Sunday, February 7, 2016

Remembering the Start of Canada’s 25-Year War



By Matthew Behrens
Twenty-five years ago, some friends and I poured our blood on the executive office windows of Rexdale’s Litton Systems, which manufactured guidance systems for cruise missiles that were used for the very first time in Gulf War I against the Iraqi people.

It was likely the first time Canadian media showed bloodshed in covering that one-sided conflict – Operation Desert Storm began on January 20, 1991 –  and that was precisely the point. Military briefings of the time portrayed a “clean” war that looked as harmless as a high-tech Nintendo game. Generals cracked jokes showing footage of bombs hitting targets that looked no different than animated gaming figures at a Yonge Street arcade.


Blood Drips from Litton's Windows and Police Look on, Post-Arrest

Today, while Canadian CF-18s continue to drop 500-lb bombs on Iraq in 2016, three  months after Justin Trudeau promised the air assault would end, Canadian media outlets have looked back at Gulf War I through a feel-good lens that ignores the subsequent human cost and regional instability that resulted. While Postmedia’s Matthew Fisher calls it a “good” conflict, the Toronto Star’s quirky “odd details” retrospective focused on sand hockey and care packages of gloves and scarves sent to the middle of the desert.

Ignored is Canada’s almost continuous military and diplomatic role since then in the loss of over 2 million Iraqis lives through direct warfare and 1990s economic sanctions so draconian that the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Denis Halliday, condemned them as genocidal. 

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990, was a political godsend, allowing Washington to craft a new enemy – Hussein as Hitler – and to direct funds from the post-Cold War “peace dividend” into the coffers of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers. With the Red Menace no longer providing the raison d’etre for militaries and spy agencies, gears shifted rapidly to haul up some old standbys who have served the role of boogeyman ever since – Arabs and Muslims.

The Kuwait invasion provided then PM Brian Mulroney an opportunity to utter self-righteous pieties about illegal occupations of sovereign territories, missing the irony that the Conservatives had in fact had engaged in the same behaviour that summer by sending in 2,600 Canadian troops to occupy sovereign Mohawk land during the Oka crisis.

A Manufactured Crisis
The lead-up to war intensified with a fake PR campaign about Iraqis ripping babies from Kuwaiti incubators (a creation of the notorious Hill & Knowlton, whose then-Canadian head is Trudeau’s new ambassador to Washington.). It also featured an especially pugnacious Joe Clark leading the charge as Canada’s External Affairs Minister, from which perch he said Canada would fight with or without UN authorization. He labeled as “counterproductive” any pledges that Allied forces would not use nuclear weapons against Iraq, and ordered 800 body bags. 

Canada’s cynicism about a diplomatic solution was also clear, as a healthy chunk of change to pay for the war was set aside very early on, cutting $500 million in social programs in the process. London, Ontario’s General Motors promised it could switch from civilian to military production on a dime, and within a year its assembly line was rolling out the first of over 2,000 armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia.

While anti-war demonstrations broke out across the country, CSIS and the RCMP stepped up an intensive, racially-targeted home and office door-knocking campaign that prompted the Canadian Arab Federation to produce a rights handbook, “When CSIS Calls.” When the  Toronto Sun produced unsubstantiated scare headlines like “Iraqi Agents Here”, falsely claiming a dozen saboteurs were lurking in the city, the results were predictable: among many such incidents of violence and vandalism, an Arabic teenager at Father Henry Carr High School was beaten by 10 white students as passersby stopped to watch.


Police Get Very Rough at External Affairs



As it appeared the U.S.-led coalition was hellbent on war at all costs, the Alliance for Nonviolent Action (a coalition in which I was an organizer) called for direct action at military bases and for a shutdown of the main political voice for war, Clark’s Ottawa External Affairs building. The RCMP threatened us with treason charges, and when the Toronto Star’s front page printed my home phone number to reserve seats on buses headed to Ottawa, there began a round-the-clock barrage of death threats that reflected a visceral hatred whipped up by politicians and press alike. As we journeyed to Ottawa, the public mood was a toxic mixture of fear, anger, and despair, with headlines about terror threats and chemical weapons producing an end-times feeling.

Police Abuse at External Affairs
After sleeping on a church floor, about 300 of us ventured out into an early morning Ottawa -35 chill to blockade the Pearson building. Among our number was 78-year-old World War II veteran, Eldon Comfort, who wore his medals as he, like the rest of us, was roughed up by a police force that hoped to freeze us out during the 4.5-hour demo, figuring we'd tire of being beaten up and frostbite (they eventually arrested only 5 people). One church group turned away by our blockade, which had gone for a meeting on human rights, was so appalled by our mistreatment that they issued a statement decrying "the violent abuse" of our peace blockaders, noting "our very credibility as supporters of human rights overseas is undermined by our own government's handling of this demonstration."

