Canada for anti-imperialists 1

Based on a talk given to the 'Nageh' community group on June 11, 2004, in Toronto. Part 1 of 2. Go to part 2

The United States is engaging in a bloody occupation in Iraq; it overthrew the democratically-elected regime in Haiti and posted Marines in that country; it sowed already devastated Afghanistan with cluster bombs and replaced the Taliban with warlords; it is engaging in ongoing efforts to oust the Cuban regime and the Venezuelan; it is supporting repression in Colombia; it is constantly threatening Iran, Syria, and North Korea; it offers unconditional support to Israel's bloody occupation of Palestine.

This is all part of a very deliberate agenda that denies self-determination to the peoples of the world, keeps the world 'safe' for the rights of investors, corporations, and militarists, and undermines democracy on behalf of elites in the rich countries (and their clients in the poor countries).

In most of these ventures, Canada has been openly supportive; in others, its support has been behind-the-scenes. What is the historical pattern of Canadian foreign policy? What is Canada up to today and why? Opposing imperial depredations is something everyone of conscience must do, but we can have more effect (can we?) over what Canada does, so it is important to know what that is: the record is mainly one of complicity, hypocrisy, and the occasional open crime.

Canada's real role in the world is covered under a lot of mythology. There are a variety of narratives about Canada, what it is, how it works. There are a lot of myths. Canada is seen as an 'honest broker', a moderating influence on the United States. Canada doesn't have the power or will to have imperial aspirations, and if there is a division between the US and the rest of the world, Canada stands with the world. These are myths a lot of people subscribe to.

There are, on the other hand, a lot of people who know better. The Council of Canadians held a series of events across the country called: "Canada: Country or Colony?" They point to free trade agreements, defense sharing agreements, US investment in Canada, the majority of Canadian trade going to the US, US encroachments into Canada's public sector, and say - Canada is in a colonial relationship with the US. What the US says goes. Canada imports manufactured goods and exports natural resources. It's colonialism.

I have a lot of respect for the Council of Canadians, and for that Canadian 'nationalist' sentiment. I recently read a book by David Orchard (1), who ran for the Conservative Party nomination. David Orchard is not an ordinary conservative. In his view, the Conservative Party is the party that built the railway, that built up the public sector, that defended Canadian sovereignty against US encroachment, and only recently betrayed its noble traditions with Mulroney and NAFTA. For Orchard, the entire history of Canada is one of resistance to US attempts to take it over: alliances of indigenous-French and indigenous-French-British repelled repeated military invasions. Visionary politicians realized that unity alone could create a state and economy that could be independent. Those visionaries passed and were replaced by venal men who don't care for independence or sovereignty and want to sell the country to the US. Those colonial collaborators, Orchard points out, have always existed in Canadian history: for every invasion there were those in Canada eager to be absorbed. John Ralston Saul, the husband of Canada's Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, not a conservative, someone who would probably call himself a 'humanist', does the same sort of thing in his book about Canada (2). To Ralston Saul, the defining characteristic is the intertwining of British, French, and indigenous that created something unique and worth preserving here in this Northern country. He always goes back to the alliance between Lower Canada (Quebec)'s LaFontaine and Upper Canada (Ontario)'s Baldwin, an alliance that enabled these politicians to outflank those who wanted union with the US and bring about 'responsible government' in Canada.

This, too, is an interesting story, but I'm not sure that it is true. Struggles between elites are rarely between men of vision and men who lack vision. They are, instead, based on different interpretations of how elite interests are best served. The men who built the railway (and it is interesting that when people talk about 'the men who built the railway' they are referring to the capitalists and government officials here, and not the actual people who actually built the railway, sweating and dying in terrible conditions for terrible wages) the men who sought tariff protections for Canadian manufactures, they had their own reasons for doing so. And in recent years, even the most 'nationalist' parts of the Canadian elite dared not assert too much independence.

