Tag Archives: imperialism

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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Canada no friend of Haiti or rest of Caribbean

Can cute Canadian Caribbean dreams about enchanted islands come true? Or is reality more complicated and Canada a far less benign actor than we imagine ourselves to be?

In a recent Boston Globe opinion titled “Haiti should relinquish its sovereignty”, Boston College professor Richard Albert writes, “the new Haitian Constitution should do something virtually unprecedented: renounce the power of self-governance and assign it for a term of years, say 50, to a country that can be trusted to act in Haiti’s long-term interests.” According to the Canadian constitutional law professor his native land, which Albert calls “one of Haiti’s most loyal friends”, should administer the Caribbean island nation.

Over the past 15 years prominent Canadian voices have repeatedly promoted “protectorate status” for Haiti. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go” and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Four months after Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government Prime Minister Paul Martin reaffirmed his government’s desire to keep Haiti under long-term foreign control. “Fragile states often require military intervention to restore stability”, said Martin at a private meeting of “media moguls” in Idaho. Bemoaning what he considered the short-term nature of a previous intervention, the prime minister declared “this time, we have got to stay [in Haiti] until the job is done properly.”

A few months later a government-funded think tank, home to key Haiti policy strategists, elaborated a detailed plan for foreigners to run the country. According to the Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) plan for Haiti’s future, commissioned by Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the country’s different ministries would fall under Canadian oversight. Québec’s ministry of education, for instance, would oversee Haiti’s education system. The FOCAL plan put Haiti’s environment ministry under Canadian federal government supervision.

FOCAL’s proposal was made after the 2004 US/France/Canada coup weakened Haiti’s democratic institutions and social safety network, spurring thousands of violent deaths and a UN occupation that later introduced cholera to the country. Irrespective of the impact of foreign intervention, colonialists’ solution to Haiti’s problems is to further undermine Haitian sovereignty.

Haiti is but one piece of the Caribbean that Canadians’ have sought to rule. Earlier this year NDP MP Erin Weir asked if Canada should incorporate “the Turks and Caicos Islands into Confederation.” Weir echoed an idea promoted by NDP MP Max Saltzman in the 1970s, Conservative MP Peter Goldring through the 2000s and an NDP riding association three years ago. A resolution submitted to the party’s 2014 convention noted, “New Democrats Believe in: Engaging with the peoples and government of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British government to have the Turks and Caicos Islands become Canada’s 11th Province.” As I discuss in the current issue of Canadian Dimension magazine, leftists have long supported the expansion of Canadian power in the region.

In a 300-page thesis titled “Dreams of a Tropical Canada: Race, Nation, and Canadian Aspirations in the Caribbean Basin, 1883-1919” Paula Pears Hastings outlines the campaign to annex territory in the region. “Canadians of varying backgrounds campaigned vigorously for Canada-West Indies union”, writes Hastings. “Their aspirations were very much inspired by a Canadian national project, a vision of a ‘Greater Canada’ that included the West Indies.”

Canada’s sizable financial sector in the region played an important part in these efforts. 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.”

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. Ottawa was unsuccessful in securing the British Caribbean partly because the request did not find unanimous domestic support. Prime Minister Robert Borden was of two minds on the issue. From London he dispatched a cable noting, “the responsibilities of governing subject races would probably exercise a broadening influence upon our people as the dominion thus constituted would closely resemble in its problems and its duties the empire as a whole.” But, on the other hand, Borden feared that the Caribbean’s black population might want to vote. He remarked upon “the difficulty of dealing with the coloured population, who would probably be more restless under Canadian law than under British control and would desire and perhaps insist upon representation in Parliament.”

Proposing Canada acquire Turks and Caicos or rule Haiti may be outlandish, but it’s not benign. These suggestions ignore Caribbean history, foreign influence in the region and whitewash the harm Ottawa has caused there. Even worse, they enable politicians’ to pursue ever more aggressive policies in the region.

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

Canada should apologize for its role in colonizing Palestine

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a crass expression of colonial thought that Canada helped realize.

Just before capturing Jerusalem in late 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour proclaimed support for a Jewish homeland on land occupied mostly by Muslim and Christian Palestinians. In a letter to Walter Rothschild and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain, Balfour wrote, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.” Balfour later explained his thinking: “In Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. … The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

At war with the crumbling Ottoman Empire, in January 1916 Britain and France signed a secret accord to divvy up the Ottoman-controlled Middle East. Fresh from leading the First World War Anglo-French conquest of German West Africa, Québec City-born Lt-Gen. Charles Macpherson Dobell commanded a force that attempted to seize Gaza during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. As many as 400 Canadians (about half recruited specifically for the task) also fought in British General Edmund Allenby’s Jewish Legion that helped conquer modern day Israel/Palestine. The Federation of Zionist Societies of Canada mobilized Jews to join Allenby’s Jewish Legion, which won sometimes beleaguered Jewish communities’ praise.