Some supportive employees refused to cross the blockade, with one cafeteria worker asking why Clark and Mulroney weren’t on the front lines overseas if they supported the war so much. Clark’s motorcade tried entering but was turned away, and when he later declared to the House of Commons that our blockade had proven “counterproductive” to the workings of Canadian foreign policy, we took it as an official acknowledgement of the effectiveness of our actions. For the first time, Canadians had successfully interfered with their government’s operations during wartime. 

Despite the success of our action, we felt the sense of gloom that permeated the peace movement for, despite our collective efforts, the bombardment of Iraq, where 50% of the population was under the age of 16, continued relentlessly. Subsequent demo numbers in Toronto declined significantly. 

By the time we ventured to Litton on February 4, only 30 people were there to protest at the same site where thousands had gathered throughout the 1980s, with 11 of us arrested. That night, we were held at Metro West Detention Centre, where, triple bunked, we were the only white people on the range. Racist guards had shown us pictures of our black cellmates in advance, warning us that we would be beaten because they allegedly didn’t like peace protesters.


Police haul away veteran resister Joanne Young, Litton, February, 1991

But we were not beaten. Rather, at about 2 am, a soft, rhythmic chanting began that bounced off the walls in a ritualistic echo that I couldn't put my finger on. One of my cellmates explained that there were a lot of Rastafarians on the range, and that they were praying for us because, he said, “you guys did a righteous thing today.” It was one of the most humbling moments of my life to be with a group of men who had been caged for weeks, months, and years, many on immigration holds, praying for a group of relatively privileged people who would be out in a day or two.

News in Baghdad
Upon our release, we were informed that our blood-pouring was a Baghdad radio news item repeated every hour we were held. I imagined frightened families in bomb shelters perhaps feeling some slight hope that someone, somewhere, cared about what was happening to them. Nine days later, one such shelter, Baghdad’s Amiriyah, was a deliberate target of two U.S. 2,000-pound laser-guided “smart” bombs that incinerated over 400 civilians trapped inside, their shadows permanently etched into the concrete like images from Hiroshima.  It now serves as a war memorial where Umm Greyda, who lost 8 of her children in that bombing, lives and acts as a caretaker.

Such horror stories were a constant during the war, which officially ended in March, but it took time for them to filter through the party atmosphere of “victory”. One story we happened upon by chance was relayed to us by a nurse at a spring anti-war event in Orillia. When she discovered we had been at Litton, she told us about a former patient who’d suffered from a series of mysterious, seemingly untreatable debilitating ailments. Turns out he was one of the men in the Litton management building who saw our blood dripping down his window. A light bulb went off as he discovered what he had suppressed for so long: that bloodshed was the ultimate result of his life’s work. He got better, left Litton and moved away to start a day care.

During bleak times, I think of those prisoners, the former Litton employee I never met, and Umm Greyda. They remind me of our responsibility to the vulnerable and targeted, as well as the power we have to change individual lives or, at the very least, provide some hope in troubled times. 

Trudeau's Ongoing War
As Trudeau announces new plans for waging war with a different face, it remains what it is: war. Refueling and aerial reconnaissance are simply bombing by proxy. Training to kill in a nation that has known nothing but killing for more than a quarter century serves no purpose whatsoever, unless you invest in weapons manufacturers.

This past weekend, Canadian bombers dropped 500-lb bombs on the devastated town of Ramadi, similar in size to Kitchener Ontario. It was the 57th Trudeau bombing run since the election. Since he came to power, as many as 70 civilians have been killed by bombing runs in which Canadian aircraft took part. The blood of each of them is on the PM’s hands. And ours.

After all this bombing, rebuilding Ramadi alone will cost $12 billion. But the UN fund for Iraqi reconstruction only has approximately $50 million, or only one-tenth of what Canada has officially spent since 2014 to bomb Iraq and Syria. In addition to the scores of civilians murdered by bombing runs in which Canadian bombers have taken part, the ongoing toll on subsequent generations of Iraqis trying to rebuild their lives in incalculable. Diverting Canadian funds that could have built affordable homes in Canada to blowing them up in Iraq has equally lethal consequences for those freezing to death on Canada's streets. 

Nothing Trudeau announces in his "wholistic" approach to warfighting will change the circumstances. The only positive contribution right now is to pull out all Canadian military forces, including bombers, refueling and spying aircraft, and those on the ground who train to kill. Please email Trudeau if you agree: the only way to end war is to stop waging it. http://pm.gc.ca/eng/contactpm


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Canadian Bombing Strikes in Iraq Likely Killing Civilians


Canadian Bombing Strikes That Appear to Have Killed Civilians Since Justin Trudeau Took Power in 
November, 2015.

