Tag Archives: Harjit Sajjan

Is Canada’s Minister of Defence an Arms Pusher?

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Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan

Would it surprise you to learn that Canada’s minister of defence is an arms pusher?

Last Friday members of Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix interrupted a $135-a-plate luncheon to confront defence minister Harjit Sajjan. At an event sponsored by SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Rio Tinto, etc., we called for cutting military spending, for Canada to withdraw from NATO and an end to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

While Sajjan’s responsibility for NATO and military spending are straightforward, his role in fueling the Saudi led war in Yemen is less obvious. But, the Department of National Defence (DND) plays a substantial role in Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

As he did the last three years, Sajjan is set to speak at the CANSEC arms bazar in Ottawa later this month. For more than two decades the annual Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) conference has brought together representatives of arms companies, DND, Canadian Forces (CF), various other arms of the federal government and dozens of foreign governments. In 2018 more than 11,000 people attended the two-day conference, including 16 MPs and senators and many generals and admirals.

The corporation supplying Saudi Arabia with more than $10 billion in Light Armoured Vehicles produces the same LAVs for the CF. In a 2012 Canadian Military History article Frank Maas writes, “the CF has continued to purchase LAVs because they have been successful in the field, and they support a domestic producer, General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS-C), that cooperates closely with the military.” GDLS’ London, Ontario, operations exist largely because of interventionist military industrial policy. A 2013 Federal government report on “Leveraging Defence Procurement Through Key Industrial Capabilities” lists GDLS as one of three “Canadian Defence Industry Success Stories.”

Beyond contracts, subsidies and various other forms of support to Canadian weapons makers, DND has long promoted arms exports. Its website highlights different forms of support to arms exporters. “Learn how the Department of National Defence can assist in connecting Canadian industry to foreign markets”, explains one section. Another notes: “Learn how the Department of National Defence keeps Canadian companies informed of business opportunities at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”

Based in 30 diplomatic posts around the world (with cross-accreditation to many neighbouring countries), Canadian Defence Attachés promote military exports. According to DND’s website, Defence Attachés assist “Canadian defence manufacturers in understanding and accessing foreign defence markets … facilitate Canadian industry access to relevant officials within the Ministries of Defence of accredited countries … support Canadian industry at key defence industry events in accredited countries … raise awareness in accredited countries of Canadian defence industrial capabilities … provide reports on accredited country defence budget information, items of interest, and trade issues to Canadian industry.”

Representatives of DND often talk up Canadian military equipment as part of delegations to international arms fairs such as the UK’s Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition. According to a FrontLine Defence story titled “Representing Canada in the UAE IDEX”, representatives of DND helped 50 Canadian arms companies flog their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in February. To help the companies move their wares at the largest arms fair in the Middle East, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX.

International ports visits by naval frigates are sometimes designed to spur arms sales. Lieutenant Bruce Fenton writes, “Canadian warships can serve as venues for trade initiatives, as examples of Canadian technology, and as visible symbols of Canadian interest in a country or region. In countries where relationships are built over time, as is the case with many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, a visit by a Canadian warship can be an important part of a dialogue that can lead to commercial opportunities for Canadian industry.”

To get a sense of the interaction between the various components of the military industrial complex, the FrontLine Defence story detailing Canada’s participation in IDEX was written by Brett Boudreau. His byline notes that he “is a retired CAF Colonel, a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and former Director of Marketing and Communications at CADSI.” Boudreau’s trajectory — from the CF, to arms industry spokesperson, to militarist think tank, to writing for a militarist publication — is a stark example of one individual moving through the various components of the military industrial complex. But Boudreau is not unique. It is common for retired CF and DND officials to take up arms industry posts, including senior positions. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sajjan ended up on the board of an arms company after he leaves politics.

Harjit Sajjan heads a ministry intimately tied to a globally oriented corporate weapons industry that profits from war. Is this something Canadians understand and support? Or would the majority of us be upset to learn their Minister of Defence is an arms pusher, promoting sales to anti-democratic, repressive regimes?

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Filed under Middle East, NATO

Canada gets cozy with repressive Middle East monarchies

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan was on a tour of the Middle East last week.

While Justin Trudeau’s government embraces repressive Middle East monarchies, they want us to believe their campaign to oust Venezuela’s government is motivated by support for democracy and human rights.

