Beware foreign policy ‘experts’ who are shills for imperialism

Aside from government officials the dominant media is fond of quoting “experts” from foreign policy think tanks when discussing Canada’s role in the world. While presented as neutral specialists, these opinion shapers are generally entangled with powerful, wealthy, elites.

Take the case of Venezuela and Canada’s leading foreign policy ‘ideas organization’. Recently Canadian International Council President Ben Rowswell has been widely quoted promoting Ottawa’s regime change efforts in Venezuela. After 25 years in Canada’s diplomatic service, including stints as chargé d’affaires in Iraq and ambassador in Caracas, Rowswell joined the CIC in November. Rowswell’s move highlights the close relationship between Global Affairs Canada and this corporate funded think tank, which has deep imperial roots.

Formerly the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, CIC has 15 (mostly university based) regional branches that hold dozens of conferences and seminars annually. The head office publishes International Journal, Behind the Headlines as well as reports and books. It also does media outreach.

Officially formed in 1928, CIIA’s stated aim was to promote “an understanding of international questions and problems, particularly in so far as these may relate to Canada and the British Empire.” Its first meeting was held at the Ottawa home of staunch imperialist Sir Robert Borden, prime minister between 1911 and 1920.(Borden publicly encouraged Canadian businessmen to buy up southern Mexico and sought to annex the British Caribbean colonies after World War I.) Borden was made first president of CIIA and another former prime minister, Arthur Meighen, became vice-president in 1936. On hand to launch CIIA was the owner of six Canadian newspapers, Frederick Southam, as well as Winnipeg Free Press editor John W. Dafoe and Ottawa Citizen editor Charles Bowman.“The CIIA’s early leadership constituted a roster of Canada’s business, political, and intellectual elite”, explains Priscilla Roberts in Tweaking the Lion’s Tail: Edgar J. Tarr, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and the British Empire, 1931–1950.

CIIA’s genesis was in the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference. At the 1919 conference British and US delegates discussed establishing internationally focused institutes. The next year the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), or Chatham House Study Group, was founded in London and in 1921 the Council on Foreign Relations was set up, notes Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy, “to equip the United States of America for an imperial rule on the world scene.”

The driving force behind these international affairs institutes was British historian Lionel Curtis. An “indefatigable proponent of Imperial Federation” and former Colonial Office official in South Africa, Curtis set up a network of semi-secret Round Table Groups in the British Dominions and US. The aim was “to federate the English-speaking world along lines laid down by Cecil Rhodes”, the famous British imperialist. The Rhodes Trust and South African mining magnet Sir Abe Bailey financed the Round Table Groups and former British Secretary of State for War Lord Milner promoted the initiative.

Before its official formation CIIA sought to affiliate with RIIA. A number of prominent Canadians were part of Chatham House and the Canadian elite was largely pro-British at the time. “Much of the impetus and funding to” launch CIIA, Roberts writes, “came from Sir Joseph Flavelle, a meatpacking and banking magnate who strongly supported British Imperial unity. Other key Anglophile supporters included Newton W. Rowell, a leading Liberal politician, the wealthy Liberal politician and diplomat, Vincent Massey, and Sir Arthur Currie, commander of Canadian forces on the Western front during the war, who became principal of McGill University in 1920.”

The CIIA’s early powerbrokers generally identified with British imperialism. But its younger members and staff tended to back Washington’s foreign policy. In subsequent decades US foundation funding strengthened their hand. The Rockefeller Foundation accounted for as much as half of CIIA’s budget by the early 1940s. Alongside Rockefeller money, the Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation supported the institute. Set up by US capitalists responsible for significant labour and human rights abuses, the Big 3 foundations were not disinterested organizations. In The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy Edward Berman writes: “The Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations have consistently supported the major aims of United States foreign policy, while simultaneously helping to construct an intellectual framework supportive of that policies major tenants.”

In subsequent decades CIIA would receive significant funding from Canada’s External Affairs and the Department of National Defence. But the institute’s nonfinancial ties to the government have always been more significant. After nearly two decades at External Affairs, John Holmes returned to lead the institute in 1960. In Canada’s Voice: The Public Life of John Wendell Holmes Adam Chapnick notes, “during [Prime Minister Lester] Pearson’s time in office [1963-68] Holmes had unprecedented access to the highest levels of government. He could reach Pearson personally when he was in Ottawa, and the Prime Minister promoted the CIIA while entertaining. Holmes also drafted speeches for Minister of Trade and Commerce Robin Winters.”

Upon leaving office external ministers Lester Pearson, Paul Martin Senior and Mitchell Sharp all took up honorary positions with CIIA. In 1999 former foreign minister Barbara McDougall took charge of the institute and many chapters continue to be dominated by retired diplomats. Active Canadian diplomats regularly speak to CIIA meetings, as did Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien.

Alongside Ottawa and US foundations, Canadian capitalists with foreign policy interests also funded CIIA. Annual reports I analyzed from the late 1960s to mid-1990s list numerous globally focused corporate sponsors and corporate council members, including Bata Shoes, Toronto Dominion, Bank of Montréal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Brascan, Barrick Gold and Power Corporation.

In 2006 CIIA’s operations were subsumed into CIC. With financing from Research In Motion (RIM) co-founder Jim Balsillie, CIIA partnered with the Balsillie-created Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) to establish CIC. The CIIA library and its publications were maintained while an infusion of cash bolstered local chapters. The new organization also added a major national fellowship program, which is headquartered at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs.

Balsillie was made founding chair of CIC and the initial vice chairs were former foreign ministers Bill Graham and Perrin Beattie. “The CIC promises to transform the debate about and understanding of Canadian foreign policy,” said Balsillie in 2007.

Balsillie put up $1-million in seed funding and launched a fundraising drive in the corporate community. Trying to drum up support for CIC, Balsillie wrote a commentary for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, explaining that “in return for their support, contributing business leaders would be offered seats in a CIC corporate senate that would give them influence over the research agenda and priorities of the new council.” In another piece for the National Post Balsillie wrote: “To create a research base on Canadian foreign policy, I have spearheaded the creation of the Canada-wide Canadian International Council (CIC). The Americans have their powerful Council on Foreign Relations, which offers non-partisan analysis of international issues and integrates business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders.”

The CIC Senate has included the CEOs of Barrick Gold, Power Corporation, Sun Life Financial and RBC. According to the most recent financial statement on its website, half of CIC’s funding comes from corporate donations (a quarter is from its International Journal and another quarter from dues).

Ben Rowswell’s transition from Global Affairs Canada to President of the Canadian International Council reflects the institute’s long-standing ties to government. His aggressive promotion of regime change in Venezuela also fit with the politics of an ‘ideas organization’ tied to the corporate world.

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Canada’s next target after Venezuela: Cuba?

“First we take Caracas then we take Havana.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trudeau’s position on Honduras reveals hypocrisy about Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SNC Lavalin the corporate face of Ugly Canadian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canadian apologist for Israeli war crimes nominated for Peace Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SNC Lavalin scandal blowback from corrupt Canadian foreign policy

SNC Lavalin has long shaped Canadian foreign policy.

This story also appears on the Real News Network.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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