Date
Location
Countries involved
Civilians Killed
November 19
Mosul
Canada/US/UK
10-13
December 3
Mosul
Canada/US/UK
2
December 9
Ramadi
Canada/US/UK
4
December 13
Mosul
Canada/US/UK
3-4
December 31
Mosul
Canada/US/UK
10
January 14
Tikrit
Canada/US/UK/France
Unknown number of 
“friendly fire” casualties
January 15
Mosul
Canada/US/UK/France
36

Since Trudeau’s election, Canada has bombed Iraq on 52 separate occasions (including February 3, 2016). Canada's military has been dropping 500-lb. bombs on the Iraqi people (and sometimes in Syria) since November, 2014. Trudeau promised he would the bombing upon election. In the first week of December, Stephane Dion stated the bombing would end "within weeks." Two months later, it continues unabated.

Because there is no concern for civilian casualties amongst the bombing powers, there is no effort to link specific acts of bombing to those killed by them. In fact, most governments insist there have been no civilians killed.This chart is based on information provided by Canada's own War Dept. and airwars.org; it indicates which countries bombed the same location on particular days when reports of civilian casualties were gathered.

That stunning disregard for human life was illustrated perfectly by Canadian attempts to cover up the CF-18 slaughter of some 30 Iraqi civilians in January 2015, an air strike that only came to light eight months later when The Globe and Mail reported on documents released not by Ottawa but by the Pentagon. They indicated that:

"[t]he Canadian military made it clear to the United States shortly after the alleged incident that it felt no obligation under the Geneva Conventions to probe what happened, the Pentagon records show. 'It should be noted that Canadian Joint Operations Command [legal advisers] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) there are no obligations for the Canadian Armed Forces to conduct an investigation.'"

That work of documentation is left to groups like airwars.org. In any event, these are dates in which Canadians have bombed, often in conjunction with other countries, and civilians have been reported killed. This is likely a conservative estimate given limited reporting sources on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Source: Homes not Bombs: Because Canada should build homes, not blow them up. tasc@web.ca

Friday, January 22, 2016

Trudeau’s Bombing Carries on Canada’s 25-Year War Against Iraq


January 20, 2016
By Matthew Behrens
For the past quarter century, the Iraqi people have served as a convenient geopolitical punching bag, used to justify unfounded racist fears and massive military budgets. The callousness with which successive Canadian governments have treated Iraqi lives as less than human is reprehensible and – rhetoric aside – Justin Trudeau is proving no different, waging an intensifying air war against that country with 47 separate air strikes since he won the election last October. 

Canada has been dropping 500-pound bombs on the Iraqi people since November, 2014, and yet there has been little public dissent beyond quibbles over mission timelines and objectives. And while Trudeau defenders claim it’s not that easy to issue an order to ground Canada’s warplanes, the military has been very clear, indicating at a December 17 press conference: “We’ll do that when the Canadian government directs us to do so.” 

But Canada’s “bad-ass” War Minister Harjit Sajjan, who was directed “to do so” in his ministerial mandate letter over two months ago, is either incompetent or just plain cowardly in refusing to issue a grounding order to his brothers-in-arms. It’s not as if Canada’s bombing allies are concerned. The day after Trudeau was elected, he immediately called the White House and then told reporters Obama understands the commitments I’ve made about ending the combat mission.” Trudeau also spoke with NATO officials during his first overseas trips in November and met with no resistance, while later that month a prime ministerial adviser told CBC there was “absolutely no pressure for Canada to continue its contribution to the bombing mission."

On December 6, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told Canadians that bringing an end to the bombing would be “a matter of weeks, not months.” Meanwhile, Canadian bombers dropped their load over the Iraqi people on Christmas and New Year’s, and over one-and-a half months later, the bombing continues.

            While the Liberals may seem in disarray, it’s more likely that they are simply being dishonest: they clearly want to stay in the fight because of the bizarre belief that, by bombing people, they have a right to be “at the table” where discussions about the future of the region will eventually be carried out. That also translates into being part of the marketplace for fellow bombing countries to purchase new weapons systems through the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the global death merchant that brokered the $15-billion armoured brigade vehicle deal with the beheading regime of Saudi Arabia.