On a tour of the Middle East last week Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan met his United Arab Emirates counterpart Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi in Abu Dhabi. According to Emirates News Agency, Canadian and UAE officials discussed “cooperation  in the military and defence sectors” at a time when the oil rich nation plays a key role in the horrendous violence in Yemen.

The Trudeau government is promoting arm sales to the UAE and other regional monarchies. With support from “15 trade commissioners and representatives from the Government of Ontario, National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation”, 50 Canadian arms companies flogged their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in February. To help the arms companies move their wares, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX.

During his recent tour Sajjan met King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in Jordan. He discussed military cooperation with a monarch known for prosecuting individuals for “extending one’s tongue” (having a big mouth) against the King. At the end of March, Trudeau phoned King Abdullah II.

On April 9 the Canadian and Jordanian armed forces broke ground on a road project along the Jordanian-Syrian border. During a ceremony for the Canadian-funded initiative Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lieutenant General Michael Rouleau, said: “this important road rehabilitation project is a tangible example of the close relationship between Jordan and Canada. It will help keep the people of Jordan safe by allowing the Jordanian armed forces to deter, monitor and interdict incursions along the northern border with Syria, which will help to enhance security in Jordan and in the region.”

On his Middle East tour Sajjan also met Kuwait’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who is part of a family that has ruled for 250 years. According to the Kuwait News Agency, Canada’s defence minister “stressed deep relations between Kuwait and Canada and pointed out mutual willingness to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.”

Earlier in the month finance minister Bill Morneau and Parliamentary Secretary Omar Alghabra participated in the inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”

Military ties with Kuwait are important because the Canadian forces have a small base there. In December the Canadian Navy took command of Combined Task Force 150 from their Saudi counterparts. Canada also has a small number of troops in the monarchies of Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar.

Last month Canada’s Ambassador to Qatar Stefanie McCollum boasted of growing relations between the countries, claiming “our values structures are very similar.” In an interview with Al Bawaba the Canadian diplomat also said Ottawa is seeking to deepen business ties with the natural gas rich monarchy and that the two countries are in the final stage of signing a defence cooperation agreement.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic spat last summer, the Trudeau government has mostly continued business as usual with the most powerful and repressive monarchy in the region. Recently foreign minister Chrystia Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada — presumably with help from the embassy — to avoid sexual assault charges in Cape Breton. While Freeland told reporters that Global Affairs was investigating the matter, Halifax Chronicle Herald journalist Aaron Beswick’s Access to Information request suggests they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

According to an access request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January. In briefing notes for the (unannounced) discussion Freeland was encouraged to tell her counterpart (under the headline “points to register” regarding Yemen): “Appreciate the hard work and heavy lifting by the Saudis and encourage ongoing efforts in this regard.”

Despite their devastating war in Yemen and dismembering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia continues to receive large shipments of Canadian weaponry. 2018 was a record year for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. $17.64 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom last year and another $1.896 million worth of guns were delivered in February. In the first month of this year Canada exported $367 million worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

As Fenton has documented in detail on his highly informative Twitter handle, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been repeatedly videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics – was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.

On Tuesday the Saudis beheaded 37 mostly minority Shiites. Ottawa waited 48 hours — after many other countries criticized the mass execution — to release a “muted” statement. The Trudeau government has stayed mum on the Saudi’s recent effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

The close and friendly relationships between the Trudeau government and repressive Middle East monarchies demonstrates how little the Liberals care about democracy abroad and illustrates the hypocrisy of Canada’s claims that its efforts to oust Venezuela’s government is all about supporting human rights and democracy.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Middle East

Racism a systemic problem in Canadian military

Anti-blackness is a significant problem in the Canadian Forces. For decades it was explicit and the institution evidently remains structurally racist.

Last month it was revealed that a white reservist who repeatedly called black soldiers “n…ers” would not face any disciplinary measures. The stated reason was that the individual, whose father is a senior reserve soldier, was “under a lot of pressure” during training. Incredibly, during the investigation Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan inquired about the treatment of the accused — not the victims — after the mother of the soldier who made the slurs complained to his office.

