All posts by Yves Engler

Canada brings Venezuela to International Criminal Court

Requesting the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government is a significant escalation in Ottawa’s campaign of interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

Supported by five like-minded South American nations, it’s the first time a member state has been brought before the ICC’s chief prosecutor by other members.

In Canada the campaign to have the ICC investigate the Nicolás Maduro government began in May. “I would like to see the states from the G7 agreeing to refer the matter of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court for a prospective investigation and prosecution,” said Irwin Cotler at an Ottawa press conference to release a report on purported Venezuelan human rights violations. The former Liberal justice minister added, “this is the arch-typical example of why a reference is needed, as to why the ICC was created.”

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. The panel recommended OAS secretary general Luis Almagro submit the report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC and that other states refer Venezuela to the ICC. In a Real News Network interview Max Blumenthal described “the hyperbolic  and propagandistic nature” of the press conference where the report was released at the OAS in Washington. Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.”

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, Peru, etc.? Worse than the tens of thousands killed in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico in recent years? Worse than the countless US (and Canadian) backed military coups in the region?

Or perhaps Almagro, who appointed Cotler and the two other panelists, approves of the use of military might to enforce the will of the rich and powerful. He stated last month: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Even before he mused about a foreign invasion, the former Uruguayan foreign minister’s campaign against Maduro prompted Almagro’s past boss, former president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

For his part, Cotler has been attacking Venezuela’s Bolivarian government for a decade. In a 2015 Miami Herald op-ed Cotler wrote that “sanctions” and “travel-visa bans … isn’t enough.” The US government “must increase the pressure on Maduro to respect the fundamental human rights of all Venezuela’s people.” The next year Venezuela’s obstructionist, opposition-controlled National Assembly gave Cotler an award for his efforts, notably as a lawyer for right-wing coup leader Leopoldo Lopez. When he joined Lopez’ legal team in early 2015 the Venezuelan and international media described Cotler as Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer (a Reuters headline noted, “Former Mandela lawyer to join defense 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 and does not represent the Government or the people of South Africa in any manner.”

In 2010 Cotler called on a Canadian parliamentary committee to “look at the Iranian connection to Chávez”, asking a representative of Venezuela’s tiny Jewish community: “What evidence is there of direct Iranian influence, or involvement, on Chávez and the climate of fear that has developed? Is there any concern in the [Jewish] community, with some of the Iranian penetration that we know about in Latin America with respect to terrorist penetration, that it’s also prospectively present for Venezuela?”

A year earlier “Mandela’s lawyer” accused president Hugo Chavez of anti-Semitism. Cotler co-presented a petition to the House of Commons claiming an increase in state-backed anti-Semitism in Venezuela. At the time Cotler said Venezuela had seen a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.” These unsubstantiated accusations of anti-Semitism were designed to further demonize a government threatening North American capitalist/geopolitical interests.

As for the sincerity of his commitment to ending humanitarian crises, Cotler has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli human rights violations, including its recent killing of unarmed protesters in Gaza. His wife, Ariela Zeevi, was parliamentary secretary of Likud when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. According to the Canadian Jewish News, she was a “close confidant of [Likud founder Menachem] Begin.”

Cotler was no doubt angered by Chavez’s criticism of Israel. In 2009 Venezuela broke off relations with Israel over its assault on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. Beyond Israel, Cotler has made a career out of firing rhetorical bombs at the US and Canada’s geopolitical competitors and verbal pellets at its allies.

Of course, it is not surprising to see such hypocrisy from someone leading a hypocritical Canadian campaign to destabilize and overthrow an elected government.

Marie-Claude Bibeau: Canada’s Minister of International Development and Propaganda

Few are aware that Canada’s aid agency has spent tens of millions of dollars on media projects designed in part to draw journalists into its orbit and shape perceptions of Ottawa’s international policies.

For example, “Find Out How Canada is Back!” was the title of Journalists for Human Rights’ (JHR) Night for Rights fundraiser at the start of October. The keynote speaker at the Toronto Hilton was Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau.

The minister almost certainly chose not to discuss her government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, promotion of military spending, etc. Rather than reflect the thrust of this country’s foreign policy the “Canada is Back” theme is a sop to a government that’s provided JHR with millions of dollars.

As part of JHR’s “partnership” with “the Government of Canada and our Embassies abroad”, it has drawn powerful media workers to a worldview aligned with Canadian foreign policy. JHR’s list of international trainers includes CTV news host Lisa LaFlamme, former Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke and former Globe and Mail editor John Stackhouse. It’s also run foreign affairs focused news partnerships with CTV and Global News while the Toronto Star and CBC have sponsored its events. At its annual gala JHR also awards prizes that incentivize reporting aligned with its views.

In addition to the millions of dollars put up for JHR’s international media initiatives, Canada’s aid agency has doled out tens of millions of dollars on other media projects broadly aligned with its “development” outlook. Between 2005 and 2008 the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) spent at least $47.5 million on the “promotion of development awareness.” According to a 2013 J-Source investigation titled “Some journalists and news organizations took government funding to produce work: is that a problem?”, more than $3.5 million went to articles, photos, film and radio reports about CIDA projects. Much of the government-funded reporting appeared in major media outlets.

