Tag Archives: foreign policy

NDP marches with USA on Venezuela

Has it become NDP policy to support US-backed coups in Latin America?

The Canadian social democratic party’s foreign critic Hélène Laverdière has certainly remained silent regarding US leaders musing about a military coup or invasion of Venezuela and has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means.

At the start of the month US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust President Nicolás Maduro. “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people,” Tillerson said in a speech, which included a quip about Maduro being sent to Cuba.

I found no criticism of Tillerson’s speech by Laverdière. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat also stayed mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela in the summer. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canadian sanctions on Venezuela, which followed a similar move by the US. In a move that probably violated the UN and OAS charters, in September the elected president, vice president and 38 other Venezuelan officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians were barred from having financial relations with these individuals. Two months later 19 Venezuelan officials were sanctioned under the just adopted Magnitsky Act, which Laverdière and the NDP backed.

Nor did I find any criticism of Canada’s role in the so-called Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière remained silent when foreign minister Chrystia Freeland organized a meeting of the Lima Group in Toronto four months ago.

She also ignored Canada’s role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

The NDP foreign critic also stayed mum when the federal government expelledVenezuelan diplomats’ from Canada in December.

Instead, Laverdière has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and call on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government. She publicized and spoke to the weirdly themed “Demonstration for human and democratic rights in Venezuela in solidarity with Ukraine and Syria” and called Venezuela’s vice-president “a drug lord” from whom “the American government has seized billions of dollars of his assets for drug trafficking.”

Amidst opposition protests in the summer, Laverdière told CBC, “we wouldlike to see the [Canadian] government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.”

Laverdière’s statement ignored the death and destruction caused by opposition protesters and the opposition’s effort to hamstring the government after it won control of the National Assembly in 2015.

At a foreign affairs committee meeting in June Laverdière responded to an anti-Venezuela screed by saying “I share many of his concerns.” Amongst a series of outrageous claims against the leftist government, Peter Kent told the committee: “As so many dictators have done over the centuries, Chávez blamed Venezuela’s small but dynamic Jewish community for stealing the wealth of the country. His henchmen endorsed the Holocaust.”

In June 2016 Laverdière put out a press release bemoaning “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela”. In it Laverdière said, “the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding Venezuela, and Canada, as a member of the OAS, should support his efforts.” But, the former Uruguayan Foreign Minister’s actions as head of the OAS were highly controversial. They even prompted Almagro’s past boss, former Uruguayan president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

Amidst three months of violent right wing protests at the start of 2014, then NDP Americas critic Laverdière presented a position to the House of Commons titled “Human Rights in Venezuela” and sponsored a House of Commons resolution (slightly re-worded and reintroduced two days later by then foreign critic Paul Dewar) asking, ” the Government of Canada to urge Venezuelan authorities to proactively de-escalate the conflict, protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of Venezuelan citizens, release all those detained during the protests, immediately cease all government interference with peaceful protesters, and ensure that those people who perpetrated the violence be brought to justice and bear the full weight of the law.”

After the opposition once again cried foul when they lost the 2013 presidential election, Laverdière accused the Stephen Harper government of being soft on Venezuela (only elections the right wing wins are fair, in the eyes of large swaths of the opposition and Laverdière). “Canada’s silence is striking,” she told Ipolitics. “They had views on President Chávez, but now they don’t seem to actually care what’s happening in the country.”

In what may be the first ever resolution to an NDP convention calling for the removal of a party critic, the NDP Socialist Caucus has submitted a motion to next weekend’s convention titled “Hands Off Venezuela, Remove Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.” It notes: “Be It Resolved that the NDP actively oppose foreign interference in Venezuela, defend Venezuela’s right to self-determination, reject alignment with U.S. policy in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, and request the immediate removal of MP Hélène Laverdière as NDP Foreign Affairs Critic.”

NDP members who oppose imperialism need to challenge Laverdière’s support for Washington and Ottawa’s efforts to topple Venezuela’s elected government.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

When siding with Israel supports Trump, Canada abstains

Thank you President Donald Trump and US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley for helping end the Trudeau government’s ‘Israel no matter what’ voting pattern.

