All posts by Yves Engler

CIJA: Zionist Lobbying and Hate Crimes

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ response to the horrific attack on two mosques in New Zealand highlights tensions between promoting the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism and Jewish Canadian concern over hate crimes.

Forty-eight hours after the killings in Christchurch the Toronto Star published letters by the heads of CIJA and Toronto’s Jewish Federation under the headline “Jewish Canadians stand with Muslims.” CIJA’s quick response to the mosque attack no doubt reflected genuine horror as well as an understanding that as a minority religious group disproportionately victimized by hate crimes Jews have an interest in building solidarity against such violence. But, it also represents a cynical ‘get out ahead of the story’ type of public relations from a group that regularly demonizes Muslims in defence of Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. CIJA, which is the lobbying arm of Canada’s Jewish Federations, claims Israel is “fighting against the Palestinian shackles of international Islamism that has been wreaking absolute havoc all over the world.”

CIJA regularly hypes “Islamic terror”. In response to a 2017 truck attack in Nice, France, CIJA declared “Canada is not immune to… Islamist terror” and in 2018 they highlighted “those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world.” At the time CIJA also aligned with the xenophobic backlash against the term “Islamophobia in bill M-103, which called for collecting data on hate crimes and studying the issue of “eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia.” In a BuzzFeed article titled “Zionist Groups in Canada Are Jumping On The ‘Creeping Sharia’ Bandwagon” Steven Zhou detailed CIJA, B’nai Brith and other pro-Israel groups backlash to M-103 and “how Muslim Canadians define Islamophobia.”

In a bid to deter organizations from associating with the Palestinian cause or opposing Israeli belligerence in the Middle East, CIJA constantly targets Arab and Muslim community representatives, papers, organizations, etc. To prove that Muslim Canadians financed “Hamas terror”, CIJA pushed to proscribe Muslim charity IRFAN (International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy) as a terrorist entity because it supported orphans and a hospital in the Gaza Strip through official (Hamas controlled) channels. (The federal government considers Hamas a terrorist organization but Palestinians and most of the world consider it a political/resistance organization.) The Jewish group’s press release about the first Canadian-based group ever designated a terrorist organization alludes to ‘foreign Muslims taking advantage of Canadians’. It noted, “Canadians will not tolerate the abuse of their generosity by those who seek to bankroll terrorists.” In 2017 CIJA demanded Ottawa rescind the charitable status of the Islamic Society of British Columbia because the Vancouver-area mosque allegedly offered support for Hamas.

While quick to attack Arabs and Muslims’ support for “terror” or “anti-Semitism,” CIJA clams up when explicit Jewish Islamophobia is brought to their attention. In 2012, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) asked for CIJA’s help with an aggressively anti-Muslim textbook used at Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School in Toronto. It described Muslims as “rabid fanatics” with “savage beginnings,” but CIJA refused to respond.

Last summer lawyer Dimitri Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA to disassociate from a number of individuals it aligned with at a protest who made anti-Muslim remarks and death threats against mostly Muslim and brown politicians in a video about the rally. CIJA responded by orchestrating an unprecedented smear campaign against the prominent pro-Palestinian activist.

CIJA Québec failed to respond to my request for comment about the Jewish Public Library in Montréal, a constituent agency of the city’s Jewish Federation it officially represents, hosting anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali next month. Among a slew of extremist statements, Ali said “violence is inherent in Islam—it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”

CIJA has stayed mum about the recent scandal over the head of the Toronto Hebrew School Teachers Federation, Aviva Polonsky, escorting a class from the Community Hebrew Academy to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington. Polonsky posted photographs of her and students meeting with noted Islamophobe Sebastian Gorka and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

CIJA ignores Islamophobia by groups it defends or represents. It also stokes anti-Muslim sentiment as part of its bid to defend Israeli colonialism and violence. On the other hand, Canadian Jewry, which CIJA claims to represent, has a strong self-interest in building broad opposition to hate crimes.

Which side is this organization on? Is it always against perpetrators of hate-crimes, so-called “White nationalists” and governments that favour one religion or ethnicity over others? Or does it make exceptions for its supporters and Israel?

Canada and 70th Anniversary of NATO

The first installment in this series discussed how NATO was set up partly to blunt the European Left. The other major factor driving the creation of NATO was a desire to bolster colonial authority and bring the world under a US geopolitical umbrella.

From the outset Canadian officials had an incredibly expansive definition of NATO’s supposed defensive character, which says an “attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.” As part of the Parliamentary debate over NATO external minister Lester Pearson said: “There is no better way of ensuring the security of the Pacific Ocean at this particular moment than by working out, between the great democratic powers, a security arrangement the effects of which will be felt all over the world, including the Pacific area.” Two years later he said: “The defence of the Middle East is vital to the successful defence of Europe and north Atlantic area.” In 1953 Pearson went even further: “There is now only a relatively small [5000 kilometre] geographical gap between southeast Asia and the area covered by the North Atlantic treaty, which goes to the eastern boundaries of Turkey.”

In one sense the popular portrayal of NATO as a defensive arrangement was apt. After Europe’s second Great War the colonial powers were economically weak while anti-colonial movements could increasingly garner outside support. The Soviets and Mao’s China, for instance, aided the Vietnamese. Similarly, Egypt supported Algerian nationalists and Angola benefited from highly altruistic Cuban backing. The international balance of forces had swung away from the colonial powers.

