Canadian Foreign Policy

In 2005, Yves Engler gave talks all over Canada to promote a book (co-authored with Anthony Fenton) that exposed Canada’s criminal role in Haiti. Engler was never completely satisfied with his answer to a question that constantly came up during those talks:

“Why did Canada help overthrow Haiti’s elected government in 2004?…Most people had difficulty understanding why their country – and the U.S. to some extent – would intervene in a country so poor, so seemingly marginal to world affairs. Why would they bother?”

He felt compelled to thoroughly research Canada’s track record around the world. I’ve struggled with this question about Haiti myself, but half way through Engler’s new book, “The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy”, I felt silly for struggling. Canada has always behaved reprehensibly – even when it has had little direct incentive to do so.

Engler’s book is written in a concise, straightforward style that mostly lets the meticulously referenced facts speak for themselves.

What follows does not even mention what Engler reveals about Canada’s role in Venezuela, Nicaragua, East Timor and other countries. It is a mere sampling of what he uncovered.

The Caribbean

In the 1870s, the Canada First Movement called on Britain to give Canada possession of its colonies in the British West Indies. Shortly after World War I, Ottawa asked Britain to compensate Canada for its military services to the Empire by allowing it to annex those colonies. Prime Minister Robert Borden worried about how Canada would deal with demands by the “subject races” for the right to vote, but his worries soon ended. Britain’s answer was no. Canada was spared the embarrassment of a colonial past (beyond its borders) and that would help establish its undeserved “good guy” image. [1]

Canadian banks, in particular the Royal Bank, lobbied hard for Canada to take the colonies off Britain’s hands, but after this failed they didn’t exactly retreat from the Caribbean. By the mid 1970s Canadian banks controlled 60-90% of banking in the Commonwealth Caribbean. They used their clout to push banking laws and other policies that favored Canadian corporate interests (in particular those linked to tourism and mining) over the needs of the locals. Canada does not tolerate anything approaching this level of foreign control over its banks at home.

Engler wrote “In the early 1970s Canadian banks, particularly in Trinidad, were targeted in demonstrations and even fire bombings.” Such unrest explains why Canada has used its military at least 26 times in the Caribbean since 1960 in response to threats to elite interests.

After a US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, Canadian troops were part of an OAS mission tasked with propping up the US installed president, Joaquin Balaguer. The fortunes of Falconbridge, a Canadian mining company, blossomed after the invasion. By 1974 it was the largest foreign investor in the country – thanks largely to the brutal repression of unionists. Today, Canada’s two biggest gold mining companies, Barrick and Goldcorp, continue to profit from the legacy of the 1965 invasion.

Canada has taken flak for its outwardly cordial relations with Castro, but the truth is that Ottawa regards Cuba as a threat. According to declassified US government documents, the US secretly urged Canada to maintain normal relations because it was well positioned to gather intelligence. Canada did not disappoint.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, by his own account, once told Bill Clinton:

“…if we look independent enough, we can do things for you that even the CIA cannot do.” [2]

In 1986, Canada pushed through a trade agreement (CARIBCAN) with the English speaking Caribbean. One of its main goals was to isolate Cuba.

In the 1970’s, Prime Minister Trudeau helped the US economically strangle Jamaica’s socialist government under Michael Manley. Trudeau was publicly sympathetic to Manley, but Canadian aid to Jamaica more than tripled after Manley’s defeat by a pro-business candidate. This is a pattern that Engler draws attention to repeatedly – the use of Canada’s so called development assistance to facilitate immoral policies. A good rule of thumb is that the more extensively CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, is involved in a country, the worse Canada is behaving. This has been dramatically revealed in Haiti.

On February 29 of 2004 Canadian troops secured the airport as US troop flew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide out of the country. Since 2002, Canada had joined a US led aid embargo on Aristide’s government, but after the coup, with a brutal right wing dictatorship installed, hundreds of millions of “aid” dollars flowed to the Haitian government. CIDA funded the judiciary that filled the jails with political prisoners; police that perpetrated grave human rights abuses; and a prominent Haitian “human rights group” (RNDDH) that whitewashed what was taking place. CIDA funds also purchased the complicity of various Canadian NGOs.