A Laboratory for Warfare
Iraq has long been a laboratory for modern warfare, in which weapons merchants try out their destructive products against real people and real buildings courtesy of a mutually-beneficial arrangement with agencies like Canada’s own War Department. That symbiosis also plays out in efforts to push weapons systems on potential buyers. As the Ottawa Citizen reported last week, Canada rents out its soldiers to play the role of catwalk models in corporate sales pitches of Canadian weaponry. Between 2012 and 2014, such Canadian Forces demonstrations were used to promote armoured brigade vehicles produced by London, Ontario’s General Dynamics Land Systems to the regimes in Kuwait (which was not at the time on the registry of countries eligible to receive Canadian war materiel) and the UAE (which for 17 months has illegally detained and tortured Canadian citizen Salim Alaradi with barely a whimper of concern from Ottawa). 

Hence, continued Canadian bombing is as much an economic as a political investment for the Trudeau Liberals. What Dion, Sajjan and Trudeau have failed to acknowledge, however, is that every time their CF-18 bombers take to the air, people are killed by these bombing sorties, both civilians or conscripted fighters in Iraq. 

Clearly, Canadian officials do not care about this human cost. That’s not surprising, given this country’s historic, ongoing, profitable role in destroying the Iraqi nation, killing well over 2 million people, and banishing a number of generations to intense poverty, environmental degradation, daily violence from the air and on the ground, and depleted-uranium weapons-induced cancer.

            That stunning disregard for human life was illustrated perfectly by Canadian attempts to cover up the CF-18 slaughter of some 30 Iraqi civilians in January, 2015, an air strike that only came to light 8 months later when the Globe and Mail reported on documents released not by Ottawa but by the Pentagon. They indicated that “[t]he Canadian military made it clear to the United States shortly after the alleged incident that it felt no obligation under the Geneva Conventions to probe what happened, the Pentagon records show. ‘It should be noted that Canadian Joint Operations Command [legal advisers] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) there are no obligations for the Canadian Armed Forces to conduct an investigation’”.

            The War Department’s meticulously compiled, anodyne datebook of terror strikes against Iraq, Operation Impact, proudly touts that since it began, the Air Force has flown some 2,017 “sorties”, while “delivering some 20,522,000 pounds of fuel to coalition aircraft.” There are no human casualties listed whatsoever. That work is left to people such as the tireless researchers at airwars.org, who continue trying to piece together bits of information to show the true tally of the bombing campaign’s victims (estimates of up to 2,400 civilians killed, and over 35,000 bombs and missiles dropped).

            What’s remarkable is that anything is left standing after 25 years of almost constant warfare and devastating, Canadian-enforced economic sanctions that the UN’s former Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday, called genocidal. While those who committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Iraq do book tours and appear as talk show guests, people who resisted the sanctions by providing food and medicine were criminalized. Among the most glaring cases are those of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a Syracuse oncologist, still behind bars as part of a 22-year sentence for a “crime of compassion” (sending humanitarian aid and medical supplies to the Iraqi people), and Dr. Shakir Hamoodi (jailed for three years because he sent money to his own and 14 other impoverished families in Iraq).  
           
Remembering 1991
            While Saddam Hussein was certainly a loathsome dictator, he was not loathsome enough to prevent arms dealers from around the globe supplying him with their deadly wares. And when it appeared the fall of the Soviet Union would leave the weapons industry in a shambles, Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait was greeted with jubilation in the offices of the war industry. A new enemy was proclaimed, Hussein was suddenly Hitler, and he had to be stopped. Ratcheting up war fever was assisted by the blood-stained Hill & Knowlton PR group (which created the myth of Kuwaiti babies being ripped from incubators). Hill & Knowlton’s Canadian arm was then run by David MacNaughton (appointed this week to be Trudeau’s ambassador to the U.S.).

            While the Mulroney government was quick to utter self-righteous pieties about illegal occupations of sovereign territories, the Conservative government of the day did the exact same thing that summer by sending in 2,600 Canadian troops to occupy sovereign Mohawk land during the Oka crisis. Their armoured vehicles, helicopters, aerial surveillance equipment, miles of barbed wire, and countless other means of firepower served to enforce the same kind of sanctions the Iraqi people were about to face, cutting off power and trying to deny the entry of food, water, medicines, and clothing to the Indigenous resisters behind the wire. The military bolstered an additional 4,000 paramilitary SQ members, numbers that dwarfed the initial commitment of 900 Canadian troops sent to take on Hussein.

In a “post-Cold War” world, Canada’s military and its war industries welcomed a new enemy, and while Indigenous resistance has always provided a major rasion d’etre for Canadian Forces and related state security agencies (witness the massive, barely-reported Gustafson Lake crisis of 1995), having an overseas target proved invaluable. 

