As much as some Canadians would like to believe their country is a force for good in the world, the truth is more sobering. Extreme inequality is rampant and the Canadian government is an important supporter of corporate power and imperialism in global affairs. The good news is that the pushers of the unfair, unjust and immoral existing world order do not always get their way.
It is uplifting to tally some of the Trudeau government’s setbacks:
Last Friday the International Criminal Court ruled that it has jurisdiction over Israeli war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, which should pave the way for a possible criminal investigation. A year ago the Trudeau government sent a letter to the ICC saying it didn’t believe the court had jurisdiction over Palestine. Its letter implied it could sever funding to the ICC if the court pursued an investigation of Israeli crimes. After the recent decision new Foreign Minister Marc Garneau released a statement criticizing the ICC decision.
On January 26 former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau withdrew his bid to lead the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries after it was determined he had no chance of winning.
On January 22 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force, making weapons that have always been immoral also illegal under international law. Canada voted against holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination and boycotted the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of the world’s countries attended.
On January 20 new US President Joe Biden revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The Trudeau government pressed the president-elect to break a direct promise and maintain a climate-destroying pipeline okayed by Donald Trump.
Since Venezuela’s new National Assembly began sitting on January 6 numerous countries have withdrawn from the US–Canada led campaign to anoint Juan Guaidó President. The European Union dropped its de facto recognition of Guaidó. As did the Dominican Republic. Even the Ottawa-led Lima Group has softened its stance. Last week Panama withdrew the credentials of Guaidó’s ambassador.
In October Chileans voted overwhelming to rewrite the country’s Pinochet-era constitution. The referendum was a blow to Canadian corporations operating in Chile and the Trudeau government’s alliance with right-wing governments in the hemisphere.
A week earlier Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo won a decisive election victory that was a rejection of the Canadian-backed coup against Evo Morales a year earlier. The overwhelming results were also a blow to Ottawa’s bid to wipe out the remnants of the leftist pink tide in Latin America. (On Sunday an ally of leftist former President Rafael Correa, Andrés Arauz, gained the most votes in the first round of Ecuador’s presidential election.)
In June the international community decisively rejected Trudeau’s foreign policy. They voted against Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council by a larger margin than a decade earlier under Stephen Harper.
People who support a fairer, more just and equal world should take comfort from these defeats for the Trudeau government’s pro-corporate and imperial policies. Proof that the bad guys are not invincible should offer hope for bigger victories to come.
The movement to abolish nuclear weapons has been around for a long time, taking a torturous path through highs and lows. Another high will be achieved next week when the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty enters into force.
On January 22 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will become law for the 51 countries that have already ratified it (35 others have signed it and another 45 have expressed their support). Weapons that have always been immoral will become illegal.
But, jettisoning stated support for nuclear abolition, a feminist foreign-policy and an international rules-based order — all principles the TPNW advances — the Trudeau government opposes the treaty. Hostility to nuclear disarmament from the US, NATO and Canada’s military is too strong for the Trudeau government to live up to its stated beliefs.
The TPNW is largely the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Established in April 2007, ICAN spent a decade building support for various international disarmament initiatives culminating in the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. The TPNW was born of that conference.
Indirectly, ICAN traces its roots much further back. Even before the first nuke decimated Hiroshima 75 years ago many opposed nuclear weapons. As the horror of what took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki became clearer, opposition to atomic bombs grew.
In Canada opposition to nuclear weapons reached its zenith in the mid 1980s. Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and other cities became nuclear weapons free zones and Pierre Trudeau appointed an ambassador for disarmament. In April 1986 100,000 marched in Vancouver to oppose nuclear weapons.
The mainstreaming of nuclear abolition took decades of activism. In the 1950s the Canadian Peace Congress was viciously attacked for promoting the Stockholm Appeal to ban atomic bombs. External Affairs Minister Lester Pearson said, “this Communist sponsored petition seeks to eliminate the only decisive weapon possessed by the West at a time when the Soviet Union and its friends and satellites possess a great superiority in all other types of military power.”Pearson called for individuals to destroy the Peace Congress from the inside, publicly applauding 50 engineering students who swamped a membership meeting of the University of Toronto Peace Congress branch. He proclaimed, “if more Canadians were to show something of this high spirited crusading zeal, we would very soon hear little of the Canadian Peace Congress and its works. We would simply take it over.”
CCF leader M.J. Coldwell also berated Peace Congress activists. The 1950 convention of the NDP’s predecessor condemned the Stockholm Appeal to ban atomic bombs.
For protesting nuclear weapons some were arrested and put on the PROFUNC (PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist Party) list of individuals the police would round up and detain indefinitely in the case of an emergency. According to Radio Canada’s Enquête, a 13-year girl was on the secretive list simply because she attended an anti-nuclear protest in 1964.
Efforts to ban nuclear weapons face far less opposition today. Anti-nuclear activism in Canada has been re-energized since the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer and the TPNW achieving its ratification threshold in November. In the fall 50 organizations endorsed an event with three MPs on “Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN nuclear ban treaty?” and former prime minister Jean Chrétien, deputy prime minister John Manley, defence ministers John McCallum and Jean-Jacques Blais, and foreign ministers Bill Graham and Lloyd Axworthy signed an international statement organized by ICAN in support of the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty.
To mark the TPNW entering into force 85 groups are supporting ads in The Hill Times calling for a parliamentary debate on signing the Treaty. There will also be a press conference with representatives of the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Greens to demand Canada sign the TPNW and on the day the treaty enters into force Noam Chomsky will speak on “The Threat of Nuclear Weapons: Why Canada Should Sign the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty”.
To force the Trudeau government to overcome the influence of the military, NATO and the USA requires significant mobilization. Fortunately, we have the experience to do it. The push for Canada to sign the TPNW is rooted in decades of activists’ work to abolish these ghastly weapons.
A Vancouver MP’s last-minute withdrawal from a recent webinar on Canada’s nuclear arms policy highlights Liberal hypocrisy. The government says they want to rid the world of nuclear weapons but refuse to take a minimal step to protect humanity from the serious threat.
A month ago Liberal MP Hedy Fry agreed to participate in a webinar on “Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?” The long-standing member of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament group was to speak with MPs from the NDP, Bloc Québécois and Greens, as well as Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow, who co-accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. More than 50 organizations endorsed the webinar that took place Thursday. After the press was informed about an event seeking to press Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) Fry said she couldn’t participate due to a scheduling conflict. Asked for a short video to play during the webinar Fry declined.
Did the Prime Minister’s Office intercede after becoming aware of Fry’s participation and the 27-year veteran of the House of Commons caved to their pressure?
Fry’s withdrawal from the exchange of ideas captures the hypocrisy of the Liberals’ nuclear policy. They publicly express a desire to abolish these ghastly weapons but are unwilling to upset any source of power (the PMO in Fry’s case) and the military/Washington (in the PMO’s case) to achieve it.
Last month Global Affairs claimed “Canada unequivocally supports global nuclear disarmament” while two weeks ago a government official repeated their support for a “world free of nuclear weapons.” These statements were made in response to renewed focus on nuclear disarmament after the 50th country recently ratified the TPNW, which means the accord will soon become law for the nations that have ratified it. The treaty is designed to stigmatize and criminalize nukes in a similar fashion to the UN landmine treaty and Chemical Weapons Convention.
But the Trudeau government has been hostile to the initiative. Canada was one of 38 states to vote against -123 voted in favour – holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Trudeau then refused to send a representative to the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of all countries attended. The PM went so far as to call the anti-nuclear initiative “useless” and since then his government has refused to join the 85 countries that have already signed the Treaty. At the UN General Assembly two weeks ago Canada voted against the 118 countries that reaffirmed their support for the TPNW.
In isolation the gap between the Liberals’ nuclear weapons pronouncements and actions is striking. But if one broadens the lens, the hypocrisy is substantially more astounding. The Trudeau government says its international affairs are driven by a belief in an “international rules-based order” and “feminist foreign policy” yet they refuse to sign a nuclear treaty that directly advances these stated principles.
The TPNW has been dubbed the “first feminist law on nuclear weapons” since it specifically recognizes the different ways in which nuclear weapons production and use disproportionately impacts women. Additionally, the TPNW strengthens the international rules-based order by making these weapons that are immoral also illegal under international law.
There’s a terrifying gap between what the Liberals say and do on weapons that continue to pose an existential threat to humanity.
Like a cereal company marketing sugar-covered GMO cornflakes as a “healthy breakfast”, Justin Trudeau’s government spouts progressive buzzwords that mask elitist, pro-corporate policies.
As part of their self-declared “feminist foreign policy” the Liberals established a Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), convened the first ever Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and appointed an Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security. Considered in isolation, each of these initiatives is praiseworthy. The problem is the government’s broader foreign policy is decidedly non-feminist and their ‘feminist’ marketing legitimates those policies.
For example, Honduras recently became the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). As such, it will enter into force on January 22 for those nations that have adopted it. The Trudeau government opposed negotiating a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons, boycotted the conference where it was born and has steadfastly opposed signing the treaty. At the UN on Tuesday Canada voted against a resolution backed by 118 countries that reaffirmed support for the TPNW.
This is the opposite of a feminist foreign policy. In The Nation Ray Acheson, director of the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, wrote, “the TPNW is the first feminist law on nuclear weapons, recognizing the disproportionate impacts of nuclear weapons on women and girls and on Indigenous peoples, urging more equitable participation of women in disarmament, and mandating victim assistance and environmental remediation in relation to nuclear weapon use and testing.” Women exposed to nuclear radiation are significantly more likely to suffer deleterious health impacts than men.
Another example of Liberal hollow words: Bolivians recently defeated an elitist, Christian extremist, coup government. They did so through protests demanding an election and then a landslide victory at the polls. In the recent election women (mostly indigenous) won 57% of the seats in the Senate and 51% of the positions in the Chamber of Representatives. By way of comparison 29% of Canadian Members of Parliament are women.
From what I can tell the Trudeau government has remained silent on this feminist win. Understandably. Last year the Liberals backed the overthrow of the Bolivian government that adopted the legislative measures that greatly advanced women’s representation in politics.
The Liberals have also been seeking to oust a Nicaraguan government in which women hold more than half of all cabinet positions and 40 percent of the legislature. While seeking to get rid of leftist governments with stronger feminist credentials, Trudeau touts right-wing allies for being pro woman. In August 2018 the PM lauded extreme right Colombian president Ivan Duque for adopting “a gender-equal cabinet.” Over the past two years the number of women social movement leaders murdered has increased significantly at least partly because of Duque’s policies, notably his bid to scuttle the peace accord with the FARC rebels.
A number of repressive, elitist governments have claimed the feminist mantle to curry favour with Ottawa. When a parliamentary delegation led by Liberal MP Robert Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2018 the Egyptian president claimed his dictatorial regime promoted women’s rights. This hard-to-believe claim appeared in the delegation’s post trip report that whitewashed el-Sisi’s substantial repression.
In a similar vein, proposed Haitian Prime Minister Fritz William Michel presented a gender-balanced cabinet amidst massive protests in July 2019 calling for President Jovenel Moïse to go. Moïse’s appointee sought to align with a stated objective of his second most influential backer, which generated sympathetic Canadian headlines. Along with praise for Moïse, Global Affairs’ webpage about “Canada’s international assistance in Haiti” focuses on gender equity and during a February 2018 visit international development minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, launched the first project under FIAP’s Women’s Voice and Leadership Program. “It’s a new president and we want to support him,” Bibeau told CBC before leaving on a trip that included a meeting with Haiti’s illegitimate leader.
Taking the feminist justification for its support of the corrupt and repressive Haitian regime to an absurd extreme, the Trudeau government recently tendered a $12.5 million contract in operational support to the Haitian police under its Feminist International Assistance Policy! Haiti’s Canadian-trained and funded police force is what sustained Moïse as president while facing multiple general strikes between July 2018 and December 2019.
As the Liberals have touted their “feminist foreign policy,” they have also sold armoured vehicles to the Saudis and deepened ties to other misogynistic Gulf oil kingdoms. In another position hard to align with feminism, Canada was one of two countries to vote against a June 2019 United Nations Economic and Social Council resolution stating, “the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights.”
In a highly patriarchal and unequal world one cannot expect a government — even one, unlike the Liberals, genuinely committed to feminism — to be consistent on the subject. But, the Liberals have taken hypocrisy to new heights and this sort of fake feminist branding can weaken progressive resistance to reactionary policies, if people actually believe the marketing.
In fact, the FIAP was launched partly to dampen criticism of the dearth of aid spending at a time when they ramped up decidedly (patriarchal) military spending. The government launched their Feminist International Assistance Program two days before releasing their 2017 defence policy statement, which included a 70% increase in military spending over a decade. The FIAP didn’t include any new aid, which was at its lowest proportion of GDP in half a century. (As I’ve detailed, Canadian aid is far from as benevolent as often portrayed, but it’s preferable to military spending.) In “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: Bold Statement or Feminist Fig Leaf?” Stephen Brown and Liam Swiss write, “while the feminist aid policy will buttress the Liberal government’s feminist credentials, it will also provide a convenient fig leaf for the lack of political will to expand aid funding and decidedly un-feminist policies in other areas.”
The primary problem with the Liberals’ “feminist foreign policy” is not the specific initiatives or even the hypocritical double standards. It’s how the marketing drains all meaning from the word ‘feminist’ and sometimes succeeds in convincing progressives to support a foreign policy overwhelmingly driven by the US Empire and Canadian corporations.