CIDA has openly worked to promote Canadian business interests around the world. Forty four percent of Canada’s foreign aid is tied to the purchase of Canadian goods and services – a much higher percentage than most donor countries. Engler points out that zero percent of the foreign aid provided by the UK, Ireland and Norway is “tied aid”. Even CIDA sponsored projects that ostensibly do good things often work to undermine democracy by “making the government irrelevant in the day-today lives of people” as Engler explained. In Haiti there has been nothing subtle about Canadian and US efforts render elected governments irrelevant through the use of NGOs.


In 1947, Supreme Court Justice Ivan C.Rand was Canada’s representative on a special UN Committee (UNSCOP) that proposed the partition of Palestine – contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of its inhabitants. Both Ivan Rand and Lester Pearson were widely praised by Zionists for moving UNSCOP to recommend partition. David Horowitz, the first governor of the Bank of Israel, wrote that

“It may be said that Canada more than any other country played a decisive part in all stages of the UNO discussions of Palestine.”

A Canadian official who assisted Ivan Rand on UNSCOP stated

“The Arabs were bound to be vocal opponents of partition but they should not be taken too seriously”

Engler argues persuasively that the decisive factor motivating Canada was the desire to help the US establish a solidly pro western outpost in a strategically crucial part of the world. Decades before Harper’s Conservatives received international ridicule for taking positions more pro-Israel than the US [3], Canada’s voting record at the UN consistently backed Israeli aggression. In 1987, a survey of U.N. members ranked Canada second to the U.S. in perceived support for Israel.

The 1997 Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (in contrast to an EU agreement) included the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of where Israel’s custom laws were applied.

At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2007, Canada abstained from a vote that asked Israel to place its nuclear weapons program under IAEA controls.


In 1956, Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt to weaken Arab nationalism and re-impose European control over the Suez Canal. The US opposed the invasion because it feared that it would bolster Soviet prestige in the region. The spat within NATO was serious and Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson helped Britain and France back down to the US while saving face. Egypt was convinced to allow a UN peace keeping force to displace the aggressor nations. By 1957 Pearson was using the force as a means to threaten Egyptian President Nasser against pursuing nationalistic reforms. In 1967 Canada attempted to overturn the Secretary General’s decision to remove the force as requested by Egypt.

Remarkably, this episode produced flattering and widely believed myths about Lester Pearson and about Canada.


Engler explodes the myth that Canada defied the US over its 2002 invasion of Iraq. Former US Ambassador Paul Cellucci was on target when he said that

“Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us.”

US troops bound for Iraq have flown over Canadian airspace and refueled in Newfoundland. Canadian naval vessels have provided support to US warships from which bombing raids on Iraq originated. Canadian exchange officers have fought alongside US and British troops in Iraq. Canada’s top General, Walt Natynczyk, led 35,000 troops in Iraq. Outside Iraq, Canadians helped plan US air strikes. The RCMP has trained thousands of Iraqi police at a U.S built facility in Jordan. Canadian police worked in the Iraqi Interior Ministry which is infamous for it human rights record. Canadian companies have supplied ammunition, guidance systems for missiles, and mercenaries for US war effort.

Unsurprisingly, given this level of support, Engler lists many Canadian corporations that have been “buzzing like flies over the wreckage in Iraq”.


In 1953, Canada remained silent when the U.S. and Britain overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government and installed the Shah’s dictatorship. Worse, Canada supported British led economic sanctions which help bring the Shah to power. Relations with the Shah were cordial (and profitable) as his regime amassed one of the worst human rights records in the world. Canada, along with other western countries, tried to equip the Shah with nuclear power. In 1974, Canada even attempted to sell a nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein. CIDA has helped Canadian corporations sell nuclear technology to dictatorships around the world. As of 2004 Canada produced 30 percent of the world’s uranium. When the Shah was overthrown, billions of dollars in Canadian bank loans to Iran were suddenly imperiled. Only then did Ottawa discover a long suppressed concern for human rights in Iran and for preventing it from acquiring nuclear technology.

