Tag Archives: Conservatives

Trudeau’s foreign policy a lot like Harper’s

When Justin Trudeau looks in the foreign policy mirror who does he see? Someone very much like Stephen Harper.

On the world stage Canada under Trudeau the Second has acted almost the same as when Harper was prime minister. The Liberals have followed the previous government’s posture on issues ranging from militarism to Russia, nuclear weapons to the Gulf monarchies.

Aping the ancien régime’s position, the Liberals recently voted against UN nuclear disarmament efforts supported by most countries of the world. As such, they’ve refused to attend the ongoing Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

Earlier this month the Liberals released a defence policy that calls for 605 more special forces, which have carried out numerous violent covert missions abroad. During the 2015 election campaign defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command over seven years.

The government’s recent defence policy also includes a plan to acquire armed drones, for which the Conservatives had expressed support. Additionally, the Liberals re-stated the previous government’s commitment to spend upwards of one hundred billion dollars on new fighter jets and naval ships.

Initiated by the Conservatives, last year the Liberals signed off on a government-contracted $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia. Trudeau has also maintained the Harper created Canada-Gulf Cooperation Council Dialogue, which is a platform for foreign ministers to discuss economic ties and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The GCC includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, which have almost all intervened in the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Trudeau government has continued to isolate Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. They’ve voted against numerous UN resolutions supported by almost the entire world upholding Palestinian rights.

The Harper regime repeatedly attacked Venezuela’s elected government and in recent weeks the Liberals have picked up from where they left off. The Liberals have supported efforts to condemn the Nicolás Maduro government at the Organization of American States and promoted an international mediation designed to weaken Venezuela’s leftist government (all the while staying mum about Brazil’s imposed president and far worse human rights violations in Mexico).

In March the Liberals renewed Canada’s military “training” mission in the Ukraine, which has emboldened far-right militarists responsible for hundreds of deaths in the east of that country. In fact, Trudeau has significantly bolstered Canada’s military presence on Russia’s doorstep. Simultaneously, the Trudeau government has maintained Harper’s sanctions regime against Russia.

Nearly two years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran or removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list). Nor has the Trudeau regime adopted any measure to restrict public support for Canadian mining companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. With regards to Canada’s massive and controversial international mining industry, it has been status quo ante.

A recent cover of Canadian Dimension magazine provided a cheeky challenge to Trudeau’s bait and switch. Below the word “SURPRISE!” it showed a Justin Trudeau mask being removed to reveal Stephen Harper.

The sober reality is that Trudeau represents a continuation of his predecessor’s foreign policy. I might even need to redo my 2012 book The Ugly Canadian, but this time with the tagline “Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy”.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, The Ugly Canadian

Shining light on the secret world of Canada’s special forces

Last week former defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would significantly expand Canada’s special forces. Kenney said they would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command (CANSOFCOM) over the next seven years.

Why? What do these “special forces” do? Who decides when and where to deploy them? For what purpose? These are all questions left unanswered (and not even asked in the mainstream media).

What we do know is that since the mid-2000s Canada’s special forces have steadily expanded to 1,900 members. In 2006 the military launched CANSOFCOM to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Aviation Squadron, Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit and Special Operations Regiment. Begun that year, the Special Operations Regiment’s 750 members receive similar training to JTF2 commandos, the most secretive and skilled unit of the Canadian Armed Forces. After having doubled from 300 to 600 men, JTF2 is set to move from Ottawa to a 400-acre compound near Trenton, Ontario, at a cost of $350 million.

Though their operations are “shrouded in secrecy” — complained a 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence — JTF2 commandos have been deployed on numerous occasions since the unit’s establishment in 1993.

A number of media outlets reported that Canadian special forces fought in Libya in 2011 in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which explicitly forbade “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

On February 29, 2004 JTF2 soldiers reportedly “secured” the airportfrom which Haiti’s elected president Jean-Bertand Aristide was bundled (“kidnapped” in his words) onto a plane by US Marines and deposited in the Central African Republic.

After the 2003 US/British invasion JTF2 commandos were reported to be working alongside their British and US counterparts in Iraq. While Ottawa refused to confirm or deny JTF2 operations, in March 2006 the Pentagon and the British Foreign Office “both commentedon the instrumental role JTF2 played in rescuing the British and Canadian Christian Peace Activists that were being held hostage in Iraq.”