            Indigenous lands were the first testing ground for weapons systems used against the Iraqi people, from fighter bombers who dropped 1000-pound “dummy” bombs over the Innu territory of Nitissinan to cruise missiles tested on Cree Territory. Canadian universities helped with the more horrific forms of firepower to be employed. For example, fuel air explosives, known as a “poor man’s atom bomb,” invert gravity and are designed to suck people out of air raid shelters; they were researched at McGill University, which continues to be a major war research contributor. Canada’s chemical weapons testing field at Suffolk, Alberta, had been used by a Belgian company to experiment with long-range artillery shells that were  sold to the Iraqis during the 1980s.

            From the moment Kuwait was invaded, Canada was eager for war, taking every conceivable step to prevent a negotiated solution while lobbying UN Security Council members to authorize force. Then Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Clark said Parliament need not be recalled if the need to go to war was imminent. And while the narrative of sanctions as a tool to force Hussein out of Kuwait was trumpeted by the U.S.-led coalition, the Toronto Star reported that “when Canada was committed to no more than enforcing a trade embargo against Iraq, Ottawa was calmly setting aside funds for a full-blown war.” Some $500 million in federal cuts to social programs were initiated to help pay for the war, and the government resurrected legislation allowing it to control wartime production, with General Motors in London (the predecessor to General Dynamics Land Systems) announcing it could switch from civilian work to military production of armoured personnel carriers at a moment’s notice.

            Clark also distinguished himself by naming as “counterproductive” any pledges that Allied forces would not use nuclear weapons against Iraq. On October 26, 1990, he declared Canada would go to war whether the UN authorized it or not.  In November, the government ordered 800 body bags (with a weak-kneed NDP only questioning the high number of the bags). With the outbreak of war, General John de Chastelein cheerily declared, “We are now at war and the distinction between whether our roles are offensive or defensive is immaterial.”

CF-18s Deadly, Destructive
            Canadian bombers began their runs over Iraq on January 20, 1991, with General Gerard Theriault reminding Toronto Star readers “the destructive ability of one CF-18 [is] as great as an attack by hundreds of bombers during World War II.” After the equivalent of one and a half Hiroshima bombs was dropped on Baghdad the first night of the war, the NDP’s John Brewin stood and declared: “The first feeling is one of concern for the safety of the pilots and sympathy for them. We admire the courage they will need in a very difficult assignment.” Keeping in mind the Iraqis had little anti-aircraft capacity and half the country’s population was under the age of 15, Brewin’s remarks were hardly a voice of principled opposition.
            Meanwhile, Joe Clark proclaimed, “Some wars can be a point of principle; this is one of those wars.” He insisted that the Geneva Convention protocols to which Canada was a signatory (concerning “excessive loss of civilian life”) were not being violated. Clark then fumbled his way through another statement, the like of which he was quite famous for, when he declared: “If there is one priority, one lesson, which the world must learn from this war, is that an unrestricted arms trade in the region is no longer acceptable and constitutes a threat to all members of the United Nations.” Fine words, perhaps, but not matched by the actions of a government that would very shortly change the Criminal Code at the behest of arms manufacturers Diemaco (Colt Canada now) and General Motors to allow for the import and possession of automatic weapons (crucial to the signing of the first Saudi armoured brigade vehicles contract in 1991).

            One of the strongest NDP stands during the slaughter of the Iraqi people urged people across the land to send Valentines messages to the troops. Meanwhile, Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae, despite closing hospital beds due to budget cuts, opened several up for troop casualties, while his government discussed security measures to deal with “terrorist” threats. Needless to day, anti-Arab sentiment and violence ran high (as documented in Zuhair Kashmeri’s book, The Gulf Within: Canadian Arabs, Racism, & The Gulf War).

            The horrific war crimes against the Iraqis continued directly for a good three months, followed by a 12-year-long daily grind of aerial warfare termed enforcement of no-fly zones, and sanctions that killed over 1 million people (leading to Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children: “we think the price is worth it”). Then came the 2003 escalation of the war: a bloody invasion and occupation with major Canadian participation that continues in various forms to this day.

Canada’s Victims of the Gulf War
As much as Canada has refused to acknowledge the many victims of its foreign and military policy of the past 25 years – rendering the Iraqi people invisible unless we need them for photo-ops – they have equally refused to recognize the humanity of Gulf War 1 veterans who have returned to die slowly, painfully, and largely in silence. Canada does not keep statistics on Gulf War Syndrome (a horrific condition marked by exposure to depleted uranium, a whole slew of neurotoxic and biological warfare chemicals, and an over-the-top vaccination regime that followed no proper protocols). Among those vets suffering is former navy Lieutenant Louise Richard, who recalls being in touch with at least 400 veterans suffering symptoms similar to hers, a number of whom have since died. 