During the two decades after the Balfour Declaration, the British empire provided the Zionist movement with the necessary protective umbrella to thrive. Spurred on by British support, between 1919 and 1921, Canadians raised $458,000 ($5.8 million in 2016 dollars) to support projects colonizing Palestine. At the end of the 1920s, Canadians raised $1 million for a Jewish National Fund project to pay an absentee landlord in France for 7500 acres of coastal territory between Haifa and Tel Aviv, which would displace over 1,000 (mostly nomadic) Bedouin whose descendants had lived on the land for hundreds of years. Citizens of a British dominion, elite Canadian Jews were more active Zionists than their U.S. counterparts during this period.

Many Canadian political leaders were over- joyed by the Balfour Declaration. Several years after the First World War, Conservative Party leader Arthur Meighen, a Christian Zionist, claimed, “of all the results of the (war), none was more important and more fertile in human history than the reconquest of Palestine and the rededication of that country to the Jewish people.” A dozen years later, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett told a coast to-coast radio broadcast for the launch of the United Palestine Appeal that the Balfour Declaration and the British conquest of Palestine represented the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies.

Three decades after the release of the declaration, Canada’s representative on the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which was dis- patched to the region to propose a solution for the British mandate, challenged members of UNSCOP who failed to recognize the legitimacy of the Balfour Declaration. In response to criticism of his proposal to give the Zionist movement a larger piece of land than they officially requested, Canadian Supreme Court justice Ivan C. Rand argued “that since Britain had not fulfilled its obligations to the Jews, they deserved to be compensated by the United Nations.”

The Palestinian Authority and over 100,000 Brits recently petitioned London to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. The centennial is also a good time to mark Canada’s contribution to Palestinians’ loss.

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension.

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Filed under Canada and Israel

UN ends occupation of Haiti, but legacy of abuse remains

Last week the UN Security Council finally voted to end its military occupation of Haiti. Instigated by the US, France and Canada, it has been responsible for countless abuses during the past 13 years.

At the same time as the Security Council voted to draw down its military force (a police contingent will remain), the Associated Press published an in-depth investigation confirming widespread sexual abuse by UN troops in Haiti. The foreign soldiers had sex with minors, sodomized boys and raped young girls. An internal UN report uncovered by AP implicated 134 Sri Lankan troops in a sex ring that exploited nine children from 2004 to 2007. None of the MINUSTAH soldiers were imprisoned.

In early 2012 video footage came to light of five Uruguayan soldiers sexually assaulting an 18-year old Haitian. In that case as well the soldiers were sent home, but no one was punished.

At the time Haïti Liberté complained, “there are also almost monthly cases of UN soldiers sexually assaulting Haitian minors, all of which have gone unpunished.” According to the Status Forces Agreement signed between the UN and Haiti’s 2004-06 coup government, MINUSTAH is not subject to Haitian laws. At worst, soldiers are sent home for trial. Despite committing countless crimes, very few MINUSTAH soldiers have ever been held to account at home.

Beyond sexual abuse, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which has left 10,000 dead and nearly 1 million ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti recklessly discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the water-borne disease into the country. Even after the deadly cholera outbreak, UN forces were caught disposing sewage into waterways Haitians drank from. While they partly apologised for introducing cholera to the country, the UN has failed to compensate the victims of its recklessness or even spend the sums needed to eradicate the disease.

Imagine if the UN was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian lawyer, told AP. “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

These abuses aren’t an unfortunate outgrowth of a well-meaning peacekeeping effort. Rather, MINUSTAH was established to consolidate the US, France and Canada’s anti-democratic policies and usurp Haitian sovereignty.

As former Haitian soldiers swept through the country killing police officers in February 2004, the UN Security Council ignored the elected government’s request for peacekeepers to restore order in a country without an army. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) called upon the Security Council to deploy an emergency military task force to assist the elected government and on February 26, three days before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal, the Organization of American States’ permanent council asked the UN Security Council to, “take all the necessary and appropriate urgent measures to address the deteriorating situation in Haiti.” This appeal for assistance was flatly rejected by the world’s most powerful nations, but immediately after US/French/Canadian troops ousted the elected government the Security Council passed a motion calling for intervention to stabilize Haiti.

