Tag Archives: Canadian foreign policy

Why on this despoiled earth would NDP leaders praise John McCain?

The NDP hierarchy’s response to noted war hawk John McCain’s death is shameful. Even worse, it reflects a general hostility towards the victims of Western imperialism.

After the U.S. Senator died over the weekend federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted:

John McCain had the courage not to stoop to divisive politics. He showed us that we can disagree in a way that creates dialogue and discussion, not fear and division. Rest In peace.

Rachel Notley also praised a US politician who never met a war he didn’t like. “As @BarackObama wrote today”, the leader of Alberta’s NDP Government noted, “all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.” In a follow-up tweet Notley called McCain “a true public servant.”

Even purportedly progressive Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili praised McCain on Twitter, saying “sad to hear of the passing of Sen. John McCain – a principled man who served his country with honour in difficult times.” (Meili at least had the sense to delete his tweet.)

Anyone who has any doubt about celebrating McCain should watch Rania Khalek’s video and, as Ben Saucier noted in a succinct rejoinder to Singh:

McCain heavily promoted the lies that led to the Iraq war. He championed the NATO bombing of Libya. He supported and armed the jihadists destroying Syria. He played a role in bringing neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine and backed Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen. He was no hero.

But, praising a man who rose to public attention by dropping bombs on civilian targets (a war crime) in North Vietnam is only part of the leadership’s whitewash of Western militarism. At the end of last month Singh published a statement on Korean War Veterans Day “honouring the brave veterans of the Canadian army who fought valiantly during the Korean War, so that today, South Koreans can live in peace and prosperity.”

It’s absurd to imply the 1950–53 Korean War was designed to secure “peace and prosperity” for South Koreans. About 27,000 Canadian troops and numerous warships expanded and internationalized a civil war that left as many as four million dead. They fought in support of Syngman Rhee’s brutal regime, which had killed tens of thousands in what Canadian diplomats in Washington described, in an internal cable to External Affairs at the time, as “a fair amount of repression by the Military Government of left-wing groups.” The understated diplomats added, “liberal social legislation had been definitely resisted.”

At the end of World War II the Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea, which borders Russia. US troops controlled the southern part of the country. According to Noam Chomsky:

When US forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.

Singh’s Korean War Veterans Day statement concluded with a flourish of martial patriotism.

On this Korean War Veterans Day, let us also remember our current military personnel, and their families, who continue to fight every day to ensure that the values of peace, freedom, and democracy are defended around the world.

Were 385 Canadians sent to Sudan in 1884 to defend “peace, freedom, and democracy” or to beat back indigenous forces seeking to wrest control of Khartoum from famed English General Charles Gordon? Or how about the 7,000 Canadians who fought in southern Africa between 1899 and 1902? Was that war about advancing Cecil Rhodes’ mining interests and strengthening Britain’s position in the region or “peace, freedom and democracy”?

World War I had no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. And 20,000 Iraqi troops and tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the 1990–91 Gulf War to deepen the US foothold in the region.

The 18 Canadian fighter jets that participated in NATO’s illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999 didn’t bring “peace, freedom, and democracy” there. Nor did the 40,000 Canadians who fought in Afghanistan, which remains wracked by violence. Seven years after Canada participated in NATO’s war in Libya that country remains divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. (Canadian “peacekeepers” also helped overthrow Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti and Congolese independence leader Patricia Lumumba.)

Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. But, the historical record shows that Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to join WWII. (Only two years before the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited Hitler and in his diary King repeatedly expressed sympathy towards the Nazis.) As Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton explain, “Canada went to war in September 1939 for the same reason as in 1914: because Britain went to war.”

Somebody should buy Jagmeet Singh a T-shirt that says: “I pissed on the world’s downtrodden to ingratiate myself with the mainstream establishment but all I got was this lousy shirt.”

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Left Right

Time for Trudeau to call the Saudi bluff

As every good poker player knows, sometimes the right move is to go all in.

Given his cards and the obvious over-the-top attempt by his opponent to scare him off a winning hand, Justin Trudeau’s next move should be to see Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (aka MBS) diplomatic break and raise him a wide-ranging ethical challenge.

