Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Work is a fundamental human right

A just society should provide everyone with access to a job yet nearly 2 million Canadians can’t find work.

Officially 6.9 per cent of the Canadian workforce is unemployed. But this number rises to 10.3 per cent when those who’ve given up searching for work are included. Counting “discouraged workers”, about 1.8 million Canadians can’t find a job.

Looked at from a different perspective, StatsCan announced last week that there were six job-seekers for every job available in September. Counting “discouraged workers” that number increases 50 percent.

Incredibly, some consider Canada’s unemployment rate a success. In his October throne speech Stephen Harper misleadingly declared that “Canada now has the best job creation record in the G-7 — one million net new jobs since the depths of the recession.”

This isn’t simply self-promotional rhetoric. Policy moves suggest the government is little concerned by the large number of Canadians out of work. Over the past two years they’ve curtailed Employment Insurance benefits, increased the age at which people can receive Old Age Assistance and slashed public-sector employment.

While the government would never say as much publicly, some among the corporate-funded think tanks argue that having over 1 in 10 Canadian workers out of a job is actually too few. “Canada’s unemployment rate dangerously low” was the title of an April Financial Post article by Philip Cross, Research Coordinator for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Hostility to anything approaching full employment reflects the growth of neoconservative policies. Over the last three decades the idea that everyone should have access to a job has largely disappeared from political discourse. But it used to be fairly common.

In the 1963 election Liberal leader Lester Pearson ran on a “Sixty days of decision” platform that included a pledge of full employment and during his time as Prime Minister Canada’s official unemployment rate dropped below 3%. Similarly, the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted in 1966 and signed by Canada in 1976, called for the right to employment. It recognizes that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Instead of focusing on peoples’ right to employment, policymakers today emphasize property rights. In effect, this has meant extending patents, easing safety/environmental regulations on corporations and enabling investors to move to low-wage jurisdictions.

While these policies certainly benefit some, few of us gain our income from owning property. The vast majority of Canadians are wageworkers, their dependents or retired wageworkers. And without a job it’s difficult to get by.

But a job is not only about paying the bills. What one does is generally an important part of a person’s identity and most people want to feel like they are contributing to society. Persistent unemployment can be psychologically damaging for individuals.

It’s also socially damaging. Mass unemployment is a waste of peoples’ energy and ingenuity. Imagine what the 1.8 million Canadians out of work could accomplish if they were mobilized to develop green energy sources or to expand mass transit and childcare services.

But how do we mobilize all this latent human energy. One socially useful way to stimulate employment would be to have the government significantly expand its role in mass transit and childcare. Another would be to push Corporate Canada, which is sitting on over $575 billion in cash, to invest in renewable energy.

It’s time to rekindle the idea that all adults have the right to a job. There are 1.8 million Canadians waiting to better contribute to their society.

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Canada: An investment bully

Should the “right” of a foreign corporation to make a profit trump governments’ attempts to create local jobs, improve environmental regulations or establish laws that raise royalty rates?

Most Canadians would say no.

But that’s what the Conservative government is pushing poor countries to accept if they want Canadian investment.

Barely noticed in the media, Canada recently concluded negotiations on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) with the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. In a press release Minister for La Francophonie Christian Paradis said: “The investment agreement announced today will provide better protection for Canadian companies operating in Côte d’Ivoire.”

Since the start of the year Ottawa has signed similar agreements with Tanzania, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon and Zambia while over the past few years Canada has concluded FIPAs with Madagascar, Mali and Senegal. Ottawa is currently engaged in FIPA negotiations with Ghana, Guinea, Tunisia and Burkina Faso and plans are likely afoot to pursue bilateral investment treaties with other African countries.

According to the government, “A FIPA is a treaty designed to promote and protect Canadian investment abroad through legally binding provisions and to promote foreign investment in Canada. By ensuring greater protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices, and by enhancing the predictability of a market’s policy framework, a FIPA gives businesses greater confidence in investing.”

These treaties give corporations the right to sue governments — in private, investor-friendly tribunals — for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. They are modelled after NAFTA’s notorious Chapter 11.

