Tag Archives: imperialism

Response of Canada’s ‘defence’ community to Trump threats: silence

A volatile leader in charge of a military behemoth prone to aggression has repeatedly attacked Canada and its prime minister in recent weeks. But, this country’s “defence” community, which often hypes Russian, Jihadist and other threats, has barely made a peep.

Citing a concern for its “national security”, the US slapped tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports at the end of last month. Since then Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Justin Trudeau and two of the US President’s top advisers called the prime minister “dishonest”, “weak” and “rogue” and said “there’s a special place in hell” for him.

The bombastic rhetoric targeting the Trudeau government is coming from a state that has substantial military capacity close to the Canadian border and has repeatedly invaded nearby nations. The US is currently dropping a bomb every 12 minutes on seven different countries and its troops are fighting/operating in dozens more. And its Commander-in-Chief is highly impulsive.

Despite this aggressive posture from Washington, Canada’s “defence” community hasn’t raised the alarm or sought to capitalize on the tension by asking for more weapons and troops. Contrast this with the academics and think tanks funded by arms companies and the Department of National Defence who regularly hype lesser threats in a bid to increase military spending.

Why the difference in treatment of “threat” assessments?

The “defence” sector ignores US threats because it is not oriented towards protecting Canada from aggression. Rather, Canada’s military, weapons companies and “defence” intellectuals/think tanks are aligned with the US Empire’s quest for global domination.

According to DND, there are “80 treaty-level agreements, more than 250 memoranda of understanding, and 145 bilateral forums on defence” between the two countries’ militaries. In 2015 CBC reported on sustained, high-level, Canadian and US military discussions to create a so-called Canada-U.S. Integrated Forces. Not shared with Canadian political leaders, the plan was to set up integrated air, sea, land and special forces to operate under a unified command when deployed internationally.

The depth of the Canada-US military alliance is such that if US Forces attacked this country it would be extremely difficult for the Canadian Forces to defend our soil. In fact, given the entanglements the Canadian Forces would likely enable a US invasion: As with the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which Ottawa officially opposed — some Canadian troops on exchange in the US might march north; As is the norm when the US invades another country, Canadian officers would likely operate NORAD systems aiding the aggression; As with the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, weaponry produced in Canada would certainly be used by US soldiers marching north.

The Canadian “defence” sector has tied its ship to our southern neighbour’s massive military industrial complex. But, the truth, unpalatable as it may be to some, is that the USA is the only nation that could realistically invade Canada.

This is not an argument for a military policy that views the US as a threat. Canada’s best defence against an invasion is making sure hundreds of millions of people in the US and elsewhere know this country is not their enemy. Additionally, Canadians face far more pressing dangers (cars, industrial pollutant, climate disturbances, etc.) than a foreign invasion.

Instead of responding to Trump’s belligerence by ramping up military preparedness —which the US president demanded in a letter to the Prime Minister last week — we should be debating the point of a Canadian “defence” sector unwilling to even discuss defending our country from its primary military threat.

A critical question to ask: Why do we spend over $20 billion a year on a Department of National Defence?

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Ottawa’s foreign policy swamp an unhealthy quagmire

Drain the swamp’ was a popular Donald Trump campaign slogan that referred to reducing the influence of Washington lobbyists. While the three words reflect an extreme lack of ecological consciousness — wetlands need to be protected and recreated, not destroyed — the image of politicians slogging their way through lobbyist infected, tangled, dense vegetation and deep oozing mud is a useful one.

Like the US capital, much of Ottawa was also built on mosquitoes’ favourite habitat and both cities today have an ongoing pest problem: blood sucking influence peddlers swarming the countries’ decision makers. That image helps explain why there is little deviation from Canada’s official foreign policy positions even amongst social democratic members of Parliament.

The recently re-established Canada-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CPPFG) offers a window into the dearth of opposition, notably from the NDP, to the foreign policy establishment. Chaired by Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara, CPPFG has nine MPs representing all the parties in the House of Commons except the Conservatives. But, CPPFG isn’t one of 17 official parliamentary associations or groups so it doesn’t receive public financial or administrative support, unlike the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary group.

In an equitable world the Palestinian parliamentary group — not the Israeli one — would be subsidized to offer MPs a counterpoint to Canada’s pro-Israel ideological climate. Supporters of Israel have established a slew of programs at high schools and universities, as well as media ‘flak’ organizations and advocacy groups, to promote that country’s viewpoint. Additionally, the dominant media favours the Israeli perspective and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is among the most aggressive lobbyists on Parliament Hill so MPs are not lacking for access to this outlook.

