Snowbirds so much more than just pilots and planes

Canada’s massive military cultural outreach effort suffered a blow last week. The Snowbirds aerobatic team was forced to cancel a half-dozen scheduled appearances because they require “additional practice and training.”

Each year the famed Snowbirds participate in some 60 air shows across North America. Over the years they’ve flown more than 2500 shows and cultural events such as Canada Day celebrations. As many as six million people watchSnowbird planes fly annually. Additionally, the military’s demonstration team has been celebrated in books and on Canada Post stamps.

Eighty Canadian Force’s (CF) personnel work full-time with the squadron and the military spends $4.3 million annually on flying costs for the Snowbirds. The CF plans to spend $755-million on a new fleet of aircraft for the aerobatics team.

But, the Snowbirds do not contribute to the CF’s combat capabilities. They are simply, according to the Department of National Defence, an “important public relations and recruiting tool.” Recruitment and community outreach are closely intertwined. DND spends $10-$20 million annually on recruitment. The CF advertises on Xbox video games and Twitter, as well as bus shelters and Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts. Describing it as “one of the primary windows through which Canadians view their military”, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Goodspeed calls “recruiting advertising … the most powerful form of PR available to the CF.” Its “Fight Distress, Fight Fear, Fight Chaos—Fight with the Canadian Forces” recruiting campaign won a series of marketing awards in the late 2000s.

At the height of the war in Afghanistan the CF launched Operation Connection to mobilize the whole armed forces to “make contact and attract recruits.” A message sent to soldiers in 2006 explained:

As a member of the Canadian Forces, we count on your presence at the hundreds of activities we will participate in over the next year … festivals, ship visits, visits to schools, car shows, job fairs, air shows, sports events … Telephone your children’s schools or your grandmother’s seniors’ residence and ask if you and/or your unit could be of help planning a Canadian Forces Day event or setting up a Remembrance Day program.

Operation Connection showcased the CF at Canada Day festivities, Santa Claus parades, NHL games etc. CBC Our World host Brian Stewart describedthe “information machine” responsible for Op Connection as “a public affairs unit that dwarfs all other government promotion offices.”

In 2010-11 the CF admitted to spending $354 million on public relations and related military commemorations. Six hundred and sixty-one staff members worked on this effort. According to another 2011 report, the Department of National Defence’s Public Affairs department had 286 staff. Public Affairs Officers’ write press releases, organize press conferences, monitor the news, brief journalists, befriend reporters and editors, or perform various other media-related activities. A large proportion of the news stories about the military are based on CF statements and events.

Ottawa also celebrates specific wars and battles. Recently, the government spent millions of dollars to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. In 2012 the federal government launched a $28 million initiative to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Commemorating “glorious” wars can boost the CF’s standing. Bruised by the long and unpopular war in Afghanistan, the CF sought “several positive, proactive communication opportunities” to shore up its image. According to an internal file Canadian Press uncovered, the military had “plans for commemorative activities, including a series of World War I events”, which were to receive millions of dollars of CF money through 2020.

Alongside specific war commemorations, the federal government spends tens of millions of dollars on war monuments. Ottawa is home to a National War Memorial, Korean War Monument, National Victoria Cross Memorial, Veterans Memorial Highway, National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Boer War Memorial etc. There are more than 7,500 memorials registered with Veterans Affairs’ National Inventory of Military Memorials.

Veterans Affairs allocates tens of millions of dollars annually to war memorials and related “awareness” activities. Between 2006 and 2014 the department’s Community Engagement Partnership Fund dished out $13 million for hundreds of small projects recognizing veterans such as $5,000 for a Remembrance Day service at the University of British Columbia. During 2010-11 fiscal year $41 million was spent on Canada Remembers, which included“awareness and participation of Canadians in remembrance activities” and “maintenance and improvements of memorials, cemeteries and grave markers.”

The Snowbirds’ recent troubles are a small setback to the government’s massive cultural outreach. It’s time, however, for a concerted challenge to this unbridled militarism.

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Trudeau confuses anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Canada’s Prime Minister would like us to believe that the ideology that shaped Israel is designed to fight anti-Jewish prejudice. But, even when anti-Semitism was a significant political force in Canada, Zionism largely represented a chauvinistic, colonialist way of thinking.

On Israel Independence Day earlier this month Justin Trudeau delivered a speech by video to a rally in Montréal and published a statement marking the occasion. “Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism”, declared the PM in a rare reference by a top politician to Israel’s state ideology.

