the UN bringing a disease with no recorded history in Haiti. “If the country explodes in violence, then we will not be able to reach the people we need to”, an Oxfam spokeswoman, Julie Schindall, told the Guardian after the outbreak.

Rather than support calls for greater accountability, the NGOs jumped to the UN’s defence. Highly dependent on western government funding and political support, NGOs are overwhelmingly focused on a charitable model that fails to challenge the political or economic structures that cause the poverty and illness they seek to cure. But without political pressure, the practices that engender poverty and illness will continue, a point driven home with the UN’s waste disposal and cholera. With no oversight, let alone penalty, Minustah will continue to dispose of waste however it sees fit.

So, how many Haitians must die before Minustah stops its dumping of sewage, reckless of public health? Besides immediately halting this dangerous practice, the force should apologise for introducing cholera to Haiti. And to make that apology meaningful, the UN should compensate Haitians by making the country cholera-free through massive investments in the country’s sanitation and sewage systems.

This article first ran in The Guardian on Sept. 11, 2011

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The automobile promotes racism and inequality

The more cars in a community the worse it is for poor people, especially those in debt.

A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “In Debt Collecting, Location Matters” reveals how companies trying to collect overdue bills can “shop around for the best places to bring their claims.”

The article details what debt collectors look for when choosing a small claims court; the ability to pursue as much of a debtor’s assets as possible, a sympathetic judge and, get this, a car-dominated landscape. The WSJ explains, “Decatur Township [an Indianapolis suburb] has become the preferred courthouse for lawyers who collect soured debt on behalf of medical providers, according to Pam Ricker, who has managed the court’s operations for more than 25 years. The township has no hospitals. Ms. Ricker says a lack of public transportation discourages many defendants from showing up in court, resulting in automatic wins for debt collectors.”

Somewhere along the way debt collectors realized that people who can’t afford to pay their medical bills are more likely to be car-less and thus less able to attend a small claims court far from any bus service. Apparently, these soulless debt collectors care little that those without a vehicle are probably less able to pay their medical bills.

Of course, Decatur Township’s medical collection gambit is an extreme example of how a car-dominated landscape exacerbates inequities, but private car transport also places a greater financial burden on lower income folks in many other ways.

All other forms of land transportation are much more accessible. Shoes, a bike, or a metro pass are cheaper than a car, which costs on average $8,500 to own and operate annually.

Though they drive less, lower income folks are more likely to live on heavily trafficked streets/neighborhoods. Increased car noise and pollution leads to various ills, including higher rates of asthma and cancer. The car contributes to ill health in other ways. As an important means for the wealthy to assert social dominance, the private car heightens cultural inequities and inequality is an increasingly recognized negative health determinant.

The private car has made it possible for the wealthier to live far from the poor (or anyone else without an automobile). Partly to keep out poor people and black folks, suburban counties such as Decatur Township have failed to invest in public transit. In Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism & New Routes to Equity Robert Bullard describes how resistance to “urban” infiltration constrained the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to serving two of the Atlanta region’s ten counties. When Cobb County voted against joining MARTA the unofficial slogan was “Stop Atlanta.” And so, MARTA is filled with lines that bypass wealthy suburban areas or terminate at their boundaries.

Travelling across the U.S. by Greyhound bus to research an ‘anti-car road trip story’ we experienced what appeared to be race/class-inspired transit planning. In the suburbs of New Orleans buses ended their routes abruptly at the edge of municipalities as if the asphalt itself had run out. Less subtle than this relay race bus tag, some highways are made in ways that block buses. In New York, for instance, the overpasses on the Jones Beach Parkway from Manhattan to Long Island were built deliberately low to stop busses from passing beneath and reaching the beaches.

The desire to avoid living with or near blacks stimulated much of U.S. suburban expansion. Although largely understood as a post-Interstate Highway system phenomenon, the white exodus from the city began earlier. The most famous example is the meticulously planned suburb of Levittown, Long Island. In 1953 it had a population of 70,000 — all of whom were white.

In many places the movement of better off whites from the city has diminished the property taxes required to fund social services such as schools, libraries and community centers. Spatial separation enabled by the automobile strengthens the disadvantages of race and class in other ways. Jobs are increasingly located on the outskirts, which is disadvantageous to low-income car-less individuals who often cannot reach these jobs by public transit. People of color are hardest hit since they are less likely to own a car and twice as likely to utilize non-automotive modes of transport.

While increasing inequities the private car also shields drivers from “undesirables”. When we were in Portland an Oregonian columnist writing about street youth shared a reader’s letter detailing the lengths he went to avoid the homeless. In the morning he entered work through the underground parking. At lunch he eschewed the nearby restaurants and slipped into his car to avoid panhandlers. Finally, he used the parkade exit to avoid street people on his way home from work. “Many of us, myself included,” a businessman from Northeast Portland e-mailed the paper, “drive garage (home) to garage (downtown) to garage (home) and never leave the building because of this [street youth] problem. …It’s easier just not to deal with it.”

For the well-to-do, private cars have long been a way to avoid social problems. The automobile’s capacity to create social distance en route appealed to early car buyers. Prominent auto historian, James J. Flink, remarked, “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.”

Overwhelmed by capitalist culture and enmeshed with unions tied to automobile production, socialist parties and movements have largely failed to challenge car-oriented transport for exacerbating inequities. Much the same could be said for an environmental movement highly dependent on rich philanthropists.

We need to face the truth. By design, urban areas liberated from the danger, pollution and ecological devastation of the private automobile enjoy both heightened quality of life and equality of residents.

Getting rid of our private automobile-dominated transportation system should be a priority for all those who believe in social equality and saving our environment.

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Pushing our addiction to cars

By Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi

Recently the McGill Daily and Concordia University’s The Link covered their back page with end of semester advertisements for the 2011 Kia Soul. Above a picture of the small SUV reads: “Like it and Win. Grad [Facebook] Contest.”

These two nonprofit, Left student papers are not alone in promoting this unhealthy, lethal, inefficient and utterly unsustainable mode of transportation. Across the globe newspapers of all types are filled with odes to the private car. For every new vehicle sold today $630 is spent on advertising. In newspapers and magazines, on TV and radio, car ads are overwhelming. Moving beyond traditional car-drenched media the Wall Street Journal noted that, “car companies have been among the most aggressive marketers in trying out new advertising tactics.” Whether you’re at a party, online, at the mall, playing videogames, at the movies or even writing checks, there is an endless promotion of both brand names and automobility. Car advertisers have conquered nearly every sphere of human consciousness.

Cadillac developed a subtle “influencer” campaign where vehicles were loaned to CEOs, doctors and other distinguished individuals. For its part, Honda took a more blue-collar approach to selling cars. The company’s PR department dispatched a team to pump gas at service stations, pass out popcorn at movie theatres and offer aid in supermarket parking lots. These individuals all wore the company logo and could usually be found close to a car with the slogan “Helpful Honda.” Nissan came up with a more novel strategy. To promote the Altima, they deliberately ‘lost’ 20,000 key rings in bars, concert halls and sports arenas in seven major U.S. cities. Each ring had three keys and a tag that declared: “If found please do not return.” The Altima “has intelligent key with push-button ignition and I no longer need these.” A second tag was labeled “gas card” and offered the finder the chance to enter a competition with prizes ranging from free gas to a six-month subscription to Vibe magazine. This innovative marketing strategy followed on the heels of a campaign that hired actors to stand up in movie theatres and talk back to Nissan Altima commercial

The automobile’s new 30-second spot is definitely the videogame. To promote its 2010 GTI hatchback Volkswagen created an iPhone and iPod Touch game. The game allowed players to send messages to competitors on Twitter and post videos of the game to YouTube. Volvo’s S40 model enjoyed so much advertising success from Microsoft’s ‘Rally Sport Challenge Two’ that the company used clips from the game to create a TV ad. Another example is the Dodge Caliber, which made paid appearances in Ghost Recon, Crackdown and custom made four videogames for its launch. Nissan, too, worked with Sony/EA to release a downloadable video game to coincide with the launch of its GTR racecar. Similarly, Chrysler and Activision executives collaborated on American Wasteland, where 3D Jeep vehicles appear an average of 23 times every 20 minutes.

Most major auto companies have executives based in Los Angeles because new models increasingly rely on branded entertainment. Advertising Age summarized the industry’s position: “Automakers: Every car needs a movie.”

Released in July 2007, Transformers was a dream come true for GM. Bumblebee is a Chevy Camaro, Jazz a Pontiac Solstice, Ratchet a Hummer H2, Ironhide a GMC TopKick truck and Stockade a Cadillac Escalade. A number of other GM “car-actors” swept up supporting roles as well. Bob Kraut, GM’s director of brand marketing and advertising, was understandably pleased with the film. “The content is very good,” said Kraut. “The cars are integral to the story. They generate attention. It’s a story of good vs. evil. Our cars are the good guys.”

While bigger and better roles go to the car, the real action takes place behind the scenes. Be it a change in dialogue or camera angle, auto companies have taken an increasingly hands on approach to product placement. Some changes are subtle. In The Forgotten, for instance, Volvo slipped a line into the protagonist’s dialogue, identifying the brand as her car of choice. Other changes are less subtle. After a scene with an Audi was cut from Ironman the car company’s multi-million dollar marketing campaign with the movie was thrown into doubt. “The solution: run a drawn out shot of an Audi Q7 sports utility vehicle being saved by Ironman, complete with a sustained full frontal of Audi’s 4-ring logo.”

Car companies are aware of the silver screen’s value and part with big bucks for permanent spots. Aston Martin paid $35 million to unseat BMW as the official car of James Bond. In a massive agreement with Universal Studios and NBC, Volkswagen spent an estimated $200 million to see its products in Universal Films and on NBC television.

Today’s car ads manipulate nearly every value, emotion and human desire. Be it safety, speed, security, rebellion, the status quo, environmentalism, serenity or the defiance of nature. There is no place the industry won’t go.

The automakers omnipresent advertising explains the private car’s immense cultural standing. Those of us who want a landscape more amenable to pedestrians, cyclists and trolley riders must challenge the promotion of a product many times more damaging than cigarettes. As with tobacco, car advertising should be steadily eliminated (and immediately appropriated). The dominant media, ad agencies and car-makers will no doubt resist bitterly so let’s build momentum towards this end by prodding media outlets with ethical advertising guidelines (campus newspapers, green groups etc.) to immediately ban car ads.

Yves and Bianca are currently on tour for the release of their book Stop Sign— Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay

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Secret documents show Canadian interference in Haiti

By Yves Engler

After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti 15 months ago, most Canadians worried about uncovering those trapped, getting survivors water and connecting family members. But in the halls of power, it seems they were concerned about something very different.

According to internal documents examined by the Canadian Press this month, Canadian officials feared a post-earthquake power vacuum could lead to a “popular uprising”. Obtained through access-to-information legislation, one briefing note marked “Secret” explains, “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 documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

To police Haiti’s traumatized and suffering population 2,000 Canadian troops were deployed (alongside 10,000 American soldiers). At the same time several Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams in cities across the country were readied but never sent because, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon noted, “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”

The files uncovered by the Canadian Press go to the heart (or lack thereof) of Canadian foreign-policy decision-making. Almost always strategic thinking, not compassion, motivates policy. One is hard-pressed to find an instance where compassion was more warranted than post-earthquake Haiti.

The files also tell us a great deal about Ottawa’s relationship to the hemisphere’s most impoverished nation: Canadian officials think they run the place. And they are right.

Since hosting the Jan. 2003 round-table meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, Canada has been a dominant player in Haitian life. At that meeting high level U.S., Canadian and French officials discussed overthrowing elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, putting the country under international trusteeship and resurrecting Haiti’s dreaded military. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting Aristide had been pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun.

Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and the winner of the recent presidential elections, Michel Martelly, plans to divert scarce state resources to re-creating the military.

