Tag Archives: foreign policy

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.

Advertisements

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

Filed under A Propaganda System

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.

Comments Off on Undermining Venezuela’s socialist government nothing new for Canada

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

Comments Off on Standing up for Palestine boosts Ashton’s popularity

Filed under Canada and Israel

Canada’s contribution to the Belgian Congo holocaust

Canada’s 150th anniversary offers a unique opportunity to shed light on some darker corners of Canadian history. One of the dustier chapters is our contribution to one of the most barbarous regimes of the last century and a half.

In a bid to extract rubber and other commodities from his personal colony, Belgian King Léopold II instituted a brutal system of forced labour in the late 1800s. Individuals and communities were given rubber collection quotas that were both hard to fulfill and punishable by death. To prove they killed someone who failed to fulfill a quota soldiers from the Force Publique, the colonial police, were required to provide a severed hand. With Force Publique officers paid partly based on the number collected, severed hands became a sort of currency in the colony and baskets of hands the symbol of the Congo Free State.

Between 1891 and 1908 millions died from direct violence, as well as the starvation and disease, caused by Leopold II’s terror. A quarter of the population may have died during Leopold’s reign, which sparked a significant international solidarity movement that forced the Belgian government to intervene and buy the colony.

Halifax’s William Grant Stairs played an important part in two expeditions that expanded Leopold II’s immensely profitable Congolese venture. The Royal Military College of Canada trained soldier was one of 10 white officers in the first-ever European expedition to cross the interior of the continent and subsequently Stairs led an expedition that added 150,000 square kilometres to Leopold’s colony.

In 1887 Stairs joined the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, which was ostensibly designed to “rescue” the British-backed governor of Equatoria, the southern part of today’s South Sudan. Scottish merchant William MacKinnon asked famed American ‘explorer’ Henry Morton Stanley to lead a relief effort. At the time of the expedition Léopold II employed Stanley, who had been helping the king carve out the ‘Congo Free State’. Seeing an opportunity to add to his colony, Leopold wanted Stanley to take a circuitous route all the way around South Africa, up the Congo River and across the interior of the continent.

One of ten whites, Stairs quickly became second-in-command of the three-year expedition. Read from a humanistic or internationalist perspective, the RMC graduate’s diary of the disastrous expedition is incredibly damning. Or, as Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke put it, “Stairs’ account of his atrocities establishes that even Canadians, blinded by racism, can become swashbuckling mass murderers.”

Stairs’ extensive diary, which he asked to be published upon his and Stanley’s death, makes it clear that locals regularly opposed the mission. One passage notes, “the natives made a tremendous noise all night and canoes came close to us, the natives yelling frantically for us to go away” while another entry explains, “the natives destroyed their food rather than let it fall into the hands of the invaders.”

Stairs repeatedly admits to “ransacking the place”. A December 11, 1887 diary entry notes:

Out again at the natives, burned more houses and cut down more bananas; this time we went further up the valley and devastated the country there. In the afternoon [white officer, A. J. Mounteney] Jephson and I went up to some high hills at the back of the camp and burnt all we could see, driving off a lot of natives like so much game. I managed to capture some six goats and yesterday I also got six, which we gave to the men. The natives now must be pretty sick of having their property destroyed in the way we are doing, but it serves them right as they were the aggressors and after taking our cloth, fired on us.

On a number of occasions the expedition displayed mutilated bodies or severed heads as a “warning” to the locals. Stairs notes:

I often wonder what English people would say if they knew of the way in which we go for these natives; friendship we don’t want as then we should get very little meat and probably have to pay for the bananas. Every male native capable of using the bow is shot. This, of course, we must do. All the children and women are taken as slaves by our men to do work in the camps.

Stairs led numerous raiding parties to gather “carriers”, which were slaves in all but name. According to The Last Expedition, “[the mission] routinely captured natives, either to be ransomed for food, to get information, or simply to be used as guides for a few days.”

To cross the continent the expedition relied on its superior firepower, which included the newly created 600-bullet-per-minute Maxim gun. Stairs describes one battle, stating that his men were “ready to land and my Maxim ready to murder them if they should dare to attack us.” On another day the firearm aficionado explained, “I cleaned the Maxim gun up thoroughly and fired some 20 or 30 rounds at some howling natives on the opposite bank.” Twenty months into the mission Stairs coyly admits “by what means have we traveled over 730 miles of country from the Congo to the lake? Why by rifle alone, by shooting and pillaging.”

Beyond the immediate death and destruction, the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition opened new areas of the African interior to Arab slave traders and it is thought to be the source of a sleeping sickness epidemic that ravaged the region. The expedition was also devastating for its participants. With little food and much abuse from the white officers, only 253 of the 695 African porters and soldiers who started the mission survived. Additionally, hundreds of other Africans who became part of the expedition at later stages died as well.