Israel apologists often link anti-Zionism and anti-Jewishness, but it’s disingenuous. Canadian Zionism has long been comfortable with anti-Jewish sentiment and it has never been primarily an anti-prejudicial ideology.

When anti-Semitism was a social force of consequence in Canada it was not uncommon for anti-Jewish politicians to back Zionism. During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism,” explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. King told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of the “Englishman.” According to Zachariah Kay in Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment, long-time Alberta Premier E.C. Manning “allowed his name to be associated with the [pre-state Zionist organization] Canadian Palestine Committee, but was known for anti-Jewish statements on his ‘back to the bible’ Sunday radio broadcasts.”

Known to support Zionism as a way to deal with the “Jewish problem,” in 1934 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett opened the annual United Palestine Appeal fundraiser with a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Lauding the Balfour declaration and British conquest of Palestine, Bennett said, “scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

At a policy level the government’s aversion to accepting post-World War II Jewish refugees was a factor in Canadian diplomats promoting the anti-Palestinian UN partition plan. An ardent proponent of the Zionist cause during the 1947 international negotiations dealing with the British mandate of Palestine, Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

Compared to six decades ago, anti-Semitism today barely registers in Canada. But, embers of anti-Jewish Zionism linger. Over the past decade the Charles-McVety-led Canada Christian College has repeatedly organized pro-Israel events – often with B’nai Brith – yet in the 1990s the College was in a dispute with the Canadian Jewish Congress over courses designed to convert Jews. Canada’s most influential Christian Zionist activist, McVety also heads the Canadian branch of Christians United for Israel, which believes Jews need to convert or burn in Hell upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This dancing with the enemy is nothing new. Historically some Jews aligned with anti-Jewish Zionists. During World War I many Canadian Jewish Zionists enthusiastically supported Britain and recruited young men to help conquer Palestine, even though London was allied with Russia’s notoriously anti-Semitic czar. (At that time Zionism was commonly promoted as a way for Jews to escape czarist anti-Semitism.)

After World War II some Jewish Zionists tapped into anti-Jewish sentiment to advance their cause. In Canada’s Jews: a People’s journey Gerald Tulchinsky reports, “fully cognizant of the government’s reluctance to admit Jews to Canada, the [Zionist] delegation reminded [anti- Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie] King that in the post war years, when ‘multitudes of uprooted people … would be knocking on the doors of all countries,’ Palestine could accommodate many of the Jews who might want to come to Canada.”

It is true that the Zionist colonies in Palestine absorbed tens of thousands of refugees after World War II and provided a safe haven to many Jews escaping Nazi persecution in the 1930s. But, it’s also true that Zionists were willing to stoke anti-Semitism and kill Jews if it served their nationalistic/colonialist purposes. To foil British efforts to relocate Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to Mauritius, in 1940 the Jewish Agency, the Zionist government-in-waiting in Palestine, killed 267 mostly Jews by bombing the ship Patria. In State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel Tom Suarez concludes that the Zionist leadership was prepared to kill Jews if it aided the cause, because “persecuted Jews served the political project, not the other way around.”

Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism — “Zionism … developed in the late 19th century in response to European antisemitism”, according to a recent story on the pro-Palestinian website Canada Talks Israel Palestine — the Theodore Herzl-led Zionist movement was, in fact, spurred by the Christian, nationalist and imperialist ideologies sweeping Europe at the time.

After two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism finally took root among some Jews after two centuries of active Protestant Zionism. “Christian proto-Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement. And yet it was quite active. Between 1796 and 1800, notes Non-Jewish Zionism: its roots in Western history, there were at least 50 books published in Europe about the Jews’ return to Palestine. The movement reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

Another factor driving Jewish Zionism was the nationalism sweeping Europe in the late 1800s. Germany, Italy and a number of eastern European states were all established during this period.

Alongside nationalist and biblical literalist influences, Zionism took root at the height of European imperialism. In the lead-up to World War I the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony.) At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two-thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory … on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

As much as it was a reaction to anti-Semitism, Zionism was an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

In Canada today Jewish support for Zionism has little to do with combating prejudice. If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism, why hasn’t the massive decline of anti-Jewishness lessened its popularity in the Jewish community? Instead, the leadership and a significant segment of Canadian Jewry have become increasingly focused on supporting a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift away from local Jewish concerns and towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli policy.

