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September 3, 2009

Yves Engler's The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Suzanne Weiss

Suzanne WeissThe Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, by Yves Engler, Fernwood Publishing, 2009.

(Editor Note: Yves Engler is introducing his book in Ontario during September. To hear him please log on:

Yves Engler’s Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy lays out the facts on Canada's sinister role as a partner in world imperialist and colonial quests, and urges us to understand the consequences. He challenges the belief that Canada is a peacekeeping nation.

Engler tells us that he was first questioned Canada as a “peacekeeper” when it “helped overthrow the democratically elected Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.” Since then he has researched and explained Canada’s world role in the belief that citizens “have a right and responsibility to know, debate, ultimately shape what is being done in our name around the world.”

Engler denies the claim – accepted by many in the Canadian left – that Canada's policies are dictated by Washington. He argues compellingly that Canada is an “independent player with its own self-interest,” motivated by corporate investments abroad.

However, his proposals for change are unsatisfying. It is not sufficient to expose the reasons for oppression: we urgently need alternative proposals that reflect Canadians’ aspirations for liberation and human rights.

Canada’s world investment empire

Engler begins by examining Canada's early days as an emerging imperialist state. Canadian banks began operations in the Caribbean in the 1880s, he tells us, and by 1926 operated 140 branches there. As of April 2008, they controlled the region’s three largest banks, with $42 billion in assets.

Canadian corporations have a major stake in the region’s oil, natural gas, electricity, nickel, cable television, bauxite and gold. The primary industry, tourism, is exploited by Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada, CN Realty, and Air Canada – part-owner of Jamaica’s national airline. Gildan Active Wear’s notorious blank T-shirt factories in the Caribbean are the largest in the world. Such companies “wield significant political power inside Canada,” Engler says.

No less than 60 per cent of the world's mining companies are based in Canada – profiting from tax rules “designed around the needs of the mining industry,” and a judicial system that bars legal suits against Canadian companies for their misdeeds abroad.

Even in Cuba, with which Canada has maintained commercial relations through a half-century of U.S. blockade, has been the target of extended Canadian spying operations on behalf of Washington, Engler says. In addition, Ottawa is today planning for a UN presence “after the Castro regime falls” for which “Haiti is regarded as a test case.”

Canada's Role in the “Responsibility to Protect”

It is “particularly in Haiti,” Engler states, that Canada “reveals the extent to which it is prepared to act as an imperialist power.” It played a central role in consolidating the international occupation, after the Canadian-supported coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which resulted in the deaths of some 8,000 people in its first 22 months.

Canadian rulers no longer speak of “peacekeeping,” Engler points out; Canada is now engaged in “policing” and the use of “military” power. However, the end result is the same. Canada intervenes to enforce the new doctrine of “responsibility to protect” in what they consider “failed states,” such as Haiti. This “failure” is caused in large measure by the operations of imperialism as a world system, and promoted by the intervention of Canada and its allies. The “failed state” theory is a new version of the “white man’s burden” – an arrogant presumption of the right to organize subject nations for the benefit of Canadian corporate interests.

One could add that we see a similar pattern in Honduras: Canada’s refusal to condemn the recent coup contributes to a “failed state” scenario that could trigger an imperialist “responsibility to protect” through Haiti-style intervention.

Moreover, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) boasts of its training and "peacekeeping" activity in more than 140 countries around the world.

Roots of Canada's ‘peacekeeping

Canada's celebrated 1956 “peacekeeping” venture in Egypt, Engler says, aimed to resolve the quarrel between the U.S., Great Britain, and France over who would control the Middle East. Ten years later, Canada backed Israel's invasion of Egypt with warships to protect the Suez enterprise. Egypt’s semi-official Al Ahram newspaper called Canada a “stooge of the Western powers who seeks to colonize the Arab world with Israel's help.”

Engler is not alone in this analysis. Retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie recently told the University of Calgary Gauntlet that at the height of the cold war, Canada's priority was not peacekeeping, but protection of Western “ideals against communism.” MacKenzie says that “the number one Canadian myth,” that “we're a peacekeeping nation” is “bull crap.” (March 19, 2009)

But we must go further. “Peacekeeping” is a code word that entails military operations to suppress conflicts that are deemed to threaten and disrupt the current world order and world-wide corporate interests.

Engler’s Black Book documents Canada’s military aid to the still continuing war on Iraq, including naval vessels and soldiers incorporated into U.S. and British fighting units. And in 2006, the Canada rulers ripped off its veil of peacekeeping and openly sent fighting contingents to Kandahar province.

Particularly valuable is Engler’s extensive documentation of Canada’s leading role in promoting the Zionist settler-colonial project in Palestine, which has stolen the lands of the Palestinian majority and expelled masses of them from their homeland.