On Thursday Canada actually abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution, which affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

Since taking office the Trudeau government has repeatedly isolated Canada with the US, Israel and a few tiny Pacific island states in voting against UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights. Last Tuesday, for instance, Canada opposed a motion supported by 176 nations calling for Palestinian statehood. Two weeks earlier the Trudeau government also voted against a resolution on Jerusalem backed by 151 UN member states.

As RawStory pointed out, the media attention devoted to Trump and Haley’s threats against those voting in favour of the Jerusalem resolution actually drove Trudeau to abstain on Thursday instead of his usual pro-Israel vote. While Stephen Harper’s anti-Palestinian positions at the UN found support among many of the party’s base of rightwing Jews, evangelical Christian Zionists and Islamophobes, the same is not true of the Liberals. Prominent Trudeau fundraisers such as serial tax evader Stephen Bronfman and the late murder suspect Barry Sherman may want Canada to side with Israel ‘no matter what’, but younger, darker skinned and progressive Liberal supporters believe Palestinians are human beings. They overwhelmingly reject the notion that a 3,000-year-old book grants Poles, Austrians, New Yorkers, etc. the right to take a city from its indigenous inhabitants or that the world should enable Russians, French, Torontonians, etc. to gather in the Middle East to fulfill Bible literalists’ interpretation of the supposed “word of God”.

The Liberal leadership understands that party supporters and the broader public are uncomfortable with Israeli expansionism and Canada isolating itself from world opinion on the matter so the more attention devoted to their UN votes the more equivocal the Liberals’ position. Hopefully the recent attention devoted to the Trudeau government’s extreme pro-Israel voting record will spur further abstentions on Palestine votes (at this point its probably too much to expect Trudeau to vote in support of international law and official Canadian policy).

Regularly abstaining at the UN on Palestine would be a step forward, but these votes are only the tip of the iceberg in Canada’s multifaceted contribution to Israeli expansionism. The two-decade old Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement includes the occupied West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws apply. Ottawa also has a wide-ranging “border management and security” agreement with Israel, even though the two countries do not share a border. Additionally, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has long gathered intelligence on Palestinians for Israel.

Every year, registered Canadian charities channel tens of millions of dollars to projects supporting Israel’s powerful military, racist institutions and illegal settlements. The Canada Revenue Agency allows organizations whose projects contravene international law and official Canadian policy to write tax credits for these donations.

Despite a GDP per capita greater than Spain or Italy (and equal to Japan), hundreds of registered Canadian charities deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Israel. How many Canadian charities funnel money to Spain or Japan?

Even a large swath of Canada’s “aid” to the Palestinians – who have one-twentieth of their occupier’s per capita GDP – is explicitly designed to advance Israel’s interests. Over the past decade Ottawa has delivered over $100 millionand sent military and police trainers to build a security apparatus to protect the corrupt Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority from popular disgust over its compliance in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement building.

There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform,” read an internal 2012 note signed by then Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs. In the heavily censored note Biggs explained that “the emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.”

Drawing on previously classified materials, Carleton Criminology Professor Jeffrey Monaghan details Canada’s role in turning Palestinian security forces in the West Bank into an effective arm of Israel’s occupation. In Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security, Monaghan describes a $1.5 million Canadian contribution to Joint Operating Centers whose “main focus … is to integrate elements of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces into Israeli command.” He writes about Canada’s “many funding initiatives to the PCP [Palestinian Civilian Police]” which “has increasingly been tasked by the Israeli Defence Forces as a lead agency to deal with public order policing, most recently during IDF bombings in Gaza and during Arab Spring demonstrations.”

Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem may well mark the end of the spurious “peace process” and Abbas’ US–Canada–Saudi–Israel backed Palestinian Authority. Hopefully, it will also be seen as a turning point in Canada’s effort to suffocate the Palestinian liberation struggle.

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How can First Nations believe Canada is a force for good in the world?

The power of foreign policy nationalism is immense. Even the primary victims of the Canadian state have been drawn into this country’s mythology.

Dispossessed of 99% of their land, Indigenous people have been made wards of the state, had their movement restricted and religious/cultural ceremonies banned. Notwithstanding their antagonistic relationship to the Canadian state, indigenous leaders have often backed Ottawa’s international policies.