The Israel vs. Palestine parliamentarian bodies offer a unique window into how international power relations are reflected in House of Commons associations. But, the parliamentary association system more broadly reflects inequities in global power and wealth.

Nearly half the 17 associations that share a $4.5 million public envelope are focused on Europe. There is a Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association and an associated Canadian Delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly as well as country-specific groups for France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Alongside Canada’s European G7 allies, there are Japan and US parliamentary associations.

Though it is a competitor to the US-led geopolitical order, China’s economic might warrants a parliamentary group. There are also associations promoting the Francophone and Commonwealth, which are rooted in European colonialism (previously it was called the Empire Parliamentary Association).

The only two associations focused on the Global South are the Canadian Section of ParlAmericas Bilateral Associations, representing 35 countries in the Western hemisphere, and the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, representing 53 countries on the continent. (As is usual with Africa-related bodies, that association’s mission statement includes ‘benevolent Canada’ paternalism. It says “Canadian parliamentarians also have the opportunity to witness the local impact of programs funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and to learn about Canada’s efforts in Africa from Canadian officials in the field.”)

There is no Cuba or Venezuela parliamentary association. Nor are there any focused on 1.3 billion Indians or 180 million Nigerians or a parliamentary association devoted to the counterhegemonic Non-Aligned Movement or ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America).

Another way the Ottawa swamp forms MPs’ international views is through events and parties put on by diplomats. In The Blaikie Report long time NDP defence and foreign critic Bill Blaikie describes “enjoying many fine evenings” at the home of the British High Commissioner. Wealthier countries are more likely to have representation in Ottawa and have greater capacity to organize events promoting their country’s international positions.

Sometimes connected to diplomatic postings in the capital, MPs regularly travel on international trips organized and paid for by third parties. While the Globe and Mail has recently devoted significant attention to China sponsored trips, Israel and Taiwan have long been the principal destinations. A 2014 calculation found that a quarter of all federal MPs had been to Israel with an Israeli nationalist organization.

Opposition MPs are absorbed into the foreign policy establishment in other ways. At the start of year B.C. NDP MP Wayne Stetski participated in a House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development mission to Ukraine, Latvia, Poland and Kazakhstan while last month Tom Mulcair went on a Committee mission to Beijing, Hong Kong, Hanoi and Jakarta. Last year NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière traveled to Israel with representatives of the other parties and in 2014 then NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar joined foreign minister John Baird and Liberal MP Marc Garneau on a visit to Iraq. Global Affairs Canada and diplomats in the field usually organize these visits.

The Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association are the final officially recognized parliamentary associations. A presentation at a NATO meeting convinced Bill Blaikie to support the organization’s bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999. “I myself”, Blaikie writes, “had been affected by the presentation at a 1998 NATO parliamentary meeting in Barcelona of an Albanian woman from Kosovo, who tearfully pleaded for an intervention to stop the anticipated wholesale slaughter of Kosovar Albanians.”

No official parliamentary association is devoted to de-militarization.

Beyond the NATO Parliamentary Association, MPs are drawn into the military’s orbit in a variety of other ways. Military officials regularly brief MPs. Additionally, the slew of ‘arms length’ military organizations/think tanks I detail in A Propaganda System: How Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation speak at defence and international affairs committee meetings.

The Canadian Forces Parliamentary Program is, according to the Globe and Mail, a “valuable public-relations tool.” Set up by the Department of National Defence’s Director of External Communications and Public Relations in 2000, the Parliamentary Program embeds MPs in military training (Army in Action or Experience the Navy). According to the Canadian Parliamentary Review, the MPs “learn how the equipment works, they train with the troops, and they deploy with their units on operations. Parliamentarians are integrated into the unit by wearing the same uniform, living on bases, eating in messes, using CF facilities and equipment.” As part of the program, the military even flew MPsto the Persian Gulf to join a naval vessel on patrol.

Alongside the military, the arms industry lobbies MPs. Lockheed Martin’s name appeared 39 times in a “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search” of the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada. CAE, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE and Airbus Defence were also listed dozens of times in the lobbyist registry. The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries has four registered lobbyists in Ottawa. Many of CADSI’s 800 members are also part of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Council of Chief Executives, Canadian Chamber of Commerce or Aerospace Industries Association of Canada. These groups also promote militarism and a pro-US foreign policy to government officials, though rarely do they speak in favour of withdrawing from military alliances or bucking Washington on an international issue.