Canada helped the right-wing Martelly rise to office (with about 16 per cent of voters support, since the election was largely boycotted). Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, from participating. After the first round, our representatives on an Organization of American States Mission helped force the candidate the electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained, “The international community, led by the U.S., France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” Some Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total wasn’t increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of the electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but half didn’t. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections and official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this farcical exercise in “democracy”. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, Haiti Progrès explained “the form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

One reason for this intense political interest in Haiti is the interest of Canadian investors. Canadian banks are among the very few foreign operators in Port-au-Prince and Montreal-based Gildan, one of the world’s biggest blank t-shirt makers, was the second largest employer (after the state) before the earthquake. The mining sector is almost entirely Canadian with many companies entering the country over the past few years. One Vancouver-based company, Eurasian Minerals, acquired prospecting licenses that cover approximately 10 percent of Haiti’s land mass.

To protect these foreign investors and the one percent of Haitians who own half of the country’s wealth, a 10,000-strong UN military force has been occupying the country for seven years. In a bitter irony, soldiers from one of the poorest countries in Asia, Nepal, gave Haiti a disease that thrives in impoverished societies, which lack adequate public sanitation and health systems. In October a new deployment of Nepalese troops brought a strain of cholera to Haiti that has left 5,000 dead and hundreds of thousands more ill. According to the British medical journal the Lancet, up to 800,000 Haitians will contract cholera this year.

The back story to this affair has gone largely unreported. The waste company managing the UN base, Sanco Enterprises S.A., disposed the fecal matter from the Nepalese troops into pits that seeped into the Artibonite River. Locals drank from the river, which is how the first Haitians got infected with cholera.

It’s hard to imagine a company working for the UN in Canada disposing of sewage in such a manner. But, then again the UN occupation force doesn’t much value Haitian life. The same could be said for the Canadian government.

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Stop Signs entertaining, informative

Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay by Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi, 2011, co-published by RED Publishing and Fernwood Publishing, 259 pages, ISBN 9781552663844 (paper), $20, Scheduled for release May, 2011

Reviewed by Richa

The authors, who are based in Canada and do not have driver licenses, use a bus trip to various USA cities as a jumping-off place to look critically at the effects of cars on ourselves and our environment. Calling our car-dominated transportation system “irritating, irrational, irresponsible and increasingly inhuman”, they show how cars take precedence over people and our environment physically, conceptually, even spiritually.

A great deal of up-to-date and well-referenced information is often interesting, disturbing, enlightening. Moreover, it is presented in an engaging way, wrapped into an often funny or ironic personal narrative of the authors’ experiences as they travel.

The first of two parts addresses pollution and global warming, inefficiency and expense, using sex and other means for ubiquitous car advertising, deaths and diseases and serious injuries not only from crashes but from many aspects of car manufacture, use, and disposal, cars’ contribution to sprawl and a divided society, the car as a spiritual icon, and more.

The second part looks at the larger capitalist system and how it is intimately intertwined with cars; how gross inefficiency becomes “efficient” from a capitalist standpoint. That includes advertising and media, corporate and political power, and a brief look at the huge car subsidies. It ends with a call to action with some specific suggestions.

As one who has done some transport research, organizing, education, and advocacy, I am impressed by how well Mugyenyi and Engler have put their information together. Their ideas are clear but without dogmatism; they are open to and understanding of where people are at.

For instance — especially at this time of a sophisticated corporate attack on most working people — they state that employment must be taken into account, though they then note that mass transit employs more people than does road-building.

They also affirm that those who still drive can and should have a major voice in how we move to a more sustainable transport system. They recognize that the problems are systemic, making it difficult to do without a car the way things are now.

That said, I particularly appreciate seeing such a work from the perspective of others who choose not to drive; that is unusual in the USA and Canada, especially among researchers.

Stop Signs will both educate and entertain you; it is well worth the price and the time.

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Why Canada attacked Libya

By Yves Engler

Would Stephen Harper attack Libya simply to justify spending tens of billions of dollars on F-35 fighter jets? Perhaps. But, add on doing it for major Canadian investors, reinforcing his “principled” foreign policy rhetoric and reasserting western control over a region in flux, and you pretty much have the range of reasons why a half dozen CF-18s four other military aircraft and naval frigate are currently engaged in combat 10,000 km away from Canadian soil.

Over the past few months the Conservative’s plan to buy 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets has become a serious political headache. A recent poll showed 68 per cent of Canadians — including a majority of Conservative supporters — agreed that “now is not a good time” to spend between $16 and $29 billion on these controversial single-engine jets. So, sending Canadian military aircraft to enforce a UN “no-fly zone” in Libya provides an opportunity to soften opposition to the F-35 purchase, an issue bound to be a hot topic in the election campaign that formally began Saturday. Most critics of the F-35 purchase — from the NDP’s Michael Byers to Project Ploughshares Ernie Regehr to Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae — support the “humanitarian” mission in Libya. With these and other liberal interventionists supporting a bombing campaign in North Africa, Harper can more easily justify spending nearly $1,000 per Canadian on the best fighter jets money can buy. (Québec housing group, FRAPRU, claims the cost of a single F-35 equals 6,400 social housing units.)

Conveniently, the right-wing press has already begun to connect the dots in support of the Harper government. An Ottawa Citizen headline read, “Libya shows why Canada needs jets,” while a Sun Media chain commentary explained, “enforcing a ‘no-fly’ zone to shut down a dictator is an expeditionary air operation. Is that something Canadians want to be able to do in the future? If yes, you need an F-35, expensive or not.”

Over the past five years, the Conservatives have further militarized Canadian foreign policy. Military spending is at its highest level since World War II — the Harper government expanded Canada’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan, claimed that Russia is planning to attack and sent 2,000 troops to police Haitians after a devastating earthquake.

The Conservatives draw significant support from the military as well as its associated companies and culture. To get us in the fighting spirit, for instance, the Canadian Forces released onboard video footage of a CF-18 destroying a ground target in Libya.

But there is more to it than pleasing the Great White North’s version of the military-industrial complex. On March 21, The Financial Times reported that western oil companies were worried that if Gaddafi defeated the rebels in the east of Libya he would nationalize their operations out of anger at the west’s duplicity. Presumably, this includes Suncor, Canada’s second largest corporation, which signed a multi-billion dollar 30-year oil concession with Libya in 2008.

Home to the second largest amount of Canadian investment in Africa, instability in Libya has put a couple billion dollars worth of this country’s corporate investment in jeopardy. Dru Oja Jay, editor of the Dominion and a candidate for the Mountain Equipment Co-op Board of Directors, notes “Canadian investors are legitimately worried about what’s going to happen to the $1 billion signing bonus Suncor paid out to the Libyan government, or whether SNC-Lavalin is going to recoup its investments in the country, which is home to 10 per cent of its workforce.”And these are some of this country’s most powerful corporations. Embassymagazine includes both Suncor and SNC-Lavalin’s CEOs among the nine most influential business executives in determining Canadian foreign policy.

Would a victorious Gaddafi have moved against Canadian companies? Even if he didn’t, with all the bad press SNC and Suncor have received could they continue in Libya without regime change? Finally, will the rebels dependence on the west lead to better contract terms?

Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, the Conservatives denounced Gaddafi’s repression at the beginning of the Libyan uprising. This is partly because Gaddafi has never been on great terms with much of the West, even if there have been warmer relations in recent years. Also, the Conservatives were widely derided for supporting Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and (to a lesser extent) Ben-Ali in Tunisia to the bitter end. So Libya gave Harper an opportunity to re-affirm his “principled” foreign policy rhetoric.

Beyond wanting to appear on the side of human rights and democracy, another element motivating the military intervention in Libya is the desire to influence the revolutions in bordering states Tunisia and Egypt, which are still in flux. Controlling Libya gives the West another point of leverage over developments in those countries. Bombing Libya tells democratic forces in the region that the west is prepared to use force to assert itself (as does tacit support for the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain).

Recent developments in Libya are a reminder that if you give the western decision-makers an interventionist inch they take an imperial mile. In principle trying to stop Gaddafi from massacring people in eastern Libya is a good thing. But, the “no-fly zone” immediately became a license to bomb Libyan tanks, Gaddafi’s compound and other targets in coordination with rebel attacks. On March 22, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon claimed the UN resolution allowed for “boots on the ground.”

Beyond the inevitable death and destruction in Libya, the security council resolution further undermines state sovereignty, which provides the weakest states with some protection from the most powerful. This is the main reason why many Latin American and African countries have opposed the intervention.

Finally, let’s put the current moral outrage in perspective. A little over two years ago Israel launched a 22-day onslaught against Gaza that left some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, dead. There, the power imbalance between the two sides was much greater and the aggrieved population had been under the boot of the attacking force for as long as Gaddafi has ruled. Yet there was no talk of imposing a no-fly zone over Gaza. In fact, the Harper government cheered Israel on.

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Auto ad dollars dictate the news

To garner positive attention, car manufacturers have penetrated nearly every known form of communication. Ever read a book about cars? It was probably financed by the industry. Automakers have also funded films, architects and urban planners. But, the industry’s main influence within the media is its reach into the newsroom.

Last week Detroit News auto critic, Scott Burgess, resigned after a “Chrysler dealer complained about his review of the Chrysler 200 — the centerpiece of the company’s ‘Imported from Detroit’ advertising campaign.” According to the New York Times business section, “After the article appeared in the print edition Burgess was directed by editors to amend the online version of his story.”

Dependent on advertising for most of its revenue, the Detroit News must be responsive to the auto industry. As much as one-in-seven advertising dollars come from car companies. At $18 billion a year, auto advertisers in the U.S. spend twice the next industry, retail. Not for nothing has it been said that Sunday papers are car advertisements surrounded by casual journalism.

As a result, automakers are a powerhouse of colossal proportions in their dealings with the media. Former New York Times Detroit Bureau chief, Keith Bradsher, explained in High and Mighty, “Top auto executives hold frequent, off-the-record meetings with the nation’s leading publishers and editors, enjoying a level of access that most politicians can only dream of.”

In the early 1970s, controversy erupted as Congress deliberated on new safety standards. During this debate the New York Times ran stories that were, in the words of a former staff member, “more or less put together by the advertisers.” New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger admitted that if the auto industry’s position on safety and auto pollution were not presented, it “would affect the advertising.” As the source of 18 percent of newspaper ad revenue, the automakers called in favours to successfully push back against seatbelt and air bag laws.

It’s not just targeted political fights where the auto industry cashes in. They have a preferred media climate. “Taming the mediascape for an environment conducive to profit,” writes Naomi Klein in No Logo, “the auto industry are averse to controversy of any kind. Take Chrysler for instance; up until 1997, when Chrysler placed an ad it demanded that it be ‘alerted in advance of any and all editorial content that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or any editorial that might be construed as provocative or offensive.” Chrysler also requested advanced notice of negative car editorials and many monthly magazines admit to giving automakers a heads-up (and the opportunity to pull ads) if an unfavourable article is forthcoming.

So, what happens when the automotive industry is not portrayed in all its shining glory? The LA Times knows. After printing a story in April 2005 calling for the dismissal of GM’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, the auto company immediately yanked all advertising from the paper. Reflecting on this incident, The New York Times business section noted that the auto industry “has been embroiled perhaps more than any other in ad controversies.” They cited three recent cases where advertising was pulled due to unpopular editorial decisions: GM pulled its ads from all Ziff-Davis magazines after Car and Driver printed an unflattering review of the Opel-Kadett model — running a photo of the car in a junkyard; auto dealers organized a four-month boycott after the San Jose Mercury News published, “A Car Buyer’s Guide to Sanity,” which offered negotiating tips to counter aggressive sales tactics; Chrysler withdrew its ads from Car and Driver after it published a photo essay displaying the carnage when a Dodge hit a cow at 60 miles per hour during a testdrive in Mexico.

Even Sierra magazine suffered the wrath of the auto industry in the mid 1990s. After failing to block a Sierra article criticizing the fuel economy of SUVs, automakers withdrew all SUV ads — seven percent of the magazine’s gross revenue. (Early on SUVs were promoted as a way to return to the countryside, hence the association with Sierra). This prompted the head of Sierra’s advertisement department to quit in disgust.

The automakers have been playing hardball with the media for a long time. Roy Chapin, founder and chairman of the Hudson Motor Company, said that in 1910 “the Chicago Tribune would not mention the name of any motor car in its columns.” As a result, Chapin noted, “the dealers in Chicago simultaneously withdrew their advertising from the Chicago Tribune. In a mighty short space of time that paper woke up and promised to do almost anything if they could get the advertising, and since that time they have been very decent in their attitude.”