There are disturbing claims that some white officers took sex slaves and in one alarming instance even paid to have an 11-year-old girl cooked and eaten. This story scandalized the British public.

For his part, Stairs became almost pathologically inhumane. His September 28, 1887 diary entry notes:

It was most interesting, lying in the bush and watching the natives quietly at their days work; some women were pounding the bark of trees preparatory to making the coarse native cloth used all along this part of the river, others were making banana flower by pounding up dried bananas, men we could see building huts and engaged at other such work, boys and girls running about, singing, crying, others playing on a small instrument common all over Africa, a series of wooden strips, bent over a bridge and twanged with the thumb and forefinger. All was as it was every day until our discharge of bullets, when the usual uproar of screaming of women took place.

Even with some criticizing the expedition in Britain, Stairs’ efforts were celebrated in Canada. An honouring committee established by the mayor of Halifax decided to give him a sword made in London of Nova Scotia steel and the city organized a reception attended by the Lieutenant-Governor with a military band playing “Here the Conquering Hero Comes.”

Within two years of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition Stairs helped King Leopold II conquer the resource-rich Katanga region of the Congo. Suggested to Leopold by British investors and having already impressed Stanley with his brutality, Stairs headed up a heavily armed mission that swelled to 2,000.

The goal of the expedition was to extend Leopold’s authority over the Katanga region and to get a piece of the copper, ivory and gold trade. Stairs’ specific objective was to get Msiri, the ruler of the region, “to submit to the authorities of the Congo Free State, either by persuasion or by force.” In his diary Stairs says more or less as much, writing that his goals were “above all, to be successful with regard to Msiri … to discover mines in Katanga that can be exploited … to make some useful geographic discoveries.” Investigating the area’s suitability for European settlement and for raising domestic animals were other aims of the mission.

As leader of the mission Stairs prepared a daily journal for the Compagnie du Katanga. It details the terrain, resources and inhabitants along the way as well as other information that could assist in exploiting the region. It also explains his personal motivations for taking on the task despite spotty health. “I wasn’t happy [garrisoned with the Royal Engineers in England] in the real sense of the word. I felt my life passing without my doing anything worthwhile. Now I am freely making my way over the coastal plain with more than 300 men under my orders. My least word is law and I am truly the master.” Later, he describes his growing force and power. “I have thus, under my orders, 1350 men — quite a little army.”

Stairs admitted to using slaves even though Leopold’s mission to the Congo was justified as a humanistic endeavour to stop the Arab slave trade. He wrote about how “the anti-slavery society will try and jump upon me for employing slaves as they seem to think I am doing… however, I don’t fancy these will disturb me to a great extent.” The RMC graduate also regularly severed hands and reportedly collected the head of an enemy.

The expedition accomplished its principal objective. Stairs had Msiri killed and threatened Msiri’s brothers with the same fate unless they accepted Leopold as sovereign. After securing their submission Stairs divided the kingdom between Msiri’s adopted son and brothers.

Stairs used a series of racist rationalizations to justify conquering Katanga. He describes the population as “unfortunate blacks who, very often, are incapable of managing their own affairs” and asked in the introduction of his diary: “Have we the right to take possession of this vast country, take it out of the hands of its local chiefs and to make it serve the realization of our goals? … To this question, I shall reply positively, yes. What value would it have [the land he was trying to conquer] in the hands of blacks, who, in their natural state, are far more cruel to one another than the worst Arabs or the wickedest whites.”

At another point Stairs cites another standard colonial justification: “Only rarely do the natives think of improving their lot — that’s the great weakness among the Africans. Their fathers’ ways are theirs and their own customs will be those of their sons and grandsons.”

While Stairs died in the Congo his exploits were lauded in Ottawa when Senator W.J. Macdonald sought to move “a parliamentary resolution expressing satisfaction for Stairs’ manly conduct.” There’s a Stairs Street in Halifax and two brass plaques honour him at the RMC (one for Stairs alone and another dedicated to him and two others). The main plaque reads: “William Grant Stairs, Captain the Welsh Regiment. Born at Halifax Nova Scotia 1 July 1863. Lieutenant Royal Engineers 1885-91. Served on the staff of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition 1887 under the leadership of H.M. Stanley and exhibited great courage and devotion to duty. Died of fever on the 9 June 1892 at Chinde on the Zambesi whilst in command of the Katanga Expedition sent out by the King of the Belgians.” Another plaque was erected for Stairs (and two others) at St. George Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario. And a few hundred kilometers to the southwest “Stair’s Island” was named in his honour in Parry Sound.

Stairs was one of hundreds of Canadians who helped conquer different parts of Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Accounts of Canada’s first 150-years are incomplete without this chapter in our history.