Other corporations with international interests also have a significant presence on Parliament Hill. In a high-profile example, registered lobbyists representing Barrick Gold, Vale Canada, IAMGOLD, Goldcorp, Mining Association of Canada and Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada launched a ferocious campaign in 2010 to derail An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries (Bill C300), which would have restricted some public support for firms found responsible for significant abuses abroad.

Canada’s international banking, engineering, oil, etc. firms also shape attitudes in Ottawa. SNC Lavalin, CIBC, Bombardier and other Canadian-based multinationals’ names appear repeatedly in a “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search”.

The corporate/military/Global Affairs nexus predominates on foreign policy because there is little in terms of a countervailing force in Ottawa. Non-Governmental Organizations are sometimes considered critics of Canadian foreign policy, but NGOs are not well placed to challenge the federal government. Reliance on government aid and charitable status hampers their political independence.

On many domestic issues organized labour represents a countervailing force to the corporate agenda or state policies. But, unions rarely lobby MPs on international affairs.

The influence peddlers in the Ottawa foreign policy swamp represent a narrow range of interests.

So how do Canadians who want this country to be a force for good in the world effect change? Step one is to understand the system, then challenge the foreign policy establishment’s grip in Ottawa.

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Understanding the ways Canada underdevelops Africa

The question gets asked often: How can Africa be so poor when it receives so much aid?

The answer is simple. The world economic system sucks more out of the continent than it puts in. And tax evasion by Canadian firms plays a significant role in this impoverishment.

The May report, Honest Accounts 2017: How the World Profits from Africa’s Wealth, concludes that more wealth is extracted from the continent than enters it. In 2015, African countries received $162 billion in aid, loans, remittances and foreign investment but lost $203 billion through tax avoidance, repatriation of profits and climate change costs caused by others.

(The report ignores the structural imbalance in the terms of trade that sees the bulk of the value of tea, coffee, cocoa and many other commodities produced on the continent captured by distributors, marketers, retailers, etc., outside Africa while a higher share of the value of imported buses, phones, computers, etc., is captured by producers outside the continent.)

On top of the $32 billion corporations repatriated in profits, Honest Accounts found that $68 billion was lost to illicit capital flight, mostly multinational corporations evading taxes. Their findings align with a 2015 UN Economic Commission for Africa/African Union panel that found companies are illegally moving about US $40 billion a year out of the continent. The Washington, D.C.-based Global Financial Integrity Forum found that between 1970 and 2008 “total illicit financial outflows from Africa, conservatively estimated, were approximately $854 billion. Total illicit outflows may be as high as $1.8 trillion.” Three per cent of this total was thought to be bribes to government officials or theft of public funds. Fifteen per cent of all illicit outbound transfers were found to be money derived from drug smuggling, counterfeit goods, racketeering and other common criminal activities. The vast majority of the illicit funds, up to two-thirds of the total, were cross-border commercial transactions designed to reduce or eliminate taxes. Most of this money consisted of corporations shifting goods and profits between jurisdictions to reduce or eliminate their tax bill.

Often called “transfer pricing” or “trade misinvoicing,” multinational corporations artificially adjust the price of goods sold between their subsidiaries or partner companies in order for profits to end up in low (or no) tax jurisdictions while costs appear in high tax countries where they’re deducted from a company’s tax bill. Author Alain Deneault describes transfer pricing thusly: “First, the corporation creates one or more subsidiaries in a tax haven. Then, it maintains business relations with the subsidiary as if it were an independent party. Transactions are always designed to benefit the subsidiary, because money earned by the offshore entity will not be taxed. In other words, the goal is to establish bogus operations with the subsidiary in order to record a large proportion of the company’s earnings in offshore accounts, removing them from taxation in countries where the corporation has real and substantial activities.”

Canada has helped build the global offshore financial system that enables transfer pricing. Deneault details the work of Canadian politicians, businessmen and Bank of Canada officials in developing taxation and banking policies in a number of Caribbean financial havens in his book Canada — A New Tax Haven: How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself.