At a National Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremony last week Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Stewart Phillip said Indigenous soldiers were “fighting for the common good” and were “on the right side of history.” But, Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. Ignored in the Remembrance Day style commemoration are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in recent years or the Serbians and Iraqis killed two decades ago or the Koreans killed in the 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that.

While Phillip’s comments reinforces the sense that Canada’s cause is righteous, he’s not a sycophant of power on most issues. Phillip refused to attend a “reconciliation” event with Prince William, called for “acts of civil disobedience” against pipelines and said “the State of Canada and the Church committed acts of genocide as defined by the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

Philip was but one of many indigenous voices applauding Canadian militarism during National Aboriginal Veterans Day/Remembrance Day activities. CBC Indigenous reported on a reading in Mi’kmaq of the pro-World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” and quoted the editor of Courageous Warriors of Kahkewistahaw First Nation, Ted Whitecalf, saying: “It’s all for freedom that the people served willingly and voluntarily.”

Outside of war commemorations, Indigenous representatives occasionally echo broader foreign policy myths. Alongside Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde was a keynote speaker at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s “Come Celebrate Canada’s International Contributions!!” event in May. Part of Canada’s 150th anniversary the Global Impact Soirée included a Global Affairs Canada exhibit titled “25 Years of Excellence in International Development Photography” and “Recognize Canada’s 15 international contributions”.

At the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, former AFN leader Matthew Coon Come denounced Canada’s “marginalization and dispossession of indigenous peoples.” In what was widely described as a forceful speech, Coon Come labeled Canada “an international advocate of respect for human rights” and said: “Canadians, and the government of Canada, present themselves around the world as upholders and protectors of human rights. In many ways, this reputation is well-deserved. In South Africa, the government of Canada played a prominent role in isolating the apartheid regime. In many other countries, Canada provides impressive international development assistance.” (While repeated regularly, Coon Come’s characterization of Canada’s role in opposing apartheid is incorrect and aid was largely conceived as a geopolitical tool to blunt radical decolonization.)

Indigenous opinion is, of course, not homogenous. Some chiefs have actively supported indigenous communities resisting Canadian mining projects in Latin America while former chief of Manitoba’s Roseau River First Nation Terrance Nelson called on first nations to forge their own international ties. Author of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, Gord Hill criticized First Nations collaboration with the Canadian Forces. From Kwakwaka’wakw nation, Hill denounced indigenous leaders supporting recruitment for a force “who continue to loot and plunder not only Indigenous lands here, but also those of tribal peoples in Afghanistan and Haiti.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Native Alliance of Red Power opposed“efforts to co-opt native leadership into Canadian imperialism.” The Coast Salish (Vancouver) based group protested local residential schools, police brutality, racism, sexism, as well as the war in Vietnam and colonialism in southern Africa.

Indigenous leaders have various ties to the foreign policy establishment. They are part of a slew of initiatives set up by the Canadian International Development Agency, Global Affairs Canada and Department of National Defence. Historically, Canadian military experience significantly shaped indigenous politics. After returning from the Western front Frederick Ogilvie Loft formed the League of Indians of Canada in 1919, the first pan-Canadian indigenous political organization. Backed by a significant share of the 4000 indigenous WWI veterans, the League led directly to today’s Indian Association of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. “The League was also the forerunner of the National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations”, explains a history of The League of Indians of Canada.

Rather than echo nationalist myth, Indigenous leaders and activists should be part of a movement for a just foreign policy. First Nation experiences with Canadian colonialism, including so-called aid, missionaries and government financing of indigenous organizations, can offer insight into this country’s foreign policy. Over the longer term an expansion of First Nations autonomy could redefine the Canadian state in a way that helps reset this country’s place in the world.

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Undermining Venezuela’s socialist government nothing new for Canada

Alongside Washington and Venezuela’s elite, the Trudeau government is seeking to oust President Nicolás Maduro. While Ottawa’s campaign has recently grown, official Canada has long opposed the pro-poor, pro-working class Bolivarian Revolution, which has won 19 of 21 elections since 1998.

