Tag Archives: foreign policy

Canadian companies caught with hands in African colonial cookie jar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No joke, Canadian imperialism is longstanding in Caribbean

Perhaps a new rule is in order: Everyone must take a history lesson before seeking some fun in the sun.

Recently, NDP Member of Parliament Erin Weir asked if Canada should try to expand into the former British slave colonies. “The slush we’re getting in Regina is no fun. Right about now, a lot of people are wondering — would Canadians benefit from a tropical territory?” Former NDP MP Max Saltzman proposed welcoming the Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation if its people make a democratic decision to join Canada. Former Conservative MP Peter Goldring recently endorsed this proposal.

But, Canadian imperialism in the Caribbean is no joke and should not be ignored or taken lightly by left-wing leaders.

In fact, moves to extend Ottawa’s dominion over the region date back to when the Canada First Movement sought “a closer political connection” with the British West Indies in the 1870s. By the early 1900s, Canadian policy supported annexing the British Empire’s Caribbean possessions (the various islands as well as today’s Belize and Guyana). At the end of World War I, Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the Empire. London balked.

Canada’s sizable financial sector drove these efforts. With their presence in the region dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks were major players by the late 1800s. In Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, Walter Stewart notes: “The business was so profitable that in 1919 Canada seriously considered taking the Commonwealth Caribbean off mother England’s hands….”

Organized labour backed Canadian influence in the region. During British rule, the Trades and Labour Congress’ (Canadian Labour Congress’ predecessor) journal pushed for a publicly owned steamship service to increase “contact” with the West Indies. A 1929 editorial in the Canadian Congress Journal claimed, “there is every reason to believe that a considerable trade of benefit to both countries will be developed.” In a story the previous year titled “Development of Trade with the West Indies,” the Journal depicted ties to the former slave plantation colonies glowingly. Referring to the great wealth generated trading with the Caribbean slave colonies, the article noted, “for well over 100 years, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick traders and sailors established contact with the islands, bringing Canadian fish and produce in exchange for fruits, sugar and other products.” Unwilling to devote valuable sugar planting space to food crops, Caribbean plantation owners bought high- protein, salty Canadian cod to keep hundreds of thousands of “enslaved people working 16 hours a day.”

Other writers have pointed out the Left’s indifference to Canadian imperialism in the region.

In Canada: A New Tax Haven: How the Country that Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens is Becoming One Itself, Alain Deneault discusses the Left’s blindness to Canadian power in the region. Deneault notes:

How is it that Canadian intellectuals with a back- ground in political economy and the critical tradition have not noticed the troubling nature of Canadian influence in the Caribbean as exerted by MPs, banks, development agencies and experts of all shades and stripes? Even when they have information that ought to lead them in this direction, Canada’s ‘critical’ intellectuals do not feel that this is their responsibility… The problem is not that they are blind to the involvement of foreign states in Caribbean development; rather, they suffer from a specific form of blindness to Canada’s agency. Canada’s political culture is the issue here, including, first and foremost, the political culture of its left-wing academics….

Deneault highlights prominent Left nationalist Kari Polanyi Levitt, author of Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada. An economics professor in Jamaica and Trinidad for many years, Levitt ignores Canada’s pernicious role there. Deneault writes: “While it is impossible for her not to see the domination of Canadian financial institutions such as Scotia Bank or the Royal Bank of Can- ada in cities in which she spends time such as Kingston or Port of Spain, Levitt manages to make them arbitrarily into symbols of Canadian commitment to the development of the Caribbean! The same denial comes into play when she looks at the role of Alcan in Jamaica. Of course, nothing in the behaviour of this multinational sets it apart from its American counterparts, but Levitt in 2012 stubbornly persists in viewing it as a company that, had it not been bought by Rio Tinto, would have been in the vanguard of a possible Canadian response to American domination in the countries of the South.”

Why are many on the Left unable to understand that opposition to imperialism needs to include the version closest to home?

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension.

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Lester Pearson was no ‘honest broker’ or friend of Palestine

It’s no wonder Canadians are confused about their country’s place in the world when a leading advocate of the Palestinian cause praises the official most responsible for dispossessing Palestinians.

In an article about a recent poll showing Canadians have a negative attitude towards Israel, reject the notion criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic and believe the media is biased in Israel’s favour, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East leader Tom Woodley threw in a sop to official mythology.

