When Justin Trudeau spoke to a bored, half-empty United Nations last week, he repeated the nauseatingly saccharine slogan, "We're Canadian, and we're here to help," sounding exactly like the disingenuous insurance salesman whose empty promises come with that sickly smile.
In vainly attempting to reach the heights of oratorical glory, Trudeau's cheery offer to bring peace to the world fell flat in light of his government's "principled" commitment to sell $15 billion in weapons to the beheading regime of Saudi Arabia and Canada's current status as No. 2 war salesman in the Middle East. It also contradicted the manner in which his government has tried to out-militarize Harper with new troop commitments to eastern Europe, Iraq and Syria, and various other parts of the globe where the last thing that's needed is more bombs and bullets.
Indeed, Canada is sending an additional 500 troops to Latvia for an open-ended mission to try and scare the Russians in a move so blatantly provocative that even Mikhail Gorbachev (a pretty strong critic of Vladimir Putin) has warned:
"NATO has begun preparations for escalating the Cold War into a hot one. All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations."
This is on top of the hundreds of Canadian troops already playing war games in the Ukraine, to which Trudeau brought his nine-year-old son in July. "It's because the values, the principles that they're fighting, are the values and principles that we stand for and fight for," said Canada's prime minister with his typically awkward inelegance. Add to this the escalation of Canadian troop levels in Iraq and Syria, where Canadian aircraft continue to refuel and provide bombing targets for "coalition" aircraft whose sorties continue to claim the lives of untold numbers of civilians. As the reputable research group Airwars reports:
"[M]illions of civilians still under occupation face the greatest risk yet from Coalition actions, with the number of likely deaths almost doubling in the past year. In total, Airwars estimates that at least 1,568 civilians have so far died in strikes. The Coalition puts that figure at just 55 dead, despite an estimated 52,000 weapons so far being released."
Meanwhile, as Canada wrongfully treats certain Kurdish refugees as state security threats, those same Kurds are the ones fighting alongside Canadian troops, who now wear Kurdish patches to, as Canadian Warlord Jonathan Vance muses, show solidarity with "a region facing existential threats for which we are there to help." Vance has not confirmed whether or not copies of Jean-Paul Sartre's existential tome Being and Nothingness are being delivered to help deal with the crisis.
At home, Trudeau's War Minister, Harjit Sajjan, has been playing with the media all summer, hinting at an exciting new "peacekeeping" mission while desperately seeking some place to put more Canadian soldiers. As has been the case throughout Canadian history, the peacekeeping mythology is used to justify the inordinately high amount of money that is poured into the ever-bloated war budget while deflecting from the insidious role that Canadian weapons sales (as well as corporate malfeasance) play in generating and sustaining overseas conflicts that the blue helmets are supposed to cool down.
As part of this "peacekeeping" promise, Sajjan -- another disingenuous character who has ridden an inexplicable wave of media love (his decision not to hold an inquiry into the transfer of Afghan detainees to torture was made despite a shocking conflict of interest, given his own potentially explosive role in that ugly affair) -- took a summer globetrotting junket to try and figure out the best place to let the locals know that Canada was there to help. As always, it was first and foremost about image. "We will be moving ahead on this because it's very important to send a message that Canada will play a responsible role," Sajjan said.
Notably, Canadian "peacekeepers" are not being sent to countries where Canadian-supported coups are resulting in devastating human rights abuses, such as Honduras or Egypt.
Instead, from all appearances, Sajjan will pick Mali, a country that went into freefall following the overthrow and murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (the assassination about which Hillary Clinton sickeningly joked). It was fighters and weapons from Libya -- which Canada had bombed with all-party support, save one dissenting Elizabeth May vote -- that filtered into Mali, contributing to the chaos that currently afflicts the country and much of the region. Canadian MPs (including the Jack Layton-led NDP) have never apologized for their role in supporting this utterly foreseeable disaster, but it has created yet another opportunity to Canada to project its "values" and to "help."
But why Mali, you might ask? Is there any political manoeuvring to have Canadian troops there? Could it have anything to do with Trudeau's push to get a United Nations Security Council seat? Or maybe it has something to do with Mali's major supply of uranium, or Canadian gold mining operations at Nampala, which last week reported positive cash flow for Canadian firm Robex (Mali is the third-largest gold-producing nation in Africa)? After all, as CTV reported, instability in the country was hardly welcome news for Canadian mining interests.
Rest assured, however, because Canada's top warlord, Jonathan Vance, has told us that the "peacekeeping" mission is being undertaken because, as Trudeau says, Canada just wants to help. Badly. "I reject the notion that this is done simply for political reasons and putting troops in harm's way into risky areas for anything other than the true merits of the value of the use of military force," Vance said.
Apart from the problematic connection to reality in Vance's statement ("true merits of the value of the use of military force," a statement that has never had much empirical evidence to back it up in a world where war never brings peace), there is nonetheless an element of truth therein, given there would be no peace to keep in Mali. Canadian troops would be involved in combat operations in the middle of what appears to be a very complicated civil war (sound familiar, followers of recent Afghan history?) while gaining a greater foothold on a continent that represents a trillion-dollar boon for energy, mining and rare minerals corporations. Having "our" soldiers in the area will be helpful to ensure a stable investment climate when the locals protest the despoiling of the air, land and water with mine tailings and other toxic effluents all too common when ravaging the earth. Gold mining in particular is one of the most environmentally devastating practices.
Sajjan also told reporters that he would not consult the House of Commons about the military venture. "No," he insisted. "We will be deciding this in cabinet and moving forward as quickly as possible on this."
