Tag Archives: politics

Remembering the truth about Lester Pearson

Many monuments, memorials and names of institutions across Canada celebrate our colonial and racist past. Calls for renaming buildings or pulling down statues are symbolic ways of reinterpreting that history, acknowledging mistakes and small steps towards reconciling with the victims of this country’s policies.

At its heart this process is about searching for the truth, a guiding principle that should be shared by both journalists and historians.

In an article headlined “Everything is offensive: Here are Canada’s other politically incorrect place names,” Tristin Hopper concludes that “Lester Pearson’s record still holds up pretty well” unlike a dozen other historical figures he cites who have streets, institutions and statues named in their honour.

Notwithstanding the National Post reporter’s portrayal, there are compelling historical arguments for renaming the airport, school board, road, college, peace park, civic centre, housing project, schools and foreign affairs headquarters celebrating the long-time diplomat.

As I outline in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, the former Nobel Peace Prize winner was an aggressive militarist and imperialist. There is even a case to be made that the former external minister and prime minister could be posthumously tried for war crimes.

In the foreword to my book, Noam Chomsky argues that Pearson abetted war crimes by having Canadian International Control Commission (ICC) officials deliver U.S. bombing threats to the North Vietnamese leadership in 1964. As prime minister, Pearson also had ICC officials spy on North Vietnam for Washington, approved chemical weapon (Agent Orange, Purple and Blue) testing in Canada, ramped up weapons sales to the U.S. and provided various other forms of support to Washington’s violence in Indochina.

A decade and a half earlier, Pearson aggressively promoted Canadian participation in another conflict that left millions dead. He threatened to quit as external minister if Canada failed to deploy ground troops to Korea. Ultimately, 27,000 Canadian troopsfought in the 1950–53 UN “police action” that left up to four million dead. At one point the U.S.-led forces only stopped bombing the north of the country when they determined no building over one story was still standing.

Pearson had a hand in or supported many other unjust policies. During the 1947 UN negotiations over the British Mandate of Palestine, Pearson disregarded the interests of the indigenous Palestinian population. He also played an important role in the creation of NATO, describing its 1949 formation as the “most important thing I participated in.” In the 1950s he backed CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala as well as the violent suppression of independence struggles in Algeria, Kenya and elsewhere. As prime minister in the mid-1960s, Pearson brought nuclear-tipped Bomarc missiles to Canada, supported the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic and military coup against Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah.

Expect liberals (of both the big and small l variety) to react emotionally to any effort to remove Pearson’s name from public entities. As part of the promotion for my Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, I put together a press release titled The Top 10 Things You Don’t Know About Canadian Foreign Policy. Number 1 was “Many commentators, including the world’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, consider Lester Pearson a war criminal.”

I sent the list and offered a review copy to a reporter at Embassy, Canada’s leading foreign policy newsletter at the time. He responded with outrage: “Frankly, I’m not that interested in Chomsky’s opinions, especially when they smear great Canadians like Mike Pearson. I know you’re a radical, but have some pride in Canada!”

Chomsky describes a similar experience with former CBC radio host Peter Gzowski. Happy to have him criticize U.S. foreign policy, the long-time Morningside host became furious when Chomsky said, “I landed at war criminal airport.” Gzowski questioned: “What do you mean?” to which Chomsky responded, “the Lester B. Pearson Airport,” detailing Pearson’s contribution to the U.S. war in Vietnam. In response, writes Chomsky, Gzowski “went into a tantrum, haranguing me for a number of minutes,” which prompted an outpouring of listener complaints.

The reality is many people are emotionally tied to the self-serving myths created to justify the actions of important historical figures. But the job of historians and journalists is to seek the truth, not to simply repeat propaganda.

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Standing up for Palestine boosts Ashton’s popularity

Sometimes silence in politics speaks louder than words.

Israel lobby groups’ response (or lack thereof) to NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton’s recent support of Palestinian rights suggests they believe previous criticisms backfired.