He wrote, “Lester B. Pearson won a Nobel peace prize for his role in mediating the Suez Crisis in 1956, and for many decades afterwards, many perceived Canada as an ‘honest broker’ in the Middle East, trusted by both Israel and the Palestinians.”

In fact, Pearson enabled the Zionist movement’s 1947/48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (During the Suez Crisis Pearson’s main concern was disagreement between the US and UK over the British-French-Israeli invasion, not Egyptian sovereignty or the plight of that country’s people, let alone Palestinians.)

Under growing Zionist military pressure after World War II, Britain prepared to hand its mandate over Palestine to the newly created UN. In response, the US-dominated international body formed the First Committee on Palestine, which was charged with developing the terms of reference for a committee that would find a solution for the British mandate.

Canada’s Undersecretary of External Affairs, who made his sympathy for Zionism clear in a March 1945 speech, chaired the First Committee that established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in May 1947. At the First Committee Pearson rejected Arab calls for an immediate end to the British mandate and the establishment of an independent democratic country.

He also backed Washington’s push to admit a Jewish Agency representative to First Committee discussions (ultimately both a Jewish Agency and Palestinian representative were admitted). Pearson tried to define UNSCOP largely to facilitate Zionist aspirations.

The Arab Higher Committee wanted the issue of European Jewish refugees excluded from UNSCOP but the Canadian diplomat worked to give the body a mandate “to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problem of Palestine.” A US State Department memo noted that Pearson “proved to be an outstanding chairman for [the First] Committee.”

The Canadian Arab Friendship League, on the other hand, complained that the First Committee plan for UNSCOP was “practically irresponsible and an invitation to … acts of terror on the part of Zionism.” The League continued, Arabs would “never refrain from demanding for … Palestine the same freedom presently enjoyed by other Arab states”, newly independent from colonial rule.

Opposed to the idea that representatives from Canada, Guatemala, Yugoslavia and other countries should decide their future, Palestinians boycotted UNSCOP. Despite the objection of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Undersecretary Pearson committed Canada to sending a delegate on the UNSCOP mission to Palestine. In justifying his position to External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent, Pearson claimed “to have withdrawn our candidate at this moment might have been misinterpreted and have had an adverse effect on the discussion.” In fact, Pearson was significantly more willing to follow Washington’s lead than the Prime Minister.

Canada’s lead representative on UNSCOP, Ivan C. Rand, pushed for the largest possible Zionist state and is considered the lead author of the majority report in support of partitioning Palestine into ethnically segregated states.

At the end of their mission the UNSCOP majority and minority reports were sent to the special UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question. Not happy with Pearson’s role in the First Committee, the Prime Minister would not allow the future Nobel laureate to chair the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question despite Washington’s request. Mackenzie King wrote that Pearson “lent himself perhaps too wholly to the desires of others,” a coded reference to the US State Department. Still, he played a major role in the Ad Hoc Committee.

At this forum Pearson rejected the Arab countries push to have the International Court of Justice decide whether the UN was allowed to partition Palestine. (Under US pressure, the Ad Hoc Committee voted 21 to 20 — with 16 abstentions — against allowing the International Court to adjudicate the matter).

The Ad Hoc Committee was split into two subcommittees with one focusing on the partition plan and the other on a bi-national state. At the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 1, Pearson worked feverishly to broker a partition agreement acceptable to Washington and Moscow.

Preoccupied with the great powers, the indigenous inhabitants’ concerns did not trouble the ambitious undersecretary. He dismissed solutions that didn’t involve partition, which effectively meant supporting a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Responding to a bi-national plan proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee’s Special Committee 2, he claimed: “The unitary state proposal meant nothing — a recommendation ‘out of the blue and into the blue.’”

Pearson said: “a [Jewish] ‘national home’ was a sine qua non [essential condition] of any settlement.” He later explained: “I have never waivered in my view that a solution to the problem was impossible without the recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. To me this was always the core of the matter.”

Pearson played a central role in Special Committee 1’s partition plan. Both the New York Times and Manchester Guardian ran articles about his role in the final stage of negotiations. Dubbed the “Canadian plan” the final Special Committee 1 agreement between the US and USSR on how to implement partition was “a result of the tireless efforts of Lester B. Pearson,” according to a front-page New York Times article. Some Zionist groups called him “Lord Balfour” of Canada and “rabbi Pearson”. In 1960 Pearson received Israel’s Medallion of Valour and after stepping down as prime minister in 1968, he received the Theodore Herzl award from the Zionist Organization of America for his “commitment to Jewish freedom and Israel.”