The FIPAs signed with African countries are largely motivated by Canada’s mining industry. Over the past two decades Canadian mining investment in Africa has grown over 100 fold from $250 million in 1989 to $6 billion in 2005 and $31 billion in 2011.

The owners of Canada’s mining industry have greatly benefited from three decades of neoliberal reforms in Africa, notably the privatization of state-run mining companies, loosening restrictions on foreign investment and reductions in resource royalty rates. As an early advocate of International Monetary Fund/World Bank structural adjustment programs, Ottawa has channeled hundreds of millions in “aid” dollars to supporting economic liberalization efforts in Africa. The Conservative government’s current FIPA push represents a bid to entrench some of these neoliberal policies.

Canadian mining companies that have benefited from privatizations and loosened restrictions on foreign investment in Africa fear a reversal of these policies. Their concerns can be somewhat alleviated by gaining the ability to sue a government if it expropriates a concession, changes investment rules or requires value added production take place in the country.

The ability to sue — or threaten a suit — is particularly valuable to mining companies facing local opposition to their projects. As the Council of Canadians points out, “Canadian mining companies are using FIPAs with developing countries to claim damages from community opposition to unwanted mega-projects.”

Last week Infinito Gold sued Costa Rica for $1-billion under a Canadian bilateral investment treaty with that country when the government failed to approve a controversial gold mine. The Calgary-based company launched this suit even though polls show that more than 75 percent of Costa Ricans oppose its proposed Crucitas mine and the Supreme Court of Costa Rica denied Infinito permission to proceed with the project on three occasions.

Many Canadian-owned mining sites across Africa are bitterly resisted by local communities and there’s been a great deal of social upheaval around the mines. Canadian mines have spurred war in the Congo, killings in Tanzania and environmental devastation from Kenya to Ghana.
Of course, the dominant media has largely ignored the conflict wrought by Canadian mining companies. Much the same can be said of their role in buying up Africa’s natural resources or Ottawa’s role in facilitating it. The dominant media prefers to focus on how Chinese companies are buying up the continent even though on a per capita basis Canadian corporations have taken control of a great deal more of Africa’s natural resources than China’s.

Unfortunately, the Left has sometimes reflected (and perpetuated) this type of thinking. While a number of independent journalists and small collectives have exposed the destruction wrought by Canadian mining projects, there’s been little opposition to these African FIPAs. On the other hand, there’s been significant opposition to the FIPA Canada recently signed with China.

A recent Leadnow.ca callout to raise money for the Hupacasath First Nation’s legal challenge to the Canada-China FIPA provides an example of this ignorance/indifference towards African FIPAs’. The e-mail has a picture of a woman holding a “Stop FIPA” sign and calls on members to send a note to Conservative MPs to tell them “they will pay a steep political price if they try to pass FIPA.” While Leadnow’s opposition to the China FIPA is to be commended, it need not be done in denial/opposition of the fact that the Conservatives’ have passed a slew of FIPAs’ recently.

One reason the China FIPA has received more attention is that Chinese companies have invested significant sums in Canada while most of Canada’s other FIPA partners have not. In terms of the African FIPAs the investment flow is unidirectional with Canadian companies overwhelmingly dominant.

All too often, criticism of bilateral investment treaties and free ‘trade’ agreements take a nationalistic tone with opposition focused on the ways in which the accords strengthen the rights of multinational corporations in this country. Since African companies have little invested in Canada there’s few short to medium term consequences for Canadians with the African FIPAs and thus little opposition expressed.

But this is short-term thinking. The past 25 years of neoliberalism has demonstrated quite clearly that these policies are being pursued in lockstep globally and that they exacerbate inequality and ecological destruction everywhere.

If we oppose “investor-rights” agreements in Canada we must oppose them everywhere.

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Condemning is easy, but understanding is necessary

There are no shades of grey, no nuance or even cause and effect in the simplistic world view proclaimed by the current Canadian government.

The Conservatives’ response to the horrific attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall has been to thump their chests and proclaim their anti-terror bona fides.

The fight against international terrorism is the great struggle of our generation, and we need to continue with the resolve to fight this,” bellowed Foreign Minister John Baird. For his part, Stephen Harper boasted that “our government is the government that listed al-Shabab as a terrorist entity.”