To maintain their colonies European powers increasingly depended on North American diplomatic and financial assistance. NATO passed numerous resolutions supporting European colonial authority. In the fall of 1951 Pearson responded to moves in Iran and Egypt to weaken British influence by telling Parliament: “The Middle East is strategically far too important to the defence of the North Atlantic area to allow it to become a power vacuum or to pass into unfriendly hands.” The next year Ottawa recognized the colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as “associated states” of France, according to an internal report, “to assist a NATO colleague, sorely tried by foreign and domestic problems.” More significantly, Canada gave France hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment through NATO’s Mutual Assistance Program. These weapons were mostly used to suppress the Vietnamese and Algerian independence movements.

In 1953 Pearson told the House: “The assistance we have given to France as a member of the NATO association may have helped her recently in the discharge of some of her obligations in Indo-China.” Similarly, Canadian and US aid was used by the Dutch to maintain their dominance over Indonesia and West Papua New Guinea, by the Belgians in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, by the Portuguese in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and by the British in numerous places. Between 1950 and 1958 Ottawa donated a whopping $1,526,956,000 ($8 billion today) in ammunition, fighter jets, military training, etc. to European countries through the NATO Mutual Assistance Program.

The role NATO played in North American/European subjugation of the Global South made Asians and Africans wary of the organization. The Nigerian Labour Party’s 1964 pamphlet The NATO Conspiracy in Africa documents that organization’s military involvement on the continent from bases to naval agreements. In 1956 NATO established a Committee for Africa and in June 1959 NATO’s North Atlantic Council, the organization’s main political decision-making body, warned that the communists would take advantage of African independence to the detriment of Western political and economic interests.

The north Atlantic alliance was designed to maintain unity among the historic colonial powers — and the US — in the midst of a de-colonizing world. It was also meant to strengthen US influence around the world. In a history of the 1950-53 US-led Korean war David Bercuson writes that Canada’s external minister “agreed with [President] Truman, [Secretary of State] Dean Acheson, and other American leaders that the Korean conflict was NATO’s first true test, even if it was taking place half a world away.”

Designed to maintain internal unity among the leading capitalist powers, NATO was the military alliance of the post-WWII US-centered multilateral order, which included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, International Trade Organization (ITO) and the United Nations. (For its first two decades the UN was little more than an arm of the State Department.)

A growing capitalist power, Canada was well placed to benefit from US-centered multilateral imperialism. The Canadian elite’s business, cultural, familial and racial ties with their US counterparts meant their position and profits were likely to expand alongside Washington’s global position.

NATO bolstered colonial authority and helped bring the world under the US geopolitical umbrella, from which the Canadian elite hoped to benefit.

Canadian Jewish Establishment’s Anti-Palestinianism

The anti-Palestinianism of Canada’s establishment Jewish organizations is extreme. Fortunately, a growing number of Canadian Jews appear to be rejecting their racism and support for Israeli violence.

According to a recent Canadian Jewish News article, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and United Jewish Appeal Toronto both declined to comment on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with the Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) party. For their parts, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and American Jewish Committee both criticized Netanyahu’s push to merge Jewish Power and Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) to increase the far-right parties’ chance of garnering the minimum 3.25 per cent of the total vote needed to serve in the Knesset. Subsequently, Israel’s Supreme Court banned  the leader of Jewish Power, Michael Ben-Ari, from standing in next month’s election.

Jewish Power is not operating in the Ukraine, but rather in an openly Jewish supremacist state. From the law of return to the nation state law, there are over 65 explicitly racist Israeli laws.  Netanyahu recently wrote, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”

From what I can find, CIJA and UJA Toronto have failed to criticize or distance themselves from Netanyahu’s statement. In fact, they denounce any mention of Israeli apartheid. One wonders how explicit Israeli racism needs to be before CIJA recognizes/criticizes the obvious?

More generally, how many Palestinians does Israel need to kill before the established Jewish organizations back away from their staunch support? They’ve endorsed Israeli forces weekly killing of peaceful March of Return protesters in Gaza over the past year. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed and another 6,000 injured by live fire in these demonstrations. Not a single Israeli has died.

Following the IDF killing of 2,200 Palestinians  in Gaza in the summer of 2014, UJA Toronto launched an emergency appeal for Israel, which raised over $5.6 million. In a particularly disturbing comment on Israel’s supporters, aggression has been good for fundraising. Amidst the June 1967 war, leading Canadian capitalist Samuel Bronfman initiated a $25 million campaign for Israel. Similarly, during the October 1973 war Canadians purchased over $100 million in Israel Bonds. After Israel’s summer 2006 destruction of Lebanon another $42 million was raised.

Jewish Power’s ideological allies in Canada — the Jewish Defense League — remain more influential with the established Jewish organizations than the substantially larger and more humanistic/internationalist Independent Jewish Voices. In response to pressure from the JDL, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg recently canceled its sponsorship of an event by Lex Rofeberg because the 4th year rabbinical student is a member of the anti-occupation (though not anti-zionist) US Jewish group IfNotNow. Rofeberg wasn’t even going to speak about Israel. (The subject of his planned talks were “‘Winnipeg Jets or Winnipeg Jews,’ on the intersection of Judaism and sports, and ‘Your Podcast is My Synagogue,’ on the ever-growing world of digital Judaism.”) To explain their bowing to pressure from extremists, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg President Laurel Malkin said, “the values of the speaker are not in-line with ours.”