Following a similar move by the Trump Administration, Global Affairs Canada sanctioned 40 Venezuelans on Friday. In a move that probably violates the UN charter, the elected president, vice president and 38 other officials had their assets in Canada frozen and Canadians are barred from having financial relations with these individuals.

In recent months foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has repeatedly criticized Maduro’s government. She accused Caracas of “dictatorial intentions”, imprisoning political opponents and “robbing the Venezuelan people of their fundamental democratic rights”. Since taking office the Liberals have supported efforts to condemn the Maduro government at the Organization of American States (OAS) and promoted an international mediation designed to weaken Venezuela’s leftist government (all the while staying mum about Brazil’s imposed president who has a 5% approval rating and far worse human rights violations in Mexico).

Beyond these public interventions designed to stoke internal unrest, Ottawa has directly aided an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition. A specialist in social media and political transition, outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen in August: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.” (Can you imagine the hue and cry if a Russian ambassador said something similar about Canada?) Rowswell added that Canada would continue to support the domestic opposition after his departure from Caracas since “Freeland has Venezuela way at the top of her priority list.”

While not forthcoming with information about the groups they support in Venezuela, Ottawa has long funnelled money to the US-backed opposition. In 2010 the foremost researcher on U.S. funding to the opposition, Eva Golinger, claimed Canadian groups were playing a growing role in Venezuela and according to a 2010 report from Spanish NGO Fride, “Canada is the third most important provider of democracy assistance” to Venezuela after the US and Spain. In “The Revolution Will Not Be Destabilized: Ottawa’s democracy promoters target Venezuela” Anthony Fenton details Canadian funding to anti-government groups. Among other examples, he cites a $94,580 grant to opposition NGO Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia in 2007 and $22,000 to Súmate in 2005. Súmate leader Maria Corina Machado, who Foreign Affairs invited to Ottawa in January 2005, backed the “Carmona Decree” during the 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez, which dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and suspended the elected government, Attorney General, Comptroller General, governors as well as mayors elected during Chavez’s administration. (Machado remains a leading figure in the opposition.)

Most Latin American leaders condemned the short-lived coup against Chavez, but Canadian diplomats were silent. It was particularly hypocritical of Ottawa to accept Chavez’s ouster since a year earlier, during the Summit of the Americas in Québec City, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals made a big show of the OAS’ new “democracy clause” that was supposed to commit the hemisphere to electoral democracy.

For its part, the Harper government repeatedly criticized Chavez. In April 2009 Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to a question regarding Venezuela by saying, “I don’t take any of these rogue states lightly”. After meeting only with opposition figures during a trip to Venezuela the next year Peter Kent, minister of state for the Americas, said: “Democratic space within Venezuela has been shrinking and in this election year, Canada is very concerned about the rights of all Venezuelans to participate in the democratic process.”

The Bolivarian Revolution has faced a decade and a half of Liberal and Conservative hostility. While the NDP has sometimes challenged the government’s Venezuelan policy, the party’s current foreign critic has echoed Washington’s position. On at least two occasions Hélène Laverdière has demanded Ottawa do more to undermine the Maduro government. In a June 2016 press release Laverdière bemoaned “the erosion of democracy” and the need for Ottawa to “defend democracy in Venezuela” while in August the former Foreign Affairs employee told CBC “we would like to see the (Canadian) government be more active in … calling for the release of political prisoners, the holding of elections and respecting the National Assembly.” Conversely, Laverdière staid mum when Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela last month and she has yet to criticize the recently announced Canadian sanctions.

NDP members should be appalled at their foreign critic’s position. For Canadians more generally it’s time to challenge our government’s bid to undermine what has been an essentially democratic effort to empower Venezuela’s poor and working class.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Despite mythology Canada has long been a player in nuclear arms race

A house built on an imaginary foundation may be a “dream home” but it can never be lived in. The same holds true in politics.

One need not mythologize Canadian foreign policy history to oppose the Trudeau government’s egregious position on nuclear arms. In fact, “benevolent Canada” dogma weakens the critical consciousness needed to reject the policies of our foreign policy establishment.