But the prime minister has ignored the fact that his government also played a small role in the growth and radicalization of the organization responsible for this terrible crime in Kenya.
After the failed US invasion of Somalia in the early 1990s (Black Hawk Down) American forces once again attacked that country in December 2006.

After the Islamic Courts Union won control of Mogadishu and the south of the country from an assortment of warlords, American forces launched air attacks and 50,000 Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia. According to a cable released by Wikileaks, the US under secretary of state for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, pressed Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to intervene.

Ottawa supported this aggression in which as many as 20,000 Somalis were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Throughout 2007 and 2008 when the US launched periodic airstrikes and Ethiopian troops occupied Somalia, Ottawa added its military presence.

At various points during 2008, HMCS Calgary, HMCS Iroquois, HMCS Charlottetown, HMCS Protecteur, HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ville de Québec all patrolled off the coast of Somalia. In the summer of 2008 Canada took command of NATO’s Task Force 150 that worked off the coast of Somalia.

The Conservatives’ public comments on Somalia broadly supported Ethiopian/US actions. They made no criticism of the US bombings and when prominent Somali-Canadian journalist Ali Iman Sharmarke was assassinated in Mogadishu in August 2007 then foreign minister Peter Mackay only condemned “the violence” in the country. He never mentioned that the assassins were pro-government militia members with ties to Ethiopian troops.

The Conservatives backed a February 2007 UN Security Council resolution that called for an international force in Somalia. They also endorsed the Ethiopia-installed Somali government, which had operated in exile. A February 2007 Foreign Affairs release noted: “We welcome Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed’s announcement to urgently convene a national reconciliation congress involving all stakeholders, including political, clan and religious leaders, and representatives of civil society.” In April 2009 the Somali transitional government’s minister of diaspora affairs and ambassador to Kenya were feted in Ottawa.

Supported by outsiders, the transitional government had little backing among Somalis. AnOxfam report explained: “The TFG [transitional federal government] is not accepted as legitimate by much of the population. Unelected and widely perceived as externally imposed through a process that sidelined sub-national authorities and wider civil society, the transitional federal institutions face strong allegations of corruption and aid diversion.”

In maybe the strongest signal of Canadian support for the outside intervention, Ottawa did not make its aid to Ethiopia contingent on its withdrawal from Somalia. Instead they increased assistance to this strategic ally that borders Sudan and Somalia. Among CIDA’s largest recipients, Ethiopia received about $150 million annually in Canadian aid from 2008 to 2011.

Aid to Ethiopia was controversial and not only because that country invaded and occupied its neighbour. An October 2010 Globe and Mail headline noted: “Ethiopia using Canadian aid as a political weapon, rights group says.”

In early 2009 Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia (they reinvaded in late 2011 and some 8,000 Ethiopian troops continue to occupy parts of the country). The Conservatives helped the multi-country African Union force that replaced the Ethiopian troops. “Canada is an active observer in the (African Union) and provides both direct and indirect support to the [Somalia] mission,” explained a heavily censored June 2012 government briefing obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

In 2011 Ottawa contributed $5.8 million US towards logistical support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) while in February 2012 Canada announced a $10 million contribution for the deployment of a Ugandan Formed Police Unit to Somalia. “Indirectly, Canada is engaged in training initiatives through (Directorate of Military Training and Co-operation) to enable (African Union) troop contributing nations through the provision of staff and peace support operations,” noted the above-mentioned internal briefing.

The US paid, trained and armed most of AMISOM. In July 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported: “The U.S. has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab. … Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth … the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.”

In October 2011 thousands of Kenyan troops invaded Somalia and they remain in the country under AMISOM. “Kenya, in many ways, was simply carrying out the West’s bidding,” noted a recent Globe and Mail editorial.

Al Shabab claims its killing of shoppers and mall workers in Nairobi was a response to Kenya’s military invasion of Somalia. Since the Ethiopia/US invasion in late 2006 the group has waged a violent campaign against the foreign forces in the country and Somalia’s transitional government. During this period al Shabab has grown from being the relatively small youth wing of the Islamic Courts Union to the leading oppositional force in the country. It has also radicalized. Rob Wise, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, notes that Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia transformed al Shabab into, “the most powerful and radical armed faction in the country.”
Al Shabab has turned from being a national organization towards increasing ties to Al Qaeda. In July 2010 the group pulled off its first major international attack when it killed 74 in Kampala in response to Uganda’s occupation of Somalia.