Two months ago B’nai B’rith attacked Ashton for attending a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike and a subsequent Facebook post commemorating the Nakba, which saw 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes by Zionist forces in 1947/48. The self-declared ‘human rights’ organization published a press release titled “B’nai Brith Denounces MP Niki Ashton for Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists.” Rather than harming Ashton, the attack solidified support amongst the Left and youth within the party. B’nai B’rith’s smear generated significant media attention, but Ashton refused to back down. In response the Manitoba MP told the Winnipeg Free Press she felt obligated to “speak out in the face of injustice” and “I have consistently spoken out for peace and justice in the Middle East, including for Palestinians.”

A few days after accusing her of “Standing in ‘Solidarity’ with Terrorists” B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn took another shot at Ashton. Clearly writing to the Toronto Sun’s editors and his own organization’s donors, Mostyn linked Ashton’s position on Palestine to sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement, which most NDP members probably support. On top of this own-goal, Mostyn opened the door for a rejoinder by the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. In his response Thomas Woodley described Ashton’s promotion of the Palestinian cause as an outgrowth of her “support for Indigenous rights in Canada” — for every NDP member Mostyn swayed against Ashton I’d bet Woodley convinced fifty to favour her.

Since the dustup at the end of May, B’nai B’rith — and other Israeli nationalist groups — have remained silent regarding Ashton. Yet when asked a question about Martin Luther King during an official party leadership debate six weeks ago Ashton went out of her way to link those campaigning for Palestinian rights to the US civil rights leader. Then, in a widely circulated FightBack interview at the end of June Ashton decried the NDP’s purge of pro-Palestinian candidates in the 2015 federal election campaign as “totally unacceptable.” She also called “justice for Palestine…a key issue” and referenced “the Nakba.”

Last week Ashton was part of a fundraiser in London, Ontario, put on by five prominent Palestinian solidarity activists, while this week she put out an appeal for individuals to join the party titled “End the Gaza Blockade.” It stated: “Today marks three years since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza…Ashton has demonstrated that she will show leadership and will never hesitate when standing up for Palestinians.”

In the past B’nai B’rith has labeled lesser transgressions “support for terrorism” or “anti-Semitism.” Their silence on Ashton’s recent moves is deafening. B’nai B’rith is effectively conceding that their previous attacks backfired and they now fear drawing further attention to Ashton’s position since it would likely strengthen her standing among those voting for the next NDP leader.

According to a February poll of 1,000 Canadians, most progressive Canadians back Palestinian rights. Eighty-four per cent of NDP supporters said they were open to sanctioning Israel, when they were asked in the context of the UN Security Council denouncing settlement building in the West Bank: “Do you believe that some sort of Canadian government sanctions on Israel would be reasonable?

While somewhat of a long shot at the start of the race, Ashton now has a reasonable chance of becoming leader of the NDP. According to a July 5 Mainstreet poll of 1,445 party members, 22.6 per cent of those asked supported Charlie Angus as their first choice candidate while 20.4 per cent backed Ashton. 7.5 per cent chose both Jagmeet Singh and Peter Julian (who has since dropped out of the race) as their top choice and 6.1 per cent went for Guy Caron while 35.9 per cent had not made up their minds. Ashton is far and away the favourite among NDP millennials.

The first ever pregnant major party leadership candidate in Canadian political history has gained this support by speaking truth to power and taking a principled position on an issue most politician have shied away from. And, she has demonstrated that the purpose of Israeli nationalist attacks is to silence them, not to have a debate. In fact, real debate is what organizations like B’nai B’rith fear the most because the more people thst know about Israel and the Occupied Territories, the more they support the Palestinian cause.

The prospect of the NDP electing a leader taking explicitly pro-Palestinian positions obviously concerns B’nai B’rith. But, their bigger worry should be the growing number of progressives who consider Israel lobby attacks a mark in favour of a politician.