Years ago in Mexico a friend lamented her country's problem: "We are too far from heaven and too close to the US." Canadian nationalists would say the same. But for Canada there is another question. On the one hand, there is a question about how independent Canada could be even if it wanted to be. On the other, there is a question about whether Canada wants to be. In other words, the Council of Canadians question: "Canada, Country or Colony?" should be expanded to: "Canada: country, colony, or colonizer?" And the answer isn't pretty.

Gwynne Dyer, in his foreword to Victor Levant's excellent history of Canadian involvement in the Vietnam war (3), puts this issue very clearly:

"The fact is that Canada did have choices about its behaviour in the Vietnam in the 1950s, and chose to behave badly. The same is true of the 1960s. We have choices in the 1980s too, although every choice involves a potential price.

"We cannot know how high the price would have been if we had… refused to serve US interests in Vietnam. Nobody in Ottawa even considered the question seriously until the very end… Nobody knows what the cost to Canada of serious dissent from US policy would be today, either, though the United States could clearly hurt us a lot if it chose to do so. But always behind the lines… looms the vast misery and suffering that Canada's complicity helped to perpetuate in Vietnam, and that is a kind of cost too. In many cases Canada does have the ability to choose, and it has a duty to itself and to others to make the right choices. (in Levant, Foreword)" (3)

I want to look here at just a few of Canada's choices. Just a few cases. Why does Canada make these choices? What are the effects of these choices? How could we change things?


Some of you might think of Paul Martin as a liar and a gangster. You would be unsurprised then to find out that it is a family tradition. Indeed, Paul Martin Sr.'s own words, and Lester B. Pearson's, are some of the most eloquent on why Canada got involved in the US war on Vietnam. What follows comes mostly from Victor Levant's fine book, 'Quiet Complicity'.

We know Canada is an economic power of some consequence. There was just a G8 summit in Georgia, where protesters couldn't get anywhere close. Canada was there, making decisions about the rest of the world as part of this elite club. Canada is a major exporter: of raw materials, and of various manufactured goods.

Subject to US Power?

But a lot of the manufacturing is automotive. Before Canada had NAFTA, it had the Auto Pact of 1965, which created a continental Auto industry and thus made the main part of Canada's civilian manufacturing base subordinate to US capital. The alternative was to develop an indigenous auto industry: "insistence on high domestic content for vehicle assembly operations, high tariffs, quotas, and licences. Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Britain, and Europe had gone this route." (Levant pg. 35) But Canada under Pearson opted for integration with the US.

Some of Canada's manufacturing is military. The Defence Production Sharing Agreement of 1959 turned Canada into a major exporter of military goods - really, a subcontractor -- to the United States. US procurement in Canada between 1959-1973 totalled $3.2 billion. (Levant pg. 34) Today, quoting Stephen Kerr, "Canadian Defence Industries Association figures show that Canadian 'defence' industry revenues grew 35% between 1998 and 2000, far outpacing growth of the rest of the economy, which grew at approximately 3%. Canada's 'defence' market grew from $3.7 billion in 1998 to $4.08 billion in 2000, up 22.6%. Exports to the USA grew by 17% from just under a billion to $1.25 billion. And our arms exports to the rest of the world grew a staggering 75% in the same period from $798 million to $1.5 billion." (11) Canada's arms industry does $5 billion in business annually, with 650 firms and 57,000 direct jobs. The business is handled through the Crown Commercial Corporation.

Most of the Canadian manufacturing economy is owned by the US, and the final destination of the manufactures - and most of the resources - is the US. This was true during the US war on Vietnam and it is true today. During that period US interests controlled 47% of the manufacturing, 61% in petroleum and natural gas, 59% in mining and smelting (figures cited by Levant pg. 9). After NAFTA, US control is even greater.

Lester B. Pearson, who the mythology treats as a peacekeeping hero (and who we will be hearing more from), said at the time: "no country in the world has less chance of isolating itself from the effect of American policies and decisions than Canada. If Washington 'went alone' where would Ottawa go?"