With institutional barriers to advancement overcome a half century ago and an ever more secular society, Rabbis and Jewish organizations have to find a purpose. Israel has become many people’s primary connection to Judaism. In Understanding the Zionist Religion, Jonathan Kay wrote, “In some cases I have observed, it is not an exaggeration to say that Zionism is not just the dominant factor in Jews’ political lives—but also in their spiritual lives.”

Between the late 1960s and mid-2000s there was an inverse correlationbetween Jewish votes and pro-Israel governments. Though they were less pro-Israel, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien gained more support from Canadian Jewry than Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper in his first victory in 2006.

The political trajectory of the Montréal riding of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the Jewish community’s shift towards focusing on Israel. Repeatedly re-elected in a riding that was then 50% Jewish, Pierre Trudeau distanced Ottawa from Israeli conduct more than any other prime minister before or since. Still, Pierre Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. Representing Jewry’s ascension to the heights of Canada’s power structures, Trudeau appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms. But, of recent the riding has become a battleground.

During the 2015 federal election Mount Royal was the only riding in greater Montréal the Conservative Party seriously contested. Even though Liberal party candidate Anthony Housefather is a staunch Israel advocate, he won his seat because of non-Jewish voters.

A similar dynamic is at play in the centre of Canadian Jewish life. Possibly the best placed of any in the world, the Toronto Jewish community faces little economic or political discrimination and has above average levels of education and income. Yet it’s the North American base of the Zionist extremist Jewish Defense League. It’s also a power base for an explicitly racist, colonialist, institution. In what was “reported to be the largest kosher dinner in Canadian history”, three years ago 4,000 individuals packed the Toronto Convention Centre to raise money for the Jewish National Fund in honour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

No matter what Justin Trudeau says, Zionism and anti-Jewish prejudice have little to do with each other.

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Why would NDP foreign affairs critic legitimize Israeli racism?

Should a social democratic party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs address the Israel lobby’s top annual event and legitimize an explicitly racist institution? These are questions those currently vying for leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party must be pressed to answer.

According to the Canadian Parliament’s recently released disclosure of members’ sponsored travel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) paid for the New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Hélène Laverdière to speak on a panel at its conference last year.

The notorious anti-Palestinian lobby group spent more than $740 on her flight and accommodation in Washington, DC.

Months after her AIPAC speech, Laverdière participatedin a Jewish National Fund tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem. During a visit to Israel with Canada’s governor general, Laverdière attended a ceremony with the fund’s world chairman Danny Atar and a number of other top officials.

The Jewish National Fund controls 13 percent of Israel’s land, which was mostly seized from Palestinians forced from their homes by Zionist militias during the 1947-1948 ethnic cleansing known to Palestinians as the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe.

The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.”

Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says the Jewish National Fund “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

If Laverdière doesn’t trust the State Department or the UN’s assessments she could just read the Jewish National Fund’s own website.

Responding to Palestinian citizens’ attempts via the Israeli high court to live on land controlled by the Jewish National Fund, the website explicitly denies their right to do so, despite being supposedly equal Israeli citizens.

The court “has been required to consider petitions that delegitimize the Jewish People’s continued ownership” of the land. The website states that these lawsuits were “directed against the fundamental principles” on which the Jewish National Fund was founded.

The petitions to the court amount to a demand that the JNF, “which serves as trustee for the lands of the Jewish People,” no longer have the “right to make use of these lands for the continuation of the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel.”

It adds that over 80 percent of Israeli Jews “prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

It is a moral outrage that the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson would legitimize an organization that practices discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in Canada six decades ago.

Laverdière legitimizing the Jewish National Fund and AIPAC reflects the backroom politics that dominate the New Democratic Party. In fact, the issue of Palestinian rights goes to the very heart of democracy within the party.

During the 2015 general election, the New Democratic Party ousted several individuals from running or contesting nominations for parliament because they had defended Palestinian rights on social media.

In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as a party candidate in Nova Scotia because he accused Israel of committing war crimes during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza.

More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed during the Israeli attack.

Leadership candidates must commit to respecting local party democracy and ending the purge against those who defend Palestinian rights. Standing up for Palestinian rights also represents popular will.

A February poll confirms that New Democratic Party members – and most Canadians – are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on that country.