Immediately after US marines whisked Aristide from the country on February 29, 2004, 2000 US, French and Canadian soldiers were on the ground in Haiti. For years a Canadian led MINUSTAH’s police contingent and for six months 500 Canadian troops were part of the UN mission that backed up the coup government’s (2004-2006) violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. The UN force also killed dozens of civilians directly in pacifying Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for Aristide. The worst incident was on July 6, 2005 when 400 UN troops, backed by helicopters, entered the densely populated neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation. The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry, which fired “over 22,000 rounds of ammunition”, according to a US embassy file released through a Freedom of Information request. The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN initially claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme. (Graphic footage of victims dying on camera can be viewed in Kevin Piña’s Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.)

During the height of the violence Canadian diplomats pressured MINUSTAH to get tough. In early 2005 the head of the UN mission, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, told a congressional commission in Brazil that “we are under extreme pressure from the international community [specifically citing Canada, France and the US] to use violence.” Later Canadian Ambassador Claude Boucher openly called for greater UN violence in the pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil.

It is good UN soldiers will soon be removed from Haiti. Haitians, however, will continue to suffer the consequences of MINUSTAH for years.

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The plunder of Africa: A Canadian connection

As Black History Month draws to an end it is important to reflect on the European conquest of Africa. Is there a connection between colonial rule and the continent’s impoverishment today? Should the beneficiaries of European imperialism pay reparations or at least acknowledge the injustices committed?

When thinking about these questions it’s important to look at Canada’s contribution to this history. For example, few are aware that a Montréaler played a key role in expanding British colonial rule across Africa.

Sir Edouard Percy Girouard rose to fame by helping Britain conquer Sudan. The Royal Military College of Canada graduate and former Canadian Pacific Railway engineer oversaw the construction of two hard-to-build rail lines from southern Egypt towards Khartoum, allowing British forces to bypass 800 km of treacherous boating up the Nile. Able to transport ammunition and guns into Sudan, the British killed 11,000 and wounded 16,000 in the final battle at Omdurman (only forty-eight British/Egyptian soldiers died).

At an 1899 dinner in this city Canadian minister of militia Frederick Borden celebrated Girouard’s contribution to the slaughter in Sudan. “Major Girouard has added luster, not only to his own name, but also to Montréal, to the dominion of Canada.”

During the 1899 – 1902 Boer War Girouard was Director of Imperial Military Railways. Afterwards he became Commissioner of Railways for the Transvaal and Orange River colonies, which are now part of South Africa.

Girouard’s efficiency in the Sudan and South Africa impressed British under-secretary of state Winston Churchill who promoted the rail expert to high commissioner of Northern Nigeria in 1906. Two years later Girouard became governor of the colony, sparking a Toronto Globe headline that read: “Northern Nigeria: the country which a Canadian will rule”.

Girouard enjoyed lording over the 10 to 20 million Africans living in the 400,000 square mile territory. In a letter to his father, Girouard described himself as “a little independent king.”

The Montréal born “king” justified strengthening precolonial authority by stating, “if we allow the tribal authority to be ignored or broken, it will mean that we… shall be obliged to deal with a rabble, with thousands of persons in a savage or semi-savage state, all acting on their own impulses.”

Local chiefs provided forced labour to construct Girouard’s signature project, a 550-km railway stretching from the city of Kano to the port of Baro. Designed to strengthen Britain’s grip over the interior of the colony, the rail line also provided cheap cotton for the textile industry in England.

After Northern Nigeria, Girouard became governor of British East Africa from 1909 to 1912. Girouard’s unchecked zeal for efforts to turn today’s Kenya into a “white man’s country” eventually prompted the Colonial Office to relieve him of his duties. When a prominent British settler confessed to the murder of an African suspected of stealing a sheep, a white jury rejected the judge’s counsel and acquitted the killer after five minutes of deliberation. London wanted the assailant deported, fearing political fallout in the UK from the judicial farce. Girourd not only refused to condemn the murder and the jury’s decision, he attempted to block the deportation.

Girouard’s indifference to this crime caused a rift with London, but it was his underhanded abrogation of the sole treaty the East African protectorate had ever signed with an African tribe that spurred his political demise. Weakened by disease and confronting an ascendant Britain, in 1904 the Masai agreed to give up as much as two thirds of their land. In exchange, the cattle rearing, semi-nomadic people were assured the fertile Laikipia Plateau for “so long as the Masai as a race shall exist.” By Girouard and Britain’s odd calculation, the agreement expired fewer than seven years later. About 10,000 Masai, with 200,000 cattle and 2 million sheep, were forced to march 150 km southward to a semiarid area near German East Africa. An unknown number of Masai and their livestock died on this “trail of tears”.