The Prime Minister who preceded Pearson, Diefenbaker, himself no anti-imperialist (he established his 'anti-communist' credentials by saying he had "no ear for the lullabies of the neutralist"), showed a slight inclination for an independent foreign policy for Canada. He criticized US tactics in Laos. He didn't have Canada join the Organization of American States, which the US used to isolate Cuba's revolution and which Che Guevara called the 'Department of Colonies'. He was unenthusiastic about posting US nuclear missiles in Canada. He tried to establish greater trade ties with Britain.

How did the US react? With regime change, of course! According to Levant, "In the 1962 Canadian election, US action played a role in the Conservatives' decline from a 208 seat majority to a 116 seat minority. President Kennedy received Opposition Leader Pearson for a forty-minute conversation three days after the election was called, and the Kennedys lent their polling expert, Louis Harris, to the Liberals. One billion dollars in US funds left Canada in the first quarter of the year." The next election saw even more blatant US intervention. Levant cites a US columnist who commented on the event: "Adroit statecraft by the American State Department brought down the bumbling crypto-anti-Yankee government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and replaced it with a regime which promises to be faithful to the concept of Canadian-American interdependence."

"The lesson," Levant notes, "was not lost on succeeding governments in Ottawa."

Canada's own imperialist ideas

But be careful. David McNally points out that "Canadian capitalists are also major players in the world of foreign investment and global takeovers… Between 1994 and 2001, for example, 384 more US businesses were bought up by Canadian corporations than the number of Canadian businesses that US companies managed to purchase. Judged in dollar amounts, Canadian capitalists spent $46 billion more purchasing US businesses than did the latter buying firms in this country." (McNally, "Canadian Imperialism", in New Socialist Magazine May/June 2003)

Levant notes that during the war on Vietnam, Canada exported $21.3 billion to Asia and imported $14.6 billion - a big surplus. Canadian business didn't want to 'lose' Southeast Asia to what they called 'communist aggression' and what we might call 'self-determination' any more than the US did. Canadian elites wanted to make sure Asia was 'safe' for their investments just as US elites did.

Lester B. Pearson himself stood up in the House of Commons in the 1950s and told the Parliament that "aggression" by the Vietnamese against France, in Vietnam, was only one element of worldwide communist aggression and that "Soviet colonial authority in Indochina" was stronger than French control! (The source is James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada: Indochina Roots of Complicity, 1983. It is cited in Chomsky's 'Hegemony or Survival').

Now we are ready to meet Paul Martin Sr., who was capable of wielding Eisenhower's 'domino' theory with the rest of them. Remember that the 'domino' theory is a justification for intervention anywhere, any time, because any place is a 'domino' that, if it is allowed to 'fall', will lead to the collapse of the entire world. Martin said to the House of Commons in 1965, as External Affairs Secretary:

"Vietnam is a test case. I suggest that if the North Vietnamese aggression with Chinese connivance succeeds, it will only be a matter of time before the next victim is selected… If the US were to leave Vietnam at the present time, what would happen to that country? What would happen to Burma? What would happen to India, a commonwealth country?" (Levant pg. 30)

Martin helped the US aggression by calling the Vietnamese national liberation movement "Viet Cong aggression". Martin even compared the Vietnamese to Hitler: "If North Vietnam succeeds in taking over the whole of Vietnam by force, if the rest of the world is prepared to sit back and see this happen… we would in my judgement, be guilty of an error of the same nature as the mistakes at Munich… Aggression is agression, whether it takes place in Europe, Ethiopia, or Vietnam." (pg. 49).

But not, according to Martin and Lester B. Pearson, if the United States is the aggressor.

The point here is this: the US is certainly capable of bullying Canada and has certainly done so. But it is also the case that Canada's elite has its own corporate interests in plundering the poor countries. It is also the case that Canada's elite has the same contempt for self-determination, once called 'communism', as the United States does. Canada jumps to help imperialism. If it didn't, the US has demonstrated that it can push.