In response to Saudi Arabia suspending diplomatic ties, withdrawing medical students and selling off assets in Canada over an innocuous tweet, the Trudeau government should:

  • Demand an immediate end to Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. More than 15,000Yemenis have been killed, including dozens of children on Thursday, since Riyadh began bombing its southern neighbour in 2015. Ottawa should suspend air force training until they stop bombing Yemen. In 2011 Saudi pilots began training in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Cold Lake, Alberta with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada (NFTC).
  • As Trudeau promised before the 2015 election, the Liberals should re-establish diplomatic relations with Riyadh’s regional competitor Iran.
  • Labour minister Patricia Hajdu should hold a press conference in Ottawa or at the International Labour Organization in Geneva to call on that country to adhere to international labour standards. Exiled Saudi labouractivists could be invited to discuss how unions have been outlawed in the kingdom since 1947.
  • Culture minister Pablo Rodriguez should launch an investigation into Saudi funding of mosques, Islamic schools, universitiesand Arabic language media in Canada. The objective would be to ascertain the extent to which this money promotes an extremist Wahhabi version of Islam and the reactionary politics of the Saudi monarchy.
  • Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland should forcefully criticize the fourteen-month old Saudi blockade of Qatar and visit that country in a demonstration of solidarity.
  • Trudeau should condemn any effort by MBS to impose the Donald Trump/Jared Kushner “deal of the century” on Palestinians.
  • Global Affairs Canada should closely monitor repression in the largely Shia eastern region of the country and be prepared to strongly condemn it.
  • Call for an end to Saudi interference in Bahrain, a small island nation sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi forces (with Canadian made Light Armored Vehicles) intervened to squelch pro-democracy protests there in 2011 and continue to support the 220-year-old monarchy.
  • Withdraw any Canadian military personnel training Saudi forces.A Canadian colonel, Mark Campbell, leads the General Dynamics Land Systems Saudi Arabian LAV support program.
  • Cease public support, including via the Canadian Commercial Corporation, for weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until the monarchy re-establishes full diplomatic ties, ends the blockade of Qatar and stops bombing Yemen.

One of the most misogynistic and repressive countries in the world, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote reactionary social forces in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Saudi monarchy may be the worst regime in the world. (The US, of course, is responsible for far more violence but it is relatively free domestically.)

In an odd twist the Liberals have been given a unique opportunity to turn the highest-profile “stain” on their “supposedly principled, feminist, rights-promoting foreign policy” into a human rights image boosting campaign. Standing up to a wealthy international bully could be exactly what the party needs to be re-elected.

Of course Trudeau may fear MBS’ relationship with Trump/Kushner, Saudi’s growing alliance with Israel and ties to some Canadian corporate titans. But to win the big pots a poker player must be willing to gamble.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Doug Ford, Israel, the ‘Jewish vote’ and Palestinian solidarity

How will the election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario effect the pro-Palestinian movement?

In one of his first post-election moves Ford announced that he would seek to ban an annual Palestinian solidarity event. After the recent Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day protest brought over 500 people out in Toronto, Ford tweeted, “our government will take action to ensure that events like Al Quds Day, which calls for the killing of an entire civilian population in Israel, are no longer part of the landscape in Ontario.” Ignoring how Israel has been killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians — 124 to 0 in the latest round in Gaza — the premier-elect added in a subsequent tweet: “Blatantly racist or anti-Semitic ideology should never be permitted on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, or anywhere else in our province.”

Ford’s move isn’t surprising since he’s previously campaigned against Palestinian solidarity activism. During his stint on city council Ford sought to defund Toronto’s Pride Parade because Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was allowed to march alongside hundreds of other groups.”We don’t support hate groups, that’s our view. If they want to march in the parade, then we won’t fund them,” said the councillor.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Jewish Defence League and B’nai B’rith immediately applauded or re-tweeted Ford’s call to ban Jerusalem Day protests (as did Canada’s leading Christian Zionist activist and noted opponent of sexual education, Charles McVety, who celebrated Ford’s election by tweeting, “praise God who heard our prayers and delivered victory for the sake of our children.”) During the election campaign B’nai B’rith, JDL and CIJA — to differing degrees — sought to undermine Ford’s main rivals by weaponizing claims of “anti-Semitism” against the NDP. The JDL’s Twitter account repeatedly alleged the NDP was anti-Semitic while B’nai B’rith’s Twitter did the same and its officials participated in a Conservative Party press conference to denounce the NDP’s candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt, Tasleem Riaz, for allegedly posting an Adolf Hitler meme on Facebook five years earlier. More circumspect, CIJA-organized election debates that highlighted NDP candidates’ criticism of Israel and the influential lobby group stayed mum while the Conservatives and right-wing press repeatedly claimed the NDP were anti-Semitic.