While most Canadian Jews, particularly the powerful and moneyed, support Israeli racism and violence two recent polls suggest that a growing proportion of Jewish Canadians don’t. An Independent Jewish Voices and United Jewish People’s Order commissioned EKOS poll found that 37 percent of a random sample of 359 Jewish Canadians surveyed have a negative opinion of the Israeli government, 31 percent oppose the military blockade of Gaza and 30 percent think Palestinians’ call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable.

The IJV/UJPO poll is in line with a more extensive Environics Institute Survey conducted in partnership with the University of Toronto, York University and the main Jewish Federations. It found that nearly 3 times more Canadian Jews believe West Bank settlements hurt Israel’s security than the opposite. Additionally, most of the respondents doubted the Israeli government’s sincerity about making peace. Generally, notes the executive summary, “younger Jews are considerably less likely than older Jews to consider caring for Israel an essential aspect of Jewishness.”

It’s long past time to directly challenge CIJA, the Jewish Federations and the politicians who embolden them. It’s time for those who believe in peace and international justice to treat CIJA and the Federations the same way they treat Palestinians.

Promoting Canadian Imperialism

Aside from government officials the dominant media is fond of quoting “experts” from foreign policy think tanks when discussing Canada’s role in the world. While presented as neutral specialists, these opinion shapers are generally entangled with powerful, wealthy, elites.

Take the case of Venezuela and Canada’s leading foreign policy ‘ideas organization’. Recently Canadian International Council President Ben Rowswell has been widely quoted promoting Ottawa’s regime change efforts in Venezuela. After 25 years in Canada’s diplomatic service, including stints as chargé d’affaires in Iraq and ambassador in Caracas, Rowswell joined the CIC in November. Rowswell’s move highlights the close relationship between Global Affairs Canada and this corporate funded think tank, which has deep imperial roots.

Formerly the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, CIC has 15 (mostly university based) regional branches that hold dozens of conferences and seminars annually. The head office publishes International Journal, Behind the Headlines as well as reports and books. It also does media outreach.

Officially formed in 1928, CIIA’s stated aim was to promote “an understanding of international questions and problems, particularly in so far as these may relate to Canada and the British Empire.” Its first meeting was held at the Ottawa home of staunch imperialist Sir Robert Borden, prime minister between 1911 and 1920. (Borden publicly encouraged Canadian businessmen to buy up southern Mexico and sought to annex the British Caribbean colonies after World War I.)  Borden was made first president of CIIA and another former prime minister, Arthur Meighen, became vice-president in 1936. On hand to launch CIIA was the owner of six Canadian newspapers, Frederick Southam, as well as Winnipeg Free Press editor John W. Dafoe and Ottawa Citizen editor Charles Bowman. “The CIIA’s early leadership constituted a roster of Canada’s business, political, and intellectual elite”, explains Priscilla Roberts in Tweaking the Lion’s Tail: Edgar J. Tarr, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and the British Empire, 1931–1950.

CIIA’s genesis was in the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference. At the 1919 conference British and US delegates discussed establishing internationally focused institutes. The next year the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA), or Chatham House Study Group, was founded in London and in 1921 the Council on Foreign Relations was set up, notes Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy, “to equip the United States of America for an imperial rule on the world scene.”

The driving force behind these international affairs institutes was British historian Lionel Curtis. An “indefatigable  proponent of Imperial Federation” and former Colonial Office official in South Africa, Curtis set up a network of semi-secret Round Table Groups in the British Dominions and US. The aim was “to federate the English-speaking world along lines laid down by Cecil Rhodes”, the famous British imperialist. The Rhodes Trust and South African mining magnet Sir Abe Bailey financed the Round Table Groups and former British Secretary of State for War Lord Milner promoted the initiative.

Before its official formation CIIA sought to affiliate with RIIA. A number of prominent Canadians were part of Chatham House and the Canadian elite was largely pro-British at the time. “Much of the impetus and funding to” launch CIIA, Roberts writes, “came from Sir Joseph Flavelle, a meatpacking and banking magnate who strongly supported British Imperial unity. Other key Anglophile supporters included Newton W. Rowell, a leading Liberal politician, the wealthy Liberal politician and diplomat, Vincent Massey, and Sir Arthur Currie, commander of Canadian forces on the Western front during the war, who became principal of McGill University in 1920.”

The CIIA’s early powerbrokers generally identified with British imperialism. But its younger members and staff tended to back Washington’s foreign policy. In subsequent decades US foundation funding strengthened their hand. The Rockefeller Foundation accounted for as much as half of CIIA’s budget by the early 1940s. Alongside Rockefeller money, the Carnegie Corporation and Ford Foundation supported the institute. Set up by US capitalists responsible for significant labour and human rights abuses, the Big 3 foundations were not disinterested organizations. In The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy Edward Berman writes: “The Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations have consistently supported the major aims of United States foreign policy, while simultaneously helping to construct an intellectual framework supportive of that policies major tenants.”

In subsequent decades CIIA would receive significant funding from Canada’s External Affairs and the Department of National Defence. But the institute’s nonfinancial ties to the government have always been more significant. After nearly two decades at External Affairs, John Holmes returned to lead the institute in 1960. In Canada’s Voice: The Public Life of John Wendell Holmes Adam Chapnick notes, “during [Prime Minister Lester] Pearson’s time in office [1963-68] Holmes had unprecedented access to the highest levels of government. He could reach Pearson personally when he was in Ottawa, and the Prime Minister promoted the CIIA while entertaining. Holmes also drafted speeches for Minister of Trade and Commerce Robin Winters.”