Comments Off on Canada’s contribution to the Belgian Congo holocaust

Filed under Canada in Africa

Dallaire does not deserve accolades from progressive organizations

Repeat after me: Roméo Dallaire is not progressive. And paying Dallaire to speak at your meeting does not further the cause of international peace and a just system of international relations.

I was reminded yet again of how many supposed “progressive” organizations seem confused about Dallaire and what he represents after learning he and Irwin Cotler were the keynote speakers at a recent human rights forum. As it was about to begin I interjected to tell attendees that these two former politicians don’t deserve the label “human rights champions”. While I mentioned Cotler’s endless apologetics for Israeli belligerence, my focus was the famed general’s support for the “Butcher of Africa’s Great Lakes” region, Paul Kagame.

Conference cosponsor Amnesty International – and many progressive Canadians – consider Dallaire an internationalist, humanist, “hero” (The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Canadian Auto Workers and Unifor have all given awards or a convention platform to Dallaire.) But, this ignores a background rooted in an authoritarian institution and his pro–military/imperial positions.

A retired general, Dallaire is the son of a military man (his son and father-in-law are also military men). Before his 1993 deployment to Rwanda, which he said at the time he couldn’t find on a map, “his defence knowledge was predicated almost exclusively on the needs of the NATO alliance”, according to biographer Carol Off. Aren’t progressives usually reticent of the international outlook of those close to NATO and the military command?

Beyond his background, Dallaire has taken numerous positions hard to align with championing international human rights:

  • Dallaire opposed calls to withdraw Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan, saying they should stay until the job is done.
  • Dallaire has called for increased military spending.
  • Dallaire is a proponent of Canada joining US Ballistic Missile Defence.
  • Dallaire spoke alongside Paul Kagame, who runs a North Korea style dictatorship, in February 2016  (among other occasions). In 2004 Dallaire described Kagame as an “extraordinary man.”
  • Dallaire regularly speaks to Israeli nationalist groups and repeated their claims about the “genocidal intent of the Iranian state”. At a 2011 Senate inquiry looking at the plight of the Baha’i in Iran, he claimed “the similarities with what I saw in Rwanda are absolutely unquestionable, equal and, in fact, applied with seemingly the same verve. We are witnessing a slow-motion rehearsal for genocide.”
  • Dallaire argued that Canada should have secured Baghdad before the 2003 US invasion, according to an October 2006 Edmonton Journal article titled “Canada should have led Iraq invasion, Dallaire says” (but he did not want Canada to participate in the actual US-led coalition).
  • Dallaire said Canadian air strikes in Iraq/Syria in 2014-16 weren’t sufficient. “There is no way that you will destroy that enemy without boots on the ground,” he said.
  • Dallaire supported the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, according to the Montreal Gazette. In a story five days after the Canadian backed coup titled “Dallaire fears new Rwanda disaster in Haiti: Ex-UN commander urges Canada to act”, the former General said, “anywhere people are being abused, the world should be involved.
  • Comparing Darfur in the mid-2000s and Syria last year to Rwanda, Dallaire called for western intervention there.
  • Dallaire backed the 2011 NATO war on Libya. He said Gaddafi was “employing genocidal threats to ‘cleanse Libya house by house’”. After the war he complained we didn’t go in “forcefully enough … when Gaddafi said ‘I am going to crush these cockroaches and stay in power,’ those were exactly the words that the genociders in Rwanda used.”

The General is also an aggressive proponent of the liberal imperialist Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. Dallaire publicly promoted the Paul Martin government’s push to have the UN adopt R2P in 2005 and cited the doctrine to justify the 2011 NATO war on Libya. Dallaire is co-director of the Will to Intervene Project, which seeks to build “domestic political will in Canada and the United States to prevent future mass atrocities.” But the architects of W2I don’t mean the “political will” to stop Washington from spurring “mass atrocities” à la Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Korea etc. Human rights rhetoric aside, W2I is an outgrowth of the R2P doctrine, which was used to justify the 2011 NATO war in Libya and 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for a more aggressive military posture, the more liberal supporters of imperialism prefer a high-minded ideological mask to accomplish the same end. W2I is one such tool.

For many Dallaire embodies R2P and his name has been invoked to justify imperialist interventions. On January 31, 2003, Liberal Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Denis Paradis organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this two-day assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials discussed removing Haiti’s elected president, re-creating the dreaded army and putting the country under UN trusteeship. To justify the government’s plans in Haiti, Paradis cited purported inaction in Rwanda and Dallaire’s personal breakdown thereafter. The minister told the March 15, 2003, issue of l’Actualité, which brought the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting to public attention, “I do not want to end up like Roméo Dallaire”, which was his reason why Canada needed to intervene in Haiti.