Canada's growing footprint in Africa dovetails with the massive presence of U.S. forces there, well documented by Nick Turse, who notes the U.S. now commands:
"[a] network of bases, compounds, and other sites whose sum total exceeds the number of nations on the continent… In remote locales, behind fences and beyond the gaze of prying eyes, the U.S. military has built an extensive archipelago of African outposts, transforming the continent, experts say, into a laboratory for a new kind of war."
Indeed, in 2014, the U.S. carried out 674 separate military operations in Africa, and Canadian military officials have been tagging along with the militaries of other traditional colonial powers that continue to place troops on the continent. Canada also announced in late August that it will send troops to Niger (also a country with significant uranium ore, oil and other mining opportunities) for "training" purposes.
Back at home, Sajjan, like a kid with a limitless credit card in the candy shop, is figuring out what to do with his endless supply of federal funds. To look at the future of the War Dept., he held a little-publicized, meaningless "consultation with Canadians" when most were away on summer vacation. It was much like the similarly insincere consults Trudeau holds with Indigenous people or in addressing climate change: simple, smiling acts of going through the motions before doing what was predestined by Liberal plans to begin with. Indeed, if enough Canadians who knew about the consultation called for a transfer of the $20 billion annually slated for war into social programs, would Sajjan take that to heart, or would he proceed along the lines of his original ministerial directive from Trudeau to produce more bang for the buck?
As part of the faux consultation, Sajjan produced a slick document full of the usual "Canadian goodness" pablum. "The Canadian Armed Forces … play a vital role in advancing Canada's interests and promoting Canadian values abroad," Sajjan writes, with the assumption that those values mean "we're here to help" and "interests" serve as an undefined euphemism masking the massive profits awaiting Canadian investors who set up operations in desperately poor countries with no human rights, environmental, or labour standards.
But do the values being imposed by Canada's military on the world's poorest nations include those that grip the Canadian military, a hostile culture of sexual violence documented in 2015 by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps? In 2014, the military's own review of sexual violence concluded no overhaul was necessary, and even after the explosive Deschamps report was made public, Canadian military officials at all levels were still questioning its findings. This is the same military that says it is fixing the problem with, for example, the issuance of 120,000 wallet-sized cards that describe sexual assault as "inappropriate behaviour," incredibly associating such violence with something more akin to passing wind while on parade. And the limited hours of what should be a 24/7 sexual assault hotline are posing a major hurdle that was summarized in a briefing note for Deputy War Minister John Forster:
"[this] is a concern as the expectation is that the majority of incidents of sexual misconduct occur during silent hours, and the centre is to provide services to (Canadian Armed Forces) members located across the country and around the globe extending over multiple time zones."
Additional questions about "helping values" arise considering the number and scope of sexual abuses committed by "peacekeepers" of all nationalities, including Canadians who escaped with impunity following a tour in Haiti marked by sexual exploitation allegations.
Massive war spending
Another value that Canadians may be sharing with the world is secrecy. In a recent speech by outgoing Canadian Warlord Guy Thibault, he criticized attempts to provide oversight in the War Dept. Notably, he did not reference the kind of oversight, limited though it may be, that revealed the massive overbilling of weapons contractors revealed by a 2014 federal audit, wherein was found a lamentable "reluctance to enforce the terms and conditions of these contracts and ask contractors to repay Canada," adding some war merchants refuse to even consider the possibility of paying back what was over-billed. That was bolstered by a November 2015 Price WaterhouseCoopers study uncovered by Canadian Press that showed Ottawa's policies with respect to military contracts provides "perverse incentives" for the war industry to inflate their costs.
Notably, even Sajjan admits in the review that massive Canadian resources are dedicated to war: "National Defence (sic) comprises one of the largest portions of the Canadian government's overall budget, with 6.6 per cent of total spending and 20 per cent of program expenditures in 2015-16." Yes, 20 per cent of Canadian federal government program spending goes to war. And despite those outrageously high numbers, there are calls, given Canada's NATO membership, to double that figure, which would come out to some $40 billion annually. Meanwhile, the Trudeau government has committed over $30 billion to new warships and warplanes, and that's before it decides on the wholly unnecessary replacement for its CF-18 bombers.
As Canada prepares to "help" on the world stage, it appears, as always, that those we help the most are those who need it the least. Thus, over the summer, Trudeau quietly kicked in another $33 million in corporate welfare to the F-35 joint strike fighter program, despite an election promise not to buy the fighter jets. Such corporate pork barrel is likely to become even more common as Canada considers joining the Star Wars program, known as "ballistic missile defence." Former War Minister Bill Graham is pushing Canada to join the program, even though Lt-Gen. Pierre St. Amand, deputy Canadian commander of NORAD, conceded before a House of Commons committee in April that Canada faces no "specific" threat.
In addition, the feel-good parts of the Canadian Forces (handing out teddy bears and search and rescue) may also face privatization (Newfoundland fishers beware: get stranded? You'll need to complete a VISA transaction before privately owned "Help Inc." comes to your rescue).
Ultimately, if Canada is truly interested in helping end wars and create peace, perhaps it needs to station its troops at the gates of London's General Dynamics, which is currently creating the new line of armoured brigade vehicles for the Saudis, or the entrance to the massive CANSEC weapons fair in Ottawa, or at the offices of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, whose agents scour the globe looking for weapons sales opportunities. Better yet, perhaps it's past time to have the conversation about dismantling a military institution whose billions could be much better spent elsewhere, and examining the root causes of war and repression (especially the role played by Canadian corporate operations abroad and on Indigenous lands closer to home). Until then, it is unclear how sending more igniter fluid onto the global stage is going to put out any fires.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.
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