During the war in Afghanistan CIDA operated a number of media projects and had a contract with Montréal’s Le Devoir to “[remind] readers of the central role that Afghanistan plays in CIDA’s international assistance program.” In another highly politicized context, CIDA put up $2 million for a “Media and Democratic Development in Haiti” project overseen by Montréal-based Réseau Liberté (RL) and Alternatives. As part of the mid-2000s project, RL supported media outlets that were part of L’Association Nationale des Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), which officially joined the Group of 184 that campaigned to oust elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the US, France and Canada in 2004. RL sent Canadian (mostly Québec) journalists to “train” their Haitian reporters for a month. In an article titled “Embedding CBC Reporters in Haiti’s Elitist Media” Richard Sanders writes:

If RL’s Canadian journalists did not already harbour anti-Aristide sentiments before their intensive ‘coaching’ experiences, they would certainly risk absorbing such political predilections after being submerged in the propaganda campaigns of Haiti’s elite media. … RL journalists would likely return home from Haiti armed with newly implanted political biases that could then be spread liberally among their colleagues in the media and hence to the broader Canadian public.

A number of leading Québec reporters interned with ANMH media outlets. Assistant program director for Radio Canada news, Guy Filion was one of them. Even though ANMH outlets barred Haiti’s elected president from its airwaves in the lead-up to the coup, Filion described those who “formed the ANMH” as “pro-Haitian and they are pro neutral journalistic people … as much as it can be said in this country.” Filion also praised the media’s coverage of the 2006 election in which Haiti’s most popular political party, Aristide’s Lavalas, was excluded. In a coded reference to Aristide supporters, Filion noted, “even thugs from [large slum neighbourhood] Cité Soleil were giving interviews on television!”

A smaller part of CIDA’s “Media and Democratic development in Haiti” project went to Alternatives. The Montréal-based NGO created a “Media in Haiti” website and paid for online Haitian media outlet AlterPresse, which aggressively opposed Lavalas. During the 2007 Québec Social Forum AlterPresse editor Rene Colbert told me there was no coup in 2004 since Aristide was never elected (not even the George W. Bush administration made this absurd claim).

What the supposedly left-wing Journal d’Alternatives’ — inserted monthly in Le Devoir with funding from CIDA — published about Haiti was shocking. In June 2005 the individual in charge of its Haiti portfolio wrote an article that demonized the residents of impoverished neighbourhoods targeted for repression by the installed government. In particular, François L’Écuyer denounced community activists Samba Boukman and Ronald St. Jean, who I’d met, as “notorious criminals.” This was exceedingly dangerous in an environment where the victims of police operations were routinely labeled “bandits” and “criminals” after they were killed.

Seven months earlier L’Ecuyer published a front-page article headlined “The Militarization of Peace in Haiti”, claiming “Chimères, gangs loyal to and armed by President Aristide,” launched “Operation Baghdad” to destabilize the country. Echoing the propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration, it claimed the exiled president was profiting politically from violence. Although Alternatives printed numerous articles about Haiti during this period, their reporting omitted any mention of political prisoners, violent repression of Lavalas activists, or basic facts about the coup.

Why does Canada’s aid agency spend millions of dollars on journalism projects designed to draw journalists into Global Affairs’ orbit and shape perception of Ottawa’s policies abroad? Is that really ‘aid’?

Perhaps the title of the cabinet member in charge should be changed to Minister of International Development and Propaganda.

Militarists’ Grip over Canada’s Parliament

How do you feel about taxpayer-funded organizations using your tax dollars to lobby elected politicians for more of your tax dollars?

Welcome to the Canadian military.

Last week Anju Dhillon told the House of Commons “I saw first-hand the sacrifices that our men and women in the navy have made to protect our country.” The Liberal MP recently participated in the Canadian Leaders at Sea Program, which takes influential individuals on “action-packed” multi-day navy operations. Conducted on both coasts numerous times annually, nine Parliamentarians from all parties participated in a Spring 2017 excursion and a number more joined at the end of last year. The Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Commodore Craig Baines, describes the initiative’s political objective: “By exposing them to the work of our men and women at sea, they gain a newfound appreciation for how the RCN protects and defends Canada at home and abroad. They can then help us spread that message to Canadians when they return home.”

And vote for more military spending.

MPs are also drawn into the military’s orbit in a variety of other ways. Set up by DND’s Director of External Communications and Public Relations in 2000, the Canadian Forces Parliamentary Program was labeled a “valuable public-relations tool” by the Globe and Mail. Different programs embed MPs in the army, navy and air force. According to the Canadian Parliamentary Review, the MPs “learn how the equipment works, they train with the troops, and they deploy with their units on operations. Parliamentarians are integrated into the unit by wearing the same uniform, living on bases, eating in messes, using CF facilities and equipment.” As part of the program, the military even flew MPs to the Persian Gulf to join a naval vessel on patrol.

The NATO Parliamentary Association is another militarist lobby in the nation’s capital. Established in 1955, the association seeks “to increase knowledge of the concerns of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly among parliamentarians.” In The Blaikie Report: An Insider’s Look at Faith and Politics long time NDP external and defence critic Bill Blaikie describes how a presentation at a NATO meeting convinced him to support the organization’s bombing of the former Yugoslavia.

Military officials regularly brief members of parliament. Additionally, a slew of “arms-length” military organizations/think tanks I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation speak at defence and international affairs committees.

More politically dependent than almost all other industries, arms manufacturers play for keeps in the nation’s capital. They target ads and events sponsorships at decision makers while hiring insiders and military stars to lobby on their behalf.

Arms sellers’ foremost concern in Ottawa is accessing contracts. But, they also push to increase Canadian Forces funding, ties to the US military and government support for arms exports, as well as resisting arms control measures.