In the House of Commons debate after Haiti’s elected president and thousands of local officials were ousted in February 2004, Liberal MP and self-described human rights activist, David Kilgour, repeated the theme. “Canadians have much to learn from the experiences of General Roméo Dallaire in Rwanda. We must intervene when necessary and we must do so expeditiously and multilaterally. This is why I am delighted to hear that 450 Canadian troops are set to join U.S. forces in Haiti.”

To be fair, one should not blame an individual just because someone cites his name to justify a dastardly deed. Unless, of course, that individual has deliberately twisted the events in which he has participated in a way that aligns with those seeking an ideological cover to justify Western interventions (and a US backed dictatorship in Kigali). According to the standard narrative of the Rwandan Genocide, ethic enmity erupted in a pre-planned 100-day rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

Dallaire has propagated this wildly simplistic account of the tragedy that gripped Burundi and Rwanda in the mid-1990s. He has ignored the overwhelming evidence and logic that points to the RPF’s responsibility for blowing up the presidential plane that unleashed the mass killings in April 1994. Prior to the murder of the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and much of the Hutu-led Rwandan military command, Dallaire was seen as favouring the US-backed RPF in contravention of UN guidelines. In response to the general’s self-serving portrayal of his time in Rwanda, the overall head of the UN mission in Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, published Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks). Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, the 2005 book by the former Cameroon foreign minister claims the Canadian general backed the RPF and had little interest in their violence despite reports of summary executions in areas controlled by them.

To align with Kagame’s claim of a “conspiracy to commit genocide” Dallaire has changed his depiction of the Rwandan tragedy over the years. Just after leaving his post as UNAMIR force commander Dallaire replied to September 14, 1994 Radio Canada Le Point question by saying, “the plan was more political. The aim was to eliminate the coalition of moderates…. I think that the excesses that we saw were beyond people’s ability to plan and organize. There was a process to destroy the political elements in the moderate camp. There was a breakdown and hysteria absolutely…. But nobody could have foreseen or planned the magnitude of the destruction we saw.”

To a large extent the claim of a “conspiracy to commit genocide” rests on the much celebrated January 11, 1994, “genocide fax”. But, this fax Dallaire sent to the UN headquarters in New York is not titled, to quote International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda lawyer Christopher Black, “‘genocide’ or ‘killing’ but an innocuous ‘Request For Protection of Informant.’” The two-page “genocide fax”, as New Yorker reporter Philip Gourevitch dubbed it in 1998, was probably doctored a year after the mass killings in Rwanda ended. In a chapter devoted to the fax in Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Year Later, Edward Herman and David Peterson argue two paragraphs were added to a cable Dallaire sent to UN headquarters about a weapons cache and protecting an informant (Dallaire never personally met the informant). The two (probably) added paragraphs said the informant was asked to compile a list of Tutsi for possible extermination in Kigali and mentioned a plan to assassinate selected political leaders and Belgian peacekeepers.

Mission head Booh-Booh denies seeing this information and there’s no evidence Dallaire warned the Belgians of a plan to attack them, which later transpired. Finally, a response to the cable from UN headquarters the next day ignores the (probably added) paragraphs. Herman and Peterson make a compelling case that a doctored version of the initial cable was placed in the UN file on November 27, 1995, by British Colonel Richard M. Connaughton as part of a Kigali–London–Washington effort to prove a plan by the Hutu government to exterminate Tutsi.

Even if the final two paragraphs were in the original version, the credibility of the information would be suspect. Informant “Jean-Pierre” was not a high placed official in the defeated Hutu government, reports Robin Philpott in Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction. Instead, “Jean-Pierre” was a driver for an opposition political party, MRND, who later died fighting with Kagame’s RPF.

Incredibly, the “genocide fax” is the primary source of documentary record demonstrating UN foreknowledge of a Hutu “conspiracy” to “exterminate” Tutsi, a charge even the victors justice at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda failed to convict anyone of. According to Herman and Peterson, “when finding all four defendants not guilty of the ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ charge, the [ICTR] trial chamber [known as Military I] also dismissed the evidence provided by ‘informant Jean-Pierre’ due to ‘lingering questions concerning [his] reliability.’”

At the end of their chapter tracing the history of the “genocide fax” Herman and Peterson write, “if all of this is true, we would suggest that Dallaire should be regarded as a war criminal for positively facilitating the actual mass killings of April-July, rather than taken as a hero for giving allegedly disregarded warnings that might have stopped them.”

During a 2003 Parliamentary debate Liberal Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aileen Carroll, and former NDP leader Alexa McDonough both complained that Conservative MP Chuck Strahl had disrespected Dallaire (he hadn’t). In response Strahl said, he “is a man admired by all Canadians and I am among them.”

 

Not all of us. Count this Canadian as someone who does not admire Dallaire.

Comments Off on Dallaire does not deserve accolades from progressive organizations

Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada in Africa