Canadian imperialism’s new offensives

Capitalism’s crisis requires more aggressive policies

Though frequently but erroneously portrayed as a moderate and peace loving country, recent developments in the Canadian state’s foreign and internal policies reveal its fundamentally imperialist and increasingly aggressive nature. While Iraq remains the focus of world public opinion, Canada, in close alliance with other so-called moderate countries such as France, Germany and Italy is quietly waging an imperialist war in Afghanistan.1 In a hasty vote in Parliament on May 17, the Conservative minority government won a motion to extend Canada’s military intervention in that country until at least 2009.2 The Canadian “mission” there is now described as being a “peace-making” rather than the usual “peacekeeping” type of operation. This means a clear and more open combat role rather than its previous discreet but often murderous operations (remember the torture scandal in Somalia in 1993), under the United Nations flag, that were the hallmark of Canadian military interventions of the past few decades.

The Canadian forces in Afghanistan have gradually moved out of the relative safety of Kabul and its 2300 troops have mainly redeployed throughout the southern region around Kandahar and are now engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban and other resistance forces. Consequently, Canadian casualties are on the rise. There isn’t even the pretence of any kind of “peacekeeping” anymore as even official documents reveal that “aid and development” amount to less than 20% of the total cost of the mission. And the truth about that 20% is that it is used as bribes to local warlords and support for former Unocal employee Hamid Karzai’s puppet regime. In 2008, Canada is to take command of the entire occupation force. Most observers agree that the Canadian military’s engagement is bound to escalate in what Prime Minister Harper calls the “War on Terror”. Echoing the “tough guy” rhetoric of his much more powerful counterpart US President George W. Bush, Harper has vowed that his troops would not “cut and run”. But, just like the other imperialist countries involved, the Canadian aggression in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the “War on Terror” or promoting human rights. It is motivated by greed and interests. The Canadian government has been signing huge deals in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the rest of the region for trillions of cubic meters of natural gas and billions of barrels of oil that it hopes it can one day ship through an eventual Trans Afghan pipeline if only the local opposition can be quelled. Former Prime Minister Chrétien has made many official trips through the whole region and Canadian companies have quite a few important business initiatives in the making. Imperialism, not some candy-coated humanitarianism is what the Canadian military operation is all about. Making money for Canadian corporations, while guaranteeing supplies of increasingly scarce energy resources is the real deal.

Canadian military and political pressure were also an important factor in the US led overthrow of Haiti’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The corrupt Aristide gang was not seen as efficient and subservient enough by its imperialist masters and the Canadian government and its agencies efforts were decisive in the destabilizing operation leading to the coup d’état. In this case, Canadian imperialism employed all of its traditional tools in order to reach its objectives. 550 troops, including the elite Joint Task Force 2 accomplished the military aspect of the operation. Aids and loans were cut off while funding of so-called NGO’s was directed exclusively at compliant local agencies. Canadian NGO’s, in most cases claiming some kind of “progressive” Third-Worldism and closely associated with social-democratic forces and the Canadian and Québec trade-unions were mobilized to take an active role in the destabilization and the subsequent justification of the coup. The Centre international de solidarité ouvrière, Rights and Democracy, the Association québécoise des organismes de cooperation internationale and Alternatives all stand accused of slavish devotion to their government’s imperialist objectives. Canada continues to pursue its objectives there today through its police contingent, its NGO’s, the influential Radio-Canada media presence and even its new Haitian-born Governor General, ex-leftist Michaëlle Jean. Of course, as in Afghanistan, Canadian foreign policy disguises itself in humanitarian garb in the form of its “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. However, its only goal is to protect its economic and strategic interest, even in a country as poor and as devastated as Haiti.

In order to attain its imperialist objectives, the Conservatives have been consolidating and accelerating an important transformation of the armed forces, a process that had started under the previous Liberal government.3 13,000 more troops are to be enrolled. Important resources are being attributed to convert the present force into a rapidly deployed one, based on light-armoured equipment, capable of intervening anywhere in the world. In late June, the state has announced the purchase of more than 15 billion dollars worth of new equipment including 3 new ships, 16 CH 47 Chinook helicopters, 15 Hercules transport planes, 4 Boeing C-17 supercargo planes and 2,300 new military logistic land vehicles, of which 300 will be armoured. The 3 new naval acquisitions are to be equipped with ice-breaking capacities so as to navigate in Arctic conditions. The rapid melting away of the ice in the Canadian Arctic will in all probability transform the Northwest Passage into an international shipping route within the next 15 years. This will in all probability lead many countries to challenge Canada’s claim to maritime sovereignty of this huge, bountiful and critically strategic area.4 One of those countries of course, is the United States, despite the very limited Arctic Pact they signed with Canada in 1988. As history has taught us, unity between imperialist entities is always relative and their rivalry in the long term, absolute. These ships are thus also destined for eventual defensive operations closer to home. Politicians of all hues and stripes have been harping for years about the need for the Canadian military to do some catching up. But there was no glaring reason to do so as the Polaris Institute 2005 report states that Canada was already the 7th highest military spender amongst the 26 NATO countries. It was also the 15th biggest military investor in the world and has since probably crept up a rank or two since then. The increased emphasis on military spending and the strategic changes reflected in it are a harbinger of a more aggressive foreign policy.