According to the poll of 1,000 Canadians, almost 80 percent of those who expressed an opinion said they believe the Palestinians’ call for a boycott is “reasonable.”

In the context of the recent UN Security Council denunciation of settlement building in the West Bank, respondents were also asked “do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?”

Eighty-four percent of New Democratic Party supporters responded they were open to sanctioning Israel.

Leadership contenders must be pressed to make their position on Palestinian rights reflect members’ views. A 16 May Facebook post by leading candidate Niki Ashton is an important step.

“For more than 60 years, Palestine has been struggling to simply exist,” Ashton wrote. She added that she was “honored to stand with many in remembering the Nakba” at a recent event in Montreal that was also “a rally in solidarity with those on hunger strike in Palestine today.”

Ashton added: “The NDP must be a voice for human rights, for peace and justice in the Middle East. I am inspired by all those who in our country are part of this struggle for justice.”

In response to criticism from Israel lobby groups and Conservative Party leadership contender Brad Trost, Ashton stood by her participation in the rally.

“One must speak out in the face of injustice, whether here at home or abroad,” she said, and called for Canada to support “a balanced position and a just peace in the Middle East.”

While Ashton’s move is an important step, grassroots activists shouldn’t be naïve about the array of forces, both within and outside the party, that prefer the status quo. Asking nicely will not spark much-needed change.

Before a “youth issues” leadership debate in Montreal in March, the Young New Democrats of Québec asked the party leadership to include a question about Palestine. They refused.

At the upcoming leadership debates Palestine solidarity activists within the party should press the issue.

Contenders need to answer if they believe it is okay for the New Democratic Party foreign affairs spokesperson to speak at AIPAC or legitimize an explicitly racist institution like the Jewish National Fund.

 

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Canadian companies caught with hands in African colonial cookie jar

The recent seizure of phosphate from a Moroccan state company in South Africa and Panama is a blow to corporate Canada and a victory for national independence struggles. It should also embarrass the Canadian media.

This month courts in Port Elizabeth and Panama City okayed requests by the POLISARIO Front asking South Africa and Panama to seize two cargo ships with 100,000 tonnes of phosphate from Western Sahara, a sparsely populated territory in north-western Africa occupied by Morocco. Ruled by Spain until 1975, Moroccan troops moved in when the Spanish departed and a bloody 15-year war drove tens of thousands of Sahrawi into neighbouring Algeria, where they still live in camps.

No country officially recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The UN calls it “occupied” and the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as the Rome Statute prohibit an occupying power from exploiting the resources of territories they control unless it’s in the interest of, and according to, the wishes of the local population. In 2002 the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell described the exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources as a “violation of the international law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.”

Saskatoon’s PotashCorp and Calgary’s Agrium, which are merging, have a partnership with Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s OCP Group to export phosphate mined in Western Sahara. The two Canadian companies buy halfof Western Sahara phosphates and it was an Agrium shipment that was seized in Panama.

To deflect from its complicity in violating international law, PotashCorp says OCP’s operations benefit the Sahrawi people. A 2014 PotashCorp statement claimed: “OCP has established a proactive affirmative action campaign to the benefit of the local people and, importantly, is making significant economic and social contributions to the entire region. As a result, we believe those who choose to make a political statement about OCP are effectively penalizing Saharawi workers, their families and communities.”

International solidarity activists have called on businesses to stop exploiting Western Sahara’s resources, which has led the Ethical Fund of Vancity credit union, four pension funds in Sweden and Norway’s $800 billion pension fund to divest from PotashCorp. A number of fertilizer companies have also severed ties to OCP, Morocco’s largest industrial company. The POLISARIO Front national liberation movement and African Union claim deals with OCP to export Western Sahara phosphate contravene international law and prop up Morocco’s control.

While only preliminary, the recent court decisions are important for national independence struggles. The South Africa case is thought to be the first time an independence movement has won legal action to intercept the export of state property.

Aside from a handful of stories in the business press, the Canadian media has basically ignored PotashCorp and Agrium’s role in violating international law. In the lead-up to the 2015 Saskatoon launch of Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation I submitted a piece about PotashCorp’s role in buying the non-renewable resources of Africa’s last remaining colony. The Saskatoon Star Phoenix opinion editor, who I’d communicated with on a few occasions when writing op-eds for a union, told me he was considering it and then responded a week later. “Hi Yves, Thanks, but I will pass on your op-ed. This issue has been on our pages in the past, with both sides of the debate making their points.” But when I searched the Star Phoenix database for articles on the largest publicly traded company in Saskatoon ties to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara there was a single 264-word letter to the editor criticizing PotashCorp’s policy two and a half years earlier (and a rebuttal from a company representative). Apparently, the Saskatoon business titan’s role in violating international law only warrants 264 words.