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From PM to corporate shill in Africa

If his predecessors’ trajectories are any indication, Stephen Harper will soon join a handful of corporate boards or a law firm and be paid handsomely to advance Canadian business interests in Africa. Almost every prime minister since Pierre Trudeau (Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin) left office and lobbied on behalf of Canadian corporate interests profiting from the continent.

Companies generally appoint politicians to their board of directors or contract their services through a law firm. The hope is that they can open doors. The smaller, poorer and more aid-dependent a nation, the more likely this is so.

When asked why he appointed Brian Mulroney to his board, Peter Munk, long-time chairman and founder of Barrick Gold, told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.” In March, former Conservative Foreign Minister John Baird joined Mulroney on Barrick’s international advisory board.

A month after leaving office in December 2003, Chrétien joined the law firm Heenan Blaikie and over the next 13 months traveled to Niger, Nigeria, Gambia, Angola and the Congo to advance the interests of its clients.

According to the Globe and Mail, Calgary-based TG World Energy hired Chrétien to help it “get out of a pickle in the impoverished African nation of Niger.” TG’s rights to explore 18 million acres of Niger’s wilderness for oil and gas were revoked by the government, which argued that TG failed to fulfill its investment targets. Niger then awarded the concession to a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corp.

The Calgary company sued Niger’s government and went to arbitration with the Chinese firm. “It also asked Mr. Chrétien to intervene,” reported the Globe and Mail. “The former prime minister spoke with officials of China National Petroleum during a trip to Beijing and then in March of 2004, he flew into Niamey, the Niger capital. In normal circumstances, the best TG World could have hoped to get on its own was a meeting with the energy minister. But Mr. Chrétien managed to snag a meeting with the president.” Chrétien’s lobbying led to a new agreement between TG World, Niger and the Chinese corporation, which saw the company’s stock increase from eight cents to more than a dollar within a year.

Chrétien used his reputation to advance Canadian corporate interests in Gambia as well. In 2004 he visited Gambian dictator Yahya Jammen to discuss offshore petroleum concessions for Calgary’s Buried Hill Energy. After the meeting, Chretien said: “I met the President, when I was the Prime Minister of Canada. … We have been negotiating with the government of The Gambia to find out if there is oil off-shore here. And it is a very complicated trial and we’ve made a lot of progress and we hope we can build the company if we negotiate.”

In 2014, the firm that employed Chrétien disintegrated. A Financial Post article headlined “How Heenan Blaikie’s Stunning Collapse Started with a Rogue African Arms Deal,” discusses how Chrétien and colleague Jacques Bouchard Jr.’s efforts to drum up African business sparked a rift within the law firm. But Chrétien’s services remained highly prized. Soon after Heenan Blaikie’s demise, Dentons Canada made Chrétien a partner and appointed him vice president of the law firm’s board of directors.

Former prime minister and long-time foreign affairs minister Joe Clark worked for several companies operating in various African countries. Clark helped a small Calgary-based company secure exploration rights for oil and gas in Tanzania and Mozambique. The company, Suprex Energy Corporation, sent out a press release in 1997 announcing they acquired these exploration rights “with the assistance of the Right Honourable Joe Clark and the Honourable Harvie Andre [another former Mulroney cabinet minister].”

First Quantum appointed Clark its special adviser for African affairs to lobby on its behalf in the Congo. He reportedly facilitated a 1998 meeting between Canadian officials and Congo’s Minister of Mines Frédéric Kibassa Maliba, and later pressured Canadian diplomats to demand a review of a 2002 UN report criticizing the manner in which First Quantum acquired its concession. Alongside his corporate work in the Congo, Clark engaged in diplomatic work and led the Carter Center’s delegation of election observers that gave Congo’s controversial 2007 presidential election its stamp of approval.

In Ghana, Clark used his name recognition as former chair of the Commonwealth Committee of Foreign Ministers on Southern Africa to assist Triton Logging secure the world’s largest underwater logging license. BC Business magazine reported: “Confronted by a former Canadian Prime Minister, the Ghanaians in the room are spellbound. Clark, who is a director of the Canadian Council of Africa, might as well be Canada’s sitting prime minister.”