Israeli nationalist Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy wrote a handful of columns criticizing NDP candidates’ purported anti-Israel views and accusing them of being anti-Jewish. So did far-right Rebel Media and the Canadian Jewish News repeatedly mentioned NDP candidates’ support for Palestinian rights in its election coverage. A CJN response to a column detailing Ford’s bigotry called “the NDP, a party rife with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish candidates who promote the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) narrative.”

But it was obvious to anyone familiar with Ford’s history or who followed the election closely that he was the flag bearer for racist sentiment. In the CJN Bernie Farber wrote a piece titled “The depth of Doug Ford’s bigotry,” which highlighted his stereotyping of Jews. For its part, Ricochet ran a story titled “Why Canada’s white supremacists want Doug Ford to win” and Press Progress published stories titled “This White Nationalist Says Doug Ford is Sending Him Anti-Immigrant ‘Dog Whistle’ Messages,” “Pastors Who Preached Homophobic and Anti-Semitic Views Endorse Doug Ford,” “Ontario PC candidate Andrew Lawton: gender and racial discrimination should be legal,” etc.

Softer in tone, a number of corporate media outlets published stories making similar points. “Among Doug Ford’s PCs, yet another candidate with bigoted views emerges,” noted a Toronto Star headline.

Despite associating with racists and stereotyping Jews, Ford was backed (at least implicitly) by the dominant Israeli nationalist Jewish organizations. He also appears to have won the bulk of Toronto’s sizable Jewish vote. A CJN headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations.” In Thornhill, the riding with the highest concentration of Jews in Ontario, Conservative candidate Gila Martow defeated her nearest rival by an astounding 29,000 to 9,000 votes.

Unfortunately a sizable portion of Ontario’s Jewish lobby groups have shifted to the right. This could be due to a decline in real anti-Semitism or ties to an increasingly racist and right-wing Israeli public (in recent days hundreds protested against an Arab family moving into a Jewish neighborhood in Afula, an Israeli pool admitted to maintaining separate swim times for Bedouin and Jews and a Likud member of the Knesset claimed “the whole Jewish race is the greatest human capital, and the smartest”). Whatever the reason, every person, including Jews, who believe in justice for all, must confront this reality.

So, how will all this play out for the Palestinian solidarity movement?

The election of Doug Ford has already highlighted the Jewish establishment’s preference for a Conservative “populist” over social democrats associated with Palestinian rights. It should also strengthen the link between Israel campaigning and bigoted, right-wing, politics. This will ultimately be a good thing for the Palestinian solidarity movement.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Ugly Canadians active in Brazil

New revelations about Brazilian military violence offer an opportunity to reflect on Canadian support for that country’s 1964 coup and how Ottawa’s policy towards our South American neighbour is similar today.

A spate of international and Brazilian media have reported on a recently uncovered memo from CIA director William Colby to then US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, detailing a meeting between president Ernesto Geisel and three Brazilian generals. At the 1974 meeting the new Brazilian president is reported to have supported extending “summary executions” of enemies of the military dictatorship. An army officer, Geisel ordered National Information Service head João Baptista Figueiredo — who would replace him as president — to authorize the executions.

While it has long been accepted that the military dictatorship was responsible for hundreds of murders — a 2014 national truth commission blamed it for 191 killings and 210 disappearances — military backers have sought to put the blame on lower level officers. But the uncovered memo clearly reveals Geisel, who was considered more moderate than other top military leaders, was directly responsible for some deaths.

Ottawa passively supported the military coup against elected President João Goulart that instituted the 1964–85 military dictatorship. “The Canadianreaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notes Brazil and Canada in the Americas. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn the ouster of Goulart.