As part of writing this story, I searched Canadian Newsstream for coverage of PotashCorp and Agrium’s ties to Western Sahara. I found eight articles (a couple appeared in more than one paper) in major dailies on the subject, as well as three letters to the editor, over the past six years. Yet, as if violating international law is only of interest to those making investment decisions, all but one of the articles appeared in the business pages. When the Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland brought a resolution to PotashCorp’s 2015 shareholder meeting about Western Sahara, the Canadian Press reported on it but only a few news outlets picked up the wire story.

While the Sahrawi struggle is unfamiliar to Canadians, it is widely known in African intellectual circles. Aninternational solidarity campaign, with a group in Victoria, has long highlighted corporate Canada’s ties to the Moroccan occupation. I wrote about it briefly in my Canada in Africa and in an article for a number of left websites. In September 2015 Briarpatch did a cover story titled A Very Fertile Occupation: PotashCorp’s role in occupied Western Sahara and last week OurSask.ca published a long article titled Why a Segment of Saskatchewan’s Economy, and Our Ethical Compass, Hinges on an Undeveloped, War-Torn African Nation. An activist in Regina has been crowd funding for a documentary project titled Sirocco: Winds of Resistance: How the will to resist a brutal occupation has been passed on to two women by their grandmothers.

As my experience with the Star Phoenix suggest, the mainstream media is not unaware of the subject. Rather, there is a deeply held bias in favour of the corporate perspective and unless activists politicize the issue editors will ignore corporate Canada’s complicity in entrenching colonialism in Africa.

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Canadian banks at centre of Caribbean tax avoidance schemes

A recent photo in French daily Liberation hints at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s role in facilitating tax avoidance, which is partly an outgrowth of Canadian banking prowess in the Caribbean and Ottawa’s role in shaping the region’s unsavoury financial sector.

Just before the second round of the French presidential election documents were leaked purporting to show that Emmanuel Macron set up a company in a Caribbean tax haven. The president-elect’s firm is alleged to have had dealings with CIBC FirstCaribbean, a subsidiary of Canada’s fifth biggest bank.

While Macron denies setting up an offshore firm and contests the veracity of the documents, this is immaterial to the broader point. If the documents are a fraudulent political attack, those responsible chose CIBC First Caribbean because it is a major player in the region and has been linked to various tax avoidance schemes.

CIBC registered 632 companies and private foundations in the tax haven of the Bahamas between 1990 and May 2016, according to documents released in the Panama Papers.

CIBC was named 1,347 times in a cache of leaked files concerning secret tax havens released by the Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2013.

FirstCaribbean was implicated in the 2015 FIFA corruption scandal. To avoid an electronic trail of a $250,000 payment to former FIFA official Chuck Blazer, a representative of FirstCaribbean allegedly flewto New York to collect a cheque and deposit it in a Bahamas account.

In 2013 the US Internal Revenue Service sent FirstCaribbean a summons for information on some of its customers who may have been evading US income tax and the CIBC subsidiary was placed on an IRS list of “financial institutions where taxpayers receive a harsher penalty if they are found to have undisclosed accounts.”

CIBC is apparently popular with wealthy, well-placed Africans. Economist Thierry Godefroy and legal expert Pierre Lascoumes write that the “Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is known as the bank of many African dignitaries” while French Africa specialist François-Xavier Verschave called it “the nefarious CIBC, favourite bank of African oil dictators.” In 1997, for instance, the Toronto-based financial institution was the conduit of a $22 million transfer from Geneva to the British Virgin Islands for Kourtas, which was owned by Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo.

CIBC is not only the Canadian bank with operations in a Caribbean financial haven. In fact, Canadian institutions dominate the region’s unsavoury banking sector. In 2013 CIBC, RBC and Scotiabank accounted for more than 60 percent of regional banking assets. In 2008 The Economist reported Canadian banks controlled “the English-speaking Caribbean’s three largest banks, with $42 billion in assets, four times those commanded by its forty-odd remaining locally owned banks.” With their presence in the region dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks have been major players in the Caribbean since the late 1800s.