The automotive industry’s approach to the media is summed up by GM’s executive director of advertising and media operations, Betsy Lazar: “It’s clear to us that our ads are less effective in a negative editorial environment. It is as simple as that. We actually have research in the auto magazine category that supports that notion. In some categories, in broadcast news, for example, it is the norm to be notified of a breaking negative story. If time permits, we will be notified by the network ‘there is a negative story tonight. Would you like to move your ads out?’ And we will say, ‘Absolutely.’”

This helps to explain why the corporate media has been so enthralled by the personal car.

Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler’s Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay will be released in April. Anyone interested in organizing a talk as part of a North America wide book tour beginning in May please e-mail:

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Repression of the Canadian left

By Yves Engler

In Argentina they threw leftists out of airplanes while in Chile thousands were detained in stadiums, some tortured and some killed. In Brazil and Uruguay the story was similar. When threatened by progressive forces, the elite in many countries resorted to illegal acts and certainly never felt constrained by constitutional rights.

How about Canada?

For more than three decades the RCMP ran PROFUNC (PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party), a highly secretive espionage operation and internment plan. In October CBC’s Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada’s Enquête aired shows on “this secret contingency plan, called PROFUNC, [which] allowed police to round up and indefinitely detain Canadians believed to be Communist sympathizers.”

In case of a “national security” threat up to 16,000 suspected communists and 50,000 sympathizers were to be apprehended and interned in one of eight camps across the country. Initiated by RCMP Commissioner Stuart Taylor Wood in 1950, the plan continued until 1983.

The plan was highly detailed. Police stations across the country would receive a signal to open their PROFUNC lists and apprehend said individuals. The “communists” would then be taken to “reception centres” where they would be restricted from talking and anyone attempting to flee would be shot. Eventually, the “communists” would be moved to one of the regional internment camps where their contact with the outside world would be limited to a single 1-page letter each week. Their children would be sent to live with other family members.

Thousands of officers collected information for PROFUNC at one time or another. Each potential internee had an arrest document (C-215 form) that was regularly updated with the person’s physical description, age, photos, vehicle information, housing and sometimes the location of doors they might use to escape arrest.

Only a small number of the names on the list are public, but it clearly didn’t take much to be put on it. Enquête uncovered the name of a 13-year girl who was on the list because she attended an anti-nuclear protest in 1964. Many prominent individuals were also on the PROFUNC list, including a former Manitoba cabinet minister, Roland Penner, CBC President Robert Rabinovitch, and NDP leader Tommy Douglas (who was voted greatest Canadian in a CBC poll).

Enquête focused on the presumed use of PROFUNC lists during the 1970 October Crisis when Pierre Trudeau’s government implemented the War Measures Act. The head of the Montreal police’s anti-terrorism squad when the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped two government officials, Julien Giguère, told Enquête that his department had a list of 60 suspected FLQ sympathizers that they wanted to investigate. But the federal government wanted to justify their suspension of civil liberties and their claim of an “apprehended insurrection” so the RCMP and Sureté du Québec added many names to the Montreal police list. These added names appear to have come from PROFUNC lists. In subsequent days police agencies carried out almost 4,000 raids and made 500 arrests. Many of those detained were held without charge for weeks or months.

Robert Kaplan, Solicitor General from 1980 to 1984, ended PROFUNC when he ordered the RCMP to stop whatever they were doing that blocked elderly Canadians from entering the US. Kaplan claims the Fifth Estate informed him of the program.

PROFUNC was disbanded at about the same time as the Trudeau government opened the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP (or Macdonald Commission), which investigated the RCMP’s “theft of the membership list of the Parti Québécois, several break-ins; illegal opening of mail; burning a barn in Quebec where the Black Panther Party and Front de libération du Québec were rumoured to be planning a rendezvous; forging documents; and conducting illegal electronic surveillance.”

As a result of the Macdonald Commission, Ottawa reduced the RCMP’s role in security and intelligence gathering. In 1984 they created the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to carry out security and intelligence gathering work that had previously been the RCMP’s responsibility.

CSIS may not continue all of the functions of PROFUNC, but they definitely still monitor individuals based upon their political beliefs. The focus may no longer be solely on leftists. Politicized Muslims are definitely also on the list.

In recent years CSIS has been involved in the mistreatment of a number of innocent individuals. In 2003 the intelligence agency prodded Sudan to detain Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Sudanese-born Canadian citizen, who was then tortured and put through a harrowing six-year ordeal. CSIS is also largely responsible for the incarceration of more than a dozen Muslims on security certificates. These individuals (who are permanent residents, refugees or foreign nationals living in Canada) have been incarcerated without being able to see the evidence CSIS has put forward against them.

Of course, CSIS doesn’t only target Muslims. From last October to May 2010 at least seven friends of Stefan Christoff, one of Montreal’s most effective grassroots activists, were visited by CSIS agents. They arrived unannounced early in the morning and asked detailed and sometimes menacing questions about Christoff.

CSIS has also been actively spying on Aboriginal protesters. In the lead up to G8/G20 protests in Toronto CSIS was accused of trying to intimidate members of Red Power United.

Before, during and after the recent G8/G20 protests in Toronto Canada’s various security services demonstrated a flagrant disregard for individual’s civil liberties. Usually held in miserable conditions for 48 or 72 hours, about 1,100 people were picked up in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The vast majority of those arrested had their charges dropped because there was not a shred of evidence against them.

To protect against a plan such as PROFUNC or G8/G20 type police repression the Left needs to build a vibrant movement that doesn’t self marginalize. One way the Left can protect itself against security service attacks is to be known by as large of a segment of society as possible. We need to be seen as part of “normal” society.

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Mining Peru

By Yves Engler

A leading candidate for president in Peru’s upcoming April election recently “took his campaign” to Vancouver, reported the city’s leading daily. In December 2010, Alejandro Toledo — who served a previous term as president — met Canadian mining officials, investment bankers and journalists, telling them his government would improve the climate for mineral exploration and mine development.

“One of the reasons why I have interrupted my campaign,” Toledo told the press, “is that I wanted to transmit the message to potential investors — investors who are already involved in Peru, and who are potential investors — that we are interested in their investments.”

For some, Peru is a Canadian success story. Before 1990, no Canadian mining company operated in Peru. Now Canadian corporations dominate the country’s mining sector, operating a number of major projects. According to Bloomberg, “more than 200 junior mining exploration companies, mostly Canadian, are searching for reserves of crude oil, natural gas and other resources across the country.”

As an illustration of the size of Canadian mining investment in Peru, in late 2006 ScotiaBank announced plans to expand its operations in the country to do more business with mining clients. Now, the Toronto-based bank is the third largest in Peru — and it is only a small part of the $5 billion that Canadian companies have invested in the country.

Where some see Canadian success, others see problems, at least for many Peruvians. “In Peru,” noted McGill University professor Daviken Stuenicki Gizbert, “40 percent of conflicts involving local communities are over mining. The majority of the mining sector in Peru is Canadian.”

In a short period in 2008, Canadian resource companies in Peru were responsible for a number of socially damaging events, such as: — an oil and gas company entered an area inhabited by a nomadic tribe that refused contact with the outside world; — a mine destroyed pre-Columbian carvings; and — the government declared a state of emergency over fears that arsenic, lead and cadmium from a mine near Lima could pollute the capital’s main water supply.

In October 2008, Zuniga, the president of the Achuar indigenous group FENAP, told a local radio: “We, as indigenous people, reject the Canadian company Talisman. We do not want them working in our territory. We want the Peruvian state to respect us and the armed forces to stop helping the company.” The following spring, Achuar leaders traveled to Calgary to tell Talisman to stop drilling in their territory, because it caused ecological harm and social conflict.

The world’s largest gold miner, Toronto-based Barrick, has also been embroiled in a number of conflicts in Peru. “Violent conflict at Barrick Gold’s Tierina in North Central Peru,” blared a 2005 Canadian newspaper headline, as the story reported two protesters killed.

A year earlier, Reuters reported that “thousands of protesters angry at a court decision to waive a $141 million tax payment levied on Canadian miner Barrick Gold Inc clashed with riot police in Peru’s central Andes on Monday, the latest in a run of anti-mining protests in the mineral-rich nation.”

The most high profile mining conflict in Peru took place earlier in the decade at Vancouver-based Manhattan Minerals’ $240 million project in Tambogrande, a small town in the north of the country. This open pit gold mine would have forced half of the town’s 16,000 residents to relocate while creating only a few hundred jobs. Godofredo Garcia Baca, a leader of the anti-mining opposition movement, was shot and killed under suspicious circumstances.

The government of Canada has supported many individual mining projects in Peru, and has worked to provide the industry with a profitable investment climate. Manhattan Minerals obtained its concession in Tambogrande six months after participating in a Department of Natural Resources trade mission to Peru, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) partnered with Barrick on a reforestation project near the company’s Lagunas Norte mine.

In 2002, CIDA began a six-year $9.6 million Mineral Resources Reform Project to provide technical assistance and technological support to the country’s Ministry of Energy and Mines. At the end of 2008 CIDA added $4 million to the project and the agreement was extended until 2012.

The official goal of the Mineral Resources Reform Project is “development of activities oriented to the consolidation of the institutional capacity of the sector, which means the services provided by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and to contribute to the generation of greater confidence in the Ministry and its regional offices.”

CIDA’s push to improve the prospects for Canadian miners through the Mineral Resources Reform Project warranted a visit in early 2008 by the minister of international cooperation. Embassy Magazine reported: “Ms. [Bev Oda] … arrived in Peru meeting with the Latin American nation’s energy and mines minister, as well as Canadian and Peruvian mining companies and NGOs to discuss mining sector reform.”

Last year, CIDA chose Peru as a “country of focus” and the federal government signed a trade agreement with Peru largely designed to improve the prospects for Canadian investors.

According to Foreign Affairs, “an investment chapter in the Canada-Peru FTA [Free Trade Agreement] locks in market access for Canadian investors in Peru and provides greater stability, transparency and protection for their investments..”

In truth the FTA — with environmental and labour safeguards that are “even weaker than NAFTA’s” — might be better characterized as subverting meaningful democracy. The FTA is designed to remove any future Peruvian government’s ability to change mining regulations or to expropriate properties of Canadian companies.

For Canadian officials pushing the interests of mining companies, Toledo’s visit to Vancouver was definitely a sign of success. But, many Canadians may disagree. Instead of “success” they may see imperialism and Canada following in the US’ footsteps.

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Canada funds Venezuelan opposition

By Yves Engler

While many on the left know that Washington has spent tens of millions of dollars funding groups that oppose Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, less well known is Ottawa’s role, especially that of the Canadian government’s “arms-length” human rights organization, Rights & Democracy (R&D).

Montreal-based R&D recently gave its 2010 John Humphrey Award to the Venezuelan non-governmental organization PROVEA (El Programa Venezolano de Educacion-Accion en Derechos Humanos). According to R&D’s website, “The Award consists of a grant of $30,000 and a [December] speaking tour of Canadian cities to help increase awareness of the recipient’s human rights work.”

PROVEA is highly critical of Venezuela’s elected government. In December 2008 Venezuela’s interior and justice minister called PROVEA “liars” who were “paid in [US] dollars.”

During a September visit “to meet with representatives of PROVEA and other [Venezuelan] organizations devoted to human rights and democratic development” R&D President, Gérard Latulippe, blogged about his and PROVEA’s political views. “Marino [Betancourt, Director General of PROVEA] told me about recent practices of harassment and criminalization of the government towards civil society organizations.” In another post Latulippe explained, “We have witnessed in recent years the restriction of the right to freedom of expression. Since 2004-2005, the government of President Chavez has taken important legislative measures which limit this right.”

Upon returning to Canada, Latulippe cited Venezuela as a country with “no democracy”. He told Embassy magazine, “You can see the emergence of a new model of democracy, where in fact it’s trying to make an alternative to democracy by saying people can have a better life even if there’s no democracy. You have the example of Russia. You have an example of Venezuela.”

Latulippe’s claims have no basis in reality. On top of improving living conditions for the country’s poor, the Chavez-led government has massively increased democratic space through community councils, new political parties and worker cooperatives. They have also won a dozen elections/referendums over the past twelve years (and lost only one).