Nous étions invincibles, a book by a former JTF2 soldier Denis Morisset, describes his mission to the Colombian jungle to rescue NGO and church workers “because FARC guerillas threatened the peace in the region.” The Canadian soldiers were unaware that they were transporting the son of a Colombian leader, which prompted the FARC to give chase for a couple days. On two different occasions the Canadian forces came under fire from FARC guerrillas. Two Canadian soldiers were injured in the firefight and immediately after the operation one of the wounded soldiers left the army with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, the Canadians were saved by US helicopters, as the JTF2 mission was part of a US initiative.

Morisset also provides a harrowing account of a 1996 operation to bring the Canadian General Maurice Baril, in charge of a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire (Congo), to meet Rwandan backed rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The convoy came under fire upon which US Apache and Blackhawk helicopters launched a counterattack on the Congolese, rescuing their Canadian allies. Some thirty Congolese were killed by a combination of helicopter and JTF2 fire.

In late 2001 JTF2 secretly invaded Afghanistan, alongside US and British operatives. In the first six months of their operations, members of JTF2 claimed to have killed 115 Taliban or Al Quaida fighters and captured 107 Taliban leaders. By early 2002 the British began having doubts about the tactics used by Canadian and American special forces. In Shadow Wars: Special Forces in the New Battle Against Terrorism David Pugliese reports, “The concern among the British was that the ongoing raids [by Americans and Canadians] were giving Afghans the impression that the coalition was just another invading foreign army that had no respect for the country’s culture or religion.”

According to documents CBC News obtained through access to information, a JTF2 member said he felt his commanders “encouraged” them to commit war crimes. The soldier, whose name was not released, claimed a fellow JTF2 member shot an Afghan with his hands raised in the act of surrender. The allegations of wrongdoing were first made to his superior officers in 2006 yet the military ombudsman didn’t begin investigating until June 2008. The JTF2 member told the ombudsman’s office “that although he reported what he witnessed to his chain of command, he does not believe they are investigating, and are being ‘very nice to him.’” After three and a half years, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service cleared the commanders in December 2011. But they failed to release details of the allegations, including who was involved or when and where it happened. The public was supposed to simply trust the process.

It seems as if the Conservatives support special forces precisely because these elite units have close ties to their US counterparts and the government is not required to divulge information about their operations. Ottawa can deploy these troops abroad and the public is none the wiser. “Deniability,” according to Major B. J. Brister, is why the federal government prefers special operation forces.

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

Canadian crimes against humanity in Africa

Should Africans pursue Stephen Harper for crimes against humanity?

The Africa Progress Report 2015 suggests they may have a solid moral, if not necessarily legal, case.

Led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Africa Progress Panel highlights Canada and Australia as two countries that “have withdrawn entirely from constructive international engagement on climate.” The mainstream group concludes that Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda have shown “far higher level of ambition” to lessen CO2 emissions than Canada.

The report, which was released last week, adds to a significant body of evidence showing that anthropogenic global warming poses a particularly profound threat to Africans. Although hardest hit by climate change, the terrible irony is that Africa, among all continents, is least responsible for the problem.

If nothing is done to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures may rise 7°C in southern Africa and 8°C in the north by century’s end. Reaching nearly twice the global average, this would destabilize human life on large swaths of the continent.

Still, a skeptic might argue, how does this amount to charging Stephen Harper with crimes against humanity? Doesn’t that require some form of mass murder or genocide?

Back in 2012 the Climate Vulnerability Monitor concluded that climate disturbances were responsible for 400,000 deaths per year, mostly in Africa. Nigerian ecologist Nnimmo Bassey has dubbed growing carbon emissions a “death sentence for Africa” while Naomi Klein reports that “African delegates at UN climate summits have begun using words like ‘genocide’ to describe the collective failure to lower emissions.”

Various ecological, economic and social factors explain the continent’s vulnerability. Most Africans are directly dependent on resource sectors – fisheries, forestry and agriculture – that are particularly vulnerable to climate conditions. Between half and two thirds of the continent are subsistence farmers who largely rely on natural rainfall, rather than irrigation, to water their crops. Additionally, large swaths of the continent are arid and a third of Africa’s productive area is already classified as dry land. As such, subsistence farmers’ crop yields and incomes are easily damaged by reduced or intermittent rainfall. According to Tanzanian Minister of State for the Environment Binilith Mahenge, “global warming of 2˚C would put over 50 per cent of the African continent’s population at risk of undernourishment.”

CO2 induced food shortages are not in some far off dystopian future. A study by Britain’s Met Office concluded that global warming sparked a major famine in Somalia in 2011 during which 50,000 Somalis died.