Washington played a pivotal role in the overthrow of Brazilian democracy. At one point President Lyndon Johnson urged ambassador Lincoln Gordon to take “every step that we can” to support Goulart’s removal. In a declassified cable between Gordon and Washington, the ambassador acknowledged US involvement in “covert support for pro-democracy street rallies … and encouragement [of] democratic and anti-communist sentiment in Congress, armed forces, friendly labor and student groups, church, and business.”

Washington, Ottawa and leading segments of Brazil’s business community opposed Goulart’s Reformas de Base (basic reforms). Goulart wanted to expand suffrage by giving illiterates and low ranking military officers the vote. He also wanted to put 15% of the national income into education and to implement land reform. To pay for this the government planned to introduce a proportional income tax and greater controls on the profit transfers of multinational corporations.

As important as following Washington’s lead, Pearson’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Brascan was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. A study of the Toronto-based company that began operating in Brazil in 1899 noted, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallottidoesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’état against Goulart in 1964.” After the elected government was overthrown, Brazilian Traction president Grant Glassco stated, “the new government of Brazil is … made up of men of proven competence and integrity. The President, Humberto Castello Branco, commands the respect of the entire nation.”

Overthrowing the Goulart government, which had made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.60.” Between 1965 and 1974, Brascan drained Brazil of $342 million ($2 billion today). When Brascan’s Canadian president, Robert Winters, was asked why the company’s profits grew so rapidly in the late 1960s his response was simple: “The Revolution.”

As opposition to the Brazilian military regime’s rights violations grew in Canada, Ottawa downplayed the gravity of the human rights situation. In a June 1972 memo to the Canadian embassy, the Director of the Latin American Division at Foreign Affairs stated: “We have, however, done our best to avoid drawing attention to this problem [human rights violations] because we are anxious to build a vigorous and healthy relationship with Brazil. We hope that in the future these unfortunate events and publicity, which damages the Brazilian image in Canada, can be avoided.”

The military dictatorship’s assassination program has contemporary relevance. In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup” and the social democratic party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election, Lula da Silva, was recently jailed. The night before the Supreme Court was set to determine Lula’s fate the general in charge of the army hinted at military intervention if the judges ruled in favour of the former president and election frontrunner.

While they’ve made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past two years, the Justin Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster, Lula’s imprisonment and persecution of the left. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. Since that time Canada has begun negotiating to join the Brazilian led MERCOSUR trade block (just after Venezuela was expelled).

As many Brazilians worry about their country returning to military rule, Canadians should demand their government doesn’t contribute to weakening the country’s fragile democracy.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Palestine debate symbolizes weakness of NDP internal democracy.

The NDP leadership’s suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolutionexposed the hollow nature of its democracy. It also highlighted party insiders’ extreme deference to the dominant media.

As I detail here, the party machinery employed a variety of manoeuvres to avoid debating a Palestine Resolution unanimously endorsed by the NDP youth convention, many outside groups and over 25 riding associations. Far and away the most widely backed foreign policy resolution at the party’s recent convention, it mostly restated official Canadian policy, except that it calls for “banning settlement products from Canadian markets, and using other forms of diplomatic and economic pressure to end the occupation.”

The suppression of the Palestine Resolution wasn’t an anomaly or based on arcane policy disagreement, as party apparatchiks have repeatedly claimed since the convention. For two decades the party machinery has put Palestine resolutions sponsored by the Socialist Caucus and submitted to conventions by different riding associations at the bottom of the priority list, which means they are not discussed at the convention. During more recent conventions a broad range of internationalist minded party activists have come close to rallying a sufficient number of delegates to overturn the de-prioritization of Palestine solidarity resolutions at poorly publicized sessions before the main plenary. According to the Socialist Caucus website, at the 2011 convention “delegates at the foreign policy priorities panel succeeded in moving the Canadian Boat to Gaza resolution from very low on the list up to #2 position. But minutes before we could vote on approval of the content of the resolution, party officials herded 30 to 40 MPs and staff into the room to vote it down.”

In another authoritarian anti-Palestinian move, during the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations to be candidates because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014.

Ousting a candidate elected by a riding association or suppressing debate on a widely endorsed resolution are stark examples of anti-Palestinian authoritarianism. But, a simple look at the polls highlights the party leadership’s democratic deficit on the subject. According to a 2017 poll, most NDP members have a negative or very negative view of the Israeli government and believe Canada is biased towards Israel. Even without the party taking up the issue, the Ekos poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 84% of NDP members are open to sanctioning Israel and 92% thought the Palestinian call for a boycott was reasonable.