Now, what did Canada jump to do, in Vietnam? A number of things. In Levant's words:

"Canadian food and beverages fed US troops, Canadian war material was used on the battlefields of South Vietnam and flown in sorties over Hanoi and Haiphong, auto parts fabricated in Canada were installed in US army vehicles, and many Canadian raw resources stoked the fires of the US military-industrial complex." (Levant 53., with much documentation). Everything from napalm components to green berets, from gunsights to whiskey, from radio relays to rocket warheads, were provisioned. The Toronto Star's weekly magazine tracked TNT from a plant in Quebec to Crane Indiana where it was poured into bombs. The May 27, 1967 supplement commented that "With luck, the explosive that left (Quebec) could be hailing down on a Vietnamese village six weeks later." (Levant pg. 58) These were boom years for the whole Canadian economy, a boom the Vietnamese paid for with their lives, by the million.

To be fair to Canada, the government compensated Vietnam by providing 'humanitarian' aid - but only to the South Vietnamese regime, the US client, whose principal victims were the South Vietnamese people. Canadian aid escalated with American bombing - the more the Americans bombed, the more the Canadians 'aided'. The main purpose of these few millions of dollars though, was to 'demonstrate publicly that they were on the same side of the war as the US' (External Aid Office Advisor Michael Hall, in 1965, cited in Levant pg. 71).

Claire Culhane went to Vietnam as a nurse with one of these "aid projects" and became one of the most outspoken activists against the war. She presented the real face of these Canadian aid projects in her book, "Why is Canada in Vietnam", in 1972 (New Canada Press, Montreal). She describes a tour of a hospital ward she conducted with a supervisor.

"Dr. Mosely was keeping a careful check of the time as she had to meet a friend to play tennis at 12:30, and was getting ready to leave. When I straightened the patient's bedsheets, I found a ghastly condition of disembowelment and shattered limbs, lying in a mixture of crushed bone and blood - altogether an unbearable sight, in need of much more work. When I called this to [Dr. Mosely]'s attention, she stopped long enough to laugh and say: 'Don't be silly, why bother, she'll be dead by morning anyway, she will just smell a little sweeter when she dies.'" (pg. 83)

Back in Canada, she wondered about a Canadian project to fund artificial limbs.

"I sought out Dr. Claude Gingras of the Montreal Rehabilitation Institute, who had initiated the Qui Nhon Rehabilitation Hospital (he was later decorated by President Thieu) to enquire why he was making no attempt to provide trained surgeons who could save limbs, instead of fitting artificial ones. His reply consisted of a ten minute dissertation on the other-worldliness of the oriental mind and how its attitudes towards death differed from our own!" (pg. 109)

The medical teams that went over as part of the aid program also helped out the US war effort by denying that US chemical warfare was harmful and that napalm was bad for you. (Levant pg. 86)

On the subject of chemical warfare, Canada allowed testing of defoliants at New Brunswick in 1966. "In March 1965, the Canadian Ministry of Defence offered Crops Division large areas of densely forested land for experimental tests of defoliant chemicals… the test site selected contained a mixture of conifers and deciduous broadleaf species in a dense undisturbed forest cover that would provide similar vegetation densities to those of… Southeast Asia." (US Army technical memorandum, quoted in Levant pg. 205). B-52s practiced bombing runs over Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1968 and 1970 (Levant pg. 205).