Canada’s support for foreign intervention in Somalia has not gone unnoticed. When a group calling themselves Mujahedin of Somalia abducted a Canadian and Australian in October 2008 they accused Canada and Australia of “taking part in the destruction of Somalia.” They demanded a change in policy from these two countries. Similarly, in October 2011 an al Shabaab official cited Canada as one of a handful of countries that deserved to be attacked.

Portrayed by Washington and Ottawa as simply a struggle against Islamic terrorism, the intervention in Somalia was driven by geopolitical and economic considerations. A significant amount of the world’s goods, notably oil from the Persian Gulf, pass along the country’s 1,000-mile coastline and whoever controls this territory is well placed to exert influence over this shipping.

There are also oil deposits in the country. A February 2012 Observer headline noted: “Why defeat of Al Shabaab could mean an oil bonanza for western firms in Somalia.” With plans to invest more than $50 million, Vancouver-based Africa Oil began drilling an exploratory well in northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region at the start of 2012. This was the first significant oil drilling in Somalia in two decades. The Canadian company didn’t escape the eye of Al Shabaab. A Twitter post from the group’s press office called Africa Oil’s contracts “non-binding”. “Western companies must be fully aware that all exploration rights and drilling contracts in N. Eastern Somalia are now permanently nullified”, the group’s spokesperson wrote. In an interview with Maclean’s Africa Oil CEO Keith Hill acknowledged the “significant” security risks and costs for their operations in Somalia but he noted the rarity of a “billion-barrel oil field.”

The 2006 US/Ethiopia invasion of Somalia has spiraled into ever more foreign intervention/local radicalization, which has caused a great deal of human suffering. This destructive cycle needs to be broken.

If the Conservatives have any concern for the people of Somalia — and neighbouring countries — they’d stop their anti-terror chest thumping and end their contributions to this violent cycle.

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What is Ottawa’s position on the UN veto?

We support the UN veto, except when used against something we want. That seems to be Ottawa’s position towards the ability of the five permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions.

Recently Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird criticized the possibility of Russia vetoing a UN resolution authorizing military action in Syria. In an article titled “Putin shouldn’t have veto on world security” the National Post quoted Harper saying, “we are simply not prepared to accept the idea that there is a Russian veto over all of our actions.” For his part, Baird mocked the idea that military action without UN approval would be illegal. “This is OK if Russia says it’s OK, but it’s not OK if Russia won’t say it’s OK,” Baird complained to a Toronto Star reporter.

While the Security Council veto is flagrantly undemocratic, it’s more than a bit hypocritical for an ardently pro-Israel and pro-US government to denounce it. Over the past 40 years the US has used the veto more times than any other permanent Security Council member and Israel has been the primary beneficiary. Between 1972-2011 Washington vetoed more than 40 Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions.

The current Canadian government doesn’t seem to have opposed any of the recent US vetoes. In fact, when the Palestinian Authority pursued its statehood bid at the UN, Ottawa cheered on the Obama administration’s threat to veto any Security Council motion recommending full membership status for the Palestinians.

But there’s also a historic irony in Ottawa complaining about Russia’s veto. At the United Nations founding convention in the spring of 1945, the Prime Minister of New Zealand called the veto for major powers “an evil thing” while the Australian officials in San Francisco pushed a proposal without a veto for permanent members of the Security Council. In a move with long-lasting implications the Canadian delegation abstained on this Australian motion, denying them the single vote needed to carry the meeting. After this close vote a member of the Canadian delegation, Lester Pearson, is said to have asked the US delegation whether it would sign the new international organization’s charter without the veto. They said no, prompting Ottawa to declare its support for the permanent Security Council members’ veto.

“Canada Switches to Back Big 5 Veto,” blared the front page of the New York Times. Probably the most important middle power at the time, five medium and smaller countries followed Ottawa’s lead. But, the poorer and smaller countries subsequently picked Australia, not Canada, to sit on the opening incarnation of the Security Council.