No issue better highlights the divide between members’ wishes and leadership actions. In short, the Palestine question symbolizes the weakness of NDP internal democracy.

Various historic and current ties between the party brass and Israel lobby groups contributed to their suppressing debate on the Palestine Resolution, but while important, these relations aren’t the defining factor. Nor, is the party leadership’s hostility to members’ wishes on Palestine primarily ideological. Unlike his predecessor, party leader Jagmeet Singh isn’t anti-Palestinian. Rather, he is an ambitious politician operating in an anti-Palestinian political culture.

The main force driving the suppression of debate on the Palestine Resolution was fear of mainstream media backlash. Party leaders believe (correctly) that the Palestine Resolution’s call for a ban on settlement products, which after a half-century of illegal occupation should be entirely uncontroversial, would elicit a corporate media backlash. Additionally, they are right to fear the dominant media’s capacity to shape attitudes, especially on issues far removed from people’s daily concerns.

The dominant media can also be cynically manipulative. On the eve of the convention the Globe and Mail, probably at the prodding of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, published a story linking planned speaker Tamika Mallory to Louis Farrakhan. The story was titled “Supporter of homophobic, anti-Semitic U.S. religious leader to speak at NDP convention.” Even though Mallory was to speak as an organizer of last year’s Women’s March in Washington, half the story was about Palestine resolutions, which Mallory had nothing to do with. In fact, the convention organizers who invited her to speak confusingly renamed, deprioritized and then blocked the Palestine Resolution from being debated. To add insult to injury, most Palestine Resolution proponents would have preferred fewer convention speakers to give members more time to debate/determine party policy.

Electorally focused NDP leaders are right to fear media backlash for challenging Canada’s anti-Palestinian status quo. But, at some point members need to ask themselves why devote time, money, votes, etc. to a social democratic party, especially at a level where they’ve never formed government, if it is unwilling to push the parameters of official debate to the left? While those receiving a salary from the organization may feel differently, expanding the range of ‘politically acceptable’ discussion is a central reason for a third party’s existence.

And really, why be scared of the big bad media wolf? NDP provincial governments have legislated substantial social gains despite media-generated hysteria. The media decried the introduction of the Agricultural Land Reserve in B.C., public auto insurance in Manitoba and the party’s crowning glory, Medicare. Big media bitterly denounced the party when it implemented Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962. During the 23-day-long doctors’ strike in response to Medicare, the Moose Jaw Times Herald ran editorials headlined: “Ugly Image of Dictators”, “Neutrality Never Won Any Fight For Freedom”, “Legal Profession Next to be Socialized” and “The Day That Freedom Died In Saskatchewan”. That editorial claimed “the people of Saskatchewan are now awakening and find that their province has been slowly, and in recent months much more rapidly, transformed from a free democracy into a totalitarian state, ruled by men drunk with power.”

In fact, the dominant media has condemned almost every progressive policy implemented by the left in the world over the past two centuries, from public schools, to banning child labour, pensions, shorter work days, daycare and more.

Leaving aside the abandonment of real left wing policy at the core of the NDP’s ‘avoid media backlash at all costs’, this may not even be the best short-term electoral strategy. The media has vilified leftist (pro-Palestinian) Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but he is well placed to be the next Prime Minister of Britain. On a lesser scale a similar dynamic is at play with Bernie Sanders in the US.

On the specific question of the NDP’s challenge to Canadian complicity in Palestinian dispossession, the growth of online news and global television stations makes it easier than ever — if the party cared to try — to defend critical positions. Additionally, the long-standing nature of the conflict, the growing number of Canadians from countries more sympathetic to Palestinians and decades of solidarity activism on the subject, mean there are many politically active people who are yearning for a challenge to the Liberal/Conservative status quo. They are likely to be galvanized by media attacks.

NDP Palestine policy offers a sort of barometer by which to evaluate the party’s commitment to democracy and social justice. Right now the forecast doesn’t look good.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Manitoba Hydro helps privatize Nigeria utility

It’s the black eye few Manitobans knew they had.