Canada was among the main sponsors of the colonial state of Israel in 1948, and remains among the most consistent backers of Israel’s wars and of its terror tactics that strip Palestinians of political freedom and deny them their basic human rights. Here at home, the Canadian government is hostile to free speech for Palestinians and their supporters who wish to expose Israel's apartheid policies.

A vision of another Canada

Engler stresses that criticism of Canadian foreign policy must be accompanied by a proposed alternative. He makes constructive suggestions, such as Canada’s withdrawal from NATO, and drastic reduction in Canada’s armed forces.

But the centerpiece of his alternative is to encourage “the rule of law in international affairs.” In Engler’s view, “International treaties should be enforced…. Canada must ensure international law is applied equally to all.”

Certainly it is often possible for victims of aggression to gain by appealing to international law. During the 1980s, for example, the International Court of Justice ordered the U.S. to pay reparations for damage done by its war against Nicaragua (Washington, of course, never paid a penny).

But by and large, international law has been crafted by rich and powerful nations to protect their interests. The problem is not that international law is improperly applied, but that the entire world order underlying this law is based on domination and exploitation.

Among the treaties that Engler presumably seeks to enforce, for example, are the “Free Trade” agreements so ruinous to Third World peoples. The present United Nations occupation of Haiti was considered “legal” – indeed, authorized by the United Nations itself who utilized troops from economically poor nations to subjugate Haiti.  Some of the most outrageous violations of national sovereignty have been endorsed or justified in the name of international law – such as the United Nations endorsing U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moreover, the imperialist powers use their control of the media to weave a web of lies disguising their actions as legal. When George Bush Jr. wanted to attack Iraq, for example, he presented this as legitimate self-defense against supposed “weapons of mass destruction (WMD).” This fooled enough people to open the road for war. Later, it was revealed that the WMD story was all a lie, but by then the damage had been done and countless thousands of Iraqis slaughtered.

Even at its best, international law is no textbook of humane behavior. It says nothing, for example, about sending doctors abroad to provide free health care and education to the world’s most deprived peoples – as Cuba, so much poorer than Canada, does as a matter of elementary human responsibility.

The alternative of solidarity

Something more is needed than merely telling our governments to obey the law. The real alternative is very simple: a foreign policy based on human solidarity, not on monetary profits.

Such a policy is already being implemented by courageous peoples of Latin America who are challenging their imperialist masters. The Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a nine-nation partnership initiated by Cuba and Venezuela, offers trade and mutual assistance based on cooperation not competition. ALBA does not favour any political agenda, but invites poor nations to take the road of national sovereignty and self-sufficiency.

  • The ALBA Bank gives member countries access to capital based on equality: there is no system of weighted voting.
  • ALBA country members can apply for loans for oil purchases on a sliding scale based on the price of oil. ALBA sponsors Petrocaribe, which provides discounted oil to 18 Caribbean nations.
  • ALBA's Telesur assists Latin American countries in developing independent media, and forging unity of the people against their foes.

Engler does not discuss ALBA. Yet surely its example stands as the most convincing alternative to the evils he denounces in Canadian foreign policy. Although it is not in the DNA of Canada's government to change its character, the activists that Engler addresses should know that such an alternative exists.

Ending Canadian colonialism

As a study limited to foreign policy, the Black Book does not focus sufficiently on the striking parallels between the Canadian government’s treatment of impoverished peoples abroad and those within its own borders. In fact Canada’s imperialist role internationally and its treatment of oppressed peoples within its own borders are two faces of the same reality. Canadian “peacekeeping” actually began with the North West Mounted Police (now the RCMP) and military suppression of the Northwest Rebellion of the Indigenous and Métis in 1885.

Not only is Canada imperialist; it is also the product of settler-colonial conquest, Canadian imperialism is not just a foreign policy; it is a reflection internationally of the capitalist nature of the Canadian state, which was built on the conquest and dispossession of Indigenous peoples, the First Nations.

Canadian mining investments here have the same objective as those abroad – to make profits from the land and labour of dependent peoples. In Canada, this has meant usurping the land of Indigenous peoples, ravaging their health, and deepening their poverty.

The resistance led by Indigenous peoples to irresponsible mining profiteers in Canada is strikingly similar in character to that of their brothers and sisters in Central America, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Victims of corporate piracy in Canada need to ally with those suffering this devastation abroad. Indigenous peoples in Canada have been the most damaged, but other categories of working people are also victimized.

A coalition of resisters to corporate rule, in Canada and abroad, can break the corporate grip on Canadian government policies, both foreign and domestic, and end Canadian colonialism once and for all.

Suzanne Weiss is an activist in the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and of Not In Our Name (NION) Jewish Voices Opposing Zionism.

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