By supporting partition he opposed the indigenous population’s moral and political claims to sovereignty over their territory. Down from 90% at the start of the British mandate, by the end of 1947 Arabs still made up two-thirds of Palestine’s population.

Despite making up only a third of the population, under the UN partition plan Jews received most of the territory. Pearson pushed a plan that gave the Zionist state 55% of Palestine despite the Jewish population owning less than seven percent of the land. According to Israeli historian Illan Pappe, “within the borders of their UN proposed state, they [Jews] owned only eleven percent of the land, and were the minority in every district. In the Negev [desert]…they constituted one percent of the total population.”

Undersecretary Pearson was not supported by the Prime Minister, who wanted to align Canada more closely with London’s position. While King was concerned about Britain, other government officials sympathized with the Palestinians. Justice Minister J.L. Isley said he was “gravely concerned” the push for partition did not meet the Arabs “very strong moral and political claims”.

The only Middle East expert at External Affairs, Elizabeth MacCallum, claimed Ottawa supported partition “because we didn’t give two hoots for democracy.” MacCallum’s opinion wasn’t popular with Pearson who organized late-night meetings allegedly to make it difficult for her to participate. Despite failing to convince her boss at External Affairs MacCallum displayed sharp foresight. At the time of the partition vote, notes The Rise and Fall of a Middle Power, “MacCallum scribbled a note and passed it to Mike (Pearson) saying the Middle East was now in for ‘forty years’ of war, due to the lack of consultation with the Arab countries.” She was prescient, even if she did underestimate the duration of the conflict.

Far from being an “honest broker”, a representative from the Canadian Arab Friendship League explained: “Our Canadian government at one time also favoured the creation of a federated State of Palestine which had at least some resemblance to a democratic solution. … Mr. Lester B. Pearson and Mr. Justice Ivan C. Rand changed that official position of our government. Instead of the democratic solution, these gentlemen did their utmost to impose upon the Arabs the infamous partition scheme. The Arab world, I am sure, will remember them.”

A huge boost to the Zionist movements’ desire for an ethnically-based state, the UN partition of British Mandate Palestine contributed to the displacement of at least 700,000 Palestinians. Scholar Walid Khalidi complained that UN (partition) Resolution 181 was “a hasty act of granting half of Palestine to an ideological movement that declared openly already in the 1930s its wish to de-Arabise Palestine.”

What spurred Pearson’s support for Israel? Jewish lobbying played only a small part. The son of a Methodist minister, Pearson’s Zionism was partly rooted in Christian teachings. His memoirs refer to Israel as “the land of my Sunday School lessons” where he learned that “the Jews belonged in Palestine.” One book on Pearson notes “there was a lot said at Sunday school about the historic home of the Jews but nothing about the Arab inhabitants.” At one point Canada’s eminent statesman said he knew more about the geography of the holy land than of Ontario and in a 1955 speech Pearson called Israel (alongside Greece and Rome) the source of Western values.

More practically, Israel’s creation lessened the pressure on a widely anti-Semitic Ottawa to accept post-World War II Jewish refugees. At the end of the war the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was supposed to help resettle a couple hundred thousand displaced European Jews. When he was ambassador in Washington Pearson represented Canada at a number of UNRRA meetings where he faithfully defended the government’s position against Jewish immigration. After a meeting to discuss European refugees was moved from Ottawa to Bermuda, None is Too Many notes, “[Ambassador to Washington] Pearson exultingly wired [Undersecretary Norman] Robertson that the pressure was off and that, ‘in the circumstances,’ Ottawa was no longer ‘a possibility’ [to host the meeting]. And, he added, of even greater importance, Canada would not even be asked to take part in the conference.” Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

But the refugee issue was less of a concern than US-British relations. In 1947 Pearson was concerned with Anglo-American disunity over Palestine, more than the Palestinian crisis itself. “I wasn’t thinking of trouble in terms of a war in Palestine,” he explained. “I was thinking of trouble in terms of a grave difference of opinion between London and Washington. That always gives a Canadian nightmares, of course.” Pearson worried that disagreement between Washington and London over Palestine could adversely affect the US-British alliance and the emerging North Atlantic alliance.