Senate Passes Motions on Unwholesome Practices by Manitoba Hydro Limited,” read one recent Nigerian press headline while another blared: “Manitoba sued over transmission contract extension.”

Largely unbeknownst to its owners, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) has stirred significant controversy in Africa’s most populous nation. Over the past four years the Nigerian press has published hundreds of articles about MHI’s diplomatic backing, conflicts with local officials and disputes over its four-year contract to manage the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

As part of its role in overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s electricity system, Ottawa-based consultancy firm CPCS Transcom contracted MHI to manage TCN, which was the only part of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria supposed to remain public. But MHI worked with a Nigerian power minister intent on privatizing the country’s sole transmission provider.

A Nigerian electricity analyst pointed out how strange it was for Manitoba’s public utility to facilitate what would be illegal at home (the Manitoba Hydro Act requires a provincial referendum for privatization). Policy Chair on Energy, Infrastructure and Technology at Nigeria’s NDI think tank, Tunji Ariyomo called “it a bit ironical that while Manitoba [MHI] remains solely a government owned company in Canada with a legislative protection to prevent its privatization, the company has announced that one of its key objectives is to reorganize Transmission Company of Nigeria such that its function as a Transmission Service Provider (TSP) could be separated and for the TSP to become a private commercial company.”

MHI’s plans were resisted by the workforce, elements of the government and much of the population. The electricity workers union demanded all outstanding labour issues be resolved before MHI took control of TCN. In August 2012 they blocked MHI managers and power Minister Bart Nnaji from entering the corporate headquarters until their picket lines were broken up by dozens of armed military personnel. The  Daily Independent reported “the workers were beaten to a pulp” but refused to back down and “proceeded to make the environment a living hell for the Canadian firm.”

MHI’s $24 million contract to manage TCN created conflict within the government and power ministry. While power minister Nnaji supported it, the Daily Trust reported “some powerfulinterests in the Ministry of Power were reportedly unimpressed with the arrangement to transfer the management of the transmission plants to the Canadian firm.” They questioned its impact on knowledge transfer and job creation and expressed fear that a private monopoly over the country’s electricity transmission would lead to collusion.

Four months after taking control of TCN, MHI’s contract was cancelled by President Goodluck Jonathan. With the workforce protesting and many in the government opposed to MHI’s plans, Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement Emeka Eze highlighted irregularities in the process that led to MHI’s selection. According to This Day, Eze sent a memo to the president “pushing for its [MHI’s contract] cancellation on the premise that it did not pass through due process as provided under the Public Procurement Act.”

Canadian officials condemned the cancellation of MHI’s contract. In an article headlined “How Canadian Govt Forced [President] Jonathan to Make U-Turn” the Abuja Leadership reported that Canadian High Commissioner Chris Cooter contacted the minister of finance, vice president and president, telling them “that the Canadian government was unhappy with the issue and may be reluctant in supporting Nigeria in other sectors due to the way Manitoba has been treated.” Cooter suggested the decision would impact Canadian investment. “The message I am conveying back to Canada is that Nigeria is open for business, and that the Manitoba Hydro contract proves it.”

The Canadian lobby was successful and within a week MHI regained its contract. Six months later, during a meeting in Ottawa, International Trade Minister Ed Fast personally thanked Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo. This Day reported that “Fast expressed Canada’s gratitude over the manner issues surrounding Manitoba Hydro were resolved.”

Eight months after its contract was restored the chairman of TCN’s supervisory board resigned in protest. Hamman Tukur accused MHI of a domineering style and denounced it for appointing a new director to the TCN board, which should have been the government’s prerogative. Tukur told an interviewer: “Can you imagine this! Somebody from Manitoba in far-away Canada appointing a managing director and chief executive officer of the Transition Company of Nigeria owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.” In December the Nigerian Managing Director of TCN resigned in a dispute over MHI’s authority.

Tukur was critical of his government for allowing MHI to usurp its authority. But, the Nigerian government was under significant pressure from the World Bank and foreign governments to privatize its electricity network, which has led to protests over massive price increases.

How would the people of Manitoba feel if a Nigerian company came here to privatize their publicly owned power system?