In a recent “12-Month Lobbying Activity Search” of the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada the names of Lockheed Martin, CAE, Bombardier, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE, Boeing and Airbus Defence were listed dozens of times. To facilitate access to government officials, international arms makers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Airbus, United Technologies, Rayethon, etc. all have offices in Ottawa (most are blocks from parliament).

The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries is the primary industry lobby group. Representing over 900 corporations, CADSI has two-dozen staff. With an office near parliament, CADSI lobbyists focus on industry-wide political concerns. The association’s 2016 report described: “an intense engagement plan that included hundreds of engagements with targeted decision makers, half of which were with Members of Parliament, key ministers and their staffs, including the Prime Minister’s Office. From one-on-one meetings, to roundtables, to parliamentary committee appearances, to our first ever reception on Parliament Hill, we took every opportunity to ensure the government understood our industries and heard our message.”

CADSI organizes regular events in Ottawa, which often include the participation of government agencies. The CANSEC arms bazar is the largest event CADSI organizes in the nation’s capital. For more than two decades the annual conference has brought together representatives of arms companies, DND, CF, as well as the Canadian Commercial Corporation, Defence Research and Development Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Public Services and Government Services Canada, Trade Commissioner Service and dozens of foreign governments. In 2017 more than 11,000 people attended the two-day conference, including 14 MPs, senators and cabinet ministers, and many generals and admirals. The minister of defence often speaks at the 600-booth exhibit.

The sad fact is enormous profits flow to a few from warfare. In a system where money talks, militarists on Parliament Hill will always be among the loudest voices.

To rise above their din, we need to figure out ways to amplify the sound of the millions of Canadians who prefer peace.

Fare-less Transit Is Not Free

Free public transit could combat both economic inequality and climate disturbances. And, if paid for by fees on automotive junkies, fare-less transit could be part of a serious challenge to private-car-centred transit/urban planning.

At Toronto’s first mayoral debate Saron Gebresellassi called for fare-free transit. By detailing a bold proposal the left-wing candidate steered  the other candidates to bemoan ballooning fare costs and suggest eliminating some of them.

Gebresellassi’s plan also garnered significant media attention. In “Making Toronto  transit free isn’t realistic now. But it’s a terrific idea” Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan offered an informative rundown of the argument. But, as is wont in the dominant media, Keenan (implicitly) downplays the climate crisis and importance of ditching the private automobile. Rather than a long-term objective, free public transit should be viewed as a short-to-medium term tool for shifting away from our dependence on ecologically, socially and health damaging cars. Of instant benefit to those with the least, free transit would immediately drive price-conscious individuals towards less environmentally and socially damaging buses and trains.

While Keenan downplays the need for urgent, bold action on countering the automotive/climate crisis, he correctly states that making the Toronto subway (and some streetcars) free would exacerbate the rush hour crush. Making it free outside rush hour, however, would spread the ridership crunch out until new subway and streetcar lines are built. For their part, buses can be added quickly and eliminating fares will speed them up. Expanding ridership should also grow support for giving buses the right of way.

Eliminating transit fares is not radical. During times of high pollution Paris and some other large European cities have removed fares. The mayor of the French capital, Anne Hidalgo, recently expressed interest  in making transit free permanently and she launched a study into its feasibility. The book Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators details dozens  of cities that have expanded transit ridership by eliminating fares.

While not radical, fare-less transit is not free. It would be an enormous failure if it only cost what the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) currently raises from fares ($1.2 billion  minus the not insignificant cost of gathering and enforcing fare payment). As the TTC expands to displace ever-greater numbers of private cars, free transit would certainly cost magnitudes more.

But there are many ways to finance it. Greenpeace Germany has suggested placing a levy on car manufacturers to pay  for eliminating transit fares. In France employers with 11 or more employees pay a small tax devoted to transit.

Some of the billions of dollars currently spent on roadways – $3.6 billion  for example on rebuilding a Gardiner Expressway that should be torn down and the land used for  co-op/social/rental housing – could be directed towards free transit. Toronto could also repurpose  some of the 27.4%  of the city presently devoted to free roadway to moneymaking ventures (another 13 per cent of Toronto is parks and open spaces — a share of which goes largely unused because of the unpleasantness of adjacent traffic filled roadway). A more straightforward way to incentivize public transit while deterring private car travel is to earmark congestion fees to the TTC.

A more novel option would be to replace requirements for businesses/public institutions/developers to offer parking with an equivalent contribution to a free transit fund. Toronto  currently prescribes a specific number of parking spaces for every new residence as well as for a “bowling alley”, “bus station”, “adult entertainment” site, etc. The cost of complying with these bylaws could fund significant mass transit.

Unlike education, healthcare, housing, etc., transit shouldn’t be promoted as a (at least broadly defined) social right. While less damaging than a private automobile ride, a 30 km oil powered bus journey emits substantial greenhouse gases and there are various social downsides to long commutes/sprawl. (Making Go Transit free, for instance, would encourage exurban dispersal and even daily commutes to Hamilton or Kitchener.) For environmental, health, safety, noise and cost reasons walking and cycling should be prioritized wherever possible.

But free transit should be promoted as an equality-based, short to medium-term solution for mitigating the climate crisis. Kudos to Gebresellassi for pushing the issue to the forefront.

Does Ford Nation include White Nationalists, Pro-Israel Groups?

Pro-Israel politics make for strange bedfellows.