R&D, which is funded almost entirely by the federal government, takes its cues from Ottawa. The Canadian government has repeatedly attacked Chavez. In April 2009 Stephen Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, “I don’t take any of these rogue states lightly” and after expressing “concerns over the shrinkage of democratic space” in September, Minister for the Americas Peter Kent said, “This is an election month in Venezuela and the official media has again fired up some of the anti-Semitic slurs against the Jewish community as happened during the Gaza incursion.” Even the head of Canada’s military recently criticized the Chavez government in the Canadian Military Journal. After a tour of South America, Walter Natynczyk wrote “Regretably, some countries, such as Venezuela, are experiencing the politicization of their armed forces.”

The Harper government’s attacks against Venezuela are part of its campaign against the region’s progressive forces. 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 neo-liberalism and U.S. dependence by supporting the region’s right-wing governments and movements.

To combat independent-minded, socialist-oriented governments and movements Harper’s Conservatives have “played a more active role in supporting U.S. ideologically-driven [democracy promotion] initiatives,” notes researcher Neil A. Burron. They opened a South America focused “democracy promotion” centre at the Canadian Embassy in Peru. Staffed by two diplomats, this secretive venture may clash with the Organization of American States’ non-intervention clause.

According to documents unearthed by Anthony Fenton, in November 2007 Ottawa gave the Justice and Development Consortium (Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia) $94,580 “to consolidate and expand the democracy network in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Also funded by the U.S. government’s CIA front group National Endowment for Democracy, the Justice and Development Consortium has worked to unite opposition to leftist Latin American governments. Similarly, in the spring of 2008 the Canadian Embassy in Panama teamed up with the National Endowment for Democracy to organize a meeting for prominent members of the opposition in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. It was designed to respond to the “new era of populism and authoritarianism in Latin America.” The meeting spawned the Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia, “which brings together mainstream NGOs critical of the leftist governments in the hemisphere.”

The foremost researcher on U.S. funding to the anti-Chavez opposition, Eva Golinger, claims Canadian groups are playing a growing role in Venezuela 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. 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 is not forthcoming with information about the groups they fund in Venezuela, but according to disclosures made in response to a question by former NDP Foreign Affairs critic Alexa McDonough, Canada helped finance Súmate, an NGO at the forefront of anti-Chavez political campaigns. 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.” Yet the name of Súmate leader Maria Corina Machado, who Foreign Affairs invited to Ottawa in January 2005, appeared on a list of people who endorsed the 2002 coup against Chavez, for which she faced charges of treason.

The simple truth is that the current government in Ottawa supports the old elites that long worked with the U.S. empire. It opposes the progressive social transformations taking place in a number of Latin American countries and as a result it supports civil society groups opposed to these developments.

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UN vote reveals what world thinks of Canadian foreign policy

By Yves Engler

In a stunning international rebuke, Stephen Harper’s government lost its bid for a UN Security Council seat last week. The vote in New York was the world’s response to a Canadian foreign policy designed to please the most reactionary, short-sighted sectors of the Conservative Party’s base — evangelical Christian Zionists, extreme right-wing Jews, Islamophobes, the military-industrial-academic-complex, mining and oil executives and old Cold-Warriors.

Over the past four year Harper’s government has been offside with the world community on a whole host of issues. Canada was among a small number of countries that refused to recognize the human right to water or sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On two occasions Ottawa blocked consensus at the Rotterdam Convention to place chrysotile asbestos, a known toxin, on its list of dangerous products, and in November of last year, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty refused to even consider former British PM Gordon Brown’s idea of a global tax on international financial transactions.

Close to the companies making huge profits on the Tar Sands, the Conservatives repeatedly sabotaged international climate negotiations. They angered many in the Commonwealth by blocking a resolution calling for a “binding commitment” on rich countries to reduce emissions and at a UN climate conference in Bangkok last year, many delegates from poorer countries left a negotiating session in protest after a Canadian suggestion to scrap the Kyoto Protocol as the basis of negotiations.

The Conservatives extreme “Israel no matter what” position definitely hurt its chance on Tuesday. “It’s hard to find a country friendlier to Israel than Canada these days,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who emigrated from Moldova when he was 20 but still feels fit to call for the expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The Conservatives publicly endorsed Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon, voted against a host of UN resolutions supporting Palestinian rights and in February Ottawa delighted Israeli hawks by cancelling $15 million in funding for the UN agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The money was transferred to Palestinian security reform.

For the past three years Canada has been heavily invested in training a Palestinian security force designed to oversee Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and “to ensure that the P.A. [Palestinian Authority] maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News.

According to deputy foreign affairs minister Peter Kent, Operation PROTEUS, Canada’s military training mission in the West Bank, is the country’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it receives “most of the money” from a five-year $300 million Canadian aid program to the Palestinians.

At the same time as Canadian “aid” strengthens the most compliant Palestinian political factions, the Conservatives have refused any criticism of Israel’s onslaught against the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. Canada was the only country at the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a January 2008 resolution that called for “urgent international action to put an immediate end to Israel’s siege of Gaza.”

Later in 2008 Israel unleashed a 22-day military assault on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. In response many governments condemned the bombing and Venezuela broke off all diplomatic relations. Israel didn’t need to worry since Ottawa was prepared to help out. The Canadian embassy now represents Israel’s diplomatic interests in Caracas.

While Brazil and Turkey tried to dissipate hostility towards Iran, Harper used his pulpit as host of the G8 to pave the way for a possible U.S.-Israeli attack. A February 17 Toronto Star article was headlined: “Military action against Iran still on the table, Kent says.” The junior foreign minister explained that “it’s a matter of timing and it’s a matter of how long we can wait without taking more serious pre-emptive action.”

“Pre-emptive action” is a euphemism for a bombing campaign. Canadian naval vessels are already running provocative manoeuvres off Iran’s coast and by stating that “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada,” Kent is trying to create the impression that Iran may attack Israel. But it is Israel that possesses nuclear weapons and threatens to bomb Iran, not the other way around.

While Ottawa considers Iran’s nuclear energy program a major threat, Israel’s atomic bombs have not provoked similar condemnation. The Harper government abstained on a number of near unanimous votes asking Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) controls and in September Bloomberg cited Canada as one of three countries that opposed an IAEA probe of Israel’s nuclear facilities as part of an Arab led effort to create a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East.

Not content with taking on Iran, the military-minded Conservatives turned on Russia. Harper referred to Russia as “aggressive” and in a throwback to the Cold War, Defence Minister Peter MacKay added that Ottawa would respond to Russian flights in the Arctic by flying Canadian fighter jets near Russian airspace. Making sure that Moscow got the message, during a July 2007 visit to the Ukraine MacKay said Canada would help provide a “counterbalance” to Russia.

Ottawa even prioritized the military over aid in the face of the incredible suffering caused by Haiti’s earthquake. Two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon explained that the teams were not needed because “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”

Overthrown in February 2004 by a joint U.S./France/Canada destabilization campaign, Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, has been barred from participating in elections. The Conservatives supported Fanmi Lavalas’ exclusion, congratulating Haiti’s puppet government for bringing “a period of stabilization” good for “investment and trade.” Ottawa backed up its words with deeds, adding tens of millions of dollars to a Haitian prison and police system that has been massively expanded and militarized since the 2004 coup.

Ottawa gave its tacit support to the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Mexico’s Notimex reported that Canada was the only country in the hemisphere that did not explicitly call for Zelaya’s return to power and Canadian officials repeatedly criticized Zelaya at the Organization of American States (OAS). The ousted government complained that Ottawa failed to suspend aid to Honduras, which is the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America. Nor did Ottawa exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Program.

The Harper government opposed Zelaya’s move to join the Hugo Chavez-led Alba, the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas, which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the region. Canada has actively supported the U.S.-led campaign against the government of Venezuela. In mid-2007 Harper toured South America “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. During the trip, Harper and his entourage made a number of comments critical of the Venezuelan government.

After meeting only members of the opposition during a trip to Venezuela in January, Peter Kent told the media that “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.”

Venezuela’s ambassador to the 34-country OAS, Roy Chaderton Matos, responded: “I am talking of a Canada governed by an ultra right that closed its Parliament for various months to (evade) an investigation over the violation of human rights — I am talking about torture and assassinations — by its soldiers in Afghanistan.”

Despite the move to the left among the majority of the region’s governments Harper moved closer to Latin America’s most right-wing state. Colombia’s terrible human rights record did not stop Harper from signing a free-trade agreement that even Washington couldn’t stomach.

The trade agreement as well as the Harper government’s shift of aid from Africa to Latin America was designed to support Canadian corporate interests and the region’s right-wing governments and movements. Barely discussed in the media, the main goal of the shift in aid was to stunt Latin America’s recent rejection of neo-liberalism and U.S. dependence.

One issue mentioned in a number of media reports about Canada’s loss last week had to do with the Congo. At the G8 in June, the Conservatives pushed for an entire declaration to the final communiqué criticizing the Congo for attempting to gain a greater share of its vast mineral wealth. Months earlier Ottawa began to obstruct international efforts to reschedule the country’s foreign debt, which was mostly accrued during more than three decades of Joseph Mobuto’s dictatorship and the subsequent war.

Canadian officials “have a problem with what’s happened with a Canadian company,” Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said referring to the government’s move to revoke a mining concession that Vancouver-based First Quantum acquired during the 1998-2003 war. “The Canadian government wants to use the Paris Club [of debtor nations] in order to resolve a particular problem”, explained Mende. “This is unacceptable.”

The mining industry increasingly represents Canada abroad. Canadian miners operate more than 3,000 projects outside this country and many of these mines have displaced communities, destroyed ecosystems and resulted in violence. This doesn’t bother the Harper government, which is close to the most retrograde sectors of the mining industry. Last year they rejected a proposal — agreed to by the Mining Association of Canada under pressure from civil society groups — to make diplomatic and financial support for resource companies operating overseas contingent upon socially responsible conduct. Despite countless horror stories suggesting the contrary, the Conservatives claim that voluntary standards are the best way to improve Canadian mining companies’ social responsibility.

Finally, the Conservatives have knowingly supported torture in Afghanistan and embraced an increasingly violent counterinsurgency war. Apparently, Canadian Joint Task Force 2 commandos regularly take part in night-time assassination raids, which are highly unpopular with the Afghan population.

Losing the Security Council seat will hopefully cost the Conservatives some votes and temper their more extreme international positions. But, for those of us working to radically transform Canadian foreign policy the consequences of the loss may be much greater. There has probably never been a bigger blow to the carefully crafted image of Canada as a popular international do-gooder, a mythology that blinds so many Canadians to our country’s real role in the world.

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Class struggle against car domination

By Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi

A new political party, which won office in Montréal’s Plateau Mont-Royal borough last November, has begun to widen sidewalks, add bike paths and close some streets to traffic. Critics have accused them of engaging in class warfare.

In a much discussed La Presse opinion piece, Luc Chartrand denigrated the “supposedly enlightened urban planning” measures as “nothing but a strategy by the wealthy to grab territory in a centrally located district . . . to the detriment of the general interest of the City.”

This is just one more example of the Big Lie. Call black white, say war is peace, claim the media is left-wing and argue urban space dominated by cars is good for poor and working-class people.

The truth is that these “traffic calming” measures will make a relatively bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood more so, and they will make it more difficult for suburban commuters to use the area’s smaller side streets to avoid the main north-south arteries. Over 650,000 cars travel through the eight square-kilometre district daily, with more than 80 per cent headed elsewhere.

Making life difficult for cars could be, in fact, described as a form of class war, but one that works in the long-term interests of the poor and working class.

Even superficially, the critics’ argument makes little sense.  While the Plateau is not Montréal’s most affordable neighbourhood it’s far from its most expensive. Many students, artists and working-class people live in this hip, politically progressive area.

Chartrand’s claim is common among North America’s most extreme auto proponents; any move to curtail car domination is an attack against the little guy because automobiles give everyone equal access to mobility.  In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Stephen Moore captured the essence of this argument.  ”The car allowed even the common working man total freedom of mobility — the means to go anywhere, anytime, for any reason.  In many ways, the automobile is the most egalitarian invention in history, dramatically bridging the quality-of-life gap between rich and poor.”