This article was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press perspectives and politics editor who edited it and asked me to look over her changes. A second editor then asked me to clarify/rewrite a sentence, which was done. The story was then spiked and to the best of my knowledge, Manitoba’s leading newspaper has yet to mention the controversy at all.

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Filed under Canada in Africa

The fairy tale about a brave Canadian general in Rwanda

Like children’s fairy tales, foreign policy myths are created, told and retold for a purpose.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf imparts a life lesson while entertaining your five year-old niece. Unfortunately foreign policy myths are seldom so benign.

The tale told about Romeo Dallaire illustrates the problem. While the former Canadian General rose to prominence after participating in a failed (assuming the purpose was as stated) international military mission, he’s widely considered a great humanitarian. But, the former Senator’s public persona is based on an extremely one-sided media account of his role in the complex tragedy that engulfed Rwanda and Burundi two decades ago.

In a particularly egregious example of media bias, criticism of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored even though his commander published a book criticizing the Canadian general’s bias. According to numerous accounts, including his civilian commander on the UN mission, Dallaire aided the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda with decisive Ugandan support and quiet US backing. Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), summarizes the criticism: “He [Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of UNAMIR, claims Dallaire had little interest in the violence unleashed by the RPF despite reports of summary executions in areas controlled by them. RPF soldiers were regularly seen in Dallaire’s office, with the Canadian commander describing the Rwandan army’s position in Kigali. This prompted Booh Booh to wonder if Dallaire “also shared UNAMIR military secrets with the RPF when he invited them to work in his offices.” Finally, Booh Booh says Dallaire turned a blind eye to RPF weapons coming across the border from Uganda and he believes the UN forces may have even transported weapons directly to the RPF. Dallaire, Booh Booh concludes, “abandoned his role as head of the military to play a political role. He violated the neutrality principle of UNAMIR by becoming an objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”

Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for RPF leader Paul Kagame who was likely responsible for shooting down the plane carrying both Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994. (That event triggered mass killing and an environment of deep instability that facilitated the RPF’s rise to power in Kigali.) In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed terror in the Congo that’s left millions dead, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.”

Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was certainly not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

A witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) actually accused Dallaire of complicity in a massacre. A Rwandan national testifying under the pseudonym T04, reported Tanzania’s Arusha Times, “alleged that in April 1994, Gen. Dallaire allowed members of the rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF, now in power in Kigali), to enter the national stadium and organize massacres of Hutus. Several people, including the witness, took refuge there following the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.”

But, criticisms of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have been almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media. Le Patron de Dallaire Parle went largely unnoticed, or at least not commented upon. A Canadian newswire search found three mentions of the book (a National Post review headlined “Allegations called ‘ridiculous’: UN boss attacks general,” an Ottawa Citizen piece headlined “There are many sides to the Rwanda saga” and a letter by an associate of Dallaire). Other critical assessments of Dallaire’s actions in Rwanda have fared no better, including Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa and Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later in which Edward Herman and David Peterson “suggest that Dallaire should be regarded as a war criminal for positively facilitating the actual mass killings of April-July, rather than taken as a hero for giving allegedly disregarded warnings that might have stopped them.”

On the other hand, a Canadian newswire search of “Romeo Dallaire Rwanda” elicited over 6,000 articles that generally provide a positive portrayal of Dallaire. Similarly, a search for mention of Dallaire’s 2003 book Shake Hands with the Devil elicited 1,700 articles.

The complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, which spurred the “Rwandan Genocide” has been decontextualized. Instead of discussing Uganda’s aggression against its much smaller neighbour, the flight of Hutus into Rwanda after the violent 1993 Tutsi coup in Burundi and economic reforms imposed on the country from abroad, the media focuses on a simplistic narrative of vengeful Hutus killing Tutsis. In this media fairy tale, Dallaire plays the great Canadian who attempted to save Africans.

While two decades old, the distortion of the Rwandan tragedy continues to have political impacts today. It has given ideological cover to dictator Paul Kagame’s repeated invasions of the Congo and domestic repression. In addition, this foreign policy myth has been used to justify foreign military intervention as is the case with the current political crisis in Burundi. The myth of Dallaire in Rwanda is also cited to rationalize the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, when in fact the true story illustrates the inevitable duplicitousness of foreign interventions.

Unlike in bedtime stories, in foreign policy making things up is usually harmful.

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