B’nai Brith (BB) and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) must be concerned about the furor over Doug Ford’s ties to fringe Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy. Last month the prominent white supremacist participated in a BB support rally and the two pro-Israel groups smeared Dimitri Lascaris when he called on them to publicly reject Goldy. And in a twist highlighting the anti-Palestinianism in mainstream Canadian politics, the media’s favoured critic of Ford’s ties to Goldy, Bernie Farber, championed the CIJA/BB onslaught on Lascaris.

Last week Goldy was photographed with Ontario’s new premier at his Ford Fest barbecue. For three days after the photo emerged Ford refused to distance himself from the white nationalist “journalist”. In a bizarre bid to deflect criticism, Ford responded to questions about his support for Goldy by telling the Ontario legislature an NDP MPP supported the Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (presumably this was a way of accusing the NDP of anti-Semitism).

Goldy is a problem for BB and CIJA. They’d prefer not to criticize someone who is supportive of Israel and popular with their most aggressive anti-Arab/Muslim Israeli nationalist supporters. But, Goldy is toxic to the media and most Jews probably consider her views distasteful. In April, for instance, Goldy promoted a 1937 book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which repeatedly attacks Jews and called for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

More immediately, the attention focused on Goldy should embarrass CIJA and BB since three weeks ago they launched an unprecedented smear campaign against pro-Palestinian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris in part because he criticized their refusal to denounce Goldy’s attendance at a BB support rally. On August 29 the white supremacist mayoral candidate was photographed with individuals counter-protesting a rally opposed to BB smearing the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). In the lead-up and aftermath of that protest, BB, CIJA, Liberal MP Michael Levitt and others condemned those rallying in support of CUPW. In response, Lascaris repeatedly called on them to distance themselves from two BB supporters who produced a post-rally video praising Goldy and calling for the death penalty for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs. In one tweet Lascaris wrote:

Mary Forrest, one of the B’nai Brith supporters who called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh and Muslim MPs, poses outside B’nai Brith’s office with Faith Goldy, who promoted a fascist book calling for elimination of the ‘Jewish menace’.

In another he stated:

White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai Brith supporters last week. And B’nai Brith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from Goldy or the two BB supporters’ who made death threats against politicians. As I detail here and here, CIJA and BB responded to Lascaris highlighting their dalliance with racist extremists by distorting an innocuous tweet about two anti-Palestinian Liberal MPs and then called on politicians to denounce his “anti-Semitism”.

In a ‘how do you sleep at night’ double standard, an individual widely quoted criticizing Ford’s association with Goldy jumped full throttle into the CIJA/BB smear campaign against Lascaris. Former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber re-tweeted statements tarring Lascaris by Liberal MP Marco Mendicino and JSpaceCanada, which he is a spokesperson for. Chair of the newly formed Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Farber added a personalized tweet condemning Lascaris’ “antisemitism pure and simple.”

Lascaris’ rationale for pressing BB, CIJA and Levitt to disassociate from Goldy was that they aligned with her supporters by attacking those rallying in defence of CUPW. Lascaris should have added Farber to his list of targets. The long-time pro-Israel lobbyist criticized those who rallied in support of CUPW, but remained silent about the aggressive, racist, Goldy supporting counter- protest.

After the display of solidarity with CUPW Farber re-tweeted Levitt’s criticism of the protest at BB’s office. He wrote, “I agree with Michael Levitt. I know a number of elderly Holocaust survivors in this neighbourhood who were taken aback perhaps even traumatized by this protest. It saddens me deeply that dialogue is replaced by perceived intimidation.” The next day he followed up his ‘those levelling smears are the victims’ tweet with a declaration on the “unsettling demonstration in front of B’nai Brith Canada.” In the 400-word statement he ignores the racist, Goldy-supporting Israeli nationalists and repeatedly describes CUPW supporters as “intimidating”.

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was threatening. And a self-proclaimed “antiracist” like Farber should have been “unsettled” by the barrage of Islamophobic comments made by BB supporters, not to mention their embrace of Goldy. To this day he appears to have stayed silent about Goldy joining the BB supporters.

For two decades Farber was a leader in the anti-Palestinian movement. Since the Canadian Jewish Congress disbanded in 2011 Farber has worked to redress the Islamophobia he stoked while working for that organization, but he continues to take his cues from stridently anti-Palestinian groups.

For their part, BB and CIJA failed to criticize Ford’s ties to Goldy. Only after the premier finally distanced himself from the white supremacist mayoral candidate did they tweet about the furor. BB and CIJA are wary of challenging Ford partly because many of their supporters voted for him (a Canadian Jewish News headline noted, “Ontario Tories win big in ridings with large Jewish populations”). Additionally, they support Ford’s anti-Palestinian positions. In one of his first moves after being elected Ford announced that he would seek to ban the annual Al Quds (Jerusalem) Palestinian solidarity event.

The Ford-Goldy-BB-CIJA dalliance highlights the growing links between bigoted white nationalist, right-wing politics and Israeli nationalist campaigners. It’s a relationship that anti-racist Palestinian solidarity activists should expose whenever possible.

Who is Canada’s NDP Dialoguing with in Israel

Who exactly is the NDP making friends with in Israel?

In refusing to heed a call from 200 well-known musicians, academics, trade unionists and NDP members to withdraw from the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group (CIIG) the party leadership cites the need for “dialogue”. But, when Jagmeet Singh, Hélène Laverdière, Murray Rankin and others call for “dialogue” they don’t specify who they are talking to.

