Tag Archives: war

How can First Nations believe Canada is a force for good in the world?

The power of foreign policy nationalism is immense. Even the primary victims of the Canadian state have been drawn into this country’s mythology.

Dispossessed of 99% of their land, Indigenous people have been made wards of the state, had their movement restricted and religious/cultural ceremonies banned. Notwithstanding their antagonistic relationship to the Canadian state, indigenous leaders have often backed Ottawa’s international policies.

At a National Aboriginal Veterans Day ceremony last week Grand Chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Stewart Phillip said Indigenous soldiers were “fighting for the common good” and were “on the right side of history.” But, Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. Ignored in the Remembrance Day style commemoration are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in recent years or the Serbians and Iraqis killed two decades ago or the Koreans killed in the 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that.

While Phillip’s comments reinforces the sense that Canada’s cause is righteous, he’s not a sycophant of power on most issues. Phillip refused to attend a “reconciliation” event with Prince William, called for “acts of civil disobedience” against pipelines and said “the State of Canada and the Church committed acts of genocide as defined by the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

Philip was but one of many indigenous voices applauding Canadian militarism during National Aboriginal Veterans Day/Remembrance Day activities. CBC Indigenous reported on a reading in Mi’kmaq of the pro-World War I poem “In Flanders Fields” and quoted the editor of Courageous Warriors of Kahkewistahaw First Nation, Ted Whitecalf, saying: “It’s all for freedom that the people served willingly and voluntarily.”

Outside of war commemorations, Indigenous representatives occasionally echo broader foreign policy myths. Alongside Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde was a keynote speaker at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation’s “Come Celebrate Canada’s International Contributions!!” event in May. Part of Canada’s 150th anniversary the Global Impact Soirée included a Global Affairs Canada exhibit titled “25 Years of Excellence in International Development Photography” and “Recognize Canada’s 15 international contributions”.

At the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, former AFN leader Matthew Coon Come denounced Canada’s “marginalization and dispossession of indigenous peoples.” In what was widely described as a forceful speech, Coon Come labeled Canada “an international advocate of respect for human rights” and said: “Canadians, and the government of Canada, present themselves around the world as upholders and protectors of human rights. In many ways, this reputation is well-deserved. In South Africa, the government of Canada played a prominent role in isolating the apartheid regime. In many other countries, Canada provides impressive international development assistance.” (While repeated regularly, Coon Come’s characterization of Canada’s role in opposing apartheid is incorrect and aid was largely conceived as a geopolitical tool to blunt radical decolonization.)

Indigenous opinion is, of course, not homogenous. Some chiefs have actively supported indigenous communities resisting Canadian mining projects in Latin America while former chief of Manitoba’s Roseau River First Nation Terrance Nelson called on first nations to forge their own international ties. Author of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, Gord Hill criticized First Nations collaboration with the Canadian Forces. From Kwakwaka’wakw nation, Hill denounced indigenous leaders supporting recruitment for a force “who continue to loot and plunder not only Indigenous lands here, but also those of tribal peoples in Afghanistan and Haiti.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Native Alliance of Red Power opposed“efforts to co-opt native leadership into Canadian imperialism.” The Coast Salish (Vancouver) based group protested local residential schools, police brutality, racism, sexism, as well as the war in Vietnam and colonialism in southern Africa.

Indigenous leaders have various ties to the foreign policy establishment. They are part of a slew of initiatives set up by the Canadian International Development Agency, Global Affairs Canada and Department of National Defence. Historically, Canadian military experience significantly shaped indigenous politics. After returning from the Western front Frederick Ogilvie Loft formed the League of Indians of Canada in 1919, the first pan-Canadian indigenous political organization. Backed by a significant share of the 4000 indigenous WWI veterans, the League led directly to today’s Indian Association of Alberta and Saskatchewan’s Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. “The League was also the forerunner of the National Indian Brotherhood, now known as the Assembly of First Nations”, explains a history of The League of Indians of Canada.

Rather than echo nationalist myth, Indigenous leaders and activists should be part of a movement for a just foreign policy. First Nation experiences with Canadian colonialism, including so-called aid, missionaries and government financing of indigenous organizations, can offer insight into this country’s foreign policy. Over the longer term an expansion of First Nations autonomy could redefine the Canadian state in a way that helps reset this country’s place in the world.

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Did you know Canada once invaded Russia?

The corporate media presents Russia as militaristic but ignores Canada’s invasion of that country.

100 years ago today a popular revolt ousted the Russian monarchy. Enraged at Nicholas II’s brutality and the horror of World War I, protests and strikes swept the capital of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). Within a week the czar abdicated. Later in the year the Bolsheviks rose to power in large part by committing to withdraw from the war.

The English, French and US responded to the Bolshevik’s rise by supporting the Russian monarchists (the whites) in their fight to maintain power. Six thousand Canadian troops also invaded. According to Roy Maclaren in Canadians in Russia, 1918 – 1919, Canadian gunners won “a vicious reputation amongst the Bolsheviks for the calm skill with which they used shrapnel as a short-range weapon against foot soldiers.”

While a Canadian naval vessel supported the White Russians, Canadian pilots stationed near the Black Sea provided air support.

The war against the Bolsheviks was initially justified as a way to reopen World War I’s eastern front (the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany). Canadian troops, however, stayed after World War I ended. In fact, 2,700 Canadian troops arrived in the eastern city of Vladivostok on January 5, 1919, two months after the war’s conclusion. A total of 3,800 Canadian troops, as well as Royal Northwest Mounted Police and 697 horses, went to Siberia, which the Whites continued to control long after losing Moscow, St. Petersburg and most of the western part of the country.

Ottawa maintained its forces in Russia after the conclusion of World War One partly to persuade the British that Canada merited inclusion in the Paris peace conference that would divvy up the spoils of the war. Prime Minister Borden wrote: “We shall stand in an unfortunate position unless we proceed with Siberia expedition. We made definite arrangements with the British government on which they have relied … Canada’s present position and prestige would be singularly impaired by deliberate withdrawal.”

Ottawa also feared the rise of anti-capitalism. On December 1, 1918, Borden wrote in his diary that he was “struck with the progress of Bolshevism in European countries.” For their part, Canadian working class groups condemned the invasion of Russia as “for the benefit of the capitalist.”  The president of the BC Federation of Labour Joseph Naylor asked, “is it not high time that the workers of the Western world take action similar to that of the Russian Bolsheviki and dispose of their masters as those brave Russians are now doing?”

The allies invaded Russia to defend the status quo, much to the dismay of many Canadians who welcomed the czar’s demise and found it difficult to understand why Canada would support Russian reactionaries. Opposition to the intervention was widespread even among soldiers. According to the Toronto Globe, 60-70 percent of the men sent to Siberia went unwillingly. One artillery section even refused to obey orders.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s western countries worked to isolate Moscow. Canada (and the US) opposed a treaty to guarantee Russia’s pre-war frontiers, which England had signed with Moscow. Ottawa recognized the Bolshevik government in 1924 but ties were severed after the British cut off relations in mid-1927.  Full diplomatic relations with Moscow would not restart until the late 1930s.

Russophobia has once again gripped the political/media establishment. A number of prominent commentators have defendedthe grandfather of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland collaboratingwith the Nazis on the grounds it was either them or the Russians occupying Ukraine during World War II. Freeland herself deflected questions on the matter by saying Moscow may be trying to “destabilize” Canadian democracy while Brigadier General Paul Rutherford warned of Russian cyber warfare. More dangerous, Ottawa is ramping up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep (Ukraine, Poland and Latvia) to counter “aggression”.

To help clear the thick fog of propaganda it’s useful to remember how Canada responded to the fall of Russia’s monarchy. While Russia has never invaded Canada, we once invaded their country.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

A day to remember

Remember.

Remember that today marks the culmination of a militarist, nationalist ritual organized by a reactionary state-backed group.

Every year the Royal Canadian Legion sells about 20 million red poppies in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. Remember that red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to “take up our quarrel with the foe” and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during World War I.

Remember that today, red poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans, or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s, or the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s, or the Koreans killed in the 1950s, or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on “our” side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous. But, Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II.

While there’s some criticism of the nationalism and militarism driving Remembrance Day, the organization sponsoring the red poppy campaign receives little critical attention. Incorporated by an act of Parliament, the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Services League was formed in 1926. Renamed the Royal Canadian Legion in 1960, from the get-go it was designed to counter more critical veteran organizations. In The Vimy Trap: or, How We Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift write, “benefiting from government recognition, the Legion slowly supplanted its rivals. It was consciously designed as [a] body that would soothe the veterans temper and moderate their demands.”

In 1927 the federal government granted the Legion a monopoly over poppy distribution and the Veterans Affairs-run Vetcraft made the Legion’s poppies for 75 years. The Legion has benefited from various other forms of government support. Its branches have received public funds and the Governor General, head of the Canadian Forces, is the Legion’s Grand Patron and numerous prime ministers and defence ministers have addressed its conventions.

While its core political mandate is improving veterans’ services, the Legion has long advocated militarism and a reactionary worldview. In the early 1930s it pushed for military build-up and its 1950 convention called for “total preparedness.” In 1983 its president, Dave Capperauld, supported US cruise missiles tests in Alberta and into the early 1990s the Legion took “an uncompromising stand on the importance of maintaining a strong Canadian military presence in Europe through NATO, and by supporting the United States build-up of advanced nuclear weapons.”

The Legion has also espoused a racist, paranoid and pro-Empire worldview. In the years after World War II it called for the expulsion of Canadians of Japanese origin and ideological screening for German immigrants. A decade before WWII, reports Branching Out: the story of the Royal Canadian Legion, “Manitoba Command unanimously endorsed a resolution to ban communist activities, and provincial president Ralph Webb…warned that children were being taught to spit on the Union Jack in Manitoba schools.”

Long after the end of the Cold War the organization remains concerned about “subversives.” Today, Legion members have to sign a statement that begins: “I hereby solemnly declare that I am not a member of, nor affiliated with, any group, party or sect whose interests conflict with the avowed purposes of the Legion, and I do not, and will not, support any organization advocating the overthrow of our government by force or which advocates, encourages or participates in subversive action or propaganda.”

The veterans group has sought to suppress critical understanding of military history. In the mid-2000s the Legion battled Canadian War Museum historians over an exhibition about the World War II allied bomber offensive. After shaping its development, the Legion objected to a small part of a multifaceted exhibit, which questioned “the efficacy and the morality of the…massive bombing of Germany’s industrial and civilian targets.” With the museum refusing to give the veterans an effective veto over its exhibit, Legion Magazine called for a boycott. The Legion’s campaign led to hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs and a new display that glossed over a bombing campaign explicitly designed to destroy German cities. It also led to the director of the museum, Joe Guerts, resigning.

A decade earlier the Legion participated in a campaign to block the three-part series The Valour and the Horror from being rebroadcast or distributed to schools. The 1992 CBC series claimed Canadian soldiers committed unprosecuted war crimes during World War II and that the British-led bomber command killed 600,000 German civilians. The veterans groups’ campaign led to a Senate inquiry, CRTC hearing and lawsuit, as well as a commitment from CBC to not rebroadcast The Valour and the Horror without amendments.

Rather than supporting the militaristic, jingoistic, nationalism of the Legion, Canadians of good conscience should support peace organizations’ white poppy campaign to remember all victims of war.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel, Canada in Africa, Canada in Haiti, The Truth May Hurt, The Ugly Canadian

Glorifying a very bad war

In their bid to brand Canada a “warrior nation,” Stephen Harper’s Conservatives seek to glorify Canadian military history, regardless of its horrors.

On Saturday Canada’s Minister of Veteran Affairs released a statement to mark “113 years since the end of the South African war.” Erin O’Toole said, “Canada commemorates all those who served in South Africa, contributing to our proud military history.”

But the Boer War was a brutal conflict to strengthen British colonial authority in Africa, which ultimately led to racial apartheid. In the late 1800s the Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, increasingly found themselves at odds with British interests in southern Africa. Large quantities of gold were found thirty miles south of the Boer capital, Pretoria, in 1886 and the Prime Minister of UK’s Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, and other British miners wanted to get their hands on more of the loot. There was also a geostrategic calculation. The Boer gold and diamond fields in the Orange Free State and Transvaal were drawing the economic heart of southern Africa away from the main British colonies on the coast. If this continued London feared that the four southern African colonies might unite, but outside of the British orbit, which threatened its control of an important shipping lane.

Between 1898 and 1902 London launched a vicious war against the Boer. With Cecil Rhodes’ Imperial South African Association promoting anti-Boer sentiment in this country, some 7,400 Canadians fought to strengthen Britain’s position in southern Africa.

The war was devastating for the Boers. As part of a scorched-earth campaign the British-led forces burned their crops and homesteads and poisoned their wells. About 200,000 Boer were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Twenty-eight thousand (mostly children) died of disease, starvation and exposure in these camps.

In Another Kind of Justice: Canadian Military Law from Confederation to SomaliaChris Madsen points out that, “Canadian troops became intimately involved in the nastier aspects of the South African war.” Whole columns of troops participated in search, expel and burn missions. Looting was common. One Canadian soldier wrote home “I tell you there is some fun in it. We ride up to a house and commandeer anything you set your eyes on. We are living pretty well now.” There are also numerous documented instances of Canadian troops raping and killing innocent civilians.

As with the Boer, the war was devastating for many Africans. Over 100,000 blackswere held in concentration camps but the British failed to keep a tally of their deaths so it’s not known how many died of disease or starvation. Some estimate that as many as 20,000 Africans were worked to death in camps during the war.

Unlike the Boer, the blacks’ plight didn’t improve much after the war. In Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902 Carman Miller notes, “Although imperialists had made much of the Boer maltreatment of the Blacks, the British did little after the war to remedy their injustices.” In fact, the war reinforced white/British dominance over the region’s indigenous population.

The peace agreement with the Boer included a guarantee that Africans would not be granted the right to vote before the two defeated republics gained independence. In The History of Britain in Africa John Charles Hatch explains: “By the time that self-government was restored in 1906 and 1907, they [the Boer] were able to reestablish the racial foundations of their states on the traditional principle of ‘No equality in church or state.'” Blacks and mixed race people were excluded from voting in the postwar elections and would not gain full civil rights for nine decades.

For Harper’s Conservatives the details of the Boer War are barely relevant. What matters is that Canadians traveled to a distant land to do battle beside a great empire. That’s the “warrior” they seek to re-create.

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Filed under The Ugly Canadian

Israel has turned a progressive community into warmongers

From a left-wing community once at the forefront of struggles against racism, unconditional support for Israel has turned a significant proportion of Toronto Jews into promoters of hatred against “Arabs” and into allies of right wing, bigoted, homophobic Christian Bible literalists.

During 15 years of activism in Montréal, Ottawa and Vancouver I haven’t seen anything equivalent to the racist, militarist pro-Israel movement experienced recently in Toronto. And sadly the quasi-fascistic organization driving the charge seems increasingly enmeshed within a community that once led the fight against racism and fascism in the city.

On Saturday at Queen’s Park (the grounds of the Ontario legislature) I was shoved, spat on, had my bike damaged and lock stolen by members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a hate group that is banned in the U.S. and Israel. My offence was to chant “kill more Palestinian children” as hundreds of JDL and B’nai B’rith supporters rallied to applaud the onslaught on Gaza in a counter demonstration to those opposed to Israel’s massacres.

The following day, also at Queen’s Park, a JDL member knocked a pro-Palestinian counter demonstrator to the ground and kicked him in the face. Half an hour after this happened, a JDL member walked some 50 metres around a barricade to where I was standing alone chanting at the pro-war rally and spat on me three times. Both incidents were caught on tape by major media outlets.

New to pro-Palestinian activism in Toronto, I was unaware of just how aggressive and organized the JDL had become. It’s reached the point where some Palestinian solidarity groups avoid publicizing pickets out of fear they might disrupt them.