The car’s proponents invoke class even though all other forms of land transportation are eminently more accessible.  Shoes, a bike, or a metro pass is cheaper than a car with its gas, insurance and upkeep needs.  According to the American Public Transportation Association, individuals who get around with a bus pass instead of a car can save a whopping $8,368 annually.

When the automobile is used as the primary mode of mass transit, the poorest are hardest hit.  In 2008, for instance, the poorest fifth of Americans spent 13 per cent of their income on gas.  The top fifth spent 3 per cent.  In Highway Robbery: Transportation, Racism and New Routes to Equity, Robert Bullard notes: “Those earning less than $14,000 per year, after taxes, spend approximately 40 percent of their take-home pay on transportation expenditures.  This compares to 22 percent for families earning between $27,177 and $44,461 annually, and 13 percent per year for families making more than $71,900 per year.”

Nearly three-quarters of U.S. households earning less than $15,000 a year own a car, and in an extreme example of auto dependence, tens of thousands of “mobile homeless” live in their vehicles.

The poor purchase cars because there is no other option in a society built to serve the needs of the automobile.  If you want to work you need a car.  If you want to visit your friends you need a car.

Car-dominated transport eats up a disproportionate amount of working-class income.  At the same time, the automobile is an important means for the wealthy to assert themselves socially.  A luxury vehicle lets the whole world know that you have arrived, both literally and metaphorically.  ”The automobile’s a credit card on wheels,” writes Heathcote Williams.  ”It’s pushy to tell people how much you make, so you tell ‘em through your automobile.’’

Over a century ago, cars grew to prominence as technological toys for the rich.  By the turn of the 20th century, New York City’s Automobile Club had more millionaires than any other social club in the world.  ”No American Sport,” noted the Washington Post in 1902, “has ever enlisted so much power and money.”

Those living at the dawn of the Auto Age often viewed it as an obtrusive and “particularly ostentatious display of wealth.”  Farmers and the working class were incensed by their presence.  A 1904 edition of the U.S. farm magazine, Breeders Gazette, called automobile drivers “a reckless, bloodthirsty, villainous lot of purse-proud crazy trespassers.”

In 1907, rioting broke out in a working class Lower Manhattan neighborhood after two-year-old Louis Camille was run down and killed.  The automobile sparked dozens of other similarly violent protests.

One reason the car was popular among the wealthy was because it strengthened their dominance over mobility, which was slightly 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 and buggy.  Even for shorter commutes, streetcars became the preferred mode of transport by the late 1800s.  With respect to mobility, the train and streetcar blurred class lines.  Unlike the train and streetcar, which were more available to all classes of society, the automobile provided an exclusive form of travel.

The automobile’s capacity to create social distance appealed to early car buyers.  In a car, one could remain separate from perceived social inferiors (blue-collar workers, immigrants, blacks etc.) while in transit.  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.”

The different ways in which the private car strengthened wealthy people’s grip over culture and mobility have largely been forgotten.  At the same time, the immense financial burden cars place on the working class seems of only passing importance to its critics.

The largest source of capitalist profit over the past century, the automobile has shaped landscapes, culture and the environment in a host of harmful ways.  It’s time for a class-focused challenge to private automobility.

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Is Canada passing information on its citizens to Israel?

By Yves Engler
The Electronic Intifada

On 7 April, Freda Guttman, a 76-year-old Jewish Montrealer, received a visit from agents of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS). She slammed the door on them so it’s not clear if the visit was related to her role in Tadamon!, a Middle East solidarity collective, or her friendship with Canadian activist (and occasional contributor to The Electronic Intifada) Stefan Christoff. A tall, mild-mannered 29-year-old, Christoff has been one of Montreal’s most effective grassroots activists for the past decade. Involved with various issues recently he’s devoted himself to Palestinian solidarity work, including the highly successful Artists Against Apartheid (AAA) campaign. Over the past three years AAA has organized a dozen concerts and in February they brought together 500 Quebec artists in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which supporters of Israel view as a major threat.

In the past eight months at least seven of Christoff’s friends have been visited by CSIS agents. These unannounced visits usually take place early in the morning. The agents ask questions about Christoff’s trips to the Middle East or AAA and in some instances, they’ve feigned concern for the Palestinian cause, implying Christoff’s radical activist roots might hurt it.

The CSIS’s interest in Guttman and Christoff represents a departure for the agency in targeting Palestinian solidarity activists. During the 1990s as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were engaged in negotiations many Palestinian Canadians accused the CSIS of intimidating opponents of the Oslo accords. The CSIS allegedly offered cash in exchange for information on those opposed to the PLO’s compromise. A Washington Report on Middle East Affairsarticle published in 1994 after the initial peace accord was signed, explained that “CSIS is carrying out a political agenda by targeting only those who are aligned with non-Fatah groups of the PLO — those who oppose the accord signed by the PLO. More than 20 PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] supporters have come forward alleging that they have been interrogated by CSIS.” In contrast, both Guttman and Christoff are white and are not affiliated with a Palestinian political party.

As a national intelligence organization shrouded in secrecy, it is hard to know if CSIS has been mandated to target Palestine solidarity activists. In the current political climate, however, it’s not surprising that CSIS officials view anyone defending Palestinian rights as a threat.

The ardently pro-Israel Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly equated expressions of support for Palestinian rights with extremism. In March 2009, Ottawa barred British parliamentarian George Galloway from Canada for delivering humanitarian aid to Hamas officials who were the elected administration in the Gaza Strip. At the start of this year the Conservative government attempted to pass a condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week in Parliament. Six weeks ago, Harper accused Libby Davies, Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party (NDP), of making “extremist” statements because she gave halting support to the BDS campaign and said Israel had been occupying Palestinian territories since 1948. Demanding Davies be fired as the NDP’s deputy leader, Harper told the House of Commons, “She made statements that could have been made by Hamas, Hizballah,” which Canada considers terrorist organizations.

The Conservatives have also strengthened Canadian intelligence cooperation with Israel. In early 2008 Ottawa signed a wide-ranging “border management and security” agreement with Israel, even though the two countries do not share a border. The agreement is rather vague, but includes sharing information, cooperating on illegal immigration, cooperating on law enforcement, etc. This agreement is an attempt to formalize some aspects of the CSIS’s relationship with the Mossad, Israel’s international intelligence agency.

Canadian-Israeli intelligence relations date to the 1970s if not earlier. Norman Spector, Canada’s ambassador to Israel, has admitted that there was a CSIS operative working for him at the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv (“Mossad’s Use of Canadian Passports: Two Reports,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 1998). He also acknowledged, as quoted in Paul McGeough’s 2009 book Kill Khaled, that there was “very close cooperation” between the Canadian and Israeli spy agencies (p.222).

This relationship is also active inside Canada. In his 1990 book Official Secrets: The story behind the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Richard Cléroux noted that “Mossad agents are located in every major [Canadian] city, working closely with CSIS, to protect El Al aircraft and airline installations and watching PLO political activities, especially those of Arab and Iranian students (p.278). Israelis are CSIS’s prime source of information on a number of suspected terrorists and spies.” The CSIS also passes information to Mossad. Spy Wars(p.250) describes how CSIS “told him [an unnamed Palestinian] explicitly they were gathering information for the CIA and Mossad.”

According to former Ambassador Spector, as reported in Washington Report in 1998, the Mossad’s relationship to CSIS “goes beyond information sharing. There are joint operations.” Although Spector did not elaborate, it is public knowledge that Mossad agents have used Canadian passports to carry out numerous foreign assassinations. “A member of an Israeli hit squad that mistakenly killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway in 1973 had posed as a Canadian,” reported the Canadian Jewish News.

Until 1997, the repeated use of Canadian cover by Israeli agents received little attention. That changed when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to a Hamas offer for a 30-year truce (relayed by Jordan’s King Hussein) by trying to kill Khalid Meshal, then chairman of Hamas’ political bureau. The Israeli agents, who were captured after dropping poison in Meshal’s ear, entered Jordan on Canadian passports.

Spector claimed CSIS and Mossad agents met days before the attempt to assassinate Meshal. He said Ottawa wanted to cover up Israel’s use of fake Canadian passports. “Canadian authorities knew, in general, that passports were being used by Mossad,” Spector noted. “It was known to people at the embassy and they essentially turned a blind eye to it.” According to Spector, CSIS supported Mossad missions in exchange for intelligence. “Israeli operational agents have been given to understand that the use of Canadian passports is thequid pro quo [for information on Arab immigrants].”

While Ottawa officially protested the Meshal incident, it apparently didn’t affect the Mossad-CSIS relationship. A Canadian working for Mossad, Jonathan Ross explained in his 2008 book The Volunteer: A Canadian’s Secret Life in the Mossadthat the CSIS “was sympathetic, and it was business as usual with them despite the diplomatic flap. During a liaison exchange by our [Mossad] counterterrorism officers to Canada soon after the affair broke, many CSIS members mentioned that their only regret in the whole affair was that we didn’t succeed [in assassinating Meshal].”

The close ties between Canadian and Israeli intelligence agencies — strengthened with the recent border security agreement — means that some of the information CSIS collects on pro-Palestinian Canadians is probably passed on to their Israeli counterparts. In 2003, Stefan Christoff was barred by Israel’s interior ministry from entering the occupied Palestinian territories. Was that decision based upon information from CSIS?

As Palestinian solidarity activism further challenges Canada’s pro-Israeli establishment, CSIS harassment will likely increase. The way to deal with these threats is to expose them and to build a broad movement that makes them ineffective.

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There’s no such thing as a green car

By Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler

Don’t believe the hype. The GM Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is a threat to those who care about livability, equality and the planet.

For more than three years, General Motors has been touting the Volt and its ability to run for 64 kilometres on electricity before switching to a gasoline engine. In January 2007, the Financial Times concluded that the Volt was designed to counter the “halo effect that Toyota gained from the Prius, which rivals the iPod as an iconic product.” In fact, the Volt was originally named the iCar. “I admit,” said former vice-chairman of GM Bob Lutz, “that it [the Volt] has a secondary benefit of helping to re-establish credibility in technology.”

The lure of technological advancement has always been part of the automobile’s formidable ideological prowess. Popular journals, magazines and other media regularly portray the automotive sector as a forerunner of innovation.

While automakers spend huge sums on R&D the mode of transport is inherently inefficient. These 3000-pound metal boxes carry on average one and a half people, approximately 300 pounds – a mere ten percent of the vehicle’s weight. At the same, the car’s appetite for space is insatiable. Requiring 300 sq feet for home storage, 300 sq feet for storage at destination, 600 sq feet while traveling and another 200 sq feet for repairs, servicing or sale, an automobile occupies about 1,400 sq feet altogether – more space than most apartments.

Buses, trains, streetcars, bikes as well as pedestrians (and just about every other animal, plant or mineral) use space and infrastructure more efficiently than personal cars, whether moving or at a standstill. At approximately four meters across, road lanes are about the same width of railroad tracks, yet rail carries twenty times the number of passengers.

Despite the environmental fanfare, the Volt’s electric battery merely relocates tailpipe pollution to the source: power stations. Yet over half of all US electricity comes from coal, which produces more carbon emissions and pollutants than regular oil. If the goal of the electric car is to limit global warming, using carbon based fuels is puzzling.

Even with alternative fuels or better fuel efficiency the private car will continue to be an ecological catastrophe. From steel and aluminum, to paint and rubber production, to automotive assembly, manufacturing an average automobile generates enormous pollution. A Summer 2007 study titled, From Dust to Dust, concluded that half the energy a car uses in its lifecycle is in the production and destruction phases. Growing awareness of these energy costs prompted Norway to make it nearly impossible for car companies to advertise as “green”, “clean” or “environmentally friendly” without proving that this was the case in every aspect of the lifecycle from production to emissions to recycling.

The basic point is this: there is no such thing as a green car. It is not sustainable for individuals to hop into a two, four or eight thousand pound metal box for mobility.

Beyond ecological costs, car hegemony has a slew of negative side effects. Auto travel leads to significantly higher rates of injury or death than other forms of transportation. Additionally, infrastructure designed for the car undermines walking and biking, which are vital elements of a healthy lifestyle.

An incredibly expensive form of transportation, the amount of time devoted to the car is immense. It’s been calculated that the average person in the U.S. works from January 1st to March 31st to pay for their automobile(s). April 1st has been declared auto freedom day; the day people begin earning money for food, board, clothing, education and the other necessities of life.