In “Canada abandons proud history as ‘nuclear nag’ when most needed” prominent leftist author Linda McQuaig writes, “there have been impressive moments in our history when Canada, under previous Liberal governments, asserted itself as a feisty middle power by supporting, even occasionally leading, the push to get nuclear disarmament onto the global agenda.”

Nonsense. If one were to rank the world’s 200 countries in order of their contribution to the nuclear arms race Canada would fall just behind the nine nuclear armed states.

Uranium from Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories was used in the only two nuclear bombs ever dropped on a human population. In Northern Approaches: Canada and the Search for Peace James Eayrs notes, “the maiming of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a byproduct of Canadian uranium.”

Canada spent millions of dollars (tens of millions in today’s money) to help research the bombs’ development. Immediately after successfully developing the technology, the U.S. submitted its proposal to drop the bomb on Japan to the tri-state World War II Combined Policy Committee meeting, which included powerful Canadian minister C.D. Howe and a British official. Though there is no record of his comments at the July 4, 1945 meeting, apparently Howe supported the U.S. proposal. (Reflecting the racism in Canadian governing circles, in his (uncensored) diary King wrote: “It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe.”)

Only a few years after the first one was built Ottawa allowed the U.S. to station nuclear weapons in Canada. According to John Clearwater in Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada’s Cold War Arsenal, the first “nuclearweapons came to Canada as early as September 1950, when the USAF [US Air Force] temporarily stationed eleven ‘Fat Man’- style atomic bombs at Goose Bay Newfoundland.”

Canadian territory has also been used to test U.S. nuclear weapons. Beginning in 1952 Ottawa agreed to let the U.S. Strategic Air Command use Canadian air space for training flights of nuclear-armed aircraft. At the same time, reports Ron Finch in Exporting Danger: A History of the Canadian Nuclear Energy Export Programme, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission conducted military tests in Canada to circumvent oversight by American “watchdog committees.” As part of the agreement Ottawa committed to prevent any investigation into the military aspects of nuclear research in Canada.

Canadian Forces also carried nukes on foreign-stationed aircraft. At the height of Canadian nuclear deployments in the late 1960s the government had between 250 and 450 atomic bombs at its disposal in Europe. Based in Germany, the CF-104 Starfighter, for instance, operated without a gun and carried nothing but a thermal nuclear weapon.

During the past 70 years Canada has often been the world’s largest producer of uranium. According to Finch, by 1959 Canada had sold $1.5 billion worth of uranium to the U.S. bomb program (uranium was then Canada’s fourth biggest export). Ottawa has sold at least 29 nuclear reactors to foreign countries, which have often been financed with aid dollars. In the 1950s, for instance, Atomic Energy Canada Limited received large sums of money through the Colombo Aid Plan to help India set up a nuclear reactor.

Canada provided the reactor (called Cyrus) that India used to develop the bomb. Canada proceeded with its nuclear commitment to India despite signals from New Delhi that it was going to detonate a nuclear device. In The Politics of CANDU Exports Duane Bratt writes, “the Indians chose to use Cyrus for their supply of plutonium and not one of their other reactors, because Cyrus was not governed by any nuclear safeguards.”

On the diplomatic front, Ottawa has long supported its allies’ nuclear weapons. In August 1948 Canada voted against a UN call to ban nuclear weapons and in December 1954 voted to allow NATO forces to accept tactical nuclear weapons through the alliance’s policy called MC 48, “The Most Effective Pattern of NATO Military Strength for the Next Few Years.” According to Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means, 1945-1970, external minister Lester Pearson “was integral to the process by which MC 48 was accepted by NATO.”

In his 2006 book Just Dummies“: Cruise Missile Testing in Canada Clearwater writes, “the record clearly shows that Canada refuses to support any resolution that specifies immediate action on a comprehensive approach to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.” Since then the Harper/Trudeau regimes’ have not changed direction. The Harper government opposed a variety of initiatives to curtail nuclear weapons and, as McQuaig points out, the Trudeau government recently boycotted a UN effort to sign a treaty, supported by two thirds of 192 member states, to rid the world of nuclear weapons and prohibit the creation of new ones.

But, it’s not only nuclear policy. The Trudeau government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, attacks on Venezuela’s elected government, support for Rwanda’s brutal dictatorship, empowerment of international investors, indifference to mining companies abuses, military deployment on Russia’s border, support for Israel’s illegal occupation etc. reflect this country’s longstanding corporate-military-Western centric foreign policy. While Harper’s foreign policy was disastrous on many fronts, it was a previous Liberal government that instigated violence in Afghanistan and the most flagrant Canadian crime of this century by planning, executing and consolidating the overthrow of democracy in Haiti.

Leftists need to stop seeking to ingratiate themselves with the liberal end of the foreign policy establishment by exaggerating rare historical moments when Ottawa apparently did right. Power relations — not morality — determine international policy and the benevolent Canada myth obscures the corporate and geostrategic interests that overwhelmingly drive policy. Progressive writers should focus on developing the critical consciousness needed to rein in the foreign policy establishment.

Only the truth will set us free to make this country a force for good in the world.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Most ‘free trade’ critics silent after Israel FTA overrides Canadian law

Two weeks ago the worst fear of Canadian opponents of neoliberal “free trade” agreements came true.

Surprisingly, there has been almost no reaction from the political parties, unions, and other organizations that warned these agreements would be used to undermine Canadian law, even though this is exactly what happened.

After David Kattenburg repeatedly complained about inacurate labels on two wines sold in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) notified the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that it “would not be acceptable and would be considered misleading” to declare Israel as the country of origin for wines produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Quoting from official Canadian policy, CFIA noted that “the government of Canada does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied in 1967.” On July 11 the LCBO sent out a letter to all sacramental wine vendors that stated CFIA’s conclusion that products from two wineries contained grapes “grown, fermented, processed, blended and finished in the West Bank occupied territory” and should no longer be sold until accurately labelled.

But, in response to pressure from the Israeli embassy, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith, CFIA quickly reversed its decision. On July 14 the government announced that it was all a mistake made by a low level CFIA official and that the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA) governed the labelling of such wine, not CFIA rules. “We did not fully consider the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement,” a terse CFIA statement explained. “These wines adhere to the Agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled.”

In other words, the government publicly proclamed that the FTA trumps Canada’s consumer protection laws. And the basis for this dangerous precedent is that the Israel FTA includes the illegally occupied West Bank as a place where Israel’s custom laws apply.

Incredibly, the Green Party of Canada seems to be the only organization that has publically challenged this egregious attack against consumer protections and Palestinian rights. “The European Union and the United States made it clear long ago that goods made in these illegal settlements cannot be mislabelled as ‘Made in Israel,'” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a press release. “Why is Canada singling out Israel for preferential treatment at the expense of both Palestinians’ human rights, and the rights of Canadian consumers?”

The Greens’ statement points to a startling “Israel exception” by the government as well as FTA critics. I have seen no comment from the Council of Canadians or the organization’s trade campaigner Sujata Dey about the Liberal’s announcement that an FTA overides Canadian consumer protections.

The same can be said for NDP International Trade critic Tracey Ramsey as well as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and its Trade and Investment Research Project leader Scott Sinclair. (Since CFIA’s announcement Ramsey and Dey have each posted repeatedly to twitter regarding CETA, NAFTA and other FTAs.) Nor have consumer protection groups such as the Consumers’ Association of Canada or Consumers Council of Canada opposed this attack on the Food and Drugs Act.

But, FTA critics still have an opportunity to join the fight against CFIA’s recent decision. David Kattenburg and his lawyer Dmitry Lascaris are planning a court challenge and their efforts should be supported.

To allow this precedent to pass without challenge the CCPA, NDP and Council of Canadians would be conceding an extremely broad “Israel exception.” Opposing CFIA’s move is not akin to backing Palestinian civil society’s (entirely legitimate) call for international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions until Israel “Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall; Recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

Nor is it a request for Ottawa to bar wines produced on the 22% of pre-1948 Palestine supposed to be a Palestinian state as per official Canadian policy. It is not even necessarily a demand to eliminate the special tariff treatment the Israel FTA currently grants companies based in the occupied territories. It is simply a request to respect Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and label two brands of wine accurately.