In the US the JDL has been outlawed since 2001. Its members have been convicted in a series of acts of terror, including the killing of the regional director of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee and a plot to assassinate a Congressman. A member of the JDL’s sister organization in Israel killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre twenty years ago. In 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against a number of JDL members who were thought to be plotting to bomb Palestine House in Mississauga.

Despite the group’s links to terrorism, the JDL appears to find support from much of the organized Jewish community and even in Ottawa. In a significant boost to the group, Stephen Harper included a member in his official delegation on a recent trip to Israel; recent Canadian Jewish News coverage of the group has been sympathetic; rabbis attended the JDL/B’nai B’rith sponsored counterdemonstration Saturday; on Sunday the group provided “security” for the Canadians for Israel rally. Rather than being an isolated fringe group the Jewish mainstream tries to ostracize, the JDL seems to be gaining influence.

The growth of Canada’s JDL parallels the increasingly extreme violence of the Israeli government and the resulting worldwide outrage over that country’s aggressive expansionism. The mainstream Jewish community is marching in lockstep with the Israeli state and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have not only accepted it, they have promoted it. Over the past three weeks Israel has killed over 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, displaced more than a tenth of the population and destroyed most of the area’s electricity and water supply. Yet, the Israeli government still receives unequivocal support from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, B’nai B’rith and other leading Canadian Jewish organizations. As part of its support for the recent killings in Gaza the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, the community’s main philanthropic arm, has added $2.25 million to its annual aid to Israel.

While the JDL would likely back the complete incineration of Gaza, one wonders just how far the more mainstream groups are willing to go in cheering on Israel’s current onslaught, its third large-scale assault on Gaza in five years. Will the Jewish establishment withdraw support if 2,000 Palestinian are killed? Or is the breakpoint 5,000? Or maybe B’nai B’rith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs would back the Israeli military all the way to 50,000 dead?

While one might want to believe that the warmongering promoted by dominant Jewish organizations is not widely shared by the community they claim to represent, I’ve seen too many sizable pro-war rallies and witnessed too many outbursts of anti-Arab racism over the past three weeks in Toronto to be hopeful in this regard. Wide swaths of Toronto’s Jewish community seem to be mimicking the Israeli public’s racist militarism. (Google stories about Israelis chanting “death to the Arabs”, celebrating military blasts on Gaza from hilltops nearby or beating peace activists.) On Bloor Street two weeks ago a middle-aged man walking with his partner crumbled a leaflet I handed him, pointed at two older Arab looking men who responded, and yelled “barbarians”. In a similarly bizarre racist outburst, a man who was biking past the Saturday demonstration stopped to engage and soon after he was pointing at a young Arab looking child close by and telling me that I was indoctrinating him to kill. And then on Sunday an older woman interrupted a phone conversation I was having about Israel’s destruction of Gaza and yelled she hoped Israel kills “10,000 more”.

The idea that Toronto’s Jewish community in 2014 would be front-and-centre in backing racist militarism is profoundly depressing and quite the historic reversal. Seven decades ago righteous Jewish youth fought back against fascist thugs terrorizing non-Anglo-Saxons in the 1933 Christie Pits Riot. Two decades after that the Canadian Jewish Congress helped win the famous Noble v. Alley Supreme Court case, which prompted Ontario to pass a law voiding racist land covenants, a major victory in the battle for racial equality.

But, while six decades ago Jewish organizations fought racist land restrictions, today there is no other community that so strongly and openly backs racist supremacy in land use. Six months ago some 4,500 people packed the Toronto Convention Centre to honour Stephen Harper at a Jewish National Fund fundraiser. Owner of 13% of Israel’s land, the Jewish National Fund excludes Palestinian citizens of Israel and other non-Jews from its properties.

In 2014 “respectable” members of the pro-Zionist Jewish community fundraise for an organization with racist land covenants, work together with Christian fundamentalists and defend Israel’s slaughter of civilians in Gaza, while the harder edge youth attend JDL demonstrations or enlist as “lone soldiers” with a murderous foreign army.

Shame.

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Filed under Canada and Israel