This recent case is not an isolated incident. In 2016 two black and one indigenous member of the CF sued over systemic racism. The former soldiers’ suit claimed that “derogatory slurs, racial harassment and violent threats are tolerated or ignored …. Victims of racism within the Canadian Forces are forced into isolation, subjected to further trauma and, in many cases, catapulted toward early release.”

One of those who launched the suit is Wallace Fowler who has detailed his experience of racism in a series of articles and a book titled Checkmate. In the early 2000s his daughter was spat on in school, a bus driver called his son a “n…ers” and his wife had bananas thrown at her at the Esquimalt, British Columbia, base where he was stationed. Fowler filed numerous official complaints, which were effectively ignored. Worse still, he faced retribution and an apparent cover-up, highlighting systemic racism in the CF.

Fowler’s experience took place not long after revelations of anti-blackness in the force came to light in the years after the 1992-93 Somali mission. Corporal Matt Mackay, a self-confessed neo-Nazi who declared he’d quit the white supremacist movement two years before going to Somalia, gleefully reported “we haven’t killed enough ‘n…ers’  yet.” Another Canadian soldier was caught on camera saying the Somalia intervention was called, “Operation Snatch Nig-nog.” The only black soldier in the Airborne Regiment deployed to Somalia, Lawrence Brathwaite, said he was told “black people are evil”, repeatedly called “boy” and a black officer was labeled “N.O.” (“n…er officer”).

Of course, the anti-blackness on display over the past quarter century pales in comparison to the first half of the last century. During World War I Black-Canadians seeking to fight in Europe faced a great deal of prejudice. In November 1915 the commander of the 104th Battalion released 17 black recruits. In response to criticism of this move, Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Fowler said, “I have been fortunate to have secured a very fine class of recruits, and I did not think it fair to these men that they should have to mingle with negroes.”

Chief of the General Staff, General W.G. Gwatkin, opposed African Canadian enlistment. In the midst of a recruiting crisis in April 1916 he wrote: “The civilized negro is vain and imitative; in Canada he is not impelled to enlist by a high sense of duty; in the trenches he is not likely to make a good fighter.”

After two years of campaigning to be allowed to join, the military authorized a black construction battalion in July 1916. The Nova Scotia raised battalion was under the command of white officers. Not allowed to fight or attend recreational activities with other CF units, they cut lumber, dug trenches and built huts. Some government officials wrote “nigger” on their documents.

In the interwar period the black community in Nova Scotia was largely excluded from the militia. A survey of 14 militia units in the 1930s found that none wanted black personnel, calling instead for the formation of coloured units or sub-units.

For most of the first half of the 1900s Navy and Air Force racism was codified (though local recruiters sometimes failed to follow official policy, and it was removed and reinstated depending upon public relations and institutional needs). Responsible for Canada’s nascent naval forces, Britain’s “Regulations for the Entry of Naval Cadets” in 1906 said, “candidates must be of pure European descent.” In 1938 the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) initiated exclusionary policies, which Cabinet quickly approved. The policy required recruits to be of “Pure European Descent and of the White Race.”

Three years later the RCAF’s deputy director of manning in the personnel branch at headquarters, H.P. Crabb, issued a clarification letter to all recruiting offices regarding “Orientals and Negro applicants”. It stated, “only those of European descent will be accepted for appointment or enlistment in Aircrew.” In other words, black and Asian applicants could enlist but they were only eligible for less prestigious ground duty positions.

At the start of 1946 the RCAF reinstated the requirement that applications from black, “Oriental”, and “former enemy aliens” be forwarded to headquarters for approval. Denying there were restrictions placed upon the eligibility of “coloured applicants”, the Chief of the Air Staff claimed“coloured” applications had to be sent to headquarters to “carefully scrutinize” whether the applicant could “mix” with whites, which was “for the protection and future welfare of the applicant.” The policy was still employed by the RCAF in 1956.

Even after the end of openly racist enlistment policies, sought-after ranks in the RCAF and RCN, as well as the army, were reserved for white men. It wasn’t until 2016, for instance, that a black person captained a sea-going RCN vessel.

The CF has largely failed to recognize its history of racist enlistment policies. There has not been an official apology, let alone affirmative action policies to correct the injustice.

As the force’s seeming indifference to a reservist’s slurs suggests, anti-blackness remains a significant issue in the Canadian Forces.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy