From local ‘threats’ to global ‘threats’
Desmond Morton, another completely mainstream and conventional historian, nevertheless makes a good point about the implications of Canada’s military relationship with the US. The only plausible military threat Canada has ever faced has been the United states, and in Morton’s words: “Canadians found that one good way to keep the peace is not to prepare for a hopeless war. Imagine if Canadians had dutifully assumed the old British defence burdenâ€¦ hundreds of thousands of Canadians would have spent their youth drilling and maneouvring for a war they could never win. Ottawa would have spent millions of dollars on defence, but it could never be enough. Alarmed at military threats on their border, Americans would have mobilized armies and matched cannon for cannon.” (6, pg. 10)
What does a military do when it is not focusing on plausible external threats? Too often, they become instruments for suppressing the local population. Many of the major Canadian military mobilizations in recent history have been against the population, especially the indigenous. In 1990 in Mohawk communities at Oka, Quebec and Akwesasne Ontario, 5,000 soldiers were mobilized. Again in 1993, the RCMP, CSIS, and the military coordinated another mission against these same communities. 800 RCMP were mobilized, backed by “several thousand soldiers”, to “take control of the reserves.” The Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment “requested seven M113 armoured personnel carriers, 13 heavy machineguns, and large stocks o riot gearâ€¦ the 5e Groupe Mecanise du Canadaâ€¦ asked for an extra $4.2 million worth of ammunition.” (7, pg. 35)
Luckily for everyone involved, that operation was called off before massive violence ensued. But the Canadian authorities are confronting these same communities again today.
Not too long afterwards, 400 RCMP officers mobilized in British Columbia against a small group of Secwempec indigenous at Gustafson Lake who were claiming a part of ranch as an ancestral burial site. The RCMP fired thousands of rounds into the forest. This operation, too, was called off, thankfully, before bloodshed.
These kinds of mobilizations against indigenous people were ‘practice’ runs for Canadian units to work in other countries. “Joint Task Force Two”, a secret ‘elite’ commando unit, which may or may not have been present at these indigenous assaults, helped train the Haitian police in the mid-1990s: “JTF2′s job was to train Haitian police officers in the art of ‘door kicking’ and building takedownsâ€¦ SWAT team would be used to hunt down and seize arms caches held by extremists and former army officers intent on overthrowing the Preval government.” (Pugliese pg. 60) JTF2 went off to Zaire in the period between the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the genocidal war in the Congo of 1998-2001. JTF2 helped train the Royal Nepalese Army in counterinsurgency techniques, advising that institution on “tactics and the best use of its forces against the guerrillas.” (Pugliese pg. 66)
A long tradition of profiteering
War profiteering in Canada went on before the war on Vietnam (WWI and WWII have their own shining examples). The Vietnam war took it to new heights, and Canada has stayed at those heights since, providing arms and other services for human rights violations all over the world. These are just three examples in a very long list.
Chile is an interesting historical example. On the University of Toronto campus there is a building called the Munk Centre. Peter Munk had this to say about Chilean dictator, Pinochet, in 1996:
‘At a shareholders’ meeting in Toronto on May 9, 1996, Peter Munk, Chairman of Barrick Gold corporation, praised General Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world.” Regarding Pinochet’s human rights record Munk said, “they can put people in jail, I have no comment on that, I think that may be true…I think [the end justifies the means] because it brought wealth to an enormous number of people. If you ask somebody who is in jail, he’ll say no. But that’s the wonderful thing about our world; we can have the freedom to disagree.”(8)
Pinochet’s protection of the “freedom to disagree” went as follows, in Asad Ismi’s words:
“In the year after the coup, the armed forces and police murdered 5,000-30,000 Chileans for their beliefs and associations. A quarter of the organized work force were dismissed for political reasons. Every labor right was suspended and most labor federations were dissolved. The regime’s opponents were tortured, kidnapped, exiled, jailed and sent to concentration camps. During 1975-79, between 1,600 and 2,500 Chileans disappeared after detention by Pinochet’s secret police.
“With his opponents killed, jailed, or in exile and the union movement crushed, the General reversed 35 years of economic development. Pinochet’s monetarist model was supervised by Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago. Starting in 1975, the “Chicago Boys” reduced import duties, deregulated industry, eliminated limits on foreign investment, sold public enterprises at low prices, freed the prices of basic necessities and privatized such government services as parks, prisons, utilities, schools, health care, and pensions.” (8)
Despite Munk’s admiration, Pinochet did not help Chile’s economy by doing all this killing and deregulation, instead bringing about the worst economic crisis in Chile’s history. By 1982, after all the ‘privatization’, the state controlled more of the economy than it had under Allende, after bailing out investors and Chile’s own elite. Even today, Chile’s economy relies on the nationalized copper company, CODELCO.
Pinochet did, however, help set the stage for Canadian mining to make handsome profits. Canadian investment in Chile was $4 billion in 1997, making Canada the biggest foreign investor there. At Barrick Gold’s mines, workers are paid $500-1000 a month, while Canadians at the same mines make $5000. Gold mining company Placer Dome and gas company Nova Corporation also cleaned up in Chile.
Indonesia and East Timor
Indonesia was taken over by brutal dictator Suharto in 1967. Suharto’s first act was to kill several hundred thousand people: communists, independent nationalists, and any other people who might have been rivals to his dictatorship. The United States helped Suharto out because of his anti-communist credentials. So did Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau visited Suharto in 1971 and announced a $4 million interest free loan.
Suharto visited Canada in July of 1975, while Indonesia was planning the invasion of East Timor. Canada offered him a $200 million line of credit. Sharon Scharfe’s book on Canadian ‘Complicity’ in the occupation and mass murder in East Timor (Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1996) quotes a Prime Minister’s office memorandum sayin: “a successful Canadian aid program in Indonesiaâ€¦ will contribute to a range of Canadianâ€¦ interests including economic growth and quality of lifeâ€¦ the commercial spinoff is proving to be a not insignificant benefit.” (pg. 131)
East Timor was set to become an independent country when it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. The Indonesian military killed some 200,000 people in the conquest, one of the worst slaughters relative to population (the population was about 600,000) and occupied the country for 24 years until it was forced out in 1999.
In August of 1976 , Allan McEachen, Secretary of State for External Affairs, visited Indonesia. By that time, Indonesia had already admitted to killing 60,000 Timorese in the course of the invasion. Two UN Security Council and one General Assembly resolutions had condemned Indonesia (Canada abstained from the General Assembly resolution). McEachen signed for the $200 million line of credit promised the year before. (Scharfe pg. 134)
Glen Shortliffe, Canadian Ambassador to Indonesia, visited occupied East Timor in September of 1978, and provided useful propaganda service to the Indonesian occupation in the process. His insights included that “East Timor is not self-sufficient in food” (he was unable to figure out that the invasion’s mass destruction of crops and animals might have something to do with it); that “it is impossible to consider that the bulk of the population is even capable of being politicized in any sophisticated sense”; that “many, if not a majority of Timorese, live in rugged mountain areas connected only by footpaths” (he was unable to figure out that these people might be living in the mountains because they were escaping the Indonesian military). He also provided figures on displacement and hinted that perhaps no one had been killed in the invasion. (Scharfe pg. 139-140). The Ambassador in 1987, Jack Whittleton, went even further, helping the government party candidate, Golkar, during his campaign tour for the sham elections of that year, during which some districts had voter turnouts of 327.6% and more than 100% of registered voters elected Golkar with 93.7% of the vote. (Scharfe pg. 143).
Prime Minister Chretien visited Indonesia in 1994, announcing $1 billion in new trade deals and pledging $30 million in new aid projects (Scharfe pg. 136). Between 1988-1994, Canada’s total exports to Indonesia amounted to $2.66 billion. Military exports were at least $22.26 million. When the Canadian government was asked why at least these military exports couldn’t be cut off, an anonymous foreign affairs official said: “If Canada decided unilaterally not to sell to Indonesia, it could be removing market opportunities for Canadian companies and creating a gap which other countries would run to fill.” (Scharfe pg. 202)
Again, quoting Asad Ismi:
“As the Indonesian army and its militias set fire to Dili and killed thousands of East Timorese in September 1999, the Canadian government refused to stop the export of military goods to Indonesia. This at a time when even the United States, Jakarta’s main backer, had suspended military sales to Indonesia, as had the European Union and Australia.
“According to documents obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) through the Access to Information Act, six military export permits for the Indonesian Air Force and Ministry of Defence, worth a total of $119.3 million, were granted by the Canadian government during 1998-1999 to unidentified companies. The permits were for aircraft engines, navigation systems and training simulators or parts.” (9)
The Canadian Highways Infrastructure Corporation calls itself a “world renowned, full service, toll highway development company specializing in public-private partnerships with capabilities in finance, design and engineering, operation and maintenance of large-scale toll highway projects” (10) CHIC helped build the infamous 407 toll highway in Ontario, courtesy of the neoconservative government there.
Now they are building settler-only highways in Israel/Palestine: “The Derech Eretz Consortium (DEC), led by CHIC, is the State of Israel’s private sector partner in the development of the all-electronic Cross Israel Highwayâ€¦ DEC won a two-year international competition to finance, design, build and operate the 86km toll road, which will run north south through the heart of Israel near Tel Aviv.” You would think that this $1.2 billion road was just an innocuous road. The only hint that something might be amiss is this little line: “Instead of adding roads and interchanges in already densely populated areas, the Cross Israel Highway is diverting traffic to the central region of the country, thus reducing vehicle density and pollution in the greater Tel Aviv region.”
Israel’s network of bypass roads is designed very deliberately to reach from the core areas of Israel itself into settlements in the West Bank, without allowing traffic or communication between West Bank towns. These bypass roads are an integral component of what Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls the ‘matrix of control’, by which Palestinians are isolated, surrounded, and disconnected from each other, made wholly dependent on the whims of the Israeli regime. It is an appalling program of imprisoning an entire population. It is also good business for Canadian Highways Infrastructure Corporation.
Canada’s place today
A good researcher on Canada today is Stephen Kerr, who does a weekly radio show called “Newspeak” as well as writing. Last year, he wrote a piece on Canada’s role in the current Iraq war that was very valuable. He noted that three Canadian warships escorted the US fleet in ‘Operation Apollo’. The US fleet was firing Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets at the time. Canadian soldiers manned AWACS aircraft to direct missiles at their targets. Canadian officers worked at CENTCOM in Qatar, helping with logistics. US troop transport planes used over-flight and refueling privileges in Canadian aerospace. Quoting Kerr, “US military doctrine describes refueling as the “key” to us global airpower. This reporter’s request for a full accounting of these over-flights was refused by the Canadian Department of National Defence.” US troops were relieved by Canadian troops in Afghanistan and Canada took command of the Afghan occupation. 35 Canadian soldiers served on ‘exchange’ with the Iraq invasion forces. (11)
Despite Canada’s rather extensive assistance to the US’s aggression in Iraq, there was a widespread line in Canadian media that Canada had to “mend a fence” for its defiance of the US on Iraq. Canada’s politicians duly complied, “mending the fence” on the bones of Haitians, acquiescing in the coup against democratically elected President Aristide, and sending troops to occupy that country.
Relying on Stephen Kerr (12) again,
“Prime Minister Paul Martin first committed approximately 180 troops from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, as well as the Joint Operations Group from Kingston to provide “security” for the criminal Haitian thugs. When on Thursday it became apparent that the political faÃ§ade created for the coup was crumbling, Martin scaled back Canada’s commitment to 60 soldiers. Martin claims he is keen to get Haiti “on the right track.”
Aristide, Kerr notes, “had Haiti on the wrong track”, “feebly trying to deliver what Haitians have been demanding for years,” an agenda made almost impossible by the embargo against Haiti by the US, an embargo Canada joined in. Kerr quotes from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), which provides various services to corporations doing business in countries like Haiti: “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.” Kerr notes that “Montreal based Gildan Activewear is already subcontracting work to Haitian owned sweatshops, and they have opened a new factory in Port au Prince which employs 400 to 500 people.” Gildan is one of the largest T shirt makers in the world. It pays its Montreal workers 10 times the wages it pays Haitians, who get less than they need to live on and not enough to keep up with inflation. (12)
The above, from Kerr, does not come close to describing Canada’s full role in the coup. Aristide’s attempts at changing Haiti’s pattern of poverty were so “feeble” because Haiti was denied development loans by the InterAmerican Development Bank. Those loans were vetoed by the US (no one in Haiti even knew the US could veto IADB loans) after the US decided to oust Aristide some time around 2000. There was an election that year, in which some senate results were contested – all international observers concluded that all irregularities aside, Aristide would have won the election handily. But this was ‘contested’, and so the US cut off aid to the starving country. So did Canada.
After the coup, Canada led the way in repressing Aristide’s supporters. The RCMP picked up Oriel Jean, Aristide’s security chief, at the Toronto airport, and handed him over to the US, who gave him some bogus drug charges, and sent him off to a Miami jail, where he now sits. This, while real drug traffickers and paramilitaries were released from prisons all over Haiti and are terrorizing the population – while US and Canadian soldiers watch. (Similarly, Canadian security services probably handed bogus information on Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar over to the US immigration authorities who sent him off to Syria for 10 months of torture. No one twisted Canada’s arm to do this either.)
The details of a meeting in Ottawa a year before the coup, called the “Ottawa Initiative”, at which the future of Haiti was discussed by countries all over the Americas except for Haiti, have yet to be revealed. But a special representative of the OAS secretary-general, Luigi Einaudi, told a crowd at Hotel Oloffson on New Year’s Eve 2003, “The real problem with Haiti is that the international community is so screwed up that they’re actually letting Haitians run the place.” And that contempt for self-determination, going back through Pearson and Martin Sr.’s ‘anti-communism’, and further back to the 19th Century and Canada’s Indian Act, which was a model for the South African apartheid regime, and continuously throughout Canada’s history, is something Canada’s elites share with the British and French imperialists who founded colonies here, and with the US imperialists who are colonizing the world today.
Even Diefenbaker, who got ‘regime-changed’, shared this contempt for the people of the third world. This contempt, this racism, coupled with the many corporate and capitalist interests, would be enough to make Canada a little imperialist even if it wasn’t so vulnerable to US power. The integration of the economies, the integration of the elites, and the innumerable opportunities the US has to retaliate against a show of independence only make Canada’s elites even more eager to do the wrong thing.
I’ve tried to present some of the realities behind the various myths about Canada and its role in the world. First, there was the myth about Canada’s benevolence. That one is pretty handily shattered by the evidence. The other one is the myth about Canada’s helplessness before US power. That’s almost like a Nuremberg defense: Canada was only following orders – there was no scope for a moral decision. Well it’s worth remembering that defense didn’t work at Nuremberg. There are always choices. Some are costly. But how could Canadians morally argue against choosing not to profit from murderous policies because such choices were too costly?
If we don’t opt for such a sleazy way out, what’s left? A country like Venezuela, much weaker, much less powerful, more subject to US power if less interdependent, is paying the costs of an independent course. That isn’t the Chavez regime that is doing that – it is a result of movements, and of class struggle, in that country. Because of those pressures from below, Venezuela was able to condemn the war in Afghanistan while Canada participated. Venezuela condemned the war in Iraq while Canada applauded. Venezuela refused to recognize the paramilitary criminals who replaced Aristide in Haiti, while Canada joined the forces guaranteeing their power. The Venezuelan regime puts the Canadian regime to shame, and is facing regime change, violence, and coups because of it.
Borrowing a page from Paul Martin Sr. or Lester Pearson’s book, Venezuela’s elite, along with various US political authorities, accuse Chavez of wanting to implement ‘communism’ in Venezuela. But all Venezuelans want is self-determination, a chance to develop their own way, according to their own choices. Instead they are getting a well-funded and orchestrated destabilization campaign. That’s all Iraqis want, and they are getting an occupation. It’s all Haitians want, and they got a coup. If Canadians decided they wanted that, instead of a thin slice of imperial profits and power and all the nightmares and hatred that come with it, there would be a price to pay as well. But, as Dyer noted, empire has a price, too.
1) David Orchard, “The Fight for Canada: Four centuries of resistance to American expansionism.” Robert Davies Multimedia Publishing, Westmount, 1998.
2) John Ralston Saul, “Reflections of a Siamese Twin”. Penguin Books, Canada, 1997.
3) Victor Levant, “Quiet Complicity: Canadian Involvement in the Vietnam War”. Between the Lines, Kitchener, 1986.
4) Cited in James Eayrs, “In Defence of Canada: Indochina Roots of Complicity.”
5) Kim Richard Nossal, “The Politics of Canadian Foreign Policy”. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1997.
6) Desmond Morton, “Understanding Canadian Defence.” Penguin/McGill, 2003. Morton is apparently incapable of understanding certain basic principles. He devotes an entire chapter of his book to peace movements, and a good part of that chapter to excoriating peace movements in Canada for being insufficiently critical of the Soviet Union’s violence and atrocities. He seems to think that peace movements should be ‘even-handed’. But perhaps he should follow his own logic and be more ‘even-handed’ himself: why doesn’t he excoriate Soviet dissidents for being insufficiently critical of US violence? Perhaps he would recognize that denouncing the West in the Soviet Union wouldn’t be a great act of moral courage. But he can’t recognize that denouncing the Soviet Union in the West isn’t a great act of courage either – and such activity could besides be left to reliable liberal commentators like himself in any case. Still the book has some interesting history.
7) David Pugliese, “Canada’s Secret Commandos: The Unauthorized Story of Joint Task Force Two”, Esprit de Corps Books 2002. Pugliese is a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen and quite enthusiastic about Canadian militarism. His book contains much of interest, however, even if you don’t share his enthusiasm.
8) Quoted in Asad Ismi, “Pinochet’s Profiteers: Canadian Business in Chile”, Peace Magazine, 1997.
9) Asad Ismi, “Arming a Genocidal Force: Canadian Military Exports to Indonesia 1979-1999″. Briarpatch, 2000.
10) See their website http://www.chichwys.com/en/about.html
11) Stephen Kerr, “Meet Canada, the Global Arms Dealer” June 3, 2003. En Camino.
12) Stephen Kerr, “Paul Martin’s Haitan Adventure”, March 5, 2004. En Camino