Above all else, the ambitious diplomat wanted to align himself and Canada with Washington, the world’s emerging hegemon. “Pearson usually coordinated his moves with the Americans,” explains Personal Policy Making: Canada’s role in the adoption of the Palestine Partition Resolution. To determine their position on the UN Ad Hoc Committee, for instance, Canada’s delegation “found it especially important to know the American’s position.” A member of the Canadian delegation explained: “[we] will have nothing to say until after the United States has spoken.”

Of central importance to Canadian support for partition was the belief that a Middle Eastern Jewish state would serve Western interests. An internal report circulated at External Affairs during the UN negotiations explained:

“The plan of partition gives to the western powers the opportunity to establish an independent, progressive Jewish state in the Eastern Mediterranean with close economic and cultural ties with the West generally and in particular with the United States.”

In a 1952 memo to cabinet Pearson repeated this thinking. “With the whole Arab world in a state of internal unrest [after the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy in Egypt] and in the grip of mounting anti-western hysteria, Israel is beginning to emerge as the only stable element in the whole Middle East area.”

He went on to explain how “Israel may assume an important role in Western defence as the southern pivot of current plans for the defence” of the eastern Mediterranean. Pearson supported Israel as a possible western ally in the heart of the (oil-producing) Middle East.

Pearson does not signify an evenhanded, let alone justice-oriented, policy towards Palestinians. Instead, he should be placed atop a long list of Canadian officials who’ve aided and abetted their dispossession.

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Toronto Star leaves readers ignorant of Canada’s real role in Africa

The media’s foreign affairs motto often seems to be ignorance is bliss. The Toronto Star, for instance, has devoted significant attention to the Trudeau government’s plan to dispatch 600 soldiers to Africa, but it has largely ignored the most relevant information.

In a recent installment of its “Should Canada go to Africa?” series the Star quoted former Royal Military College board member Jack Granatstein saying, “wherever we go in Africa is not where we should be going” and Canada’s contribution will “achieve nothing.” Countering Granatstein’s Afro-pessimism, the story cited Royal Military College professor Walter Dorn’s blanket support for UN missions since “the image of the peacekeeper is key to the Canadian identity.”

While Canada’s most progressive English daily offers its pages to embarrassingly simplistic pro and con positions, the Star has all but ignored the economic, geopolitical and historical context necessary to judge deploying 600 troops to the continent. While the Star published 19 stories last year discussing a potential Canadian peacekeeping mission in Africa, only one mentioned Canada’s main mark on the continent and that story simply noted, “officials also considered the extensive business interests of the Canadian mining industry” when deciding not to deploy troops to the Congo seven years ago.

That’s it? Even though Canada is home to half of all internationally listed mining companies operating in Africa. Even though Canada’s government has paid for geological educationjoint NGO–mining company projects and extractive sector policy initiatives, as well as opposing debt forgiveness and negotiating Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements with a dozen African countries — all to support corporate Canada’s $30 billion in mining investment. Even though the two most cited possible destinations to send troops – Mali and Congo – are home to a significant Canadian mining presence.

In addition to Canadian mining interests, Star coverage has ignored Canada’s growing military footprint in Africa over the past decade. Working closely with the new United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM), Ottawa has funded and staffed various military training centres across the continent and Canadian special forces have trained numerous African militaries. The Canadian Forces Operational Support Hub also moved to establish small permanent bases on the east and west coasts of the continent and the Canadian Navy has expanded its presence, particularly off the coast of Somalia.

Evaluating Canada’s current military and economic role on the continent is a prerequisite for having a proper debate about deploying troops. So, is a critical look at past UN missions, which has also been absent from the Star.

For example, in 1960 the UN launched a peacekeeping force that delivered a major blow to Congolese democratic aspirations by undermining elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. As detailed in Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 1960-64, Canadian soldiers played a significant role in the mission that enabled Lumumba’s assassination by US and Belgian-backed forces.

In 1992, about 900 Canadian military personnel joined a US-led humanitarian intervention into Somalia, which later came under UN command. While the soldiers who used the N-word and tortured a teenager to death received significant attention, the economic and geopolitical considerations driving the deployment did not. In 1993 Project Censored Canada found the prospects for extracting oil – Chevron, Amoco, Phillips, and Conoco had exploration rights to two-thirds of Somalia – the most under-reported Canadian news item that year. Alongside securing hydrocarbons from the ground, planners had an eye to the oil passing near Somalia’s 1,000-mile coastline. Whoever controls this territory is well placed to exert influence over oil shipped from the Persian Gulf.