A quick Google search of CIIG’s Israeli partner — the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group — shows that all 13 of its members have expressed views or proposed laws that most NDP members would consider odious. Below is a snapshot of the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group members — none of whom are from parties that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel — that Canadian MPs are creating relationships with:

Robert Ilatov proposed a bill in May to stop “harassment by left-wing operatives of Israeli soldiers” by criminalizing those who film Israeli troops repressing Palestinians. The bill states: “Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment.” Born and raised in the former Soviet Union, Ilatov also sponsored a bill to strictly limit the call to prayer from mosques and, in another attack against the 20-25% of Muslim and Christian Israelis, said it should be mandatory for judges  to sing Israel’s national anthem and adhere to “the idea of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Yisrael Eichler called the assimilation of US Jews a “quiet Holocaust” and labelled criticism of men who refuse to sit next to women on El Al flights “anti-Semitic” and a form of “terrorism”. In 2009 Eichler demanded a “stop to this wave that is turning Israel into a refuge for Russian and African non-Jews as well as criminals who flee from their native countries.” In an anti-Jewish outburst, Eichler called a fellow Knesset member “a Jewboy who tattles on his fellow Jews.”

Yoav Ben Tzur told the Knesset in 2017: “It is time to stop being afraid. It is time to apply the law to Judea and Samaria [illegally occupied Palestinian West Bank] as an inseparable part of the state of Israel.” In a stunt that required a major military mobilization and led to a Palestinian being killed, Tzur was part of a mass prayer at Joseph’s Tomb near the occupied Palestinian city of Nablus.

Yitzchak Vaknin told the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs in 2013: “I do not support negotiations on Jerusalem at all. Jerusalem is our capital and of course we are forbidden to speak on Jerusalem because if we speak about Jerusalem then we can discuss any other city in Israel.” In 2011 Vaknin co-sponsored  a bill to annex the illegal Jewish settlements of Beitar Illit, Ma’ale Adumim, Giv’at Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Efrat to the municipality of Jerusalem. Vaknin also co-sponsored two bills to forbid gay pride parades and in 2014 Vaknin called South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein “erev rav”, a derogatory term translated as “mixed multitude” or “mixed mob” of non-Jews who followed the Biblical Hebrews from Egypt and made their lives miserable.

Elazar Stern told Belgian newspaper L’Echo in January that “all embassies should be” in Jerusalem and that Europe should “stop supporting Palestinian terrorism.” Stern co-sponsored a recent bill calling on Israel to withhold some Palestinian customs duties it gathers as the occupying power.

Nachman Shai repeatedly justified the killing of Palestinians during his time as the Israeli military’s chief spokesman between 1988 and 1991. In 2015 he ran to chair the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and called the term leftist “a stain.”

Tali Ploskov proposed a bill to deter Israeli human rights groups that give tours detailing the mistreatment of Palestinians by increasing the penalty on unlicensed tour guides. She also co-sponsored a bill designed to fight the “legal intifada” by raising the fees for Palestinians to petition Israel’s top court and another law empowering the Minister of the Interior to revoke the residency status of Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem for “Breach of Allegiance”.

Mickey Levy, then commander of the Jerusalem police, ordered the 2002 execution of a Palestinian who had been captured and disarmed before he could detonate a suicide vest. Levy said Israel should stop returning the bodies of Palestinians they kill in acts of resistance and that their families should be expelled to Gaza “if they have relatives there.” When Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi called Israeli soldiers “murderers” in 2016, reports the Jerusalem Post, Levy “rushed at Zoabi, nearly reaching her before he was stopped by Knesset ushers, shouting ‘You are filth!’ several times.”

Oded Forer initiated the April impeachment of Haneen Zoabi from the Knesset and legislation to disqualify Arab Knesset candidates for “calling Israel racist and calling upon countries to boycott and sanction it.” Saying “the [Arab] Joint List continues to prove that its MKs do not belong in the Knesset,” Forer claimed “the Knesset  has become a place for terrorists and their supporters to sit in without fear.” Forer also submitted a bill — largely targeting tenured professors — that could impose up to 10 years in prison for those who incite violence against the state. Forer said: “the expansion of incitement to public events has become a real danger. Calls for incitement and for harm to be caused to the State of Israel should not be heard among the masses and certainly not in events and places financed with the money of Israeli taxpayers.”

Meirav Ben-Ari said the government should “help” Jews living in a Tel Aviv neighbourhood with many Africans. “You go to the south of Tel Aviv, it’s a different state,” Ben-Ari said. “It’s like Sudan mixed with Eritrea mixed with Darfur.” Ben-Ari added that she doesn’t go there because it’s too dangerous. In 2015 she called for the prosecution of an Arab member of the Knesset. “A member  of Knesset who acts against the Knesset and the State of Israel, his immunity should be reconsidered.”

Sharren Haskel wrote recently about “Palestinians’ desire to obliterate the Jewish future in the Middle East” and told CBC she “would love to see Canada move its embassy” to Jerusalem. In July Haskel initiated a government program “to prevent miscegenation” (romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews). Using a Hebrew word that literally translates as “assimilation,” but is commonly used as a euphemism for miscegenation, she told Israel Hayom paper: “Young [Jewish]  men and women from all over the world will arrive and form relationships with local young men and women, in order to prevent assimilation and strengthen the connection to Judaism.”

In this article I detail some of the views of the two chairs of the Israel-Canada Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. The more openly racist and anti-Palestinian of the two, Anat Berko just put forward a bill to jail individuals who display Palestinian flags at demonstrations and expressed support for a former soldier who shot and killed a wounded Palestinian in Hebron in 2016.