Upon leaving office external ministers Lester Pearson, Paul Martin Senior and Mitchell Sharp all took up honorary positions with CIIA. In 1999 former foreign minister Barbara McDougall took charge of the institute and many chapters continue to be dominated by retired diplomats. Active Canadian diplomats regularly speak to CIIA meetings, as did Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien.

Alongside Ottawa and US foundations, Canadian capitalists with foreign policy interests also funded CIIA. Annual reports I analyzed from the late 1960s to mid-1990s list numerous globally focused corporate sponsors and corporate councilmembers, including Bata Shoes, Toronto Dominion, Bank of Montréal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Brascan, Barrick Gold and Power Corporation.

In 2006 CIIA’s operations were subsumed into CIC. With financing from Research In Motion (RIM) co-founder Jim Balsillie, CIIA partnered with the Balsillie-created Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) to establish CIC. The CIIA library and its publications were maintained while an infusion of cash bolstered local chapters. The new organization also added a major national fellowship program, which is headquartered at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs.

Balsillie was made founding chair of CIC and the initial vice chairs were former foreign ministers Bill Graham and Perrin Beattie. “The CIC  promises to transform the debate about and understanding of Canadian foreign policy,” said Balsillie in 2007.

Balsillie put up $1-million in seed funding and launched a fundraising drive in the corporate community. Trying to drum up support for CIC, Balsillie wrote a commentary for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, explaining that “in return for their support, contributing business leaders would be offered seats in a CIC corporate senate that would give them influence over the research agenda and priorities of the new council.” In another piece for the National Post Balsillie wrote: “To create a research base on Canadian foreign policy, I have spearheaded the creation of the Canada-wide Canadian International Council (CIC). The Americans have their powerful Council on Foreign Relations, which offers non-partisan analysis of international issues and integrates business leaders with the best researchers and public policy leaders.”

The CIC Senate has included the CEOs of Barrick Gold, Power Corporation, Sun Life Financial and RBC. According to the most recent financial statement on its website, half of CIC’s funding comes from corporate donations (a quarter is from its International Journal and another quarter from dues).

Ben Rowswell’s transition from Global Affairs Canada to President of the Canadian International Council reflects the institute’s long-standing ties to government. His aggressive promotion of regime change in Venezuela also fit with the politics of an ‘ideas organization’ tied to the corporate world.

Will Cuba be Canada’s Next Target After Venezuela?

“First we take Caracas then we take Havana.”

That’s the thinking driving the Donald Trump administration’s policy towards Venezuela, according to a Wall Street Journal story titled “U.S. Push to Oust Venezuela’s Maduro Marks First Shot in Plan to Reshape Latin America.” Adding credence to this thesis, last Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.”

Despite Washington’s hope that toppling President Nicolás Maduro could hasten the fall of Cuba’s government, the Justin Trudeau government, which is supposed to have good relations with Havana, has played a central role in the US-led bid to oust Maduro. It has also echoed some of the Trump administration’s attacks on Cuba’s role in Venezuela. Why would a ‘friend’ of Cuba do this?

While much is made of Ottawa’s seemingly cordial relations with Havana, the reality is more complicated than often presented, as I detail here. Most significantly, Canada has repeatedly aligned with US fear-mongering about the “Cuban menace” in the region.

Just days after the April 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker claimed the Cuban government was a threat to the security of the hemisphere and “a dictatorship which is abhorrent to free men everywhere.” Two years later Ottawa’s representative to a NATO ministerial meeting was tasked with saying, “the Canadian government, of course, holds no sympathy for the present dictatorial regime in Cuba …. We remain deeply disturbed by the presence in the Western Hemisphere of a communist regime aligned with the Soviet Union and by the transformation of Cuba into an area which still retains a potential for disturbing East-West relations and the stability of the Hemisphere.”

Canada backed the US-led Alliance for Progress, which was the John F. Kennedy administration’s response to the excitement created in Latin America by the 1959 Cuban revolution. Ottawa began delivering aid to the newly independent Commonwealth Caribbean partly to counter Cuba’s appeal. In the early 1960s External Affairs officials, notes Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy: The Canadian Navy and Foreign Policy, “singled out Cuban revolutionary activity as the main threat to political and thus economic stability in the region and implied that developmental aid staved off Cuban interference.”

In 1963, that book notes, HMCS Saskatchewan was deployed to Haiti largely to guarantee that François Duvalier did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerilla movement did not seize power. Three years later two Canadian gunboats were deployed to Barbados’ independence celebration in a bizarre diplomatic maneuver designed to demonstrate Canada’s military prowess and to send a ‘signal’ to Havana. Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy explains, “we can only speculate at who the “signal” was directed towards, but given the fact that tensions were running high in the Caribbean over the Dominican Republic Affair [1965 US invasion], it is likely that the targets were any outside force, probably Cuban, which might be tempted to interfere with Barbadian independence.”

When 7,000 US troops invaded Grenada in 1983 to reassert US hegemony in a country supposedly overrun by Cuban doctors, Canadian officials criticized Grenada’s government and abstained on a UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops (predominantly American) from that country. The next year Canadian ambassador to Panama, Francis Filleul, complained that “Nicaragua has been penetrated so badly by Cuba and other [eastern bloc] countries that it is destabilizing. It was not that the people of Nicaragua … chose to welcome the Russians and the Cubans. It was that the FSLN [Sandinistas] had gained control of the revolutionary movement and that was their policy.” As with the US Caribbean Basin Initiative, the 1986 Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) sought to isolate Cuba from the region.