A nurse and former triathlete who entered the war in top form, she returned a completely different person, as she testified in 2013: “The Gulf War veterans and modern combat vets as a whole have been made to feel like toxic waste that has been disposed of and dumped…We are released from DND undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all. We're left untreated. We're left on our own to find our own doctors, civilian doctors, specialists, therapists, psychiatrists. Canadian vets have been totally abandoned. Our symptoms, illnesses, and concerns have been minimized, belittled, ignored —stress. As for the doctors and specialists we do find who are willing to take us on, VAC [Veterans Affairs Canada] has the nerve to challenge their diagnoses, their treatments, and their credentials. Veterans Affairs dictates to us how many treatments, and the distance we can travel on our claims. Policy always overrules the needs of the ill veteran.”

Just as the seeds of violence Canada planted with the 1991 slaughter of Iraqis continue to yield horrific crops, so veterans like Louise Richard continue to suffer from a war-produced chemical brew that will occupy their own bodies in perpetuity. She is not allowed to give blood, and she shocked committee members when she challenged them thusly:

“This is in our blood supply. Depleted uranium, as we know, goes all over the body, to the organs. Does anyone here want an organ of mine if you're in a car crash tomorrow?”

Stunned MPs said no, but then proceeded on to other business.

Next steps for Canada
As for what Canada should do next, there are no easy answers, but there is a clear conclusion: the strategy of military engagement has time and again proven itself a deadly failure that inevitably sows the seeds of next year’s and next decade’s brutalities (just as militarist adventurism, support for dictatorships like those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and proxy wars of the past 40 years have left us at the current impasse).  The only way to end the spiral of violence is to stop adding to it. It would not be a crime for Canada to step back, take a pause, examine how we can end our own contributions to the spiral of violence, and proceed from there. 

Canadian policymakers would also do well to read the expert writings of Andrew Cockburn, who points out in Harper’s Magazine that the ever-shifting allegiances in the region essentially have “Western” powers cozying up with Al-Qaeda front groups as the preferred alternative to ISIS. Al-Qaeda? You remember them, don't you? Aren't they supposed to be bad guys that we created and funded in Afghanistan during the 1980s who had something to do with that 9/11 thing? Canadians should also be aware that news of “progress” against ISIS is generally poppycock; indeed, some 50 high-level Central Command intelligence analysts wrote a letter of protest last year, concerned that their intelligence was being manipulated to transform ISIS strength into ISIS defeats, making Obama and company look like they were in charge. 

Canada is also a less-than-honest player in the region given its utter silence on the brutal Turkish military crackdown on Kurds,  surrounding and starving whole communities in the southeast of the country, cutting off power and denying sustenance.  On the one hand, the Kurds are portrayed as heroic fighters against ISIS, but the minute they talk about self-determination, they are labelled terrorists by the Turks and Canadians (Canada has labeled the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK a terrorist entity.) And yet, as the hardly radical Wall Street Journal points out, “The PKK and its Syrian affiliate have emerged as Washington’s most effective battlefield partners” against ISIS. 

Canada should also come clean about its role in recruitment and facilitation of travel for young people to join ISIS. In a story that has disappeared from any discussion, Turkish authorities last spring arrested an apparent asset of Canadian spy service CSIS, who was nabbed escorting young women across the border into Syria to join ISIS.

As the Trudeau government fidgets about its next steps, calls for an end to the bombing seem too narrow, and provide Trudeau with the cover he needs to wage the war in a different fashion (something he has clearly indicated he wishes to do).  These narrow calls fail to ask how, exactly, Canada (along with the rest of NATO) can contribute anything positive to the region after applying so much direct and indirect violence. The calls could be stronger if they demanded that Trudeau must also include an end to any military “assistance” in the air (one proposal being considered is keeping refueling and reconnaissance aircraft in the area, making Canadians simply bombers by proxy. Indeed, Canada’s War Dept. proudly says these aircraft “fuel the fight.”). He should also cancel the current and proposed expanded role for Canadian Forces on the ground. The idea that the armed forces of the Canadian state have anything to offer in this situation (apart from their experience in repressing indigenous communities and their design of hierarchical institutions in which violence against women is at epidemic levels) is completely without foundation. As in Afghanistan, a Canadian approach based on militarism leave behind a toxic legacy of hatreds, trauma and violence.