Resource companies are some of the leading culprits in misinvoicing. With commodity prices constantly in flux and their products entirely for export, mining companies are well placed to abuse countries’ limited means of investigating false invoices and transfer pricing. Half of all internationally listed mining companies operating in Africa are based in Canada and in Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation, I detail more than half a dozen examples of Canadian mining firms publically accused of tax avoidance.

In one of the best-detailed examples, a series of reports suggest that Canada’s largest mining firm, Barrick Gold, short-changed Tanzanians of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. A 2003 Alex Stewart Assayers audit concluded that mining companies overstated their losses by US $502 million between 1999 and 2003, which cost the Tanzanian government $132.5 million. The audit also suggested that $25 million in royalties went unpaid.

Another report titled “A golden opportunity: How Tanzania is failing to benefit from gold mining” found that between 2003 and 2008, foreign mining companies exported US $2.5 billion in gold from Tanzania with only $110 million reaching the government in royalties and direct taxes. As Tanzania’s top gold producer during this period, Barrick consistently declared losses in order to pay minimal corporation tax. With many subsidiaries, including ones in notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Barbados, Africa Barrick Gold (now called Acacia) made it diffi cult for Tanzanian tax collectors to trace exactly what the country was owed.

Last year, a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick organized a “sophisticated scheme of tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over US $400 million profi t to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes.

Transfer pricing deprives African governments of the tax revenues required to build schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. And tax avoidance by Canadian fi rms is one reason two-thirds of Africans continue to survive on less than US $3.10 a day.

This article first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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Canada a settler state helping pull imperial strings, not a colony

Colony or settler state?

Recently foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed concerns that Canada was seeking “regime change” in Venezuela by saying “Canada has never been an imperialist power. It’s even almost funny to say that phrase: we’ve been the colony.”

As I detailed in an initial response, Ottawa has passively or actively supported numerous U.S.-backed military coups against progressive elected governments. But, the conclusion to Freeland’s statement above is equally absurd, even if it is a common refrain among liberals and leftists.

Despite its popularity, the idea that Canada was or is a “colony” obscures Canada’s place near the top of a hierarchical world economy and polity. In probably its most famous iteration, prominent historian Harold Innis remarked that Canada had gone “from colony to nation to colony.”

Between 1867 and 1931, Canadian foreign policy was officially determined by London. But, describing this as a “colonial” relationship ignores the Canadian elite’s access to British capital, universities, armaments, etc., as well as Canada’s role in extending British power westward and, to a lesser extent, in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

While technically accurate, employing the term “colony” to describe both Canada and Kenya makes little sense. British, French and other settlers in Canada were not dispossessed of their land, but rather dispossessed First Nations. Additionally, they faced no repression comparable to that experienced by the Maasai or Kikuyu. Calling Canada a “colony” is akin to describing the European settlers in Kenya as “colonized”. While tensions existed between the whites in Kenya and the Colonial Office in London, the settlers also had privileged access to British arms, technology and capital.

At first, Canada was an arm of the British Empire, conquering the northern part of the Western hemisphere by dispossessing First Nations. After 1867, Ottawa regularly argued it “was looking after British imperial interests in North America and that the country’s material growth reinforced the British Empire,” writes Norman Penlington in Canada and Imperialism: 1896-1899. “The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was especially justified as a British military route to the East.”

A number of Canadian military institutions were established in large part to expand the British Empire’s military capacity. Opened in Kingston, Ontario, in 1876, the Royal Military College (RMC) was largely designed to train soldiers to fight on behalf of British colonialism. Usually trained at the RMC, Canadians helped conquer Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. Four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1885 while a decade and a half later thousands more fought to advance British imperial interests in the southern part of the continent.

While Freeland wasn’t clear about whether she was referring to British or U.S. influence over Canada, the second part of the “colony to nation to colony” parable is also misleading. Has Canada been colonized by Washington in a similar way to Haiti? Among innumerable examples of its domination, on December 17, 1914, U.S. Marines marched to the country’s treasury and took the nation’s entire gold reserve — valued at U.S. $12 million — and between 1915 and 1934 Washington formally occupied Haiti (they retained control of the country’s finances until 1947.)

Facilitated by racial, linguistic and cultural affinity, Canada has long had privileged access to the U.S. business and political elite. Longtime speaker of the House of Representatives and Democratic Party nominee for President in 1912, Champ Clark, highlighted Canada’s prized place within U.S. ruling circles. “They are people of our blood,” Champ expounded. “They speak our language. Their institutions are much like ours. They are trained in the difficult art of self-government.”