Very recently “Canada has spearheaded resolutions denouncing the way Iran treats huge numbers of its people” (as the Ottawa Citizen put it) as part of a “division of labor” among Western governments to pressure Iran. At home, the Canadian government faces negligible ridicule over this because of widespread ignorance about its track record.


Canadian troops fought in Afghanistan in 1919 to support the British Empire, but in 1979 Canada strongly denounced the Soviet invasion. Tellingly, Canada suspended all development assistance after the wrong empire invaded. In 2001, Canada participated in the illegal US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In 2006, Canadian General Rick Hillier openly expressed admiration for the ruthless warlords that the occupation has empowered and enriched. Hillier was also uninhibited about saying how good the war was for Canadian business

“…you want to come in and make money from us, build our camps, fulfill our contracts or do maintenance for us and then ten years later when everything is stabilized and secure you can come and start operating your business”

CIDA “aid” has not only enriched Canadian corporations in Afghanistan. It has also been used to encourage collaboration with the occupation. Aid is a “useful counterinsurgency tool” according to Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Doucette, and, Engler shows, a way to whitewash brutality.

One of the most damning assessments of the war in Afghanistan was given by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. As Engler emphasized, this is “a group heavily reliant on Western government money” yet it stated

“The combination of abusive behavior and violent breaking and entry into civilians’ homes in the middle of the night stokes almost as much anger and resentment toward PGF [pro-government forces] as the more lethal air strikes”

Engler describes various strategies employed by CIDA and the Department of National Defense to skew public debate in favor of the war. One strategy has been to fund groups like Right & Democracy and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. They provide the media with “independent” voices that reliably parrot Ottawa’s position – sometimes offering very limited criticism.


During the 1950s Canada provided $61 million in military aid to France as it attempted to keep Vietnam under colonial rule. Lester Pearson (as External Affairs Minister) was an enthusiastic supporter of the French in Vietnam. When the US took over France’s war, Canada, through its work on the International Control Commission, deliberately worked to assist US aggression by undermining the Geneva Accords which would have peacefully unified Vietnam. Canadians spied for the US; were major suppliers to the US war machine ($2.5 billion between 1965-1973); and in their public statements (which Engler shows Canadians have been misled about) backed the US government as it murdered 2-4 million people.


Canada offered asylum to thousands of Chileans who fled the Pinochet dictatorship. Unfortunately, Canada also helped bring the dictator who drove them out of Chile to power and helped him stay there for 17 years. In 1972 Canada voted with the US to cut off IMF funds to the democratic government of Salvador Allende, but, weeks after the 1973 coup, Canada recognized Pinochet’s regime and endorsed sending Chile $95 million of IMF funds. By 1978 direct investments by Canadian companies in Chile totaled $1 billion. In 1985, Canada voted in favor of a major World Bank plan for Chile even though other countries voted against – many of them on human rights grounds.


Canada’s closest ally in Latin America is the country that has consistently had the worst human right record in the Western Hemisphere.

In 1997, Ottawa initiated a re-write of Colombia’s mining code. CIDA worked on it with a Colombian law firm and the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI). The proposals became law in 2001 and offered a familiar list of goodies to mining corporations: the weakening of environmental and labor laws, reduced royalties paid to the government, tax exemptions, and added years to mining concessions.

In the resource sector, the link between profiteering and massive human rights abuses, especially forced displacement, is very obvious. Colombia’s population of internally displaced persons (3 million as of 2008) is second only to that of Sudan. Engler described how two Canadian companies, BFC Construction and Agra-Monenco, contributed to human rights violations in northeastern Colombia:

“With $18.2 million from EDC [Export Development Canada] the companies’ Urra dam submerged over 7,400 hectares, including old-growth forest as well as the lands and homes of 411 families, all of whom were without individual legal land titles, only having collective indigenous land rights. About 2,800 people were forcibly resettled to make way for the Canadian companies’ project and a further 70,000 people were directly impacted. Predictably the community resisted the dam. According to Amnesty International, six indigenous people protesting the project were killed and ten additional members of the community were disappeared by paramilitary and guerrilla forces.”

When Canada opposed a 2007 UN General Assembly declaration on the rights of Indigenous people, it was not only facilitating the ongoing dispossession of indigenous peoples in Canada. It was protecting Canadian companies that have trampled on the rights of indigenous peoples around the world.[3]

South Africa

South African officials used Canada’s “Indian Act” as a model for apartheid.

Canadian corporations (Falconbridge, Etosha Petroleum among many others) took full advantage of the opportunities apartheid offered them. Ottawa helped them profit while feigning opposition to apartheid. During the 1970s Canada mostly failed to enforce an arms embargo and used its votes at the IMF to keep apartheid open for business. CIDA “aid” was used to deflect criticism. Trudeau’s government also provided diplomatic and economic support for South African aggression in Namibia.

Under relentless pressure, Prime Minster Brian Mulroney finally implemented sanctions against South Africa in 1986, but while they were in place two-way trade only fell by about half.


In 1960, Ottawa helped overthrow elected Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba whose government threatened Belgium’s control over natural resources. When a secessionist movement in the rich eastern province of Katanga threatened his government, Lumumba called in UN troops for help. The UN forces, which included 1900 Canadian troops, deliberately worked to overthrow rather than to help Lumumba. Engler wrote

“An External Affairs memo described Ottawa’s thinking on Katanga. ‘An independent Katanga, working with the neighboring British colonies, could serve as a bulwark against the “major threat to Western interests” that the Lumumba government was becoming.’”

Once Lumumba was disposed of (he was murdered) the UN turned on the Katanga secessionists. Joseph Mobutu soon emerged to rule with great brutality for three decades. He had western support, including Canada’s, until 1997 when Washington decided that it no longer needed to tolerate his preferential treatment of EU companies. Engler notes that the Congo’s mineral resources are worth an estimated $300 billion. Canada and the US have staunchly backed Rwandan president Paul Kagame whose government is much to blame for an eight nation war in the Congo which has claimed the lives of over 5 million people. In recent years, Ottawa has shielded Canadian mining companies from investigations into billions of dollars worth of illegal resource extraction in the Congo.

Forces that Drive Canadian Foreign Policy

Engler’s book shows that three forces that have driven Canadian foreign policy

1) Racism
2) Greed
3) Elite dependence on Empire (first the British, today the US)

The US Empire offers the security “umbrella” under which Canadian corporations have operated around the world.[4] The extent to which any these forces drives Canadian policy varies from case to case. For example, in Afghanistan and Haiti, though direct money making opportunities exist, and though racism is undeniable [5], Engler argues that preventing even the smallest leaks in the “umbrella” was the main driving force.

He wrote this book hoping that a “countervailing” force will emerge that will “demand altruistic aid, real international cooperation, benevolent peacekeeping instead of militarism, and the rule of law instead of an empire’s might.” A 2007 poll that Engler cites found “84 percent of Canadians believed Canada played a positive role on the world stage while 10 percent felt it was negative.”[6] If most Canadians read Engler’s book those numbers would be reversed very quickly, and common decency could become a significant countervailing force.

[1] This does not include Canada’s colonialism within its borders – the ongoing dispossession of Aboriginal people.
[2] Engler brings up this quote in the section that discusses the Middle East, not Cuba
[3] British MP George Galloway was recently refused entry into Canada because of his views on Israel but was allowed to travel freely in the US
[4]Engler quotes James Petras and Morris Morley who wrote: “The U.S.imperial state provides an umbrella under which to operate. In so far as Canadian capital depends on the same kind of social and political conditions to reproduce itself, it benefits from this U.S. umbrella…”
[5] Engler observes, as have many others, that to some extent Haiti is still being punished for the massive blow delivered to white supremacy by the slave rebellion that established the country.
[6] La Presse March 7 2007

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