It’s past time to do away with the Security Council veto. Nearly a decade ago the UN’s ‘High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change’ declared: “As a whole the institution of the veto has an anachronistic character that is unsuitable for the institution in an increasingly democratic age.”

But it’s not just the big five veto that is an anachronism. We should also do away with the Security Council’s effective control over UN military force. Ottawa could get the ball rolling by proclaiming that this country’s armed forces will only ever be used abroad under a UN mandate passed by the 193 members of the General Assembly, not the Security Council.

If other countries follow suit, Prime Minister Harper would no longer need to worry about a “Russian veto over all of our actions.”

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Ottawa’s friendship with Egyptian military not helpful

Once again Conservative ideology has trumped what’s right.

Prominent Toronto filmmaker/professor John Greyson and London, Ontario, physician/professor Tarek Loubani have been locked up in an Egyptian jail for nearly 40 days.

After a prosecutor recently extended their detention by 15 days, these two courageous individuals launched a hunger strike demanding their release or to at least be allowed two hours a day in the fenced-in prison yard.

Some 140,000 people, including filmmakers Ben Affleck, Danny Glover and Atom Egoyan, have called on Egypt’s military rulers to release the two men. Despite this outpouring of support, the Conservatives have done as little to win their release as a Canadian government could possibly do in the circumstances. While Canadian officials have summoned Egypt’s chargé d’affaires in Ottawa and called it “a case of two people being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” they’ve failed to demand their immediate release, criticize the arbitrary process or condemn the dictatorial regime responsible.

Under the emergency legal system currently in place in Egypt, Greyson and Loubani can be kept in jail for up to two years without charge or trial. But Ottawa has refused to even comment on these highly arbitrary rules.

Canadian officials have also ignored the rise of anti-Palestinian sentiment that partly explains Greyson and Loubani’s incarceration. Greyson and Loubani flew to Cairo en route to do humanitarian and political work in Gaza, which would displease Egypt’s military rulers who associate the Hamas government in Gaza with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since taking power on July 3 the military regime has deepened the brutal blockade of Gaza. Before the coup some 1,200 people a day crossed through the Rafah terminal in Egypt, Gaza’s main window to the world (Israel is blocking most other access points). Now about 250 make it through every day and the Egyptian authorities have shut the Rafah crossing entirely in recent days.

Ottawa has long supported efforts to punish Palestinians in Gaza. After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006, Harper’s Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority and Ottawa has cheered on Israel’s blockade and repeated bombings of Gaza.

More significantly from Greyson and Loubani’s standpoint, the Conservatives support the Egyptian military’s overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi and its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Foreign Minister John Baird initially called the military’s overthrow of Morsi a “coup” but he’s explicitly rejected calls for the elected President to be restored. On August 22 Baird said “We’re certainly not calling for them [Egypt’s elected government] to be restored to power.” This is in contrast to the U.S., France and UK, which have at least nominally called for Morsi’s restoration to power.

Ottawa has also justified the military’s brutal repression of largely peaceful demonstrations. “We think the interim government is dealing with some terrorist elements in the country,” Baird told reporters a month ago. “A lot of this is being led by senior officials in the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Baird is simply parroting the military regime, which has killed over 1,000 democracy protesters and incarcerated at least 3,000 more since overthrowing Morsi. They’ve also imposed martial law, a curfew and banned the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a bid to control the flow of information the military regime has shuttered a number of TV stations, including Al Jazeera, and stripped tens of thousands of imams — Muslim clerics — of their preaching licenses. The goal is to better control the political messages emanating from mosques.

Greyson and Loubani have had the misfortune of being caught up in this repressive climate. They are two, among many, victims of an out of control military regime desperately trying to reverse the democratic space opened up two and a half years ago with the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

While Greyson and Loubani’s incarceration is an irritant for the Conservatives, they are decidedly antagonistic to democracy struggles in Egypt. On January 25, 2011, Egyptians began 18 days of protest, including widespread labour actions, which would topple the 30-year presidency of Hosni Mubarak. The Conservatives stuck with Mubarak until literally the last possible minute. On February 10, 2011, Foreign Affairs called for “restraint from all parties to settle the crisis” and about three hours before Mubarak’s resignation was announced on February 11 Harper told a Newfoundland audience: “Our strong recommendations to those in power would be to lead change. To be part of it and to make a bright future happen for the people of Egypt.” The Prime Minister failed to call for Mubarak’s immediate departure.

Most of Canada’s traditional allies abandoned Mubarak before the Conservatives. The day after he stepped down Alec Castonguay explained in Le Devoir: “Canada was the only Western country to not call for an ‘immediate transition’ in Egypt. While Washington, London, Paris, Madrid and Rome openly called for an end to Mubarak’s rule and the transfer of power to a provisional government, Ottawa sided with Israel in refusing to condemn the old dictator.”

The Conservatives lackluster support for Loubani and Greyson reflects their support for Egypt’s military rulers, which is tied to an extreme pro-Israel outlook. If these two courageous individuals are further harmed blame the pro-Israel/anti-Egyptian democracy forces in this country.

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Canada’s chemical weapons problem: credibility

Somewhere in the Lester B. Pearson Building, Canada’s foreign affairs headquarters, must be a meeting room with the inscription “The World Should Do as We Say, Not As We Do” or perhaps “Hypocrites ‘R Us.”

With the Obama administration beating the war drums, Canadian officials are demanding a response to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of the chemical weapon sarin.

Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed “if it is not countered, it will constitute a precedent that we think is very dangerous for humanity in the long term” while for his part Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird declared: “If it doesn’t get a response it’s an open invitation for people, for Assad in Syria, or elsewhere to use these types of weapons that they’ve by and large refrained from doing since the First World War.” The Conservatives also signed Canada onto a White House statement claiming: “The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.”

While one may wish this were the case, it’s not. In fact, Canada has repeatedly been complicit with the use of chemical weapons.

During the war in Afghanistan, Canadian troops used white phosphorus, which is a chemical agent that can cause deep tissue burning and death when inhaled or ingested in significant amounts. In an October 2008 letter to theToronto Star, Corporal Paul Demetrick, a Canadian reservist, claimed Canadian forces used white phosphorus as a weapon against “enemy-occupied” vineyards. General Rick Hillier, former chief of the Canadian defence staff, confirmed the use of this defoliant. Discussing the difficulties of fighting the Taliban in areas with 10-foot tall marijuana plants, the general said: “We tried burning them with white phosphorous — it didn’t work.” After accusations surfaced of western forces (and the Taliban) harming civilians with white phosphorus munitions the Afghan government launched an investigation.

In a much more aggressive use of this chemical, Israeli forces fired white phosphorus shells during its January 2009 Operation Cast Lead that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead. Ottawa cheered on this 22-day onslaught against Gaza and the Conservatives have failed to criticize Israel for refusing to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention.

For decades the massive Suffield Base in Alberta was one of the largest chemical and biological weapons research centres in the world. A 1989 Peace Magazine article explained, “For almost 50 years, scientists from the Department of National Defence have been as busy as beavers expanding their knowledge of, and testing agents for, chemical and biological warfare (CBW) in southern Alberta.”

Initially led by Canadian and British scientists/soldiers, gradually the US military played a bigger role in the chemical weapons research at Suffield. A chemical warfare school began there in 1942 and it came to light that in 1966 US Air Force jets sprayed biological weapons simulants over Suffield to figure out how best to spray potentially fatal diseases on people. Until at least 1989 there were significant quantities of toxins, including sarin, stockpiled at the Alberta base. In 2006 former Canadian soldiers who claim to have been poisoned at Suffield launched a class action lawsuit against the Department of National Defense.

During the war in Vietnam, the US tested agents orange, blue, and purple at CFB Gagetown. A 1968 U.S. Army memorandum titled “defoliation tests in 1966 at base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada” explained: “The department of the army, Fort Detrick, Maryland, has been charged with finding effective chemical agents that will cause rapid defoliation of woody and Herbaceous vegetation. To further develop these objectives, large areas similar in density to those of interest in South East Asia were needed. In March 1965, the Canadian ministry of defense offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals. This land, located at Canadian forces base Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, was suitable in size and density and was free from hazards and adjacent cropland. The test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broad leaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of temperate and tropical areas such as South East Asia.”