Clark secured an agreement for Triton that had the potential to generate multiple billions of dollars, which also allotted the Vancouver-based company 80 per cent of all profits. Ghanaian Chronicle publisher Kofi Coomson criticized the generous deal and called on Clark to “do the right thing.” In an interview with BC Business, Coomson said: “Ghana’s interests should come first, and Mr. Clark’s personal interests come second.”

Clark remains influential on the continent partially because he continues to engage in African politics. His diplomatic roles have included leading international election observation teams in Cameroon, Congo and Nigeria.

Will Harper join the long line of Prime Ministers who’ve left office and profited from Africa?

This article first appeared in Ricochet

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

Got a billion? They will listen

We’ve all heard many times that “money talks” in politics but it was unclear how loudly. Now we know –one billionaire is heard over 50,000 ordinary Canadians.

While about 50,000 people and 175 organizations supported Up for Debate’s call for an election debate focused on women’s issues, it won’t happen because Stephen Harper refused to participate and NDP leader Tom Mulcair is unwilling to appear if the prime minister is not there to bash.

But the same politicians have agreed to a September 28 debate on foreign policy sponsored by an organization named after and financed by one of Canada’s richest and most right-wing capitalists.

Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk, a close friends of Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, is part of the four-person committee overseeing the debate series.

Set up to promote Peter Munk’s vision of the world, the Aurea Foundation has doled out millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks such as the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canadian Constitution Foundation as well as the Fraser Institute’s Global Centre for Mining Studies.

Peter Munk espouses far-right political views. In 1997 he publicly praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world” while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli University and speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.” In 2006 he attacked leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and the next year wrote a letter to the Financial Times comparing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview Munk dismissed criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.

Operating some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, Munk cultivated influence with politicians. He appointed former U.S. President George H. Bush and Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to Barrick Gold’s board, while former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney currently chairs its international advisory board. (When asked why he appointed Mulroney to Barrick’s board, Munk told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.”) A month after stepping down as Canada’s foreign minister in February John Baird also joined Barrick’s international advisory board.

While the Munk Debates presents itself as a forum of ideas, Peter Munk has a direct personal stake in Canadian foreign policy. Operating mines on six continents, Barrick Gold has benefited from Canadian aid money and diplomatic support. The company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008 it opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company successfully lobbied against Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill C 300 (An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries).

While Canadian foreign policy should be debated during an election it is not more important than issues that effect women.

And while Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate, don’t expect any discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable “private” companies on September 28. Nor should we expect discussion about matters likely to embarrass the military or major corporations, such as what role Canada has played in Libya’s descent into chaos or Canada’s refusal to support international agreements to restrict carbon emissions. After all, a billionaire might be offended.

Ordinary Canadians have been put in their place — 50,000 of us can be dismissed. How many will it take before the politicians are forced to listen to us and ignore the billionaires?

 

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Filed under The Ugly Canadian

Canada’s double standard

The double standard of Israel-no-matter-what supporters can reach spectacular proportions. The recent case of Liberal Party leadership candidate Justin Trudeau’s speech proves the point and also illustrates the tactics employed to demonize the Islamic community.

Montreal-based anti-Muslim website Point de Bascule and pro-Israel Jewish group B’nai Brith successfully turned Trudeau’s speech to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference last weekend into a controversy. With help from some right-wing media outlets they made a big deal of the fact that one of (17) sponsors of the Toronto event has been accused of aiding Hamas by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

In a bid to quiet the controversy the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN), which is challenging the CRA’s accusations in court, withdrew its sponsorship of the conference. Operating in a dozen countries, IRFAN is a leading Canadian Muslim charity that sponsored four thousand orphans at its high point.

In November 2004 then opposition MP Stockwell Day, backed by the pro-Israel Canadian Coalition for Democracies, called on the Liberal government to investigate IRFAN for any ties to Hamas. The CRA investigated the group but failed to register a serious complaint. Soon after Day and the Conservatives took power, the CRA audited IRFAN again. After a series of moves against the organization, in April 2011 the CRA permanently revoked the group’s charitable status, claiming “IRFAN-Canada is an integral part of an international fundraising effort to support Hamas.”