According to a 2006 cable released by Wikileaks headlined “Canada’s new government: opportunities and challenges”, the US embassy in Ottawa pushed the Stephen Harper government to begin “engaging more actively in other hemispheric trouble spots such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba.” In the spring of 2008 the Canadian embassy in Panama teamed up with the US National Endowment for Democracy to organize a meeting for prominent members of the opposition in Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela to respond to the “new era  of populism and authoritarianism in Latin America.” In 2012 Canada was alone with the US in opposing Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas.

While purportedly sympathetic to Cuba, Justin Trudeau’s government has criticized Cuba’s actions in Venezuela. In a recent article titled “Canada  at odds with Cuban ‘ally’ over Maduro’s fate” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC that Cuba’s role in Venezuela is “concerning” and that “we have heard directly from the Venezuelan opposition that they’re concerned by the role that some Cubans are playing in their country.” The article, written by extreme Canadian officialdom sycophant Evan Dyer, quoted an opposition group claiming thousands of Cuban agents “direct centres of torture in Venezuela.”

Compared to Washington, Ottawa has had cordial relations with Havana since the Cuban revolution. Still, Canada has generally sided with US fear mongering about the “Cuban menace”, which is propaganda largely designed to justify keeping the region subservient to western capitalist domination.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Position on Honduras reveals Hypocrisy about Venezuela

The hypocrisy is head spinning. As Justin Trudeau lectures audiences on the need to uphold Venezuela’s constitution the Liberals have recognized a completely illegitimate president in Honduras. What’s more, they’ve formally allied with that government in demanding Venezuela’s president follow their (incorrect) reading of that country’s constitution.

In November 2017 Ottawa’s anti-Venezuela “Lima Group” ally Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) defied the Honduran constitution to run for a second term. At Hernandez’ request the four Supreme Court members appointed by his National Party overruled an article in the constitution explicitly prohibiting re-election.

JOH then ‘won’ a highly questionable  poll. With 60 per cent of votes counted opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead by five-points. The electoral council then went silent for 36 hours and when reporting resumed JOH had a small lead.

In the three weeks between the election and JOH’s official proclamation as president, government forces killed at least 30 pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central American country of nine million. More than a thousand were detained under a post-election state of emergency. Many of those jailed for protesting the electoral fraud, including prominent activist Edwin Espinal, who is married to Canadian human rights campaigner Karen Spring, remain in jail.

Ottawa immediately endorsed the electoral farce in Honduras. Following Washington, Global Affairs tweeted that Canada “acknowledges confirmation of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of Honduras.” Tyler Shipley, author of Ottawa and Empire: Canada and the Military Coup in Honduras, responded:

Wow, Canada sinks to new lows with this. The entire world knows that the Honduran dictatorship has stolen an election, even the OAS (an organization which skews right) has demanded that new elections be held because of the level of sketchiness here. And — as it has for over eight years — Canada is at the forefront of protecting and legitimizing this regime built on fraud and violence. Even after all my years of research on this, I’m stunned that [foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland would go this far; I expected Canada to stay quiet until JOH had fully consolidated his power. Instead Canada is doing the heavy lifting of that consolidation.

In 2009 Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya, which was justified on the grounds he was seeking to defy the constitution by running for a second term. (In fact, Zelaya simply put forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.) After the coup Ottawa failed to suspend aid to the military government or exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Programme.

A number of major Canadian corporations, notably Gildan and Goldcorp, were unhappy with some modest social democratic reforms implemented by Zelaya. Additionally, a year before the coup Honduras joined the Hugo Chavez led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the region.

JOH’s National Party won the presidency and he took charge of the national assembly in the post-coup elections, which were boycotted by the UN, Organization of American States and most Hondurans.

Since JOH stole an election that he shouldn’t have been able to participate in the Trudeau government has continued to work with his government. I found no indication that Canadian aid has been reduced and Canadian diplomats in central America have repeatedly met Honduran representatives. JOH’s Foreign Minister, Maria Dolores Aguero, attended a Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Canada organized in Montreal four months ago. Recently Canadian diplomats have lauded the “bonds of friendship between the governments of Canada and Honduras” and “excellent relations that exist between both countries.” Canada’s ambassador James K. Hill retweeted a US Embassy statement noting, “we congratulate  the President Juan Orlando Hernandez for taking the initiative to reaffirm the commitment of his administration to fight against corruption and impunity” through an OAS initiative.

While they praise JOH’s fight against impunity, Canadian officials have refused repeated requests by Canadian activists and relatives to help secure Edwin Espinal’s release from prison. In response to their indifference to Espinal’s plight, Rights Action director Grahame Russell recently wrote:

Have the Canadian and U.S. governments simply agreed not to criticize the Honduran regime’s appalling human rights record … in exchange for Honduras agreeing to be a ‘democratic ally’ in the U.S. and Canadian-led efforts at forced government change in Venezuela?

Honduras is a member of the “Lima Group” of countries pushing to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Last month Trudeau was photographed with the Honduran foreign minister at the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa.

To justify recognizing the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, as president the “Lima Group” and Trudeau personally have cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution.” The Prime Minister even responded to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing  the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he (incorrectly) claims grants Guaidó the presidency.

Why the great concern for Venezuela’s constitution and indifference to Honduras’? Why didn’t Trudeau recognize Salvador Nasralla as president of Honduras? Nasralla’s claim to his country’s presidency is far more legitimate than Guaidó’s.

The hypocrisy in Trudeau allying with the illegitimate president of Honduras to demand Venezuela succumb to their interpretation of that country’s constitution would be absurdly funny if it didn’t put so many lives at risk.

SNC Lavalin: The Corporate Face of the Ugly Canadian Abroad

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in fifteen countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and the company received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats and Export Development Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked on and promoted privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums. With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

“Canada’s Dershowitz”, Apologist for Israeli War Crimes, nominated for Peace Prize

Hypocrisy, lying, disdain for the victims of ‘our’ policies and other forms of rot run deep in Canadian political culture.

The latest example is former prime minister Paul Martin nominating Irwin Cotler for the Nobel Peace Prize, which has been applauded by the likes of Bernie Farber, Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather.

This supposed promoter of peace and former Liberal justice minister has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli violence and has recently promoted war on Iran and regime change in Venezuela.

In a story titled “Irwin Cotler’s daughter running with Ya’alon, Gantz” the Jerusalem Post recently reported that Michal Cotler-Wunsh was part of the Israel Resilience and Telem joint election list. The story revealed that Irwin Cotler has been an unofficial adviser to Moshe Ya’alon for years. Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli military and defence minister between 2013 and 2016, Ya’alon recently boasted about his role in setting up the West Bank colony of Leshem and said Israel “has a right to every part of the Land of Israel.” In 2002 Ya’alon told Haaretz, “the Palestinian threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it’s necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.”

Ya’alon’s Telem party is in a formal electoral alliance with Israel Resilience, which is led by Benny Gantz, a former Israeli army chief. To launch his party’s campaign, Gantz released a video boasting about his role in the killing of 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza in the summer of 2014. It actually notes that “parts of Gaza were sent back to the Stone Age.” Gantz faces a war crimes case in the Netherlands for his role in the deaths of civilians in Gaza.

Cotler has described illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank as “disputed territories” and the Canadian lawyer justified Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon that left 1,200 dead. He savagely attacked Richard Goldstone after the South African judge led a UN investigation of Israeli war crimes during operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 dead in Gaza in 2008–09. Cotler called for the removal of Richard Falk as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and William Schabas from his position on the UN Human Rights Council’s International Commission of Inquiry into the killings in Gaza in 2014. Alongside attacking these three (Jewish) lawyers tasked with investigating human rights violations, Cotler promotes the notion of the “new anti-Semitism” to attack critics of Israeli policy.

In an indication of the unquestioning depths of his support for Israeli crimes, Cotler has repeatedly criticized his own party and government’s (mild) expressions of support for Palestinian rights. In May Cotler tweeted his “regret [of a] Canadian Government statement” criticizing Israeli snipers for shooting thousands of peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani, in Gaza. In 2000 Cotler complained when the government he was a part of voted for a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinian protesters. “This kind  of resolution, which singled out Israel for discriminatory and differential treatment and appeared to exonerate the Palestinians for their violence,” Cotler said, “would tend to encourage those who violently oppose the peace process as well as those who still seek the destruction of Israel.”

In 2002 a half dozen activists in Montréal occupied Cotler’s office to protest the self-described ‘human rights lawyer’s’ hostility to Palestinians. Cotler’s wife, Ariela Zeevi, was a “close confidant” of Likud founder Menachem Begin when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics.

‘Canada’s Alan Dershowitz’ has also attacked Iran incessantly. He supported the Stephen Harper government’s move to break off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012 and pushed to remove the MEK, which is responsible for thousands of Iranian deaths, from Canada’s terrorist list. As a member of the advisory board of “United Against Nuclear Iran”, Cotler opposed the P5+1 Iran Nuclear Agreement. Recently, he called for Canada to invoke the Magnitsky Act to “impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes” on Iranian officials.

As well as promoting US/Israel propaganda about Iran, Cotler criticized Hugo Chavez’s government since at least 2009 when Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in response to killings in Gaza. In recent weeks Cotler has disparaged Venezuela’s government in a number of articles, including a National Post story headlined “Canadian unions helped fund delegation that gave glowing review of Venezuela election widely seen as illegitimate.” Cotler was quoted saying, “the notion that free and fair elections could possibly be taking place when you not only criminalize those who are on the opposition … but when you don’t have any allowance for expressions of freedom of speech, assembly, association and the like, simply is a non-sequitur.” But, as Dave Parnas wrote in response, “for two weeks we have been seeing pictures of streets filled with people who assembled, associated and spoke freely against President Nicolás Maduro.”

Cotler pushed for Canada to request the International Criminal Court investigate Venezuela’s government. Cotler was one of three “international experts” responsible for a 400-page Canadian-backed Organization of American States (OAS) report on rights violations in Venezuela that recommended referring Venezuela to the ICC. At a press conference in May to release the report, Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.” As this author wrote at the time: Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered “subversives” in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil?

For four years Cotler has been working with Juan Guaidó’s “ultra right wing” Voluntad Popular party to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government. In May 2017 Cotler helped bring Lilian Tintori, wife of Voluntad Popular leader Leopoldo López, to meet the Prime Minister and opposition leaders. The Guardian recently reported on Tintori’s role in building international support for the slow-motion coup attempt currently underway in Venezuela. Tintori acted as an emissary for Lopez who couldn’t travel to Ottawa because he was convicted of inciting violence during the deadly “guarimbas” protests in 2014. A series of news outlets have reported that Lopez is the key Venezuelan organizer in the plan to anoint Guaidó interim president.

Cotler joined Lopez’s legal team in early 2015. At that time the Venezuelan and international media repeated the widely promulgated description of Cotler as Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer (a Reuters headline noted, “Former Mandela lawyer to join defence of Venezuela’s jailed activist”). In response, South Africa’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney, said, “Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer.” For his part, Nelson Mandela mentions a number of lawyers (he was one) in his biography but Cotler’s name seems absent.

Cotler’s human rights credentials are a sham. He is a vicious anti-Palestinian who aggressively criticizes enemy states such as Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran while largely ignoring rights violations committed by Canada and the US.

For those appalled by the idea of Cotler receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Iranian-Canadian activist Mehdi Samadian has created a petition titled “Irwin Cotler does not deserve nomination for Nobel Peace Prize”.

Understanding How Canadian Diplomats Shape the News

Canadian diplomats abroad seek to shape coverage of their work. And the more nefarious their actions the harder they toil to “spin” what they’re doing as something positive.

During a recent interview Real News Network founder Paul Jay described how Canadian officials in Caracas attempted to shape his views of the country’s politics. Jay noted:

My first trip to Venezuela in 2004, I was producing the big debate show on Canadian TV called Counterspin on CBC Newsworld. … . I was a known quantity in Canada. And so when I was in Venezuela, I said I’ll go say hello to the Canadian embassy. I was trying to figure out what was going on in Venezuela. I figured some Counselor would pat me on the head and say welcome to Venezuela.

No, I got the number two chargé d’affaires that greeted me and brings me into a meeting room with seven members of the opposition who then for two hours beat me over the head with how corrupt the regime was, how awful it was, and so on…

What business does a Canadian embassy have with bringing a Canadian journalist into a room with opposition people, essentially trying to involve me in a conspiracy against the Venezuelan government. Canadian government role in Venezuela was promote and nurture the opposition.

Around the same time Canadian officials sought to convince Jay that Hugo Chavez’s government was corrupt, former Montréal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery had a similar experience in Port-au-Prince. In Parachute Journalism in Haiti: Media Sourcing in the 2003-2004 Political Crisis”, Isabel Macdonald writes:

Montgomery recalled being given anti-[President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide disinformation when she called the Canadian embassy immediately after she had been held up by armed men while driving through Port-au-Prince days before the [US/France/Canada] coup. Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, told her, ‘We’ve got word that Aristide has given the order to the chimeres [purported pro- Aristide thugs] to do this kind of thing to international journalists because he’s not getting any support.’ According to Montgomery, Cook had urged her to tell the other international journalists who were staying at the same hotel: ‘I think you should let all your colleagues at the Montana know that it’s not safe for them.’

Given only two days to prepare for her assignment, Montgomery was ripe for official manipulation. Though she later realized the ambassador’s claim was ridiculous, Montgomery told other journalists at Hotel Montana (where most international journalists stay in Port-au-Prince) that Aristide’s supporters were targeting them.

The Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince succeeded in influencing Canadian reporters’ coverage of the country. In her MA thesis titled “Covering the coup: Canadian news reporting, journalists, and sources in the 2004 Haiti crisis,” Isabel Macdonald concludes that the reporters dispatched to Port-au-Prince largely took their cues from official Canada. “My interviews revealed that journalists’ contacts with people working in the Canadian foreign policy establishment appear to have played a particularly important role in helping journalists to identify appropriate ‘legitimate’ sources.”

CBC reporter Neil MacDonald told Isabel MacDonald his most trusted sources for background information in Haiti came from Canadian diplomatic circles, notably the Canadian International Development Agency where his cousins worked. MacDonald also said he consulted the Canadian Ambassador in Port-au-Prince to determine the most credible human rights advocate in Haiti. Ambassador Cook directed him to Pierre Espérance, a coup backer who fabricated a “massacre” used to justify imprisoning the constitutional prime minister and interior minister. (When pressed for physical evidence Espérance actually said the 50 bodies “might have been eaten by wild dogs.”)

Almost all Canadian correspondents develop ties to diplomats in the field. Long-time Globe and Mail development reporter John Stackhouse acknowledges “Canadian political officers” in Indonesia for their “valuable insights” into the country during General Suharto’s rule. In Out of Poverty, Stackhouse also thanks “the Canadian diplomatic missions in Accra, Abidjan and Bamako [for their] … invaluable service in arranging interviews and field trips.” During a period in the mid-2000s when she wrote for the Globe and Mail and CBC, Madeleine Drohan conducted media workshops in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and elsewhere sponsored by the Canadian embassy, High Commission and Foreign Affairs (she taught journalist ethics!).

One of the best Canadian foreign correspondents of the 1970s,” Jack Cahill discusses some ways diplomats relate to reporters in If You Don’t Like the War, Switch the Damn Thing Off!: The Adventures of a Foreign Correspondent. “The Canadian government”, the former Toronto Star reporter notes, “can be good to foreign correspondents if it thinks they are reliable and I had two passports, one for general purposes and one for difficult countries.”

In what may reflect his nationalism, Cahill dubs Canadian diplomats “more reliable” than their southern counterparts. Disparaging his US colleagues, he writes:

There is little doubt, however, that some US foreign correspondents depend almost entirely on their embassies, and thus indirectly the CIA, for their information. It is, after all, the natural thing to be attracted to the truth as propounded by one’s own countrymen in the Embassy offices, at the official briefings, and on the cocktail circuit. It’s this information, with its American slant on world affairs, that eventually fills much of Canada’s and the Western world’s news space.

Jay described his experience at the Embassy in Caracas mostly to highlight Canada’s long-standing hostility to the Hugo Chavez/Nicolas Maduro governments. But, his story also helps make sense of the dominant media’s alignment with Ottawa’s push for regime change in Venezuela today.

Globe and Mail Latin America correspondent Stephanie Nolen, for instance, promotes Canada’s last ambassador to Venezuela. Describing Ben Rowswell as “widely respected by Venezuelans while he was there”, Nolen recently retweeted Rowswell claiming: “the coup happened in July 2017 when Maduro suspended the constitution. The question now is how to fill the void – by backing the president who uses force to remain in power after his term expires, or the leader of Venezuela’s last remaining democratically elected body?” Rowswell has been quoted in at least a half dozen Globe and Mail articles about Venezuela in recent weeks.

Diplomats’ influence over international correspondents is one way the foreign policy establishment shapes discussion of Canadian foreign policy.

Canadian Military in Haiti: Why?

Canadian troops may have recently been deployed to Haiti, even though the government has not asked Parliament or consulted the public for approval to send soldiers to that country.

Last week the Haiti Information Project photographed heavily-armed Canadian troops patrolling the Port-au-Prince airport. According to a knowledgeable source I emailed the photos to, they were probably special forces. The individual in “uniform is (most likely) a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) from Petawawa”, wrote the person who asked not to be named. “The plainclothes individuals are most likely members of JTF2. The uniformed individual could also be JTF2 but at times both JTF2 and CSOR work together.” (CSOR is a sort of farm team for the ultra-elite Joint Task Force 2.)

What was the purpose of their mission? The Haiti Information Project reported that they may have helped family members of President Jovenel Moïse’s unpopular government flee the country. HIP tweeted, “troops & plainclothes from Canada providing security at Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince today as cars from Haiti’s National Palace also drop off PHTK govt official’s family to leave the country today.”

Many Haitians would no doubt want to be informed if their government authorized this breach of sovereignty. And Canadians should be interested to know if Ottawa deployed the troops without parliamentary or official Haitian government okay. As well any form of Canadian military support for a highly unpopular foreign government should be controversial.

Two days after Canadian troops were spotted at the airport five heavily armed former US soldiers were arrested. The next day the five Americans and two Serbian colleagues flew to the US where they will not face charges. One of them, former Navy SEAL Chris Osman, posted on Instagram that he provided security “for people who are directly connected to the current President” of Haiti. Presumably, the mercenaries were hired to squelch the protests that have paralyzed urban life in the country. Dozens of antigovernment protesters and individuals living in neighborhoods viewed as hostile to the government have been killed as calls for the president to step down have grown in recent months.

Was the Canadians’ deployment in any way connected to the US mercenaries? While it may seem far-fetched, it’s not impossible considering the politically charged nature of recent deployments to Haiti.

After a deadly earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010 two thousand Canadian troops were deployed while several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams were readied but never sent. According to an internal file uncovered through an access to information request, Canadian officials worried that “political fragility has increased the risks of a popular uprising, and has fed the rumour that ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa, wants to organize a return to power.” The government documents also explain the importance of strengthening the Haitian authorities’ ability “to contain the risks of a popular uprising.”

The night president Aristide says he was “kidnapped” by US Marines JTF2 soldiers “secured” the airport. According to Agence France Presse, “about 30 Canadian special forces soldiers secured the airport on Sunday [February 29, 2004] and two sharpshooters positioned themselves on the top of the control tower.” Reportedly, the elite fighting force entered Port-au-Prince five days earlier ostensibly to protect the embassy.

Over the past 25 years Liberal and Conservative governments have expanded the secretive Canadian special forces. In 2006 the military launched the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) to oversee JTF2, the Special Operations Regiment, Special Operations Aviation Squadron and Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit.

CANSOFCOM’s exact size and budget aren’t public information. It also bypasses standard procurement rules and their purchases are officially secret. While the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment and other government agencies face at least nominal oversight, CANSOFCOM does not.

During a 2006 Senate Defence Committee meeting CANSOFCOM Commander Colonel David E. Barr responded by saying, “I do not  believe there is a requirement for independent evaluation. I believe there is sufficient oversight within the Canadian Forces and to the people of Canada through the Government of Canada — the minister, the cabinet and the Prime Minister.”

The commander of CANSOFCOM simply reports to the defence minister and PM.

Even the U.S. President does not possess such arbitrary power,” notes Michael Skinner in a CCPA Monitor story titled “Canada’s Ongoing Involvement in Dirty Wars.”

This secrecy is an important part of their perceived utility by governments. “Deniability” is central to the appeal of special forces, noted Major B. J. Brister. The government is not required to divulge information about their operations so Ottawa can deploy them on controversial missions and the public is none the wiser. A 2006 Senate Committee on National Security and Defence complained their operations are “shrouded in secrecy”. The Senate Committee report explained, “extraordinary units are called upon to do extraordinary things … But they must not mandate themselves or be mandated to any role that Canadian citizens would find reprehensible. While the Committee has no evidence that JTF2 personnel have behaved in such a manner, the secrecy that surrounds the unit is so pervasive that the Committee cannot help but wonder whether JTF2’s activities are properly scrutinized.” Employing stronger language, right wing Toronto Sun columnist Peter Worthington pointed out that, “a secret army within the army is anathema to democracy.”

If Canadian special forces were secretly sent to Port-au-Prince to support an unpopular Haitian government Justin Trudeau’s government should be criticized not only for its hostility to the democratic will in that country but also for its indifference to Canadian democracy.