Three years after the Somalia debacle Canada led a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire. Presented as a way to protect one million Hutu refugees, it was really designed to dissipate French pressure for a UN force to deal with the refugee crisis and ensure Paris didn’t take command of a force that could impede Rwanda’s invasion of what’s now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Washington proposed Ottawa, with many French speakers at its disposal, lead the UN mission since it didn’t want pro-Joseph-Mobutu-Sese-Seko France to gain control of the UN force. Ultimately, most of the Canadian-led UN force was not deployed since peacekeepers would have slowed down or prevented Rwanda, Uganda and its allies from triumphing, but not before Canadian, British and US officials “managed the magical disappearance” of half a million refugees, to quote Oxfam Emergencies Director Nick Stockton. That 1996 US-backed Rwandan invasion of the Congo and reinvasion in 1998 led to a deadly eight-country war and is the reason UN forces are there today.

But, little context — economic interests, past military involvement or critical history in general — has been presented.

While it’s published two editorials promoting planned UN mission, Star coverage of the issue demonstratesCanada isn’t ready to deploy troops to Africa. The public is almost entirely ignorant of this country’s role on the continent and our political culture gives politicians immense latitude to pursue self-serving policies there, present them as altruistic and face few questions.

Canadians who want a foreign policy that is a force for good in the world (or at least does no harm) must demand better of our media.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada in Africa

Putting Palestine into the NDP leadership race

To the sound of crickets chirping from opposition benches Justin Trudeau’s government has once again isolated Canada on Palestinian rights. But, recent developments suggest this shameful chapter in Canadian diplomacy is past its political best before date.
On November 21 Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing a UN Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee resolution in support of “the right of Palestinian people to self-determination” backed by 170 countries. Two weeks earlier Ottawa aligned with Israel, the US, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau in opposing a motion titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” supported by 156 countries.
While the Trudeau government disgraced this country at the UN, prominent figures including Yann Martel, Naomi Klein, Bruce Cockburn, Richard Parry (Arcade Fire), Gabor Mate and Rawi Hage worked to redeem Canada from its extreme pro-Israel position. At the end of November over 50 authors, musicians, labour leaders, environmentalists, academics and filmmakers appealed to Green Party of Canada members to support “concrete international action” for Palestinian rights and applauded the party’s August vote to support “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted to those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation” of Palestinian land.
The former head of CUPE Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan, signed the appeal. “Sid Ryan for NDP Leader”, a recently launched website to enlist him to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.”
No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October it’s hard to imagine they will be as hostile to Palestinians as outgoing leader Tom Mulcair — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances”.
Putting pressure on NDP leadership candidates, last weekend the Green Party reconfirmed its support for “government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment” to support the Palestinians. Backed by 85% of those at a special general meeting in Calgary, the motion encompasses the Palestinian-civil-society-led BDS campaign’s three demands: equal rights for the Arab minority in Israel, the right of refugees to return and an end to “Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the Golan Heights, and Israel’s siege of Gaza.”
The new resolution also details Canadian complicity in dispossessing “the indigenous people”, calling on Ottawa to renegotiate the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, end “all military and surveillance trade” with Israel and “to divest from any companies which are directly benefiting from activity within Israel’s illegal settlements.” Finally, it calls on Ottawa “to ask the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into charges of potential war crimes by members of the Israeli forces.”
Green leader Elizabeth May backed the new policy, which makes her publically stated position on Palestinian rights the strongest of anyone with a seat in the House of Commons.
As the NDP leadership campaign heats up, expect Palestine to be a major point of debate. Hopefully before long a new NDP leader will begin to pressure the government to end Canada’s shameful international opposition to Palestinian rights.

This article first appeared in The Hill Times.

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Canada opposed Cuba’s key role in ending apartheid

Did Canada lead the international charge against apartheid and white rule in South Africa or criticize a country that, in fact, did?

Recent commentary about Canada’s policy towards southern Africa’s liberation struggles distorts history that should inform debate over Canada’s planned military deployment to the continent today.