When the automobile serves as the primary mode of mass transit, the poorest are hardest hit. Low-income U.S. families spend over a third of their take home pay on transportation, twice the proportion of affluent families. The Volt, which starts at $41, 000, will not alter that. But, it will give a boost to the image consciousness. Since the dawn of the auto age, the car has been a conspicuous symbol of status in a hyper materialist world.

North America’s transportation system, based on individual ownership of vehicles, is inefficient, environmentally destructive and dominates cultural, economic, and political systems in a wide variety of negative ways. Will the Volt revolutionize transportation or will its smoke and mirrors reinforce the dominance of the private car?

It may be time to look beyond private automobility.

This article first appeared on The Mark

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Occupation by NGO

By Yves Engler

They’re called NGOs — non-governmental organizations — but the description is misleading at best, or an outright lie generated by intelligence agencies at worst.

In fact, almost all development NGOs receive a great deal of their funding from government and in return follow government policies and priorities. While this was always true, it has become easier to see with Stephen Harper’s Conservative Canadian government, which lacks the cleverness and subtlety of the Liberal Party who at least funded some “oppositional” activity to allow NGOs a veneer of independence.

The example of the NGO called Alternatives illustrates these points well. This group, which has ties to the progressive community in Canada and Quebec, has done some useful work in Palestine and Latin America. But, at the end of 2009 the Canadian International Development Agency failed to renew about $2.4 million in funding for Montreal-based Alternatives. After political pressure was brought to bear, Ottawa partly reversed course, giving the organization $800, 000 over three years.

Alternatives’ campaign to force the Conservatives to renew at least some of its funding and CIDA’s response tell us a great deal about the ever more overt ties between international development NGOs and Western military occupation. After the cuts were reported the head of Alternatives, Michel Lambert, tried to win favour with Conservative decision makers by explicitly tying the group’s projects to Canadian military interventions. In a piece claiming Alternatives was “positive[ly] evaluated and audited” by CIDA, Lambert asked: “How come countries like Afghanistan or Haiti that are at the heart of Canadian [military] interventions [and where Alternatives operated] are no longer essential for the Canadian government?”

After CIDA renewed $800,000 in funding, Lambert claimed victory. But, the CIDA money was only for projects in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti — three countries under military occupation. (The agreement prohibited Alternatives from using the money to “engage” the public and it excluded programs in Palestine and Central America.) When Western troops invaded, Alternatives was not active in any of these three countries, which raises the questions: Is Alternatives prepared to follow Canadian aid anywhere, even if it is designed to strengthen military occupation? What alternatives do even “leftwing” NGOs such as Alternatives have when they are dependent on government funding?

One important problem for Alternatives and the rest of the “progressive” government-funded NGO community is that their benefactor’s money is often tied to military intervention. A major principle of Canadian aid has been that where the USA wields its big stick, Canada carries its police baton and offers a carrot. To put it more clearly, where the U.S. kills Canada provides aid.

Beginning the U.S.-intervention-equals Canadian-aid pattern, during the 1950-53 Korean War the south of that country was a major recipient of Canadian aid and so was Vietnam during the U.S. war there. Just after the invasions, Iraq and Afghanistan were the top two recipients of Canadian aid in 2003-2004. Since that time Afghanistan and Haiti were Nos. 1 and 2.

For government officials, notes Naomi Klein, NGOs were “the charity wing of the military, silently mopping up after wars.” Officials within the George W. Bush administration publicly touted the value of NGOs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Three months after the invasion of Iraq Andrew Natsios, head of USAID and former World Vision director, bluntly declared “NGOs are an arm of the U.S. government.” Natsios threatened to “personally tear up their contracts and find new partners” if an NGO refused to play by Washington’s rules in Iraq, which included limits on speaking to the media.

International NGOs flooded into Iraq after the invasion and there was an explosion of domestic groups. The U.S., Britain and their allies poured tens of millions of dollars into projects run by NGOs. Many Canadian NGOs, such as Oxfam Quebec and Alternatives, were lured to occupied Iraq by the $300 million CIDA spent to support the foreign occupation and reconstruction.

In the lead-up to the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell explained: “I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us and such an important part of our combat team.”

Up from a few dozen prior to the invasion, three years into the occupation a whopping 2,500 international NGOs operated in Afghanistan. They are an important source of intelligence. In April 2009 U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told the Associated Press that most of their information about Afghanistan and Pakistan comes from aid organizations.

Canada’s military also works closely with NGOs in Afghanistan. A 2007 parliamentary report explained that some NGOs “work intimately with military support already in the field.” Another government report noted that the “Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) platoon made up of Army Reserve soldiers organizes meetings with local decision-makers and international NGOs to determine whether they need help with security.” Some Canadian NGOs even participated in the military’s pre- Afghanistan deployment training facility in Wainwright Alberta.

As Paul Martin’s Liberals increased Canada’s military footprint in Afghanistan they released an International Policy Statement. According to the 2005 Statement, “the image that captures today’s operational environment for the Canadian Forces” is the “three-block war”, which includes a reconstruction role for NGOs. On the third and final block of “three-block warfare” troops work alongside NGOs and civilians to fix what has been destroyed. (The first block consists of combat while the second block involves stabilization operations.)

Canadian military personnel have repeatedly linked development work to the counterinsurgency effort. “It’s a useful counterinsurgency tool,” is how Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Doucette, commander of Canada’s provincial reconstruction team, described CIDA’s work in Afghanistan. Development assistance, for instance, was sometimes given to communities in exchange for information on combatants. After a roadside bomb hit his convoy in September 2009, Canadian General Jonathan Vance spent 50 minutes berating village elders for not preventing the attack. “If we keep blowing up on the roads,” he told them, “I’m going to stop doing development.”

If even a “progressive” NGO such as Alternatives can be pushed into working as a tool of the military, shouldn’t we at least come up with a better description than “non-governmental” organization?

This article was first published on

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West still ‘undermining Haiti’

By Yves Engler

Six months ago a devastating earthquake killed more than 230,000 Haitians. About 100,000 homes were completely destroyed, alongside 1,000 schools and many other buildings.

The scenes of devastation filled TV screens around the world. Half a year later the picture is eerily familiar.

Destroyed during the earthquake, the presidential palace remains rubble and a symbol of the vast destruction. Port-au-Prince is still covered in debris. About 1.3 million people live in 1,200 makeshift tent camps in and around the capital.
According to one estimate, less than 5 per cent of the earthquake debris has been removed. Of course, with 20 million cubic metres of rubble in Port-Au-Prince alone, removing the debris is a massive challenge.

If 1,000 trucks were working daily it would take three to five years to remove all this material. Yet, there are fewer than 300 trucks hauling debris.

The technical obstacles to reconstruction are immense. But the political roadblocks are larger.
Immediately after the quake $10bn in international aid was pledged. As of June 30, only 10 per cent of the $2.5bn promised for 2010 had been delivered. A lot of it has been held up in political wrangling.

The international community led by the US, France and Canada demanded that the Haitian parliament pass an 18-month-long state of emergency law that effectively gave up government control over the reconstruction.

Holding up the money was a pressure tactic designed to ensure international control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, which is authorised to spend billions. These maneuvers were met by protest and widespread hostility in Haiti, which forced the international community to back off a little.

Initially, a majority of seats on the commission were to represent foreign governments and international financial institutions. That has been reduced to half of the 26-member committee, but the money is still to be managed by the World Bank and other international institutions.

Bill Clinton, the former US president, and Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister, co-chair the reconstruction commission, which met for the first time on June 17.

The strong-arm tactics by the Western powers to determine the make-up of the commission signify a continuation of longstanding policy to undermine the Haitian state’s credibility and capacity.

For two decades Washington and its allies have deliberately weakened Haiti’s government. Citing neo-liberal theories they demanded the privatisation of a number of state-owned companies and the reduction of tariffs on agricultural products.

This devastated domestic food production and spurred an exodus from the countryside to the cities, which exacerbated the destruction and death toll of the earthquake.

Washington also destabilised governments that put the interests of the poor over foreign corporations. On February 29, 2004, the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by the US, France and Canada. This ushered in a terrible wave of political repression and the ongoing UN occupation.

Since that time Aristide has been in forced exile in South Africa and his Fanmi Lavalas party has been barred from participating in elections. They are again being blocked from participating in elections taking place on November 28.

All of this has created a situation in which there is no institution in Haiti with the credibility or capacity to undertake reconstruction.

President Rene Preval’s government has lost the support of the country’s poor majority because of its subservience to Washington and the local elite. Preval recently defended the move to ban Fanmi Lavalas, which is still the most popular party in the country.

The 10,000-member UN “peacekeeping” force is widely disliked. In the two years after the 2004 coup, UN troops regularly provided support for the Haitian police’s violent assaults on poor communities and peaceful demonstrations demanding the return of the elected government.

UN forces also participated directly in a violent political pacification campaign, launching repeated anti-“gang” assaults on poor neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince.

The two most horrific raids took place on January 6, 2005, and December 22, 2006, which together left some 35 innocent civilians dead and dozens wounded in the densely populated slum of Cité Soleil – a bastion of support for Aristide.

In April 2008, UN troops once again demonstrated that their primary purpose in the country was to defend the massive economic divide in the country. During riots over the rising cost of food they put down protests by killing a handful of demonstrators.

Foreign-funded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are widely discredited for contributing to a two-decade long process that has undermined Haitian governmental capacity. Sometimes dubbed the “republic of NGOs”, in Haiti these organisations have a great deal of influence and are promoted as agents of relief.

In some circumstances, they are. But, how would we like it if all our schools and social services were run by private foreign charities?

In Port-au-Prince there is graffiti stating “Down with NGOs”.

Two weeks ago Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre complained that “NGOs continue to humiliate and discriminate [against] the poor and respected Haitian citizens by assuming they are all dangerous, violent, or savage people, and they do not know anything, even how to put a tent up while ignoring the strength and courage of these people”.

Over the past two months there have been a series of major demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. Demonstrators have called for Aristide’s return and an end to the exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas party.

Of course protesters are also angry about the slow pace of reconstruction and the six-year-old foreign occupation.

So, what should be the response of people who want to help?

Firstly, any serious reconstruction must build the Haitian government’s capacity to provide housing, education, healthcare and other social services.

Aid must be directed away from neo-liberal adjustment, sweatshop exploitation and non-governmental charity, and towards investment in Haiti’s government and public institutions.
Secondly, massive investment must be made in Haiti’s countryside, where farming has been effectively destroyed. Haitians are poverty stricken partly because foreign aid policies favour sweatshop labour over agriculture.

For example, the US dumps rice on the Haitian market. Thirty years ago, Haiti produced 90 per cent of its own rice; today it is less than 10 per cent.
Thirdly, Fanmi Lavalas should be allowed to participate in elections and Aristide to return from exile.

Only when Haitians are allowed to run their own affairs will real reconstruction begin.

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Haitians see Canadians as ‘the occupiers’

By Yves Engler/ 10, 2010

Three weeks ago, the front page of Haiti Liberté showed a picture of President René Préval next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and two Canadian soldiers. Part of the caption below read, “Préval under the surveillance of the occupying forces.”

While Canada’s dominant media rarely describe this country’s role in Haiti critically, it’s common in Haiti’s left-wing weeklies. Since Ottawa helped overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in February 2004, Haiti Liberté and Haiti Progrès have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

The January 12 earthquake sparked an immense outpouring of public sympathy and solidarity, but it did not significantly alter Ottawa’s policy towards Haiti. Initial search and rescue was badly hampered by fear of the population. Two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent.

Despite the crying need for housing, schooling and basic sanitation, since the earthquake Ottawa has ramped up spending on prisons and police. In the past two months they’ve announced $44 million in new spending on a police and prison system that has been massively expanded and militarized since the Feb. 2004 U.S./France/Canada coup. This $44 million is on top of $15 million put up a month before the quake and more than $50 million in the previous five years. Much to the delight of Haiti’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state. Moral implications be damned.