Canada participated in what was called the International Control Commission (ICC), along with Poland and India. ICC teams traveled in Vietnam and determined whether ceasefires were being violated. Canada used its presence on the ICC not only to help whitewash what the US was doing and deny the facts, but also to spy on the Vietnamese, providing intelligence to the US on what the effects of its weapons were on the population and more. (Levant)

There is no way of teasing out the damage inflicted by Canada's role specifically, in Vietnam or anywhere else. But one can summarize what the effect of the war was as a whole on the Vietnamese, and I happen to like David Orchard's (pg. 135-136) summary:

"… on April 30, 1975, the last of the US military fled in helicopters from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon, abandoning millions of dollars of weapons, helicopters, tanks and other equipment, hundreds of thousands of CIA operatives, more than five hundred thousand prostitutes and drug addicts in Saigon alone, over eight million refugees and orphans, hundreds of thousands of wounded, deformed and chemically damaged Vietnamese, the world's greatest demand for artificial limbs, and 150,000 tons unexploded bombs in the fields and forests. More than 10,000 Vietnamese, mostly farmers and their families, died in the years following 1975, when their ploughs inadvertently hit these hidden bombs containing delayed-action fuses.

"Approximately six million died in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and countless others were maimed and wounded as the result of American military aggression. For its war crimes in Southeast Asia, the United States has never paid."

And neither has Canada.

The use of sanctions

I spent a lot of time on Vietnam because it is a good demonstration of the myths about and the real patterns of Canada's behaviour in the world. Canada came out of that war smelling like a rose, in spite of everything, and there are still legends that Pearson challenged Johnson over bombing North Vietnam. Pearson actually, according to the Pentagon Papers, made a tactical suggestion to Johnson not to use nuclear weapons on Vietnam, but "iron bombs" were just fine (4). That in 1965, while Martin and Pearson were engaging in all manner of apologetics for the US assault.

Kim Richard Nossal, a mainstream Canadian foreign policy academic, compiled a brief list of the use of economic sanctions by Canada (5, pg. 74). Sanctions were used against - guess who? -- Vietnam in 1979 for its invasion of Cambodia (one of the only interventions that actually had a humanitarian effect, stopping Pol Pot's murderous regime). Against the USSR for invading Afghanistan in 1979 (though not against the US for doing the same in 2002). Against Iran after seizing the US embassy in 1979. In 1981 against the USSR and Poland after the latter declared martial law. In 1982 against Argentina for the Falklands war with the UK. In 1983 against the USSR after shooting down a Korean airlines plane. In 1984 against South Africa. In 1989 against China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In 1990 against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. In 1991-2 against Yugoslavia. In 1991 against Haiti after the coup against Aristide. Aid was suspended against Afghanistan, Cuba, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Libya, Suriname, Sri Lanka, and Uganda, at various times.

But Canada, Nossal himself notes, never considered sanctions against the US for its invasion of Grenada in 1983, or its bombing of Libya in 1986, or its shooting down of an Iranian airliner in 1988, or its invasion of Panama in 1989, or its ignoring of the World Court ruling and Security Council condemnations while it escalated the terrorist war against Nicaragua through the 1980s.

And rather than sanctioning the US for its 1990/91 Iraq slaughter, Canada joined in.

The War on Iraq in 1990/1

Canada sent warplanes and ships to participate in the US attack on Iraq in 1990/1. In an unusual role for Canada, the Canadian military was used directly against Iraq, and thus Canada shares responsibility for the horrors that the Iraqis suffered then and since.

Again, quoting David Orchard (pg. 230):

"This was a war to give the United States control of Arab oil, from where much of the wealth of the seven major British and American oil companies has come, and which is also the energy source of its major industrial competitors, Europe and Japan.

"The price tag… was between 150,000 and 300,000 dead in Iraq - 90% civilian. Since the end of the war, more than 100,000 infants have died from malnutrition, dysentery, and other effects of the bombing and ongoing blockade of Iraq…" [Orchard wrote that well before Madeleine Albright acknowledged on television that the toll of children was 500,000, and that was in 1996. The sanctions regime hasn't really even ended despite the re-destruction of Iraq and its occupation by the US and company.]

"Canada's minister of external affairs, Joe Clark, said early in the war that the reason Canadian forces were in the Gulf was that Canada would not stand for the invasion of small countries by powerful ones. In the last 200 years, the United States has invaded smaller countries more than 300 times."

On to Part II