Globe and Mail article last month described “Canada’s strong support for the anti-apartheid movement” while a Kingston Whig Standard story last week claimed a “senior Canadian diplomat and his wife became engaged in providing support to a wide array of South Africans actively opposing the apartheid regime.” A Le Devoir columnist wrote that “faced with apartheid South Africa, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in the 1980s, was the first in the Commonwealth to adopt a policy not of inclusion but of economic sanctions, against the government of Pieter Botha.” But, this statement is only plausible if you reduce the Commonwealth to the European settler states. Does anyone actually believe Ottawa was more opposed to the white regime than Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, India, etc.?

Toronto Star editorial about Fidel Castro’s death hinted at a position hard to align with this self-congratulatory revisionism. (Or a Star story after Nelson Mandela’s death titled “Canada helped lead international fight against apartheid”). The editorial pointed out that in the late 1970s Prime Minister Pierre “Trudeau was also voicing deep concerns to Castro… over Cuba’s military involvement in Africa, especially Angola.” The Star editorialists failed to elaborate on Trudeau’s “deep concern”.

Not long after Angola won its independence from Portugal, apartheid South Africa invaded. In an important display of international solidarity Cuba came to Angola’s defence. Thousands of Cuban troops, most of them black, voluntarily enlisted to fight the racist South African regime. Contrary to Western claims, Cuba decided to intervene in Angola without Soviet input (Washington knew this at the time). Cuba’s intervention helped halt South Africa’s invasion.

This successful military victory by black forces also helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. The famous township rebellion in Soweto took place three months after South Africa’s initial defeat in Angola. Nelson Mandela’s ANC noted “their [the South African army’s] racist arrogance shrank when our MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] comrades thrashed them in Angola.” For its part, Johannesburg’s Rand Daily Mail warned that the legacy of Angola resulted in “blows to South African pride.” The paper viewed the defeat as, “the boost to African nationalism which has seen South Africa forced to retreat.” In a similar vein another South African analyst observed “whether the bulk of the offensive was by Cubans or Angolans is immaterial in the colour-conscious context of this war’s battlefield, for the reality is that they won, are winning, and are not white: and that psychological edge, that advantage the white man has enjoyed and exploited over 300 years of colonialism and empire, is slipping away. White elitism has suffered an irreversible blow in Angola and Whites who have been there know it.”

Ottawa freaked out, diplomatically speaking. Trudeau stated: “Canada disapproves with horror [of] participation of Cuban troops in Africa” and later terminated the Canadian International Development Agency’s small aid program in Cuba as a result.

Conversely, Ottawa funnelled aid to Zambia during this period partly to support its “moderate” position in southern Africa’s racial conflict. In Canadian Development Assistance to Zambia Sinkala Sontwa explains how Ottawa “lent support to what they considered as Zambia’s moderate stand among the Front Line States on Southern African politics.”

A few years earlier Canadian officials expressed apprehension about providing indirect backing to Ghanaian and Tanzanian proponents of what Ottawa dubbed a “war of liberation” in southern Africa. At the end of the 1960s, Canada failed to renew its military training in Tanzania partly because the government provided limited support to the liberation movement on its southern border in Mozambique.

Canada’s position towards the African liberation struggles of the 1970s and 80s should influence how we view deploying troops to the continent today. This history – and the media’s distortion of it – suggests the need for a healthy dose of skepticism towards Ottawa’s intentions.

To paraphrase George Santayana, Canadians who cannot remember the past are condemned to allow the bad guys to repeat it.

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

Greens stand firm in face of Israeli bullying

In a major self-inflicted wound, Israeli nationalist groups recently turned support for a BDS motion targeting Israel’s occupation into overwhelming approval. In addition, the resolution also demanded action to address the plight of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In a further bizarre twist, Elizabeth May and others within the Green Party leadership have tried to obfuscate the extent of the membership’s support for Palestinian rights.

In August, the Green Party of Canada voted to support “the use of divestment, boycott and sanctions (BDS) that are targeted at those sectors of Israel’s economy and society which profit from the ongoing occupation of the [Occupied Palestinian Territories].” While the new policy drops the BDS formulation, it supports “economic measures such as government sanctions, consumer boycotts, institutional divestment, economic sanctions and arms embargoes” and encompasses the Palestinian civil-society-led BDS campaign’s three demands.

It calls for the Green Party to “respect the intent of UN Resolution 194,” on the right of Palestinian refugees to return, as well as an “accord to the Arab-Palestinian population of Israel equal political and civil rights.” It also calls to “end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the Golan Heights, and Israel’s siege of Gaza.”