The lead story in the New York Times two weeks ago described a prison massacre in the aftermath of the earthquake. According to the Times, Haitian Police, with UN “peacekeepers” in support, executed at least a dozen prisoners after an uprising/escape was thwarted. (Most Haitian prisoners, it should be noted, have not been prosecuted.)

I have yet to see any of this country’s media report on the massacre or its Canadian connection. The police were almost certainly trained by their Canadian counterparts. Additionally, 18 months ago Governor-General Michaëlle Jean presided over the opening of an Ottawa-funded police station/jail in Les Cayes, where the massacre took place.

Over the past few weeks there have been a series of major demonstrations in Port-au-Prince (and elsewhere) that indirectly challenged Ottawa’s policy in Haiti. On May 10, 17 and 25, thousands took to the streets against Préval and the occupation. Since the earthquake, foreign domination of Haiti has greatly increased. There are now even more foreign troops and NGOs in the country. Most ominously, a majority of seats on the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, authorized to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction money, represent foreign governments and international financial institutions. The money will be managed by the World Bank.

Alongside opposition to the Reconstruction Commission, demonstrators called for Aristide’s return to Haiti and an end to the exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas political party. Since the 2004 coup, Haiti’s most popular party has been barred from participating in elections, which are now planned for November.

Protesters are angry about the slow pace of reconstruction. 1.5 million people continue to live in 1,200 makeshift camps in and around Port-au-Prince and the hurricane season started on June 1. “We’re going to be in this position forever,” Radio station owner Patrick Moussignac, told the New York Times. “We could be living on the streets for 10 or 20 years.”

With Ottawa, Paris and Washington in charge of reconstruction the future for earthquake victims looks bleak. If the balance of political forces is not shifted, SNC Lavalin and Co., together with their friends among the Haitian élite, will pocket tens of millions of dollars for contracts, mostly to expand sweatshop and tourism infastructure.

Meanwhile, the majority of the population will still be in search of the basics.

In recent months, few songs have been more popular than “Waving Flag” by Young Canadian Artists for Haiti. “When I get older I will be stronger/they call me freedom just like a waving flag…” Does the song’s popularity represent deep compassion and solidarity with Haiti or just a passing fad?

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When will Canadians demand Ottawa stand up for justice for Palestinian people?

By Yves Engler/Georgia Straight/June 2, 2010

Early Monday (May 31) on the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, at least nine people were killed and dozens more wounded when Israeli soldiers raided a flotilla of ships carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and more than 600 activists to the Gaza Strip. The activists were trying to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza, which has reduced food and medicine entering the tiny coastal territory to a fraction of what is needed.

Governments around the world strongly condemned Israel’s actions. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the raid “an act of inhumane state terrorism”.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has said that the deaths aboard the flotilla were the result of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Quoted by AFP, Ban said, “Had Israelis heeded to my call and to the call of the international community by lifting the blockade of Gaza, this tragic incident would not have happened.”

The Canadian government took a much different approach. Only 10 hours after the raid, Stephen Harper held talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa, and Harper’s office simply said it “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries. It added: “We are currently looking for more information in order to shed light on what exactly happened.”

Translation: the Harper government is waiting for Israel to decide how exactly to spin this war crime and contravention of international law, the crime being that Israeli commandos attacked ships in international waters and killed civilians.

Beyond making Canada the world’s most pro-Israel country, the Harper government has strongly backed Israel’s onslaught against the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. Canada has refused to criticize the blockade. For example, Canada was the only country at the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a January 2008 resolution that called for “urgent international action to put an immediate end to the siege of the occupied Gaza Strip”. The motion was adopted with 30 votes in favour and 15 abstentions.

Canada has further legitimized Israel’s siege of Gaza by directly participating in it. In early 2009, Canada joined the Gaza Counter-Arms Smuggling Initiative alongside the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the U.S. “We look forward to continuing work with our partners on the program of action to coordinate efforts to stop the flow of arms, ammunition and related material into the Gaza Strip,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a June 2009 statement. “By addressing arms smuggling and the continued threat of terrorism through this initiative, Canada continues to contribute to a sustainable peace in the region, along with its international partners.”

Cannon, of course, was not referring to Israel Defense Forces weaponry, which has killed thousands in Gaza. A March 2008 Israeli incursion into Gaza claimed more than 120 lives. In response, 33 members of the UNHRC voted for a resolution accusing Israel of war crimes. Thirteen countries abstained and only Canada opposed the resolution.

Israel unleashed a much greater assault on Gaza in December 2008. Ottawa wholeheartedly supported Israel’s 22-day campaign, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead.

“Canada’s position has been well known from the very beginning. Hamas is a terrorist group. Israel defended itself,” Minister Cannon proclaimed, even though only 13 Israelis died during the campaign (three of whom were civilians).

Ottawa even justified Israel’s killing of 40 Palestinian civilians at a UN–run school in January 2009. Junior foreign affairs minister Peter Kent said, “We really don’t have complete details yet, other than the fact that we know that Hamas has made a habit of using civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities, and that would seem to be the case again today.” Kent added that Hamas “bears the full responsibility for the deepening humanitarian tragedy.…In many ways, Hamas behaves as if they are trying to have more of their people killed to make a terrible terrorist point.”

Presumably the “terrible terrorist point” was that the Israeli army brutally murders Palestinian civilians. It’s not hard to prove.

Compared to Ottawa’s cheerleading, most of the world was hostile to Israel’s actions. Many countries criticized the killing of civilians. In solidarity with Gaza, Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador at the start of the bombardment and broke off all diplomatic relations two weeks later. Israel didn’t need to worry, since Ottawa was prepared to help out. The Canadian Embassy in Caracas took over Israel’s diplomatic relations there. Canada officially became Israel, at least in Venezuela.

What can we expect this time, after more and more countries expel their Israeli ambassadors? Will Canada become Israel in Turkey? Jordan? Bolivia?

When will the Canadian people wake up and demand that Ottawa stand up for international law and justice for the Palestinian people?

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Six pillars of a progressive Canadian foreign policy

By Yves Engler

High-minded rhetoric aside, Canadian foreign policy is largely designed to serve hegemonic Canadian corporate interests abroad. To bring Canada closer to the status of a “peacekeeper” or “honest broker,” here are some specific policies that the peace and social justice movement should pursue.

1. Immediately withdraw Canada from NATO.

If there was ever any justification for this alliance “to combat the Soviet menace,” two decades after the Cold War it no longer exists.

2. Re-evaluate the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Ottawa should begin to evaluate whether its numerous military arrangements with Washington, including NORAD, are necessary. As much as possible Canada should de-link itself from a U.S. military apparatus responsible for untold human suffering.

3. Drastically reduce the size of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Let’s start with a 10 per cent reduction in the military budget each year for the next five years. A Rideau Institute study released in 2008 found that 52 per cent of Canadians want a reduction in military expenditures. Of those polled, 27 per cent wanted programs to continue as planned and only 11 per cent believed in greater military spending (10 per cent had no opinion). The truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that there is only one nation on earth that could realistically invade Canada and that is the United States. This is not an argument for a military policy that views our neighbour to the south as a threat, but rather a strong reason for Canada to follow an independent, neutral foreign policy path that works for world peace and justice for all. In the unlikely event that our country ever faced a military threat, our best defence would be widespread respect for international law and the support of millions of people around the world who know Canada is not their enemy.

4. Proclaim that the Canadian Armed Forces will only be used abroad under a UN mandate supported by two-thirds of the 192-member General Assembly, not the Security Council.

Numerous surveys show the vast majority of Canadians support real peacekeeping as the primary goal of our military.

5. Support elected governments and truly democratic movements.

Support for democratic structures and movements must be real, not a cover for advancing Canada’s financial and strategic interests abroad. This means strengthening the capacity of other governments to provide the same sorts of things we expect from our own: education, health care and other public services.

In the name of avoiding corruption, much “aid” is delivered through non-governmental organizations. But rather than supporting private charity, Canadian aid should be targeted at strengthening democratic governments’ ability to deliver services. People become disillusioned with democracy when it does not deliver basic and necessary social services. The best antidote to extremism is responsive, democratic governance that meets the needs of the people and demonstrates its legitimacy on a daily basis.

6. Funnel foreign aid to where it’s needed most, not where Canadian investments are thickest.

Aid should not be tied to buying Canadian commodities or be used as a subsidy to Canadian companies and investors. Improving public education, and ensuring it is free for all, is one of the best ways to help break the poverty cycle. Let’s help poor countries build good public education systems.

Canadian prosperity was built on public utilities that provided safe water, sewage, electricity and communication systems. Let’s help poor countries do the same. Public health systems, including free health care for all, were also a key element in Canada’s development. This too should be a prime objective of Canadian aid.

The Golden Rule, versions of which exist in every culture and religion, is also apt in international affairs. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, before we send aid to another country we should ask ourselves: is what we are paying for, and the manner in which we are doing it, something that we would want to see in Canada? We cannot allow ourselves to do things in the international arena that would draw a penalty on our home ice.

This article first appeared in the May/June 2010 of Briarpatch Magazine.

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Morality rarely motivates Canadian foreign policy

Despite the widely held belief that Canada is a benevolent international actor, Ottawa usually works to advance this country’s corporate and imperial interests. Torture in Afghanistan, saber rattling on Iran, Israel ‘right or wrong’ and opposition to climate negotiations, are high-profile recent examples that have challenged many people’s assumptions about Canada’s role in the world.
There are many more, less publicized, recent examples of Canadian malfeasance. Over the past 125 years few countries have been more brutally exploited than the Congo. This history, however, does not trouble Ottawa. In mid November Canada opposed the country’s move to gain a greater share of its vast mineral wealth by obstructing international efforts to reschedule the country’s foreign debt, which was mostly accrued during more than three decades of Joseph Mobuto’s dictatorship and the subsequent war.
Canadian officials “have a problem with what’s happened with a Canadian company,” Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said referring to the government’s move to revoke a mining concession given to Vancouver-based First Quantum during the 1998-2003 war. “The Canadian government wants to use the Paris Club [of debtor nations] in order to resolve a particular problem. This is unacceptable.”
Ottawa refused to respond directly to allegations that it used the Congo’s indebtedness to gain political concessions for Canadian mining companies. But, Canadian official Me’shel Gulliver Belanger told Reuters, “some Canadian firms have been having significant issues in a challenging investment environment.” After winning concessions that pleased Canada’s many miners in the Congo, Ottawa relented on the debt rescheduling.
Home to Canada’s second most important foreign policy endeavor, Haiti is another country that has borne the brunt of Western, U.S.-led, imperialism over the past century. And Ottawa’s reaction to the terrible earthquake suggests we can expect more of the same. Initial search and rescue focused on places frequented by foreigners and the Haitian elite such as the UN compound and Hotel Montana. At the same time, rescue workers were dissuaded from entering the ‘dangerous’ slum neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince.
Ottawa also militarized its aid effort. Two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon explained that the teams were not needed because “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.”
Overthrown in 2004 by the U.S./France/Canada, Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was barred from participating in parliamentary elections scheduled for February 28 (they were canceled after the earthquake). Excluding the party supported by the country’s poor majority was deemed good for business, which is why Ottawa failed to mention the issue. (Montreal-based Gildan, the world’s largest blank t-shirt maker, is the second largest employer in the country while a number of Canadian mining companies are active there, including Eurasian Minerals which acquired prospecting licenses that cover approximately ten percent of Haiti’s land mass.) Instead of opposing Fanmi Lavalas’ exclusion, Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Catherine Loubier congratulated Haiti’s government for bringing “a period of stabilisation” good for “investment and trade.” Ottawa backed up its words with deeds, adding $15 million to a Haitian prison and police system that has been massively expanded and militarized since the February 2004 U.S./France/Canada coup.
Haiti, the Congo and most other countries in the Global South have long complained about the power of international finance. As a means to regulate speculation in financial markets, in mid November U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed a tiny (ranging from .005% to 1%) tax on international financial transactions. Worried about the plight of investment bankers Canadian Finance Minister Jim 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.
The mining industry increasingly represents Canada abroad. Canadian miners operate more than 3000 projects outside this country and many of these mines have displaced communities, destroyed ecosystems and engendered violence. To reduce this damage Liberal MP John McKay introduced An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries (bill C300). A November 23 foreign affairs committee meeting to discuss bill C300, which would reduce Ottawa’s support for the worst corporate offenders, heard testimony from a former Argentine environment minister. Romina Picolotti said her staff were “physically threatened” after pursuing environmental concerns about a project run by the world’s largest gold producer, Toronto-based Barrick. “My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold.”
At least Picolotti wasn’t murdered. On December 21 and 26 two activists opposed to a Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining project in El Salvador were killed (a third anti- mining organizer was murdered in June 2009). Instead of taking any responsibility for this violence, Pacific Rim went on the offensive. The company sued El Salvador for refusing to approve the mine’s permits.
A month earlier three current and former employees of Calgary-based Blackfire Exploration allegedly murdered Mariano Abarca Roblero, who led opposition to the company’s mine in Chicomuselo, a small community in the Mexican state of Chiapas. In response 250 demonstrated in front of the Canadian embassy in Mexico City and 2500 marched in Chicomuselo. On a pre-planned visit to Chiapas Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, and Minister for Latin America, Peter Kent, were greeted with chants of “Canada get out.”
This hostility may shock Canadians lulled into ignorance by this country’s dominant political culture, but it should not surprise government officials. Mexico’s second biggest paper La Jornada regularly covers the destruction rot by Canadian miners and in July the Canadian Press unearthed an internal government memorandum explaining: “Given the sheer number of Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico . . . it is highly likely that the embassy will be increasingly implicated in disputes between mine activists and Canadian mining companies operating in Mexico.’’
If decision makers cared about the social/ecological fallout caused by Canadian miners they would work to reign in these companies, rather than diligently defending their interests. Unfortunately social justice, humanism and morality rarely motivate Canadian foreign policy. Instead, corporate and imperial interests dominate this country’s role in the world. It’s time to acknowledge this, which is the first step to changing it.