(Going back further, much of the capital used to establish the current incarnation of CIBC came from supplying the Caribbean slave colonies. The Halifax Banking Company was the first bank in Nova Scotia and the founding unit of today’s CIBC. The Halifax Banking Company’s leading shareholder and initial president, Enos Collins, was a ship owner, who made his wealth by bringing high-protein, salty Atlantic cod to the Caribbean to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.” He was also a privateer, licensed by the state to seize enemy boats during wartime, and according to a biography, likely captured and resold slaves in the region.)

Ottawa shaped post-independence Caribbean banking regulations. Beginning in 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and director of the Royal Bank of Canada, Graham Towers, along with a representative from the Ministry of Finance, helped write the Bank of Jamaica law of 1960 and that country’s Banking Law of 1960. These laws, which became the model for the rest of the newly independent English Caribbean, pleased Canadian banks. In The Banks of Canada in the Commonwealth CaribbeanDaniel Jay Baum writes, “the overall and firm impression with which one is left after reading the [Bank] Act is that its drafters did not intend to control the foreign operations of Canadian banks, or that if they intended to, they failed to do so.” More to the point, notes Towers of Gold, feet of clay: the Canadian banks, “West Indian banking laws, when they were written, were written with our help and advice and for our benefit.”

Alain Deneault details the work of Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials in developing taxation and banking policies in a number of Caribbean financial havens in his 2015 book Canada: A New Tax Haven: How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself. Deneault writes: “Beginning in the 1950s, at the instigation of Canadian financiers, lawyers, and policymakers, these jurisdictions changed to become some of the world’s most frighteningly accommodating jurisdictions. In 1955, a former governor of the Bank of Canada most probably helped make Jamaica into a reduced-taxation country. In the 1960s, as the Bahamas were becoming a tax haven characterized by impenetrable bank secrecy, the Bahamian finance minister was a member of the board of administrators of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). A Calgary lawyer and former Conservative Party honcho drew up the clauses that enabled the Cayman Islands to become an opaque offshore jurisdiction.”

Another way Canada has enabled the offshore financial infrastructure is by signing tax treaties and Tax Information Exchange Agreements with Caribbean tax havens. Due to a 2011 Tax Information Exchange Agreement, Deneault writes, “subsidiaries of Canadian companies that record their profits in the Caymans can now transfer them to Canada without paying any taxes.”

While they’ve proliferated in recent years, the first double taxation treaty Canada signed with a Caribbean tax haven dates to Wayne Gretzky’s inaugural season in the NHL. In 1980, Joe Clark’s short-lived Conservative government signed a double taxation treaty with Barbados. This allowed Canadians to park their international profits in Barbados, which taxes companies at between 0.25% and 2.5%, and transfer them here without paying tax in Canada.

Ottawa has actively defended the Caribbean financial system. In response to a push for greater regulation of the offshore world, in 2009 Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty told the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund (where Canada represents most members of the Commonwealth Caribbean as well as Ireland): “Someof our Caribbean countries have significant financial sector activities. There is a risk that changes to financial sector regulation in advanced countries could have negative unintended consequences on these activities. In particular, there is a risk that measures taken against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens, could have unintended negative impacts on well-regulated, transparent, financial centres. I believe that this should be avoided. Countries that comply with international standards should be protected from such measures.”

Canada has shaped the Caribbean’s opaque financial sector and CIBC seems to be at the centre of international offshore tax avoidance.

Let’s go Canada! Time to clean up the mess we created in the Caribbean.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Canada no friend of Haiti or rest of Caribbean

Can cute Canadian Caribbean dreams about enchanted islands come true? Or is reality more complicated and Canada a far less benign actor than we imagine ourselves to be?

In a recent Boston Globe opinion titled “Haiti should relinquish its sovereignty”, Boston College professor Richard Albert writes, “the new Haitian Constitution should do something virtually unprecedented: renounce the power of self-governance and assign it for a term of years, say 50, to a country that can be trusted to act in Haiti’s long-term interests.” According to the Canadian constitutional law professor his native land, which Albert calls “one of Haiti’s most loyal friends”, should administer the Caribbean island nation.