Perhaps a period of non-intervening reflection and consultation with grassroots groups on the ground, or massive investments in food security, clean water, and reparations for all the misery we have caused would be a far better choice. An end to the production and export of Canadian weapons would help too. Working to stop the flow of arms into the region from Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Turkey would be a step forward. Investments in groups that work for reconciliation and the conditions needed for true justice on the ground would be a bonus. There are groups in the region who have been doing this work on a small-scale level for years, such as Muslim Peacemaker Teams along with numerous women’s groups who, in the heart of ISIS territory, have organized protests and won demands. But in classic colonial fashion, Canada refuses to listen to the voices on the ground, seeing our role as a “protector” and wise parent. As German politician Jürgen Todenhöfer wrote last November after spending 10 days embedded with ISIS, “we have to finally start treating the Muslim world as true partners, and not as a cheap petrol station we can raid when we feel like it.”

Ultimately, as we focus on how to end the Canadian bombing of Iraq, we need to take into consideration the broader picture, the lengthy history, the significant amount of blood on our hands, and what we can do to prevent Canadian corporations and political careers from profiting off the lives of people halfway around the world from us.

     

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cozy Canada-Saudi Relationship Guarantees Blockbuster Weapons Sales


                                            Justin Trudeau calls this a jeep.

By Matthew Behrens

            The day after his October election, a tired Justin Trudeau rallied delirious Liberal troops in Ottawa with a promise that the decade of Harper-era cynicism was over, proclaiming, “Many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years. Well, I have a simple message for you on behalf of 35 million Canadians. We’re back.”

            Now that the cheering has died down, Trudeau’s rhetoric is facing its first major road test as his government refuses to tear up the largest military contract in Canadian history, a $15 billion blockbuster signed by the Conservatives in 2014 to supply Saudi Arabia with weaponized armoured brigade vehicles. The Saudi beheading of 47 people to start 2016 has rocketed what was for a short time a thorny federal election debate topic back into the spotlight, raising many questions about the secret contract undertaken by London, Ontario’s General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS).

            While the Toronto Star last week uncovered a foreign policy briefing book advising the new PM to keep Saudi Arabia as an all-weather friend that would “serve Canadian commercial and possibly security interests,” Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion insisted to CBC that “what is done is done,” and that Ottawa cannot interfere with what he calls a “private-company contract.”

            “That’s just insulting to anyone who knows the facts,” says the Rideau Institute’s Peggy Mason, a former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador to the UN.  “First off, the deal is between a Crown corporation, Canadian Commercial Corporation, and the Saudi Royal Family. Secondly, whatever type of contract it is, that in no way absolves the government of its duty to uphold Canadian export control policy.”

            That policy, as the Global Affairs Canada website explains, “strives to ensure that Canadian military exports are not prejudicial to peace, security or stability in any region of the world or within any country.” They're also designed to control exports to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be determined that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

But the supply of over 2,000 Canadian-built armoured vehicles to the Saudi regime – a cosy relationship that dates back to 1990 – has not only bolstered that country’s National Guard, whose job is to control the domestic population. It also appears to have facilitated the 2011 Saudi intervention in Bahrain to put down that nation’s pro-democracy Arab Spring protests. Refusal to cancel the contract also sends a supportive message that green lights Saudi military actions in Yemen, which human rights groups have condemned as war crimes.

            While the Liberals have attempted to downplay the ferocity of the military equipment – Trudeau famously called them jeeps, earning a stiff rebuke from Gilles Duceppe during the French-language leaders’ debate – the Globe and Mail reports that a Belgium supplier will be outfitting the armoured vehicles with a 105 mm cannon described as a “high-pressure gun with an advanced autoloader to deliver high lethality at very light weight.”

            The longstanding Canada-Saudi relationship has not only resulted in a windfall for London’s GDLS; it's also led to significant legal changes that have bolstered Canada’s weapons export industry. Indeed, following the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, Canada ignored calls for regional disarmament, instead making Criminal Code changes at the behest of two weapons dealers, Kitchener’s Diemaco (now Colt Canada) and GDLS’s predecessor, General Motors Diesel Division. These allowed the companies to import and possess automatic weapons (which were attached to the first Canadian batch of Saudi-bound armoured vehicles) and granted permission for their production and export as well.

            At the time, the opposition Liberals were on a different track, even presenting a 1993 paper – Defence Conversion, A Liberal Priority – which sought to "encourage Canadian defence companies to adjust and move away from a dependence on military production and export." But once the Liberals regained power later that year, Canadian weapons sales continued their meteoric 1990s rise to a host of human rights violators, including Indonesia, Algeria, Colombia, and Egypt.

            Because the new contract is secret, it is unclear what legal and economic ramifications would ensue if it were cancelled. Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares, the Waterloo-based research and policy organization that has worked tirelessly to expose the deal, says that the Saudis “often write into their contracts that no information about it will be made public,” which is why GDLS appeared caught off guard when then Industry Minister Ed Fast publicly announced the deal.