A big part of the CRA’s supporting evidence was that IRFAN worked with the Gaza Ministry of Health and Ministry of Telecommunications, which came under Hamas’ direction after they won the 2006 election. The Mississauga-based organization tried to send a dialysis machine to Gaza and continued to support orphans in the impoverished territory with the money channeled through the Post Office controlled by the Telecommunications Ministry.

This author cannot claim any detailed knowledge of the charity, but on the surface of it the charge that IRFAN was a front for Hamas makes little sense. First of all, the group was registered with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank when the Fatah-controlled PA was waging war against Hamas. Are we to believe that CRA officials in Ottawa had a better sense of who supported Hamas then the PA in Ramallah? Additionally, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) viewed the Canadian charity as a legitimate partner. In 2009 IRFAN gave UNRWA $1.2 million to build a school for girls in Battir, a West Bank village.

The CRA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating IRFAN. It appears that the Revenue Agency wanted to help their Conservative bosses prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”. And the recent controversy over Trudeau’s participation in the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference demonstrates how the CRA’s accusation can be used to demonize the million-strong Canadian Muslim community and specifically to deter them from associating with the Palestinian cause.

The case against IRFAN also illustrates the flagrant double standard between how Ottawa treats charities working in Israel versus those helping the much poorer Palestinians (Gaza’s per capita income is $1,483 whereas Israel’s is $31,000). It’s illegal for Canadians to aid any group directly or indirectly associated with the elected Hamas government in Gaza yet it’s legal — and government will foot part of the bill — to finance charities linked to Israeli settlements that contravene international law.

The Conservatives have reinforced Canada’s post 9-11 anti-terrorism laws that make it illegal to directly or indirectly assist a half dozen Palestinian political organizations all the while embracing tax write-offs for illegal Israeli settlements. Guelph activist Dan Maitland emailed former foreign minister Lawrence Cannon concerning Canada Park, a Jewish National Fund of Canada initiative built on land Israel occupied after the June 1967 War (three Palestinian villages were demolished to make way for the park). In August 2010 Maitland received a reply from Keith Ashfield, national revenue minister, who refused to discuss the particulars of the case but provided “general information about registered charities and the occupied territories.” Ashfield wrote “the fact that charitable activities take place in the occupied territories is not a barrier to acquiring or maintaining charitable status.” This means Canadian organizations can openly fundraise for settlements illegal under international law and get the government to pay up to a third of the cost through tax credits for donations.

The exact amount is not known but it’s safe to assume that millions of Canadian dollars make their way to Israeli settlements annually. Every year Canadians send a few hundred million dollars in tax-deductible donations to Israeli universities, parks, immigration initiatives and, more controversially, “charities” that aid the Israeli army in one way or another.

While a number of Jewish groups publicly promote their support for the Israeli military few Jewish charities openly tout their support for those stealing Palestinian land in violation of international law. Interestingly, it appears that Christian Zionist groups are more explicit about their support for West Bank settlers. One such charity registered with Ottawa, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC), says it supports “the Jews currently living in Biblical Israel —the communities of Judea and Samaria (and previously Gaza).” Judea and Samaria is the biblical term right wing Israelis use to describe the occupied West Bank. CFOIC explains that it “provide(s) Christians with deeper insight into the significance of Judea and Samaria — the heartland of Israel — and the people who live there. This is done by bringing groups of Christians to visit the communities, and providing information about the communities on an ongoing basis; and provide financial and moral support to the Jewish communities who are developing the land in faithfulness to their God.”

So here we have the blatant double standard for all to see: The current Canadian government uses “anti-terrorism” legislation to prevent a dialysis machine from being sent to Gaza but encourages, through tax write-offs, donations to illegal settlements that have terrorized and displaced thousands of Palestinians.

Shame on all those who voted for this government.

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