Over the past 15 years prominent Canadian voices have repeatedly promoted “protectorate status” for Haiti. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go” and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Four months after Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government Prime Minister Paul Martin reaffirmed his government’s desire to keep Haiti under long-term foreign control. “Fragile states often require military intervention to restore stability”, said Martin at a private meeting of “media moguls” in Idaho. Bemoaning what he considered the short-term nature of a previous intervention, the prime minister declared “this time, we have got to stay [in Haiti] until the job is done properly.”

A few months later a government-funded think tank, home to key Haiti policy strategists, elaborated a detailed plan for foreigners to run the country. According to the Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) plan for Haiti’s future, commissioned by Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the country’s different ministries would fall under Canadian oversight. Québec’s ministry of education, for instance, would oversee Haiti’s education system. The FOCAL plan put Haiti’s environment ministry under Canadian federal government supervision.

FOCAL’s proposal was made after the 2004 US/France/Canada coup weakened Haiti’s democratic institutions and social safety network, spurring thousands of violent deaths and a UN occupation that later introduced cholera to the country. Irrespective of the impact of foreign intervention, colonialists’ solution to Haiti’s problems is to further undermine Haitian sovereignty.

Haiti is but one piece of the Caribbean that Canadians’ have sought to rule. Earlier this year NDP MP Erin Weir asked if Canada should incorporate “the Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation.” Weir echoed an idea promoted by NDP MP Max Saltzman in the 1970s, Conservative MP Peter Goldring through the 2000s and an NDP riding association three years ago. A resolution submitted to the party’s 2014 convention noted, “New Democrats Believe in: Engaging with the peoples and government of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British government to have the Turks and Caicos Islands become Canada’s 11th Province.” As I discuss in the current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine, leftists have long supported the expansion of Canadian power in the region.

In a 300-page thesis titled “Dreams of a Tropical Canada: Race, Nation, and Canadian Aspirations in the Caribbean Basin, 1883-1919” Paula Pears Hastings outlines the campaign to annex territory in the region. “Canadians of varying backgrounds campaigned vigorously for Canada-West Indies union”, writes Hastings. “Their aspirations were very much inspired by a Canadian national project, a vision of a ‘Greater Canada’ that included the West Indies.”

Canada’s sizable financial sector in the region played an important part in these efforts. In Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, Walter Stewart notes: “The business was so profitable that in 1919 Canada seriously considered taking the Commonwealth Caribbean off mother England’s hands.”

At the end of World War I Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the empire. London balked. Ottawa was unsuccessful in securing the British Caribbean partly because the request did not find unanimous domestic support. Prime Minister Robert Borden was of two minds on the issue. From London he dispatched a cable noting, “the responsibilities of governing subject races would probably exercise a broadening influence upon our people as the dominion thus constituted would closely resemble in its problems and its duties the empire as a whole.” But, on the other hand, Borden feared that the Caribbean’s black population might want to vote. He remarked upon “the difficulty of dealing with the coloured population, who would probably be more restless under Canadian law than under British control and would desire and perhaps insist upon representation in Parliament.”

Proposing Canada acquire Turks and Caicos or rule Haiti may be outlandish, but it’s not benign. These suggestions ignore Caribbean history, foreign influence in the region and whitewash the harm Ottawa has caused there. Even worse, they enable politicians’ to pursue ever more aggressive policies in the region.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Haiti

Kay’s journey from Islamophobia to defender of cultural appropriation

Jonathan Kay’s resignation from the Walrus for his role in promoting a prize for a writer who engages in cultural appropriation is a relief for the magazine. But, Canada’s leading liberal magazine can’t say they didn’t know Kay was intolerant when they hired him to be editor-in-chief two years ago. Kay has repeatedly smeared Arabs and Muslims in the service of Israeli expansionism.

After protests against Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech at Concordia in 2002 Kay let loose about “an Arabist rabble … well-steeped in the specious propaganda of the Arab world” that made the Montréal university “the centre of militant Arabism”. Writing in the National Post, Kay added, “it is only among the school’s Arabs — many of whom like [activist Laith] Marouf, are immigrants from Arab nations where free speech is non-existent and anti-Semitic filth is widespread — that it is considered acceptable to shut your opponent up by force.” (In fact, hundreds of white and other non-Arab leftists were part of the protests that led to the cancellation of Netanyahu’s speech.)

Kay supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. In a 2002 column bemoaning the region’s “medieval hatreds” he wrote that Israel “can be trusted with nukes. But Iraq and its Muslim neighbours cannot.”