In Origins of European Settlement in Kenya, M. P. K. Sorensen describes the Montréaler’s effort to sell London on scrapping the agreement. “Girouard had to abrogate the 1904 Masai treaty and pretend to the Colonial Office that the Masai wanted to move south. At the same time he had to disguise the fact that he was acting in the interests of the settlers, some of whom had been promised land on Laikipia.” Girouard’s deception and abrogation of the treaty caused tensions with the Colonial Office, which would be his downfall.

The son of a long serving Member of Parliament and Supreme Court of Canada judge, Girouard remained honorary lieutenant colonel of the Chicoutimi-based 18th (Saguenay) regiment throughout his time in Africa. In 1903, Montreal Herald readers ranked Girouard seventh among “the tengreatest living Canadians.” A mountain in Banff National Park, as well as a plaque and building at the Royal Military College, are named in his honour. In 1985 the Gazette published an article headlined “Maybe Africa needs another Percy Girouard”.

Perhaps it is time to consider Girouard again, but in a less laudatory fashion.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Canada in Africa

Globe story ignores Bata’s (and Canada’s) colonialist past

An elitist, nationalist, bias dominates all areas of Canada’s paper of record.

On the front of last weekend’s Style section the Globe and Mail profiled Sonja Bata on turning 90. Business partner and wife of the deceased Thomas Bata, the Globe lauded Sonja for the “many contributions she has made to Canada”, including the Bata Shoe Museum and various other establishment “cultural, environmental and social causes.” The article touched on the shoemaker’s early history and described how she “traveled the world building a shoe empire – between 1946 and 1960, 25 new factories were built and 1700 Bata stores opened.”

While the three-page spread included an undated photo of Sonja and her husband on the “African continent”, it ignored how the Toronto-based shoe company took advantage of European rule to set up across the continent. By the end of the colonial era Bata had production or retail facilities in Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Senegal, Congo, Tanzania, Rhodesia and elsewhere. In the 1940s and 50s, notes Shoemaker with a Mission, “the organization’s expansion was especially great in francophone Africa. As Mr. Bata himself noted, there was no country in that part of the world where his company was not established as the number-one supplier of footwear.” While “Mr. Bata” may not be the most objective source on the shoemaker, a government study just after independence found the company controlled 70% of the footwear market in British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania).

In a 1974 Saturday Night article titled “Canadians Too, Can Act like Economic Imperialists”, Steve Langdon describes the company’s operations in Kenya: “Bata seems to be undercutting decentralized rural development in Kenya, to be blocking African advance in other areas, and to be throwing its weight around politically — all at a handsome profit.” In a bid to subvert the establishment of a domestic competitor, the Toronto-based multinational wrote its overseas suppliers to discourage sales to its challenger and asked Kenyan government officials to intervene on its behalf.

Bata’s mechanized production methods squeezed out indigenous footwear producers all the while increasing imports of plastics and machinery, which came at the expense of local materials (leather) and employment. In the 1975 article Canada’s Relations with Africa Robert Matthews notes that Bata drained “money and opportunity from poor rural areas” to the benefit of a small group of locals and the Toronto head office.

When the post-independence Tanzanian government announced that it would acquire a 60 percent share of a multitude of major foreign firms Bata was the only hold out. The Toronto firm attempted to sabotage Tanzania’s push to acquire a controlling interest in the local company’s operations. In Underdevelopment and Nationalization: Banking in Tanzania James H. Mittelman explains: “Bata Shoes (a Canadian-based concern), for example, ran down stocks, removed machinery, supplied imperfect items, and later withdrew all staff, supposedly closing down for annual repairs! The Company refused to relinquish more than 49 per cent of its controlling interests, tried to set up a new wholesaling operation dependent on its firm in Kenya, and urged other foreign investors to fight.”

Bata’s aggressive reaction to Tanzania’s efforts aimed to dissuade other newly independent African countries from following a similar path. The shoemaker no doubt feared for its significant operations across the continent.

Bata received Canadian government support as well. In mid-1973 the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi visited Uganda to ask Idi Amin if he would attend the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in Ottawa. But, the primary objective of the high commissioner’s meeting was to convince Amin to reverse his nationalization of Bata. A cable published by WikiLeaks read: “CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER OLIVIER MET WITH PRESIDENT AMIN JUNE 29 TO DISCUSS GOU TAKE-OVER OF BATA SHOE FIRM. AMIN REVERSED EARLIER DECISION AND ORDERED THAT A NEW PARTNERSHIP ARRANGEMENT (51 PERCENT BATA, 49 PERCENT GOU) BE WORKED OUT.”