Which is the best way for the NDP to promote justice and peace? To accept and normalize such views and policies by making friends with these politicians? Or to withdraw from the CIIG to send a message that the State of Israel is currently on a path that is unacceptable to the NDP and its members?

Please ask ac.cg.lrapnull@nosirraG.lladnaR, ac.cg.lrapnull@niknar.yarrum ac.cg.lrapnull@eltsacdrah.lyrehc, ac.cg.lrapnull@snhoj.drog and ac.cg.lrapnull@nailuj.retep to withdraw from the Canada–Israel Interparliamentary Group.

Does Canada Support an Invasion of Venezuela?

In their obsession for regime change, Ottawa is backing talk of an invasion of Venezuela. And the NDP is enabling Canada’s interventionist policy.

Last week 11 of the 14 member states of the anti-Venezuelan “Lima Group” backed a statement distancing the alliance from “any type of action or declaration that implies military intervention” after Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro stated: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Canada, Guyana and Colombia refused to criticize the head of the OAS’ musings about an invasion of Venezuela.

In recent weeks there has been growing tension on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Some believe Washington is pushing for a conflict via Colombia, which recently joined NATO.

Last summer Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Talk of an invasion encourages those seeking regime change. At the start of August drones armed with explosives flew toward Maduro during a military parade in what was probably an attempt to assassinate the Venezuelan president. Two weeks ago the New York Times reported that US officials recently met members of Venezuela’s military planning to oust Maduro. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust Maduro in February and other leading Republican Party officials have made similar statements.

Alongside these aggressive measures, Canada has sought to weaken the Venezuelan government. Since last September Ottawa has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials. In March the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela while Caracas called Canada’s move a “blatant violation of the most fundamental rules of International Law.”

Over the past year and a half Canadian officials have campaigned aggressively against the Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has prodded Caribbean countries to join the Lima Group’s anti-Venezuela efforts and made frequent statements critical of Caracas’ democratic legitimacy and human rights record. In June Freeland told the OAS General Assembly, “we must act immediately on the situation in Venezuela to force the exit of the dictatorship.”

Ottawa has encouraged its diplomats to play up human rights violations and supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. A 27-page Global Affairs report uncovered by the Globe and Mail noted, “Canada should maintain the embassy’s prominent position as a champion of human-rights defenders.” Alluding to the hostility engendered by its interference in that country’s affairs, the partially redacted 2017 report recommended that Canadian officials also “develop and implement strategies to minimize the impact of attacks by the government in response to Canada’s human rights statements and activities.”

As part of its campaign against the elected government, Ottawa has amplified oppositional voices inside Venezuela. Over the past decade, for instance, the embassy has co-sponsored an annual Human Rights Award with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos whose director, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. In July the recipient of the 2018 prize, Francisco Valencia, spoke in Ottawa and was profiled by the Globe and Mail. “Canada actually is, in my view, the country that denounced the most the violation of human rights in Venezuela … and was the most helpful with financing towards humanitarian issues,” explained Valencia, who also told that paper he was “the target of threats from the government.”

In another example of anti-government figures invited to Ottawa, the former mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, called for “humanitarian intervention” before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development last week. He said:

If the international community does not urgently activate the principle of humanitarian intervention for Venezuela — which developed the concept of the responsibility to protect — they will have to settle for sending Venezuelans a resolution of condolence with which we will not revive the thousands of human beings who will lose their lives in the middle of this genocide sponsored by Maduro.

In November Ledezma escaped house arrest and fled the country.

The NDP’s foreign critic has stayed quiet regarding the US/Canadian campaign against Venezuela’s elected government. I found no criticism by Hélène Laverdière of US/OAS leaders’ musing about invading or the August assassination attempt on Maduro. Nor did I find any disapproval from the NDP’s foreign critic of Canadian sanctions or Ottawa’s role in the Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canada’s expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats and role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition.

Worse still, Laverdière has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and has called on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government.

Is Canadian political culture so deformed that no party represented in the House of Commons will oppose talk of invading Venezuela? If so, it’s not another country’s democracy that we should be concerned about.

Canada’s First Principle of International Relations Should Be “First Do No Harm”

Many progressives call for Canada to “do more” around the world. The assumption is that this country is a force for good, a healer of humankind. But if we claim to be the “doctors without borders” of international relations, shouldn’t Canada swear to “first do no harm” like MDs before beginning practice? At a minimum shouldn’t the Left judge foreign policy decisions through the lens of the Hippocratic oath?

Libya illustrates the point. That North African nation looks set to miss a United Nations deadline to unify the country. An upsurge of militia violence in Tripoli and political wrangling makes it highly unlikely elections planned for December will take place.

Seven years after the foreign backed war Libya remains divided between two main political factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. Thousands have died in fighting since 2011.

The instability is not a surprise to Canadian military and political leaders who orchestrated Canada’s war on that country. Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011 military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers the country would likely descend into a lengthy civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted:

There is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.

A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gaddafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, notes Ottawa Citizen military reporter David Pugliese, Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s  air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

A Canadian general oversaw NATO’s 2011 war, seven CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast. Ottawa defied the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians by dispatching ground forces, delivering weaponry to the opposition and bombing in service of regime change. Additionally, Montréal-based private security firm GardaWorld aided the rebels in contravention of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations. Western media and politicians repeated the rebels’ outlandish (and racist) claims that sub-Saharan African mercenaries fuelled by Viagra given by Gaddafi, engaged in mass rape. Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising and Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, were unable to find any basis for these claims.

