Canadian Aid

Canadian foreign aid has been widely derided as ineffective. But that’s simply not true. Commentators have just been looking in the wrong places.  Canadian aid has been highly effective at transforming taxes into profits for major Canadian corporations. And it’s also played a significant role in keeping the world safe for the U.S. led corporate oligarchy.

Recently, for example, Montreal based SNC Lavalin became the largest engineering company in the world. As one of the largest corporate recipients of Canadian "aid", SNC Lavalin works on CIDA-financed projects across the globe, from Haiti to Afghanistan, India to Lebanon. And now the sun never sets on SNC Lavalin.

The government may call it foreign aid, but a central aim of the Canadian International Development Agency has always been to help Canadian companies expand abroad both directly and indirectly. The mining sector, for instance, is one of Canadian aid’s greatest success stories and today, Canadian companies hold some 7000 mining concessions around the world. "Today," explains This Magazine, "Canadians are hewers of other people’s wood, drawers of other people’s water – and exploiters of other people’s copper, oil and gold. Funny how those other people are usually of an, er, dusky hue." 

By having a direct hand in liberalizing mining codes in Colombia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Guinea etc., CIDA has helped the flow of mining profits into Canada. In addition, Canada has channeled billions of "aid" dollars through IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programs that have liberalized mining laws around the world.  Helping keep the world safe for ever-greater exploitation by the world’s corporate oligarchy has been Canadian aid’s biggest success.  During the early Cold War years for example, the major recipient of Canadian aid was India. Canada’s "special relationship" with India was aimed at keeping the world’s second most populous nation in the western fold. It worked.

Canadian influence over India was most apparent at the International Control Commission for Vietnam, created in 1954 to oversee the implementation of the Geneva Accords that ended the First Indochina War with the Partition of Vietnam. At the ICC, Poland represented the Eastern bloc, Canada represented the West, and India was supposed to be neutral. In the midst of US aggression in Vietnam, India sided with Canada in support of the US war against Vietnam, despite India’s history of colonial domination (not unlike Vietnam’s). The commonalities between the two countries, however, were outweighed by aid dollars. Canadian and US aid to India, which dwarfed anything Poland, Vietnam or the USSR was offering, played no small role in India’s stance at the ICC.  It wasn’t until the totally one sided nature of Canada’s position on the ICC and US aggression became so flagrant that India moved closer to Poland’s position.

Haiti may be the country where CIDA’s aid has been most "effective" and yet few Canadians are familiar with the story. Contributing to the US-backed destabilization campaign against the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide, Canadian aid was all but eliminated to an elected government highly dependent on foreign assistance. At the same time, CIDA financed Quebec and Haitian NGOs whose hysterical opposition to Aristide was certainly influenced by the politics of their government donors. An understanding that intervention would lead to increased aid (and money for the NGOs) also likely influenced it. Not until Aristide was gone, and a post-coup government installed by the USA, France and Canada, did the aid spigot gush for Canadian and Haitian NGOs. After the elected President was forced out of the country, CIDA provided $100,000 to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, a highly partisan human rights organization, to prosecute the masterminds of a massacre. The problem is that there is near unanimous agreement (from UN investigators to the New York Times) that this massacre never took place (What was reported, on the other hand, were clashes between pro and anti-government forces that left a half a dozen dead on either side). According to NCHR, Haiti’s constitutional Prime Minister, Interior Minister and a number of other former government officials who did not flee Haiti after the coup, were responsible for this massacre, which supposedly justified the coup.

It’s important to note that not only did CIDA finance the prosecution of this alleged massacre, it was a CIDA financed and militarized Haitian police force that arrested the former Prime Minister on orders from a Justice Ministry where a CIDA employee, Philip Vixamar, was second in charge. He remained in jail for over two years under a CIDA financed court system stacked by the coup government.

Of course, Canada’s  "aid" operations were not only about pleasing the U.S. elite and keeping the Haitian working class at a minimum wage of a $1 per day. They were also about serving the interests of specific Canadian corporations such as SNC Lavalin, St. Genevieve and Gildan Activewear.   

Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. Both books are published by RED/Fernwood and available at www.turning.ca

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