Between 1962 and 1971 US forces sprayed some 75,000,000 litres of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. One aim was to deprive the guerrillas of cover by defoliating forests and rural land. Another goal of these defoliation efforts was to drive peasants from the countryside to the US dominated cities, which would deprive the national resistance forces of their food supply and rural support.

In addition to assisting chemical warfare by testing Agent Orange, during the Vietnam war Canadian manufacturers sold the US military “polystyrene, a major component in napalm,” according to the book Snow Job. A chemical agent that can cause deadly burns, Napalm was widely deployed by US forces in their war against Southeast Asia.

This deadly chemical agent was also used during the Korean War, which saw 27,000 Canadian troops go to battle. A New York Times reporter, George Barrett, described the scene in a North Korean village after it was captured by US-led forces in February 1951: “A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were holding up the advance, and nowhere in the village have they buried the dead because there is nobody left to do so. This correspondent came across one old women, the only one who seemed to be left alive, dazedly hanging up some clothes in a blackened courtyard filled with the bodies of four members of her family.

“The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No. 3,811,294 for a $2.98 ‘bewitching bed jacket — coral.’ There must be almost two hundred dead in the tiny hamlet.”

This NYT story captured the attention of Canadian External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson. In a letter to the Canadian ambassador in Washington, Hume Wrong, he wondered how it might affect public opinion and complained about it passing US media censors. “[Nothing could more clearly indicate] the dangerous possibilities of United States and United Nations action in Korea on Asian opinion than a military episode of this kind, and the way it was reported. Such military action was possibly ‘inevitable’ but surely we do not have to give publicity to such things all over the world. Wouldn’t you think the censorship which is now in force could stop this kind of reporting?”

No one denies that tens of thousands of liters of napalm were employed by UN forces in Korea. The use of biological weapons is a different story.

After the outbreak of a series of diseases at the start of 1952, China and North Korea accused the US of using biological weapons. Though the claims have neither been conclusively substantiated or disproven — some internal documents are still restricted — in Orienting Canada, John Price details the Canadian external minister’s highly disingenuous and authoritarian response to the accusations, which were echoed by some Canadian peace groups. While publicly highlighting a report that exonerated the US, Pearson concealed a more informed External Affairs analysis suggesting biological weapons could have been used. Additionally, when the Ottawa Citizen revealed that British, Canadian, and US military scientists had recently met in Ottawa to discuss biological warfare, Pearson wrote the paper’s owner to complain. Invoking national security, External Affairs “had it [the story] killed in the Ottawa Journal and over the CP [Canadian Press] wires.”

Price summarizes: “Even without full documentation, it is clear that the Canadian government was deeply involved in developing offensive weapons of mass destruction, including biological warfare, and that Parliament was misled by Lester Pearson at the time the accusations of biological warfare in Korea were first raised. We know also that the US military was stepping up preparations for deployment and use of biological weapons in late 1951 and that Canadian officials were well aware of this and actively supported it. To avoid revealing the nature of the biological warfare program and Canadian collaboration, which would have lent credence to the charges leveled by the Chinese and Korean governments, the Canadian government attempted to discredit the peace movement.”

International efforts to ban chemical weapons and to draw a “red line” over their use are a step forward for humanity. But this effort must include an accounting and opposition to Canada and its allies’ use of these inhumane weapons.

To have any credibility a country preaching against the use of chemical weapons must be able to declare: “Do as I do.”

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Conservative’s Syria policy is make war not peace

The Obama administration is looking to attack Syria. If they go forward without UN approval, the US would once again be violating international law and would likely inflame a conflict that’s already left 100,000 dead and displaced millions more.

For its part, Ottawa seems to want military action. Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “We do support our allies who are contemplating forceful action [in Syria]” and on Friday he added “we are simply not prepared to accept the idea that there is a Russian veto [at the UN Security Council] over all of our actions.”

At the same time as they are calling for war the Conservatives are telling a skeptical public that Canada won’t be significantly involved in any military action. “We have no plans of our own to have a Canadian military mission,” Harper told the press.

Yet, ten days ago the head of the Canadian military met generals from some of the main countries backing Syria’s rebels to discuss the prospects of building an international coalition force. Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson traveled to Amman alongside the top generals from the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, the UK, Italy, France and Germany. The three-day meeting was co-hosted by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Tartin Dempsey, and Jordan’s chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Mishaal Zaben.