Through the 1970s Bata worked under the white regime in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). It broke sanctions against Rhodesia by exporting goods manufactured there to South Africa. Even more controversial, it operated in apartheid South Africa until the late 1980s. The company broke unions and blocked black workers from semi-skilled, skilled and executive positions. Listed among the “hardline defenders of investment in South Africa” in Ambiguous Champion: Canada and South Africa in the Trudeau and Mulroney years, Bata faced an international boycott campaign. During this period Sonja Bata was quoted in the Canadian media justifying the company’s South African policy and Thomas Bata proclaimed “we expanded into Africa in order to sell shoes, not to spread sweetness and light.”

The Globe and Mail is exposing its elitist, nationalist, bias in ignoring Bata’s unsavory history.

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

Toronto mining firm gives Canada a bad name

The ‘Ugly Canadian’ strikes again.

Toronto-based Kinross Gold recently suspended work at its Tasiast mine to protest an order from Mauritania’s government that unpermitted ‘expatriates’ stop working on the massive project.

The lead foreign firm in the sparsely populated West African nation has been embroiled in a series of power struggles with its Mauritanian workforce. During a strike last month union officials complained about the gap in pay between locals and foreigners. “There are 2,600 Mauritanian workers employed by the firm of whom 1,041 are permanent, costing the company $36 million, while there are 130 expatriate employees who cost $43 million,” workers’ spokesperson Bounenna Ould Sidi told AFP. Further irritating its Mauritanian staff, Kinross mostly houses ‘expatriate’ managers outside the country, in the Canary Islands.

On three occasions over the past five years the mineworkers have withdrawn their labour in a bid to force the world’s fifth biggest gold mining company to respect previous commitments to improve their pay and conditions. In 2011 the local workforce was angered by the company’s refusal to transfer seriously ill employees to the capital Nouakchott. When Kinross laid off 300 workers at the end of 2013 the union claimed it was done in violation of the country’s labour law and that one of those dismissed was still receiving medical treatment for a workplace injury. Demanding government action, the laid-off workers protested outside the presidential palace in Nouakchott 300 km away. After a multi-day sit-in the police raided their makeshift camp, arresting a dozen and injuring a similar number.

In 2010 two Tasiast employees were arrested after dumping toxic waste in an inhabited area near the mine. There was no independent environmental assessment of the multibillion-dollar mine and the Toronto-based company failed to certify Tasiast under the International Cyanide Management Code, a voluntary agreement that allows companies to demonstrate their commitment to properly manage the poisonous substance.

As with many other Canadian mining companies in Africa, Kinross has paid the country little and was accused of corruption. Last fall the US Department of Justice (Kinross is listed on both the New York and Toronto stock exchanges) launched an investigation into “improper payments made to government officials” at Kinross’ operations in Mauritania and Ghana. MiningWatch Canada and French anti-corruption association Sherpa submitted a long report detailing allegations of bribery and corruption to the RCMP and called for the police force to investigate Kinross’ apparent breaches of Canadian anti-corruption laws at its Mauritanian and Ghanian mines. Adding to the Mining Watch/Sherpa report, France’s Le Monde quoted a former member of the company’s African legal department saying, “the level of corruption was becoming grotesque.”

In March the Globe and Mail revealed that Kinross gave a US $50 million contract to a French/Mauritanian partnership even though their bid wasn’t the lowest. The Mauritanian company was owned by a former top government official and an internal Kinross document noted the company “took into consideration the stated preference of officials of the Government of Mauritania that the logistics contract be awarded to” the French/Mauritanian consortium.

Allegations of bribery have been swirling around Kinross’ Mauritania operations for years. When President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz criticized the company’s meagre payments to the treasury in 2013, Kinross reportedly hired a couple of his cousins to important positions. A 2013 Africa Mining Intelligence article detailed the close familial and political ties between Kinross and Aziz, who came to power by overthrowing the country’s first elected president in 2008. (The brigadier general won an election the next year that most political parties boycotted.)

How does the federal government react to such behavior by a Canadian company? With praise. In a webpage titled CSR [corporate social responsibility] ABROAD – Anti-Corruption and Bribery Global Affairs Canada describes how “Kinross’ commitment to human rights is implemented” through its adherence to the UN Global Compact, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the company’s code of conduct.

As a result, in many parts of the world, the face of Canada has become the ruthless multinational that bullies workers, ignores environmental standards and ‘buys’ politicians. The Ugly Canadian.

 

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