This article first appeared in the May issue of Canadian Dimension magazine.

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China and cars

By Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler

Did you know GM sells more cars in China than the U.S.?

In March, GM sold 230,048 vehicles in China and 188,011 in the U.S. The U.S. auto giant is on pace to sell more than 2 million vehicles in China this year and 3 million by 2015.

“Overall auto sales in China rose 56% in March from a year earlier to a monthly record of 1.74 million units,” reported the Wall Street Journal last week. Total Chinese vehicle sales may hit 17 million this year, more than the biggest year ever in the U.S.. (China surpassed the U.S. in auto sales last year but it was largely because of a massive downturn in the American market.)

Today a Beijing tourist is more likely to encounter a traffic jam than see the Forbidden City. In 2009 auto companies sold 13.6 million vehicles in China, thirteen times the total number of cars in circulation in 1990.

Thirty years ago the Chinese Communist Party began to reform the country’s state dominated economy. State assets were sold, social entitlements cut, and consumerism unleashed. Capitalism was the new ideology. A decade on the government discovered that this required an automotive sector centered around the personal car.

The Chinese government understands, in the words of the Economist, that “the car industry more or less invented modern industrial capitalism.” Which is why, according to the Financial Times; “China’s car-centred model of development has been a mainstay of economic growth in recent years…the spin-off benefits from burgeoning car sales have been enormous. Each car requires several thousand parts, hundreds – if not thousands – of suppliers, roads, car parks, driving schools, petrol stations and other service industries.”

For the past 75 years the automobile has been the number one source of capitalist profit. An industry with a voracious and varied appetite, automakers are among the leading consumers of copper, aluminum, plastics, iron, lead, rubber, textiles, vinyl, computer chips and steel. 9 of the world’s 10 biggest corporations in 2007 were car and oil companies (Walmart, the largest, is highly dependent on the private automobile).

The Communist Party has worked vigorously for China to join this capitalist heaven.
In 1994, the auto industry was named one of five “pillar industries” by the government. “The Chinese government wants to emulate America’s rise to industrial glory by making the car industry a pillar of economic growth,” noted the Economist.

To prop up this pillar, state banks have invested billions of dollars in car manufacturing. There are now automotive factories in almost all of China’s 31 provinces and last September, Wang Chuanfu, a “carmaker” became China’s richest man.

An indirect subsidy to the auto industry, 100s of billions of dollars in public money has been pumped into road construction. “Since the 1990s,” reported the Economist, “China has built an expressway network crisscrossing the country that is second only to America’s interstate highway system in length.” Between 1998 and 2008 30,000 miles of expressway were built.

Cars are literally shaping the physical lansdscape. Historic neighbourhoods have been torn to the ground to build new roads. A forest of roadside billboards have sprung up and the sprawling outskirts of major cities have undergone complete makeovers as big box retailers such as Wal-Mart move in.

By 2018 5 million people are expected to move to Shanghai’s suburbs. A source of inspiration for this suburban shift is one of the world’s most sprawling cities. In early 2008 a delegation of Chinese government officials, architects and bankers toured the outskirts of Phoenix. USA Today reported, “Members of the group studied the streetscape, the golf course, the spa, the cyber cafe, the healthcare amenities and the design of the single family homes at Sun City Festival, a 3000 acre, planned community for people over 55.”

In a country that has two hundred million bicycles, cities such as Shanghai have banned them from many streets. The Washington Post explained in December: “Major streets boasted wide bike lanes, sidewalks carried ample parking space for bikes and bikes usually had the right of way at intersections [in China]. But lately, public space for bicycles has been shrinking under the tyranny of the car.”

Cars need a highly controlled environment where everyone follows their rules. To enforce these rules, especially when the car is new, it takes repression. “Traffic police,” reported Shanghai Daily, “want to publicly shame jaywalkers and cyclists who violate traffic rules by displaying photographs and videos of their offences in newspapers and on TV.” (Early in U.S. automotive history 6 and 7 year olds were arrested for continuing to play on New York’s streets.)

Those lucky enough to escape public shame may not be so lucky when riding their bikes, walking or taking public transit – still the most popular modes of transportation. China has the highest number of crash deaths of any country, with 100,000 people dying annually in recent years. And the victims are often non-car users, which has stoked rising bitterness over the growing class divide in Chinese society where a minority of the population has accrued the benefits from the shift towards capitalism. A manifestation of this class divide is the rising dominance of the car at the expense of other transportation methods. For non-car drivers –the 500 million who get by with less than two dollars a day, among others – transportation is becoming more dangerous and as cars congest routes, more time consuming.

Cars have not only affected the domestic landscape they are changing China’s role in the world. Increased resource requirements have led Chinese companies to scour the globe for commodities, no matter the ecological costs. Two weeks ago, for instance, a Chinese company bought a $4.6 billion stake in Alberta’s Tar Sands, which is among the world’s dirtiest sources of oil.

Until the mid-1990s China was oil self-sufficient, a position that has changed dramatically. China is now the number two consumer of oil worldwide and the country has been responsible for a great deal of the world’s total oil growth in recent years. With less than two percent of the world’s oil reserves, most of its growing needs will be imported.

The Communist Party is increasingly concerned over the security of the country’s oil supply, as demonstrated by this week’s $20 billion oil agreement with Venezuela and the launch of the National Strategic Oil Reserves Office. China is in fact correct to be worried about its oil supply. Some say the invasion of Iraq was meant to enhance U.S control over the Middle East’s black gold in light of a rapidly expanding Chinese appetite. Elsewhere, reports the Washington Post, “The United States is building a network of military bases and diplomatic missions whose main goal is to protect American access to oil fields in volatile places such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and tiny Sao Tome and, as important, to deny that access to China.”

Fifteen years ago automobiles in China guzzled about 10 percent of the country’s much smaller total oil usage. Today cars and light trucks consume about forty percent of all China’s oil. So long as the country continues along the North American ‘development’ path, there’s no reason to believe that cars won’t someday consume half of the country’s oil. The ecological consequences will become increasingly severe.

The further into the future we peer, the more frightening the implications become. North America has already proved that a car culture severely damages the environment. Cars leak lead battery acid, brake fuel and anti-freeze, all of which seep into the earth. Brake pads house asbestos and air conditioners exhale ozone-depleting coolants. The rubber from tires takes centuries to decompose and entire eco-systems have been exterminated
by expanding auto infrastructure. Cars also emit large amounts of CO2. As Jane Kay Holtz put it so aptly in Asphalt Nation, “the automobile’s abuse overruns our capacity to record it.”

It is crucial to consider the direction of the recent surge in automobility. Currently, China has some 40 vehicles per thousand residents, while Western Europe has about 590, and the US 950. With a population of roughly a billion more people than that of the U.S., China clearly has the potential to absorb many more cars.

Chinese environmentalist Liang Congjie does the math and describes the threat to human survival that the car now poses; “If each Chinese family has two cars like U.S. families, then the cars needed by China, something like 600 million vehicles, will exceed all the cars in the world combined. That would be the greatest disaster for mankind.” Simply put, the day their future looks like our present, we’re done for.

If China is following our lead, perhaps its time we get off this road to environmental ruin.

This article first appear in

“Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay” by Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler will be published in early 2011. Anyone interested in organizing a talk as part of a book tour please e-mail:

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They have good reason not to like Canada

NEWS FLASH! We are not the most popular girl in high school. There are some parties where Canadians are not invited. There are some places where it’s not a good idea to show up with a Canadian flag sewn on to your backpack. There are some people who don’t like us because of the things we do and the company we keep.

Barely mentioned in the Canadian media, leaders from 32 Latin American and Caribbean nations met in Mexico last Monday and Tuesday to launch a new organization to advance regional economic and political integration. Unlike meetings of the Organization of American States, Cuba was invited to this summit. But, the United States and Canada were not.

So, why wasn’t Canada invited? Canadians presume we are popular everywhere. According to surveys, a higher percentage of us think Canada has a good reputation around the world than citizens of any other country. It’s our southern cousins, the Americans, the neighborhood bully, who many in the world don’t like.

But, the truth is Ottawa’s relationship to the rest of the Americas is more like Washington’s than Managua’s, Montevideo’s or even Brasilia’s. Canada’s relationship to the hemisphere is defined by support for Washington’s bullying, not as a country bullied by Washington.

Canadian corporations have long been major players across Latin America and the Caribbean. Much to the chagrin of Caribbean nationalists, for instance, Canadian corporations dominated banking in the English Caribbean for a hundred years, as well as in Cuba from 1902 to 1940s, in the Dominican Republic from the 1920s to the 1960s and in Haiti during the 1960s and 1970s.

During the first half of the 20th century, Toronto-based Brazilian Traction (or Brascan) dominated the Brazilian economy. Possibly the biggest firm in Latin America by the end of the 1950s, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. The company was also notorious for undermining Brazilian business initiatives, spying on its workers and leftist politicians and assisting the 1964 coup against President Joao Goulart.

Today, Canadian corporations are among the leading investors throughout the USA’s backyard with $107 billion invested as of 2006. And Canadian mining companies, which dominate the industry from Mexico to Argentina, operate many unpopular projects in the hemisphere.

To defend these interests, Ottawa has worked to halt the leftist shift transforming the region. Alongside the U.S. and France, Canada actively participated in the February 2004 coup against populist Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When the Honduran military forcibly removed elected president Manuel Zelaya this past summer Canada, along with the U.S., tried to block Zelaya’s return to power. The Harper government opposed Zelaya’s social reforms and his gravitation toward a more united Latin America.

Threatened by its moves to break from neoliberalism and Washington-led diplomacy, Canada has supported the U.S. campaign to replace the government of Venezuela. While most Latin American leaders condemned the April 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, Canadian diplomats were silent. Then, when Chavez won a resounding reelection in December 2006 Ottawa was the only OAS nation to join Washington in opposing a message of congratulations. Seven months later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper toured South America “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.

The most recent example of Ottawa undermining Venezuela’s government took place at the end of January. After meeting only with opposition figures during a trip to Venezuela Peter Kent, minister of state for the Americas, said: “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.”

(Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton Matos, responded: “I am talking of a Canada governed by an ultra right that closed its Parliament for various months to (evade) an investigation over the violation of human rights – I am talking about torture and assassinations – by its soldiers in Afghanistan.”)

And what does Ottawa want in Latin America? Above all else, a Latin America open to foreign business, particularly to Canadian corporations. And what’s the simplest way to keep the region open to foreign investment? Canada works hand-in-hand with the bully to maintain U.S. dominance over the region.

No wonder we were not invited to the party.

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