While initially trying to keep the trip secret, the Department of National Defence later shifted gears claiming, “These meetings were planned months in advance and were not in response to the escalating situation in Syria.” This is hard to believe as Lawson traveled to Jordan just four months ago.

In another sign of Canada’s deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict the National Post and Ottawa Sun recently reported that Canada has funneled $5.3-million to the Syrian rebels’ propaganda efforts since April of last year. Working alongside Washington, Canadian funding has helped the rebels set up a pirate radio network and train bloggers and journalists “in an effort to rapidly increase international credibility of the Syrian opposition and visibility of humanitarian news reporting from Syria.” Foreign Affairs also admits to giving $650,000 to the Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre to support “research and collect evidence of human rights violations for use in future Syria-led transitional justice processes.”

Over the past two years Ottawa has pushed to unite the Syrian opposition both inside and outside of the country. One way they’ve done so is by paying for the rebels’ satellite Internet communication devices with the aim of “increasing co-ordination between opposition networks of local civilian actors involved in local administration and political leadership, during both the conflict and transition phases in Syria.”

Notwithstanding their support for the rebels and involvement in military planning, Harper’s Conservatives had been relatively restrained with their public comments on the violence in Syria. Compared to their belligerence towards Iran, Hezbollah, and the Palestinians, they’ve taken a slightly more nuanced position towards Syria, which reflects the fact that the Israeli establishment is torn between its desire to weaken Hezbollah and Iran by overthrowing Assad and its fear that Islamists taking over in Syria could lead to more volatility in the occupied Golan Heights.

At different points both Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Minister Baird have recognized that the war is not simply a brutal dictatorship crushing innocents but that there is also a sectarian element to the conflict and the rebels include many unsavory characters. Despite recognizing the extremist nature of some Syrian rebels, the Conservatives have yet to add any Syrian group to Canada’s list of banned terrorist organizations. Unlike the US, UK, and UN, Canada has not designated Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) as a terrorist group.

This might help explain why Canadians are thought to be over-represented among Western fighters in Syria. The Toronto Star reported that during the past year at least 100 Canadians have left to fight with the rebels in Syria.

While failing to list any opposition group, last September Ottawa saw fit to designate Syria a State Supporter of Terrorism. This “allows victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators… for loss or damage that has occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world.”

At the regional level Ottawa has denounced Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia for supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad but they’ve ignored the role Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and Qatar have played in the conflict. According to front-page Financial Times and Wall Street Journal articles, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have plowed billions of dollars worth of weaponry and other forms of support to the rebels. But there hasn’t been a public peep from the Conservatives about the Saudi’s and Qatar’s role in exacerbating the violence in Syria. Instead of calling on these repressive monarchies to desist, they have deepened Canada’s ties to the rebels’ main diplomatic and arms benefactors.

Conservative ministers have repeatedly visited Saudi Arabia. On his second visit to the Kingdom in a year, last week Minister of International Trade Ed Fast said, “There is a sincere desire on the part of our government to re-lift this relationship to a whole new level. We collaborate on security issues. We agree on a number of issues. … I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going.”

Over the past couple years Ottawa has ramped up arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies backing the rebels. At the start of 2010 the government-backed Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) sent its first-ever trade mission to Saudi Arabia while in 2011 the Conservatives approved arms export licenses worth a whopping $4 billion to Saudi Arabia.

In February, 25 Canadian companies flogged their wares at IDEX 2013, the largest arms fair in the Middle East and North Africa. “We’re excited to see such a large number of Canadian exhibitors,” said Arif Lalani, Canada’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, where IDEX 2013 was held. “These companies represent the best Canadian capabilities and technologies in a number of areas of the defence and security sector.” As part of their effort to promote Canadian weaponry, Ottawa sent HMCS Toronto to the UAE during IDEX.

If the Canadian government cared about Syrians, over the past two and a half years they would have been calling on Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah, Washington etc. to stop the flow of arms into Syria, which only prolongs people’s suffering. At the same time they would have been pushing aggressively for a negotiated resolution to the conflict.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

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