But, seduced by the need to “do something”, the NDP, Stephen Lewis, Walter Dorn and others associated with the Left supported the war on Libya. In my new book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I question the “do more” mantra and borrow from healthcare to offer a simple foreign policy principle: First Do No Harm. As in the medical industry, responsible practitioners of foreign policy should be mindful that the “treatments” offered often include “side effects” that can cause serious harm or even kill.

Leftists should err on the side of caution when aligning with official/dominant media policy, particularly when NATO’s war drums are beating. Just because the politicians and dominant media say we have to “do something” doesn’t make it so. Libya and the Sahel region of Africa would almost certainly be better off had a “first do no harm” policy won over the interventionists in 2011.

While a “do more” ethos spans the political divide, a “first do no harm” foreign policy is rooted in international law. The concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Peoples’ inalienable right to shape their own destiny is based on the truism that they are best situated to run their own affairs.

Alongside the right to self-determination, the UN and Organization of American States prohibit interfering in the internal affairs of another state without consent. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

A military intervention without UN approval is the “supreme international crime”. Created by the UN’s International Law Commission after World War II, the Nuremberg Principles describe aggression as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” In other words, by committing an act of aggression against Libya in 2011 — notably bombing in service of regime change — Ottawa is responsible not only for rights violations it caused directly, but also those that flowed from its role in destabilizing that country and large swaths of Africa’s Sahel region.

If Canada is to truly be the “good doctor” of international relations it will be up to Left foreign policy practitioners to ensure that this country lives up to that part of the Hippocratic oath stating, “First do no harm”.

Bylaws that Require Parking Drive Up Costs of Housing

While climate disturbances wreak growing havoc across the planet, Canadian cities continue to mandate pro-car measures that drive-up housing costs and contribute to global warming. Even the most walkable, bike-able and mass transit oriented neighbourhoods still require parking spots to be built in new residences. Finally, last week downtown Montréal eliminated parking requirements for new residential projects. Going forward developers in the Ville-Marie borough will no longer be forced to build a certain number of parking spots per new unit.

Across the country zoning laws require residential and commercial buildings to secure a certain number of spots based upon the number of dwellings or square feet of space. The city website explains that “Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw requires new developments, including homes, schools, offices and stores, to provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces.”

Toronto’s website has a detailed list of parking requirements based upon various criteria. Per residential unit, Toronto usually requires between 1 and 1.4 parking spots while it’s between 1.15 and 1.95 spaces in Mississauga.

Unlike most zoning ordinances that simply prohibit something, parking requirements are coercive: They tell developers exactly what to do. Cities don’t ban the construction of apartments with one bedroom or bathroom but some ban the construction of apartments with only one parking spot.

Converting buildings to different uses can be difficult in places with substantial parking requirements. Sometimes a new business simply cannot move into a building that formerly housed an operation with lower parking requirements without adding more spaces (or obtaining a variance).

Extensive parking requirements have reduced many architects to designing buildings around parking laws. “Form follows parking requirements,” laments Donald Shoup author of The High Cost of Free Parking. A 2017 Corporate Knights article notes, “Ottawa’s Hintonburg  and the Glebe or Toronto’s Kensington Market and Yorkville would never be built today. These special places were developed before current parking standards came into effect.”

Since all units, irrespective of size, are generally required to have a parking spot, apartments have become larger and more expensive. No matter the size, Mississauga requires 1.15 spaces per (human) housing unit downtown, which acts “as a disincentive to build smaller, affordable units.” The financial and logistical burden created by parking requirements has restricted the rooming supply. “Zoning requires a home for every car, but ignores homeless people,” writes Shoup. “By increasing the cost of housing, parking requirements make the real homelessness problem even worse.” (It generally costs $40,000 to $60,000 to build an underground parking space in downtown Toronto while a surface spot in a low-density area can be built for as little as $2,000 to $8,000.)

Most significantly parking requirements spur private car travel. Parking and car travel are mutually reinforcing; more parking means more car travel and more car travel means increased demand for yet more parking.

Sometimes zoning requirements mandate commercial and office spaces provide a certain amount of free parking. Even when zoning laws don’t mandate free parking, the saturated “market” creates an expectation that parking will be free. Would there be any need for parking requirements if people were willing to pay? Wouldn’t profit-oriented businesses sell as much parking as they could charge for?

The right to affordable housing must be prioritized over the “need” for parking.  Progressives currently running for positions in city governments across the country – Saron Gebresellassi, Derrick O’Keefe, Jeremy Loveday, etc. – should take up an issue that drives up housing costs while increasing private auto use. Let’s build cheaper housing, more liveable cities and a healthier environment by ending parking requirements in city bylaws! That should be a slogan all sensible people can rally around.

The Racism and Smear Tactics of B’nai B’rith and Israel-first MPs in Defense of Israeli Crimes

Read Part 1.

Dimitri Lascaris (Photo by Dave Chidley)

Like British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Canadian lawyer Dimitri Lascaris is the victim of a “Big Lie” slander campaign. Defenders of the most aggressive ongoing European settler colonialism have once again smeared a “proud, anti-racist advocate for human rights.”

In this article  I offer some important context regarding the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) and B’nai B’rith’s (BB) absurd “anti-Semitism” accusations against Lascaris, which were echoed by the leaders of the four main federal political parties. But, looking at the run up to his ‘offending’ tweet suggests that Lascaris was targeted in an unprecedented smear campaign because he was exposing CIJA and BB’s soft underbelly, notably their dalliance with racist extremists. In the week before he was denounced Lascaris repeatedly challenged CIJA, BB’s and Liberal MP Michael Levitt’s association with individuals making anti-Muslim remarks, death threats against politicians and promoting a book denouncing the “Jewish menace”.