While water shortages represent a threat to many, an excess of this same element poses a hazard elsewhere. A quarter of Africa’s population lives within 100km of the continent’s 38,000 km coastline. Without significant investments to mitigate risks to major metropolises, such as Dar es Salaam, Mombasa and Lagos, the threat of flooding looms.

Carbon can also trigger the taking up of arms. Climate change has spurred violent cattle raids in north-western Kenya and triggered the 2012 Tuareg rebellion in Mali while the mid-2000s violence in Sudan’s Darfur region was dubbed the world’s “first climate change war.” A University of California, Berkeley, study found a statistical link between the hotter temperatures generated by climate change and the risk of armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The Colorado researchers forecast a 54 per cent rise in civil conflict on the continent due to climate change by 2030, causing 393,000 more combat deaths.

Increasing the strain on governance structures, climate change has already exacerbated inequities and ethnic divisions in parts of the continent. Climate change may well propel large areas of Africa into a downward cycle, further undermining the capacity of communities and governments to cope.

But most African governments can contribute little to curtail runaway global warming because their countries’ carbon footprints are negligible compared to the biggest capitalist economies. Per capita emissions in most African countries amount to barely 1% of Canada’s rate. In Uganda, Congo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda and Mozambique, per capita emissions comprise less than 1/150th of Canada’s average. In Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros, The Gambia, Liberia and Zambia per capita emissions are less than 1/80th Canada’s average.

Forward looking comparisons are equally stark. If plans to double tar sands production proceed, by 2030 Alberta’s project will emit as much carbon as most sub-Saharan African countries combined.

Canadian officialdom has done little to regulate tar sands emissions and has, in fact, subsidized its expansion. The Conservative government has campaigned aggressively against any international effort to reduce carbon emissions from fuel sources, which might impact sales of Alberta bitumen. Canadian diplomats worked with feverish determination to undermine the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive, a modest bid that would force suppliers to privilege lower-emission fuels. To the south, the Canadian government also lobbied aggressively against any US legislation that might curtail tar sands expansion and in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline to take oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

Despite the rising toll of climate change in Africa, the Canadian government pushed to grow the global “carbon bomb” in international forums. At every turn, Harper’s Conservatives have blocked progress on setting minimally serious targets for reducing CO2 emissions, repeatedly receiving the Colossal Fossil given out by hundreds of environmental groups to the country that did the most to undermine international climate negotiations meetings. At this week’s G7 meeting, Canadian officials reportedly sought to undermine German chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid for a statement committing countries to a low carbon economy by 2050.
Under Conservative government leadership, Canada became the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement committing leading industrial economies to reducing GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. (Instead of attaining its 6% reduction target, Canada’s emissions increased 18 per cent.)

In addition to undermining international climate negotiations and the efforts of other nations to reduce GHGs, the Harper government made a mockery of its own commitments. As part of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, Ottawa pledged to reduce carbon emissions 17 per cent by 2020 (from the levels in 2005). Five years later, however, Environment Canada admitted this target would not be reached. In fact, Environment Canada suggested emissions would rise 20% by 2020.

In a sign of Ottawa’s near total indifference to the impact of global warming in Africa, the Conservatives pulled out of an international accord to study the consequences of desertification, a process ravaging parts of the African continent. In 2013, Canada withdrew from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in countries seriously affected by drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.

Adopted in 1994, this international convention collects and shares scientific information about drought and ways to curb its spread. By becoming the sole nation outside the convention, Canada saved itself a paltry $300,000 a year. While the savings barely registered in the federal government’s $260 billion budget, the message was clear.

Clearly Harper’s Conservative government has wilfully ignored the interests of Africans and pursued an environmental, economic and political course that has already killed hundreds of thousands.

In a just world a Fulani pastoralist in Burkina Faso would have a forum to pursue Stephen Harper for crimes against humanity.

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

Canada: An investment bully

Should the “right” of a foreign corporation to make a profit trump governments’ attempts to create local jobs, improve environmental regulations or establish laws that raise royalty rates?

Most Canadians would say no.

But that’s what the Conservative government is pushing poor countries to accept if they want Canadian investment.