On the home front, the state is using the time-honoured ploy of scare tactics to mobilize public opinion in support of its aggressive new foreign policy. On June 2, a massive armed police operation arrested 15, for the most part very young Muslim men and accused them and two others who had been in jail since last August, of plotting terrorist attacks on various targets including the Toronto Stock Exchange, the CBC and the Canadian Parliament where they were to decapitate Prime Minister Harper no less. Of course, we have no way of evaluating if these accusations are founded in fact. Indeed, terrorism is an important political reality of our time. However, terrorist atrocities such as the 911 attack and the Madrid and London bombings provide the ruling class of the metropolitan countries with a perfect alibi for bolstering the state’s apparatus of repressive measures and help mobilize “public opinion” behind the national bourgeoisie’s warmongering machinations. This is exactly what has happened in this case. In May, a national poll found that 54% of Canadians opposed Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, with only 40% in favour. Three days after the arrests and the huge media frenzy that followed them, a new poll, by the same polling company found that 48% were now in favour of the war and only 44% still opposed it! Meanwhile, the Toronto 17, five of whom are minors, are being held in prison in horrible unprecedented Guantanamo type conditions of legal, physical and psychological abuse. In addition, the judicial arm of the state has ordered a complete publication ban on court proceedings. It now turns out that the grouping had been infiltrated by at least one Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent. This in itself is cause enough to seriously question the police story. Less than two years ago, 19 young men from South Asia were arrested in Toronto and the press put out all kinds of crazed stories to the effect that they were dangerous terrorists that were planning to bomb the CN Tower and the nearby Pickering nuclear plant. The whole story turned out to be a crock. No charges were ever laid. Then before that, a certain Youssef Mouammar, a self-proclaimed radical Islamic leader, sent out a false communiqué about an imminent sarin gas attack in the Montreal subway. He also posted threatening letters to judges and other individuals (see La Presse, June 20, p. A3). Mouammar turned out to be a French-Canadian CSIS agent whose real name was Gilles Brault. Before his agent-provocateur work in the Muslim milieu, he had tried to do the same dirty work in Native American and radical left circles. But these troubling facts that underline a strong reason for scepticism, do nothing to deter the politicians and a major part of the press to keep from using the fear factor, and there is no doubt they will continue to in the future.

Many commentators explain these developments by the recent election of a minority Conservative government in Ottawa. The new administration is accused of bowing to US pressure. Hadn’t the preceding Liberal government refused to participate in the Iraq fiasco? To say so is to conveniently forget that while in power, the Liberals did their part in the second Iraq War by helping the US Army reduce the effort they had to simultaneously put on the Afghanistan front, all the while Canadian warships were protecting US ones in the Gulf as they were launching their missiles on Bagdad. And as we have seen above, all the relatively harsher and more aggressive policies of the Conservative government had essentially started to take off under the preceding more “autonomous” and “progressive” liberals. They are also for the most part supported by all the parliamentary parties in Ottawa, left, right and center. Canadian imperialism, confronted as are all the others with a real crisis of the capitalist system, needs to assure its interests here as well as abroad in an ever more volatile and competitive world. There is no reason to think this is a passing phenomenon. Even less to think it is a policy that can be voted down. It is an omen of things to come and bad news for workers here and throughout the world.

Internationalist Workers Group (Montreal)

(1) However, the recent rise of Canadian losses has started to unmask the real nature of this “humanitarian” operation.

(2) Though there was some formal opposition to the manner in which the motion was adopted, all parties represented in the Parliament effectively support the Canadian aggression in Afghanistan, including the Liberals and the Québec “left” nationalist Bloc Québécois. The recent motion adopted by the NDP congress only addresses the form of the military intervention in that country.

(3) They had added already added a 12,8 billion dollar boost to the armed forces in last year’s budget with the support of the “leftwing” NDP.

(4) The state is already propping up the development of its Canadian Rangers (of which 80% are Inuit) to militarily and politically assert Canadian authority over this immense northern territory.