During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba the Royal Bank was the preferred banker of U.S. officials. (National U.S. banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) Canadian capitalists worked with their U.S. counterparts in Central America as well. In the early 1900s, Canadian Pacific Railway President Sir William Van Horne helped the Boston-based United Fruit Company, infamous for its later role in overthrowing elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz, build the railway required to export bananas from the country. In the political realm there were also extensive ties. For instance, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, worked for the Rockefeller family while the mother of long-time U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was from a wealthy Canadian family.

Today, the ties are closer than ever. In a post U.S. election exposé titled “A look inside Palm Beach, where wealthy Canadians are one degree of separation from Donald Trump,” The Globe and Mail detailed a slew of prominent Canadians (Brian Mulroney, Charles Bronfman, George Cohon, Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, Paul Desmarais’s family, etc.) with winter homes near the U.S. president’s exclusive property. A number of these individuals, the Globe reported, could get “Trump’s ear” if he turned on Canada.

While there is a power imbalance between the two countries and differing interests at times, the Canadian elite sees the world and profits from it in a similar way to their U.S. counterparts.

Rather than looking at Canadian foreign policy through the lens of a “colony,” a more apt framework to understand this country’s place in the world is the Canadian elite has had a privileged position with the two great powers of the past two centuries. Or, Canada progressed from an appendage of the Imperial Centre to appendage of the Imperial Centre.

The term “settler state” is a better description than “colony” of what Canada was and is. It acknowledges the primary colonizer (us) and does not obscure the power relations in the imperial order — our ruling elite is closely tied into the world ruling elite.

Canada’s opposition to Venezuela’s elected government reflects this status.

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Time for Canada to withdraw from NATO

Ottawa should withdraw from NATO before the alliance draws Canada into an even more destructive conflict. This instrument of US-led imperialism has become more belligerent as its Cold War pretext fades further from view.

In 1948 US, British and Canadian officials met secretly to lay the basis for NATO, which was established the following year. Rather than a defence against possible Russian attack, NATO was conceived as a reaction to growing socialist sentiment in post–World War II Western Europe. In March 1949 External Minister Lester Pearson told the House of Commons: “The power of the communists, wherever that power flourishes, depends upon their ability to suppress and destroy the free institutions that stand against them. They pick them off one by one: the political parties, the trade unions, the churches, the schools, the universities, the trade associations, even the sporting clubs and the kindergartens. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meant to be a declaration to the world that this kind of conquest from within will not in the future take place amongst us.” Tens of thousands of North American troops were stationed in Western Europe to deter any “conquest from within”.

The north Atlantic pact was also used to justify European/North American dominance across the globe. As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” For Pearson and some US leaders NATO’s first test took place halfway across the world when 27,000 Canadians fought in a war that left millions of mostly Koreans dead between 1950 and 1953.

Through NATO’s Mutual Aid Program Canada armed France, Belgian and Britain as they violently suppressed independence struggles in Algeria, the Congo, Kenya and elsewhere. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European NATO countries.

Exactly how little NATO had to do with the Cold War is demonstrated by how the alliance has become more aggressive since the demise of the Soviet Union. In 1999 Canadian fighter jets dropped 530 bombs in NATO’s illegal 78-day bombing of Serbia. During the 2000s tens of thousands of Canadian troops fought in a NATO war in Afghanistan. In 2011 a Canadian general led NATO’s attack on Libya in which seven CF-18 fighter jets and two Canadian naval vessels participated.

In a dangerous game of brinksmanship that could lead to a confrontation with Russian forces, NATO is currently massing troops and fighter jets on that country’s border. Alongside 200 soldiers in both Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops headed to Latvia this summer while the US, Britain and Germany lead missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

In addition to spurring war, militarists use the alliance to boost socially and ecologically damaging military spending. In one of a string of similar commentaries, a recent National Post editorial bemoaned “Canada’s continuing failure to honour our pledge to NATO allies to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence.” The Trudeau government has also cited the alliance to justify its opposition to international efforts to ban nuclear weapons.

Since its founding NATO has been a highly contentious issues within the NDP/CCF. While outgoing leader Tom Mulcair called the alliance a “cornerstone” of NDP foreign policy, those promoting Sid Ryan’s potential leadership bid called for the party “to revive the NDP’s historic policy to get Canada out of NATO.” (The party adopted this position in the late 1960s but effectively abandoned it two decades later.)

Though it would elicit howls of outrage from the militarists, withdrawing from NATO would not be particularly radical. European countries such as Sweden and Finland aren’t part of the alliance, nor are former British dominions Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Canada’s NAFTA and G7 partners Mexico and Japan.

Withdrawing from NATO would dampen pressure to spend on the military and to commit acts of aggression in service of the US-led world order.

This first appeared in Canadian Dimension

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Undermining Venezuela’s socialist government nothing new for Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do Canadians really want monuments to racist colonialists?

Some good might come in Canada from neo-fascists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Taking advantage of media interest in protests over monuments to historical figures with racist views activists in Halifax are pushing to removecommemorations to two individuals who helped conquer Africa. And there’s no lack of other such memorials to target across the Great White North.

In 1898 Henry Edward Clonard Keating led a small force that killed the chief of Hela and abducted several individuals from the village to operate canoes the soldiers had stolen from them. In response, others from the village in what is now southern Nigeria attacked and killed most of Keating’s force. A British force then razed Hela and killed about 100 locals. There’s a plaque commemorating Keating in Halifax’s Public Gardens.

Dalhousie Professor Afua Cooper is also pushing to rename Stairs Street in Halifax. William Grant Stairs played an important part in two expeditions that helped Belgian King Leopold II expand his barbarous reign in the Congo. Also commemorated with an Island in Parry Sound, Ontario, and two plaques in Kingston, the Haligonian was one of 10 white officers in the first-ever European expedition to cross the interior of the continent and subsequently Stairs led a 2,000 person force that added 150,000 square kilometres to Leopold’s colony.

Read from a humanistic or internationalist perspective, the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) graduate’s diary of his time in Africa is incredibly damning. Or, as 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 and Keating are two of many Canadians who helped colonize the continent and continue to be commemorated (a number of British figures who fought in Africa are also honoured across the country).

In Kingston two plaques honour RMC trained Huntley Brodie Mackay. Commanding Royal Engineer in West Africa, Mackay was part of a British expedition to destroy the Yonnie stronghold of Robari in what is now southeast Sierra Leone. In the fighting the soldiers employed the first ever recoil-operated Maxim machine gun, reported MacMillan’s magazine. “Maxim, which here administered rather than received its baptism of fire, was turned on them, and they dropped off the roofs by dozens… When the leading troops entered the gates … there was not a living Yonnie left in the town, although there was no lack of their dead.”

Replacing Mackay as West Africa’s Commanding Royal Engineer in 1889, Saint John-born William Henry Robinson also has a plaque in his honour at the RMC. In 1892 the 29-year-old led a small force to destroy a rebellion not far from the former Yonnie stronghold. In “Canadian Soldiers in West African Conflicts 1885-1905” Andrew Godefroy explains: “When Robinson and his party of Sierra Leone Frontier Police attacked his stockade on 14 March, however, [rebel leader] Karimu was ready to receive them and repulsed their initial assault. The momentum lost, Captain Robinson tried to rally the attack by personally setting explosive charges at the gates, hoping to blow them open and allow for his men to rush through.” Robinson was shot in the battle and ultimately became the first RMC graduate to give his life fighting for British colonialism.

A mountain in Banff National Park, as well as a plaque and building at RMC, are named in honour of Sir Edouard Percy Girouard. The Montréaler built two train lines that played a central part in the brutal British conquest of Sudan and was Director of Imperial Military Railways during the 1899 – 1902 Boer War (numerous monuments commemorate Canadians who fought in that conflict to strengthen British colonial authority in Africa, which ultimately ledto racial apartheid). In 1906 the RMC graduate became High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, ruling over 10 to 20 million people. Girouard employed forced labour to construct a 550-km railway and justified strengthening precolonial authority by saying colonial authorities didn’t want, “to deal with a rabble, with thousands of persons in a savage or semi-savage state, all acting on their own impulses.”

After Northern Nigeria, Girouard became governor of British East Africa from 1909 to 1912. Girouard sought to turn today’s Kenya into a “white man’s country”. He abrogated the sole treaty the East African protectorate had ever signed with an African tribe. 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”.

Campaigns to remove monuments or rename places named after Canadians who participated in the “scramble for Africa” can help educate the public about Canada’s history on the continent and European colonialism more generally.

In order to move forward to a better future Canadians must reconcile with the wrongs committed in our past, both on this continent and around the world.

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