Barely noticed in the media, Canada recently concluded negotiations on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) with the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. In a press release Minister for La Francophonie Christian Paradis said: “The investment agreement announced today will provide better protection for Canadian companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Since the start of the year Ottawa has signed similar agreements with Tanzania, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Zambia while over the past few years Canada has concluded FIPAs with Madagascar, Mali and Senegal. Ottawa is currently engaged in FIPA negotiations with Ghana, Guinea, Tunisia and Burkina Faso and plans are likely afoot to pursue bilateral investment treaties with other African countries.

According to the government, “A FIPA is a treaty designed to promote and protect Canadian investment abroad through legally binding provisions and to promote foreign investment in Canada. By ensuring greater protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices, and by enhancing the predictability of a market’s policy framework, a FIPA gives businesses greater confidence in investing.”

These treaties give corporations the right to sue governments — in private, investor-friendly tribunals — for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. They are modelled after NAFTA’s notorious Chapter 11.

The FIPAs signed with African countries are largely motivated by Canada’s mining industry. Over the past two decades Canadian mining investment in Africa has grown over 100 fold from $250 million in 1989 to $6 billion in 2005 and $31 billion in 2011.

The owners of Canada’s mining industry have greatly benefited from three decades of neoliberal reforms in Africa, notably the privatization of state-run mining companies, loosening restrictions on foreign investment and reductions in resource royalty rates. As an early advocate of International Monetary Fund/World Bank structural adjustment programs, Ottawa has channeled hundreds of millions in “aid” dollars to supporting economic liberalization efforts in Africa. The Conservative government’s current FIPA push represents a bid to entrench some of these neoliberal policies.

Canadian mining companies that have benefited from privatizations and loosened restrictions on foreign investment in Africa fear a reversal of these policies. Their concerns can be somewhat alleviated by gaining the ability to sue a government if it expropriates a concession, changes investment rules or requires value added production take place in the country.

The ability to sue — or threaten a suit — is particularly valuable to mining companies facing local opposition to their projects. As the Council of Canadians points out, “Canadian mining companies are using FIPAs with developing countries to claim damages from community opposition to unwanted mega-projects.”

Last week Infinito Gold sued Costa Rica for $1-billion under a Canadian bilateral investment treaty with that country when the government failed to approve a controversial gold mine. The Calgary-based company launched this suit even though polls show that more than 75 percent of Costa Ricans oppose its proposed Crucitas mine and the Supreme Court of Costa Rica denied Infinito permission to proceed with the project on three occasions.

Many Canadian-owned mining sites across Africa are bitterly resisted by local communities and there’s been a great deal of social upheaval around the mines. Canadian mines have spurred war in the Congo, killings in Tanzania and environmental devastation from Kenya to Ghana.
Of course, the dominant media has largely ignored the conflict wrought by Canadian mining companies. Much the same can be said of their role in buying up Africa’s natural resources or Ottawa’s role in facilitating it. The dominant media prefers to focus on how Chinese companies are buying up the continent even though on a per capita basis Canadian corporations have taken control of a great deal more of Africa’s natural resources than China’s.

Unfortunately, the Left has sometimes reflected (and perpetuated) this type of thinking. While a number of independent journalists and small collectives have exposed the destruction wrought by Canadian mining projects, there’s been little opposition to these African FIPAs. On the other hand, there’s been significant opposition to the FIPA Canada recently signed with China.

A recent Leadnow.ca callout to raise money for the Hupacasath First Nation’s legal challenge to the Canada-China FIPA provides an example of this ignorance/indifference towards African FIPAs’. The e-mail has a picture of a woman holding a “Stop FIPA” sign and calls on members to send a note to Conservative MPs to tell them “they will pay a steep political price if they try to pass FIPA.” While Leadnow’s opposition to the China FIPA is to be commended, it need not be done in denial/opposition of the fact that the Conservatives’ have passed a slew of FIPAs’ recently.

One reason the China FIPA has received more attention is that Chinese companies have invested significant sums in Canada while most of Canada’s other FIPA partners have not. In terms of the African FIPAs the investment flow is unidirectional with Canadian companies overwhelmingly dominant.

All too often, criticism of bilateral investment treaties and free ‘trade’ agreements take a nationalistic tone with opposition focused on the ways in which the accords strengthen the rights of multinational corporations in this country. Since African companies have little invested in Canada there’s few short to medium term consequences for Canadians with the African FIPAs and thus little opposition expressed.

But this is short-term thinking. The past 25 years of neoliberalism has demonstrated quite clearly that these policies are being pursued in lockstep globally and that they exacerbate inequality and ecological destruction everywhere.

If we oppose “investor-rights” agreements in Canada we must oppose them everywhere.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy