Tag Archives: Liberals

Trudeau’s foreign policy a lot like Harper’s

When Justin Trudeau looks in the foreign policy mirror who does he see? Someone very much like Stephen Harper.

On the world stage Canada under Trudeau the Second has acted almost the same as when Harper was prime minister. The Liberals have followed the previous government’s posture on issues ranging from militarism to Russia, nuclear weapons to the Gulf monarchies.

Aping the ancien régime’s position, the Liberals recently voted against UN nuclear disarmament efforts supported by most countries of the world. As such, they’ve refused to attend the ongoing Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

Earlier this month the Liberals released a defence policy that calls for 605 more special forces, which have carried out numerous violent covert missions abroad. During the 2015 election campaign defence minister Jason Kenney said if re-elected the Conservatives would add 665 members to the Canadian Armed Forces Special Operations Command over seven years.

The government’s recent defence policy also includes a plan to acquire armed drones, for which the Conservatives had expressed support. Additionally, the Liberals re-stated the previous government’s commitment to spend upwards of one hundred billion dollars on new fighter jets and naval ships.

Initiated by the Conservatives, last year the Liberals signed off on a government-contracted $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia. Trudeau has also maintained the Harper created Canada-Gulf Cooperation Council Dialogue, which is a platform for foreign ministers to discuss economic ties and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The GCC includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, which have almost all intervened in the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Trudeau government has continued to isolate Canada from world opinion on Palestinian rights. They’ve voted against numerous UN resolutions supported by almost the entire world upholding Palestinian rights.

The Harper regime repeatedly attacked Venezuela’s elected government and in recent weeks the Liberals have picked up from where they left off. The Liberals have supported efforts to condemn the Nicolás Maduro government at the Organization of American States and promoted an international mediation designed to weaken Venezuela’s leftist government (all the while staying mum about Brazil’s imposed president and far worse human rights violations in Mexico).

In March the Liberals renewed Canada’s military “training” mission in the Ukraine, which has emboldened far-right militarists responsible for hundreds of deaths in the east of that country. In fact, Trudeau has significantly bolstered Canada’s military presence on Russia’s doorstep. Simultaneously, the Trudeau government has maintained Harper’s sanctions regime against Russia.

Nearly two years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran or removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list). Nor has the Trudeau regime adopted any measure to restrict public support for Canadian mining companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. With regards to Canada’s massive and controversial international mining industry, it has been status quo ante.

A recent cover of Canadian Dimension magazine provided a cheeky challenge to Trudeau’s bait and switch. Below the word “SURPRISE!” it showed a Justin Trudeau mask being removed to reveal Stephen Harper.

The sober reality is that Trudeau represents a continuation of his predecessor’s foreign policy. I might even need to redo my 2012 book The Ugly Canadian, but this time with the tagline “Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy”.

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Calling Trudeau a terrorist is not that outrageous

Is calling the Prime Minister a “white supremacist terrorist” hate speech?

Black Lives Matter – Toronto spokesperson Yusra Khogali’s description of Justin Trudeau as a “white supremacist terrorist” at a recent rally against Islamophobia has sparked significant backlash. Right-wing media are using it to attack BLMTO while liberal commentators have called on Khogali to resign as spokesperson. A number of individuals have even labeled Khogali’s comments hate speech.

Fortunately, Chuck D of Public Enemy took to Twitter to push back against calls for Khogali to resign and a Toronto Now piece by Shantal Otchere defended the “white supremacist” part of her statement. The case for labeling our handsome PM a “terrorist” may be less solid, but it’s worth exploring.

In the only effort to justify the “terrorist” tag on Trudeau I’ve seen, Vancouver-based writer and activist Daniel Tseghay pointed to the PM’s arming of Saudi Arabia’s monarchy on Facebook, which is clearly intentionally causing death and serious bodily harm by use of violence in Yemen, not to mention sections of its own population. Not only has the Canadian Commercial Corporation signed a $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle contract with the reactionary regime, Canadians are also training the Saudis to use the vehicles, sold Riyadh other arms and has backed them diplomatically. The Trudeau government has all but ignored Saudi violence in Yemen, which has left over 10,000 civilians dead and millions hungry.

In another part of the Middle East, a Canadian fighter jet reportedly killed 10 and injured 20 Iraqi civilians on November 19, 2015. While the Trudeau government later withdrew Canadian bombers, two Canadian reconnaissance aircraft and an in-air refuelling tanker are still part of the Iraq/Syria mission, which is bombing without Damascus’s permission. The Trudeau government also tripled the number of Canadian special forces on the ground. Two hundred highly skilled soldiers have provided training, weaponry and combat support to Kurdish forces accused of ethnically cleansing areas of Iraq they’ve captured.

Another 200 Canadian troops are in the Ukraine backing up a force responsible for hundreds of deaths in the east of that country. While it was the previous government that dispatched these troops to the Ukraine, the Trudeau government is ramping up Canada’s military presence in the region. Four-hundred-and-fifty troops will soon be part of a Canadian-led battle group in Latvia and up to a half-dozen CF-18 fighter jets are on their way to the region, which is partly designed to embolden far-right militarists in the Ukraine.

Do any of these activities constitute terrorism? There are certainly decent arguments to be made.

And, while it’s unclear whether Trudeau merits the “terrorist” label 16 months into his term, history suggests it may well fit before he leaves office. Trudeau’s Liberal predecessor Paul Martin is an excellent candidate for the “T” tag because of his role in overthrowing Haitian democracy and supporting a coup regime responsible for thousands of deaths and rapes. For two years, a Canadian-financed, Canadian-trained and Canadian-supervised Haitian police force terrorized Port-au-Prince’s slums with Canadian diplomatic and (for half a year) military backing.

By delivering Washington’s bombing threats to the North Vietnamese leadership another Liberal prime minister also arguably warranted the “T” label. Lester Pearson had Canadian International Control Commission officials spy on the North for the U.S., approved chemical weapon (Agent Orange, Purple and Blue) testing in Canada and provided various other forms of support to Washington’s terror campaign in Indochina.

One could also make the case that Louis St. Laurent deserved the “T” tag for dispatching 27,000 troops to a war in Korea that left up to 4 million dead. At one point the U.S.-led forces stopped bombing the north when they determined no building over one story was still standing.

While the “terrorist” label may be jarring, strong language by activists directed at the PM is at worst jarring. Sanctimonious commentators who constantly rush to defend power, on the other hand, allow prime ministers to get away with activities that arguably meet the definition of terrorism.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Capitalism underpins Canada’s relationship with Cuba

Has Canada been a “friend” to Cuba?

While Ottawa’s position towards Fidel Castro’s Cuba was far more progressive than our southern neighbour’s, the story is more complicated than liberals are likely to suggest in their commentary over Castro’s passing.

Canada did not play a central role in U.S. efforts to squash the social reforms and independence of the island nation. Rather than participate in hundreds of CIA assassination attempts on the life of Fidel, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared “Viva Castro” during an official trip to Cuba in 1976. But, there’s a little-known unsavory side to Canadian relations with Cuba.

Business is business seems to be Canada’s slogan for relations with Cuba from the U.S. occupation in 1898 through the dictator Batista to Castro’s revolution in 1959.  In 1900 the Canadian Journal of Commerce noted: “Canadian capital and clearer northern brains” were turning Cuba into a “modern hive of industry.” A few months after the U.S. began its 1898-1902 occupation the Royal Bank opened its first branch in Havana. According to one bank history: “[Royal Bank] General Manager, Mr. E.L. Pease, took a quick trip to Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War and got in on the ground floor of banking there; his American friends, who put capital into the bank, helped him to expand there. (The bank was appointed agent for the payment of claims of the Army of Liberation.)” Before his trip to Havana Pease asked Henry White of New York’s Chase National to “smooth the way through the American authorities.” And once in that beautiful city Pease befriended U.S. Consul Joseph Springer, who indicated that the U.S. planned to reform Cuba’s financial sector. (It was relatively easy for the Royal to get priority of place because, until 1914, national U.S. banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches.)

The Canadian bankers saw themselves as American and after the U.S. occupation formally ended they felt covered by the protective umbrella of the Platt amendment. (Inserted into the Cuban constitution by Washington, the Platt amendment gave the U.S. the right to intervene on the island whenever necessary). “The United States authorities have the affairs of the Island well in hand at the present time,” Pease told the Financial Post in 1907. Royal Bank branches sprouted up across the island, usually along the newly built railroad through central Cuba. “The bank consciously established its branches wherever it could facilitate the spread of foreign investment entering Cuba.” The Royal Bank’s best customer was Canadian businessman William Van Horne’s Cuba Company and its offspring, the Cuba Railroad. Famous for his role in constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway, Van Horne “took advantage of Spain’s defeat and his influence in U.S. financial circles to start building a trans-island railway before any government had the power to stop him.” Van Horne had two U.S. generals sit on the company’s board and “land for the railroad was not purchased, but seized by the [U.S. military].” Van Horne also benefited from Cuba’s postwar railway law. He and a colleague wrote it. The Cuban railway was completed in 1902 and Van Horne proceeded to purchase tramways and sugar mills on the island.

With a wave of foreign investment into Cuba, business was good for the Royal Bank. By the mid-1920s, the Royal had 65 branches in the country. Popularly known as “Banco de Canada” during this period, “the Canadian bank acted as Cuba’s de facto central banker.” A quarter century later, Canadian banks still controlled 28 percent of total deposits in commercial Cuban banks. U.S. interests controlled 36 percent and Cuban interests 35 percent. Beyond banking, Canadian insurance companies sold two-thirds of the country’s total annual premiums in the mid-1950s, while the Cuban- Canadian sugar company owned 66,000 acres and 2,720 head of cattle. Another Canadian-owned ranch covered 75,000 acres and the Canada- Cuba Land and Fruit Company ran 100 tobacco plantations.

“Since Canada’s ties with Cuba are primarily commercial,” External Affairs advised the Canadian ambassador to Cuba in March 1949 that his two “main duties” were to defend Canadian commercial interests and increase trade opportunities on the island. Ottawa’s focus on Canadian commercial interests helps explain the embassy’s attitude to the pro-capitalist dictator, General Fulgencio Batista. Twenty months before the brutal despot was overthrown, the Canadian ambassador said Batista was “still the best hope for the future” because he “has offered the stability demanded by foreign investors.” A year earlier the Canadian ambassador said “the benevolence of President Batista is not to be questioned. He may be lining his pockets at Cuba’s expense but it is traditional for Cuban Presidents to do so and it is in part made necessary by the uncertainty of political life here. But as a dictator he is a failure, if the standard is Hitler or Mussolini. Public protests against the regime are possible; an opposition is in existence and is weak only because of fundamental weaknesses in the personalities of the opposition.”

After Batista’s downfall in January 1959 the new government tried to gain greater control over the economy. Among other steps, U.S. banks were nationalized without compensation. Canadian banks were also nationalized, but more amicably — with compensation. In response to these moves by the new Cuban government, U.S. hostility rose and Uncle Sam eventually cut off trade and diplomatic relations with the country. The U.S. also supported an invasion of Cuba, which Ottawa endorsed. Just days after the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker claimed Castro was a threat to the security of the hemisphere.  On April 19, 1961, he told the House of Commons that events in Cuba were “manifestations of a dictatorship which is abhorrent to free men everywhere.”

Despite tacit support for U.S. actions against Cuba Ottawa never broke off diplomatic relations, even though most other countries in the hemisphere did. Three Nights in Havana explains why Ottawa maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba: “Recently declassified State Department documents have revealed that, far from encouraging Canada to support the embargo, the United States secretly urged Diefenbaker to maintain normal relations because it was thought that Canada would be well positioned to gather intelligence on the island.” Washington was okay with Canada’s continued relations with the island. It simply wanted assurances, which were promptly given, that Canada wouldn’t take over the trade the U.S. lost.

Ottawa has not let Washington down in regards to intelligence gathering. For nearly half a century Canada has spied on Cuba. Since the start of the 1960s the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), an intelligence department of the federal government, has listened to Cuban leaders secret conversations from an interception post in the Canadian embassy in Havana. A senior Canadian official, close to Washington, “admitted that the U.S. made ‘far greater use’ of our intelligence during the [October 1962] Cuban Missile Crisis than has been revealed.” Pentagon and State Department sources cite the U.K. and Canada as the only countries that “supply any real military information on Cuba” with Canada providing “the best” military intelligence. Canada has even spied on Cuba from outside that country. The CSE wanted to establish a communications post in Kingston, Jamaica, to intercept “communications from Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which would please [the US government’s] NSA to no end.”

To paraphrase Charles de Gaulle, perhaps Canada does not have friends, only interests. But the reality of Canada’s “interests” in Cuba have always been based on what’s best for the ruling class, not those of ordinary people.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

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