The immediate background to CIJA and BB’s campaign against Lascaris was an August 29 demonstration opposing BB’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). CIJA, BB and Levitt tarred that rally as being racist and threatening. Two days before the display of solidarity with CUPW Levitt issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned”  and “disturbed” by the planned protest, announcing that he had contacted the police. Afterwards CIJA Vice President for the Greater Toronto Area, Noah Shack, thanked the police and stated: “What the Jewish  community of Bathurst Manor witnessed today is a failed attempt at intimidation by a hateful group of protesters.”

But in reality, it was the counter rally of BB supporters that was racist and threatening. In the week after the rally Lascaris repeatedly called on CIJA, BB and Liberal MP Levitt to publicly repudiate the Islamophobia of the pro-BB counter protesters. Prior to his ‘offending’ tweet, Lascaris posted video of protesters making anti-Muslim comments and tweeted “B’nai B’rith can’t bring itself to condemn the white supremacists, racists & Islamophobes who support its organization and who stood at its doorstep last week screaming hatred at supporters of CUPW. Instead, it hurls baseless claims of ‘bigotry’ at its critics.”

Via twitter and Facebook Lascaris also called on them to criticize two BB supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to face the death penalty. In a video detailing  their participation in the counter protest, Mary Forrest and a friend called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and several Muslim MPs to receive the “guillotine” or be “stoned” to death. Lascaris tweeted: “If a supporter of Palestine called for Israel’s criminal PM Benjamin Netanyahu to be put to death, B’nai B’rith and CIJA would become apopletic and call that person a ‘terrorist’. But when pro-Israel fanatics call for Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau to be killed, they say nothing.”

In another tweet before the supposed “anti-Semitic” comment, Lascaris criticized Levitt’s trip to Israel during which he met the COO of Sodastream. He wrote, “while Michael Levitt showcases Israel’s apartheid regime, supporters of his close ally B’nai B’rith called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau and Levitt’s Liberal colleagues Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra and Maryam Monsef. Shamefully, Levitt has said nothing.”

In their video about protesting in support of BB, Forrest and her friend talked about campaigning for former Rebel Media host Faith Goldy, who is running for mayor of Toronto. In fact, the white supremacist mayoral candidate attended the rally in support of BB. In April Goldy promoted a book by Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu titled For My Legionaries, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as one of “the canonical works of global fascism.” Published in 1937, it repeatedly attacks Jews and calls for eliminating the “Jewish threat”.

Lascaris repeatedly called on BB to denounce their supporters’ association with Goldy. He tweeted, “White supremacist Faith Goldy promoted fascist propaganda calling for eliminating ‘the Jewish menace’. Goldy was warmly received by B’nai B’rith supporters last week. And B’nai B’rith expects us to believe it speaks for Canadian Jewry?”

BB, CIJA and Levitt refused to disassociate themselves from protesters they aligned with before and after the August 29 protest. Instead they distorted an innocuous tweet about their two main allies within the Liberal Party caucus and sought to portray themselves as the victims. To the political establishment’s shame, the leaders of four political parties, as well as numerous other MPs, joined the smear of Lascaris.

Egged on by the politicians, CIJA and BB took their ‘we are victims’ silliness to embarrassing heights. CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel put out a statement implying that Lascaris’ tweet was somehow connected to Rosh Hashanah. In an attack on the activist-lawyer titled “An Urgent Note Before Rosh Hashanah: Fighting Antisemitism in 5779”, Fogel wrote: “Those who seek to demonize and ultimately dismantle the Jewish State, through BDS and other toxic forms of advocacy, are becoming bolder and more aggressive. They are letting the veil slip on the false distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. And some of them openly seeking to undermine our rights as Jewish Canadians to be accepted as equals in Canadian politics, democracy, and civil society. It’s clearer than ever that the fight against the anti-Israel agenda is a fight to preserve the future of the Canadian Jewish community.”

B’nai B’rith CEO Michael Mostyn made the connection to the Jewish New Year more clear, tweeting “Two days  before Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in Judaism, Dimitri Lascaris hurled an antisemitic trope at Canadian leaders that was even promoted in the ‘Elders of the Protocols of Zion.’”

Mostyn followed this shameful tweet by revealing the direct political objective of the attacks against Lascaris. BB’s head tweeted, “Canadians expect ALL their elected officials across the political spectrum to refuse to interact with CJPME [Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East] until it apologizes and removes Dimitri Lascaris as their chair – this would certainly include Niki Ashton”, who Lascaris supported in the NDP leadership race.

Comparing the Left’s response to the attacks on Lascaris and activist-author Nora Loreto  six months ago is informative. While both faced unprecedented backlash for publishing relatively innocuous tweets, only one of the social justice campaigners received substantial support from radical leftists.

This doesn’t bode well for the Left’s ability to respond to the accusations of anti-Semitism certain to follow Niki Ashton or someone with similar politics taking the reins of the NDP or another Left party coming close to governing. Israel lobby groups’ spectacular campaign against Corbyn in Britain and their smears against Lascaris suggests that anyone serious about building a movement for climate justice, economic inequality, indigenous rights, etc. needs to think carefully about the best ways to counter CIJA, BB, etc. smear tactics.

We need to be prepared for the next Big Lies.