As Kattenburg explains, “Israel’s self-declared right to sell falsely labeled products on Canadian store shelves should not be allowed to trump the right of Canadians to know what they’re eating and drinking; to know that the fine bottle of ‘Israeli’ red or crisp chardonnay that they just bought was actually not produced from grapes grown in Israel, but rather, in Israeli-occupied, brutally exploited Palestine.”

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel

Standing up for Palestine boosts Ashton’s popularity

Sometimes silence in politics speaks louder than words.

Israel lobby groups’ response (or lack thereof) to NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton’s recent support of Palestinian rights suggests they believe previous criticisms backfired.

Two months ago B’nai B’rith attacked Ashton for attending a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike and a subsequent Facebook post commemorating the Nakba, which saw 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947/48. The self-declared ‘human rights’ organization published a press release titled “B’nai Brith Denounces MP Niki Ashton for Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists.” Rather than harming Ashton, the attack solidified support amongst the Left and youth within the party. B’nai B’rith’s smear generated significant media attention, but Ashton refused to back down. In response the Manitoba MP told the Winnipeg Free Press she felt obligated to “speak out in the face of injustice” and “I have consistently spoken out for peace and justice in the Middle East, including for Palestinians.”

A few days after accusing her of “Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists” B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn took another shot at Ashton. Clearly writing to the Toronto Sun’s editors and his own organization’s donors, Mostyn linked Ashton’s position on Palestine to sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement, which most NDP members probably support. On top of this own-goal, Mostyn opened the door for a rejoinder by the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. In his response Thomas Woodley described Ashton’s promotion of the Palestinian cause as an outgrowth of her “support for Indigenous rights in Canada” — for every NDP member Mostyn swayed against Ashton I’d bet Woodley convinced fifty to favour her.

Since the dustup at the end of May, B’nai B’rith — and other Israeli nationalist groups — have remained silent regarding Ashton. Yet when asked a question about Martin Luther King during an official party leadership debate six weeks ago Ashton went out of her way to link those campaigning for Palestinian rights to the US civil rights leader. Then, in a widely circulated FightBack interview at the end of June Ashton decried the NDP’s purge of pro-Palestinian candidates in the 2015 federal election campaign as “totally unacceptable.” She also called “justice for Palestine…a key issue” and referenced “the Nakba.”

Last week Ashton was part of a fundraiser in London, Ontario, put on by five prominent Palestinian solidarity activists, while this week she put out an appeal for individuals to join the party titled “End the Gaza Blockade.” It stated: “Today marks three years since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza…Ashton has demonstrated that she will show leadership and will never hesitate when standing up for Palestinians.”

In the past B’nai B’rith has labeled lesser transgressions “support for terrorism” or “anti-Semitism.” Their silence on Ashton’s recent moves is deafening. B’nai B’rith is effectively conceding that their previous attacks backfired and they now fear drawing further attention to Ashton’s position since it would likely strengthen her standing among those voting for the next NDP leader.

According to a February poll of 1,000 Canadians, most progressive Canadians back Palestinian rights. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters said they were open to sanctioning Israel, when they were asked in the context of the UN Security Council denouncing settlement building in the West Bank: “Do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?

While somewhat of a long shot at the start of the race, Ashton now has a reasonable chance of becoming leader of the NDP. According to a July 5 Mainstreet poll of 1,445 party members, 22.6 per cent of those asked supported Charlie Angus as their first choice candidate while 20.4 per cent backed Ashton. 7.5 per cent chose both Jagmeet Singh and Peter Julian (who has since dropped out of the race) as their top choice and 6.1 per cent went for Guy Caron while 35.9 per cent had not made up their minds. Ashton is far and away the favourite among NDP millennials.

The first ever pregnant major party leadership candidate in Canadian political history has gained this support by speaking truth to power and taking a principled position on an issue most politician have shied away from. And, she has demonstrated that the purpose of Israeli nationalist attacks is to silence them, not to have a debate. In fact, real debate is what organizations like B’nai B’rith fear the most because the more people thst know about Israel and the Occupied Territories, the more they support the Palestinian cause.

The prospect of the NDP electing a leader taking explicitly pro-Palestinian positions obviously concerns B’nai B’rith. But, their bigger worry should be the growing number of progressives who consider Israel lobby attacks a mark in favour of a politician.

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