The new resolution also details Canadian complicity in dispossessing “the indigenous people,” calling on Ottawa “to divest from any companies which are directly benefiting from activity within Israel’s illegal settlements or its occupation of the OPT” and “to ask the International Criminal Court to prioritize its investigation into charges of potential war crimes by members of the Israeli forces.”

Supported by 84.5 per cent of those at the special general meeting on Saturday, it also calls for the “renegotiation of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement” and “termination and indefinite suspension of all military and surveillance trade and cooperation.”

At the closed-door meeting, May spoke in favour of the new policy, which makes her expressed position on Palestinian rights the strongest of anyone with a seat in the House of Commons. Yet immediately after the vote passed, May sought to distort the motion. She tweeted “we just repealed BDS policy” while a press release noted, “Green Party explicitly rejects the notion of boycotting the state of Israel.”

Over the past three years May and other Green leaders have battled members over Palestine (and by extension whether the Greens will be a progressive, grassroots, party). Seeking to maintain her standing within a wildly anti-Palestinian Canadian political establishment, May has repeatedly been at odds with party activists no longer willing to accept blatant anti-Palestinian sentiment.

In November 2013 a Jewish Tribune reporter challenged May over her planned participation in a fundraiser for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CPJME). Apparently thinking the interview wouldn’t be read outside pro-Israel circles, May told the Tribune CJPME was “anti-Israel” and noted she recently attended a recent Jewish National Fund fundraiser, even lauding “the great work that’s [the JNF] done in making the desert bloom.” (An explicitly racist institution, the JNF has helped dispossess Palestinians and Judaize historically Arab areas.)

May’s comments sparked a pro-Palestinian backlash that jolted the party’s only member of parliament and pushed the party towards a better position on the issue. A few months later, the party adopted a resolution critical of Israeli expansionism and when party President Paul Estrin published an anti-Palestinian screed in the midst of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, he was forced to resign.

In a sign of the growing power of the Palestine solidarity movement, at the August convention members ignored May’s vociferous opposition to the BDS resolution. May responded by threatening to resign if the party didn’t revisit the issue and organizing a special general membership meeting to reconsider the issue. A month after the convention she fired three members of her shadow cabinet for defending the party’s recently passed policy from attacks by the head of the British Columbia Greens.

In response to May’s authoritarian, anti-Palestinian, moves, party activists organized aggressively for this weekend’s special general meeting. The author of the resolution and ousted Green justice critic, Dmitri Lascaris, spoke at 18 townhall meetings across country. Support for the Palestine policy was overwhelming and drew many new individuals to the party. Facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the special meeting, which would have all but forced her to resign, May backed a “consensus resolution” that strengthened support for Palestinian rights, but eliminated explicit support for BDS.

Though she’s unable to control members’ position on this issue, May can shape what the public learns about it. In conjunction with a pro-Israel press, she has worked to downplay the depth of Green support for Palestinian liberation.

Notwithstanding the “two steps forward one step back” character of the struggle within the Green Party, their recent vote puts pressure on the NDP. Alongside Yann Martel, Rawi Hage, Bruce Cockburn, Richard Parry and numerous high profile lefties, the former head of the Ontario Federation of Labour Sid Ryan signed a recent appeal to Green Party of Canada members “not to succumb to political pressure to weaken or reverse [their] vote to support Palestinian rights.”

Sid Ryan for NDP Leader, a website encouraging him to run for the head of the party, notes: “Sid Ryan’s advocacy for the Palestinian people, starting in his days in CUPE where he endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, shows that an NDP leader could muster broad support for a process where Canada is non-aligned, expresses solidarity with Palestinians and other oppressed nations in the Global South, and champions a foreign policy based on peace, democracy, social justice and human rights.”

No matter who wins the campaign to become NDP leader in October, it’s hard to imagine they will be as hostile to Palestinians as outgoing leader Tom Mulcair  — who once said “I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances.”

The Canadian Jewish News is already fretting over the new NDP leader. With a change in NDP leadership on the horizon, the Green vote will sting. Rather than forcing members to cower, Israel nationalists’ attacks focused attention on the Green campaign and helped solidify the most significant pro-Palestinian victory in Canadian political history — notwithstanding May’s effort to obscure it.

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