            Epps says liability remains an open question; if there were a break in the contract, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the globetrotting federal agency that acts as a broker for Canadian military firms, could be held liable by both the Saudis and GDLS. Also unclear is whether, when the Conservatives announced that they had won over several competitors, the final decision was strictly economic, or those other potential suppliers had raised human rights concerns regarding the end-use of the vehicles.

            The latter consideration is a compelling one given that Canada is the only NATO member not to have signed on to the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which lists among controlled items of concern armoured combat vehicles. Stephane Dion’s shrugging comment that if Canada cancelled the contract, other countries would be lining up to fulfill it, rings hollow. “If Canada were to join the treaty and deny the vehicles to the Saudis, there are mechanisms within the treaty that could then put pressure on other potential suppliers not to step in,” Epps explains. “The intention of the arms trade treaty was to get at the argument that if we don't supply this stuff, someone else will.”

            The ATT would provide additional heft to Canada’s broadly interpreted export guidelines (which allowed 2013 weapons sales to Egypt, Israel, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, the UAE, and Algeria). It would also strengthen the efforts of those groups seeking to take legal action to prevent weapons exports. Dion has not mentioned it, but his ministerial mandate letter clearly directs him to have Canada sign on.

            Given the latest round of global outrage over Saudi behavior at home and in Yemen, a Canadian reconsideration could in fact change the regional picture significantly. Indeed, major weapons-exporting countries like Germany and Sweden have in the last few weeks either suspended or deferred weapons sales to the Saudis, while Belgium has refused the latest Saudi request for weapons (though it can justify its production of the 105 mm cannons for the armoured vehicles because those are not going directly to Saudi Arabia, but rather to Canada). Any NATO member with the capacity to produce the armoured vehicles would likely face considerable domestic resistance to bidding on a cancelled Canadian contract.

            The Liberals are not likely to face Parliamentary heat over the deal, given the Conservatives signed it and the NDP is reticent about provoking a rift with the union whose workers currently produce the vehicles (the party’s foreign affairs critic, Helene Laverdière, did email a statement that “We categorically must do better going forward” by, for example, signing the ATT). Last fall, a London Unifor representative reportedly called on NDP leader Tom Mulcair to keep the issue under wraps, but the topic has been discussed at a number of recent London Labour Council meetings, where human rights concerns are pitted against thousands of good-paying jobs and GDLS donations to local charities.

            It sounds like a scenario out of G.B. Shaw’s famous anti-war play Major Barbara, which decried the kind of system that forced workers to choose between going hungry and building weapons used against their overseas comrades.

            London trade unionist and peace activist David Heap is particularly attuned to the complexity of the issue.

            “It’s important not to single out workers at a particular plant for economic decisions that involve all of us, because we are all responsible,” says Heap, who was involved in a 1980s campaign to convert the cruise missile producing Litton Systems in Rexdale to civilian use. “What we need is a collective effort to create a green peaceful economy where good jobs in our communities do not depend on developing and building machinery used to make war."

            Heap notes that before GDLS got on board the Saudi weapons assembly line, the London plant built locomotives, and that for a federal government pursuing green alternatives, a massive investment in railway infrastructure could keep those good jobs in London.

            “In terms of job creation, military manufacturing is the least efficient kind of investment possible,” he says.

            But for now, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) has no plans to stop its global tour seeking out new markets for Canadian weaponsmakers. Last year, it was active in 57 countries while attending the world’s largest weapons fairs, with plans to host international delegations at the CANSEC weapons bazaar in Ottawa at the end of May.

At press time, the CCC had yet to return repeated email requests for answers to a series of questions that raised what human rights standards were used in brokering weapons deals with dictatorships, how the Saudi deal squares with current export control guidelines, what conditions would lead CCC to cancel a contract, and whether, given a major, jobs-producing, cash-on-the-barrelhead deal, CCC would act to provide weapons to another mass execution group in the region, ISIS.



Canadian Weapons Exports to Saudi Arabia, 1991-2014

 1990: 525 Piranha Armoured Personnel Carriers, including LAV-AT tank destroyer

1991: Bill C-6 Changes the Criminal Code to allow General Motors Diesel Division to attach automatic weapons to its Piranha exports

1994-2001:  987 Piranha APCs

2000-2004: 130 Piranha APCs

2006-2009: 132 Piranha APCs

2011-2014:  879 Piranha APCs

2014: Unknown number of armoured brigade vehicles for 14 years

May 2015: The Globe and Mail reported, “Asked if it believes the Saudis used made-in-Canada LAVs when they went into Bahrain, the Canadian government doesn’t deny this happened.”

sources: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Project Ploughshares