During its 2006 war on Lebanon Kay claimed the media focused on Israeli killing because the world had become “inured” to “watching Arab terrorists kill innocent Jews for two generations.” He added a macho twist to his Israel apologetics. “Hezbollah may wage war while hiding behind women’s skirts and baby rattles”, Kay wrote, “but Israel stubbornly adheres to a more humane creed.” Over 1,000 Lebanese, including 300 children under 13, were killed during the 34-day war while 165 Israelis, including 44 civilians, perished.

In a 2007 column Kay bemoaned how if you “connect the dots between Canada’s radicalized mosques and the terror threat… you get accused of Islamophobia” and two years later “applauded Jason Kenney for smacking down the Canadian Arab Federation.” The National Post editorial page editor wrote that CAF’s support for the Palestinian cause made them “a radicalized embarrassment to Canadian Arabs.” (Imagine a columnist calling the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs “a radicalized embarrassment to Canadian Jews” for cheerleading Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.) In his column Kay claimed, that in an interview with his paper’s editorial board a year earlier, CAF representatives “laid blame for virtually every problem the world faces on Israel—including the alienation of Arab-Canadian children in Canada’s public school system.” Cue the image of a crazed CAF representative ranting about how Israel is directing Toronto school officials to diagnose Arab children with ADHD. I wasn’t there but count me skeptical.

After Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza in late 2008–2009 Kay wroteabout “the difference between Israel and the terror-worshiping cultures that besiege it.” He described the “Arabs … sick spectacle”, which he contrasted to Israel as “a civilized culture that values human life.” For Kay criticism of Israel killing 300 children simply reflected longstanding anti-Jewish prejudice. “From the opening days of the Gazan campaign,” wrote Kay, “the blood-libels of ‘massacre’ and ‘genocide’ have flown thick and fast.”

In 2010 Kay published a wildly Islamophobic screed, diseminated by the Jewish Defense League, titled “Jonathan Kay on Muslim anti-Semitism: A hate reaching back 1,400 years.” In it he wrote: “The rhetoric and barbarism hurled against Israeli Jews after the Zionist project began were not new but simply the old, more diffuse rhetoric and barbarism being redirected, as by a lens, toward a particular pinprick on a map. .… the continued vibrancy and economic success of Jewish civilization — so close to Islam’s very heartland — is precisely what has fed Muslim rage and jealousy for 14 centuries.” Kay added that violence is “encouraged and fetishized in such a lurid manner and [is] why so few Middle Eastern Muslims regard them [“suicide terrorism and missile volleys”] as a disgraceful or even regrettable part of their culture.”

In a 2014 piece titled “Ezra Levant’s trial echoes a time when Canada’s radical Muslim activists were taken seriously” he defended the Islamophobe’s slanderous attacks against Khurrum Awan. Found guilty of libeling Awan, Levant was ordered to pay him $80,000.

Claiming Gaza is home to “more than a million Palestinians seething with anti-Semitic hatred”, Kay repeatedly justified Israel’s 2014 attacks, which left 2,200 mostly civilians dead (6 Israeli civilians were killed). According to Kay, “hundreds of Palestinian children … died as unwilling martyrs to Hamas’ barbaric human-shield military strategy” in which “Hamas fighters hide behind skirts and baby strollers.” For Kay the battle was “waged between a nation seeking to live in peace and a terrorist group whose whole stated reason for existence is the extermination of the Jewish state and its inhabitants.”

Kay’s appointment to head a purportedly liberal magazine says a great deal about the Canadian media landscape and broader political culture. Alongside his Walrus gig, Kay is regularly invited to address liberal Zionist organizations. In 2015 he spoke at an event organized by the “progressive” New Israel Fund and at a York Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies panel titled “Trudeau – Good for the Jews?” Last year Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto held a Kay vs. Kay debate, widely publicized by the Canadian Jewish News, on “whether liberal Jews are trapped by their own ideology.” Jonathan argued the “progressive” position and was countered by his hilariously right-wing mother, Barbara Kay, whose National Post column is largely devoted to stories of women oppressing men and the glory of Israel.

Jonathan Kay would probably deny any kinship with the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, Rise Canada, Soldiers of Odin and other openly Islamophobic/white supremacist groups. But, his Jewish/Western-supremacist outlook has led him to repeatedly denigrate Arabs and Muslims, which has contributed to the milieu that has seen the rise of these groups.

Why did the Walrus hire this guy?

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Filed under A Propaganda System