Canadians will go to the polls next October in the first national election since the Conservative Party won a majority government in 2011. There is intense concern among progressive people in the country about the prospects of the Conservatives winning another term in office.
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is moving further and further to the right. It has aligned itself tightly with U.S. foreign policy, including being ‘holier than thou’ in its unconditional support of Israel. It joined the U.S.-led air war in Iraq six months ago and now it is joining the U.S. in expanding that to Syria. It has cemented Canada’s role as a leading climate vandal in the world. It has attacked civil and social rights across the board and is now deepening that attack with the proposed, ‘police-state Canada’ Bill C-51.
This leaves many Canadians favorable to the idea of an electoral and governing alliance between the two, large opposition parties in Parliament—the Liberal and New Democratic parties—in order to defeat the Conservatives. NDP leader Tom Mulcair says he is open to a governing coalition with the Liberals if neither party wins an electoral majority.
But on the increasingly dangerous issue in world politics—the war in eastern Ukraine and accompanying military threats and expansion of NATO in eastern Europe—there is an astonishing unanimity in the Canadian political and media establishment. NATO is embarked on a drive to weaken Russia, with all the risk and folly that entails—including a nuclear danger. The people and territory of Ukraine are being used as war proxies to get at Russia. Yet, there is nary a peep of disagreement in the Parliament in Ottawa.
Liberals in lock-step with Conservatives over Ukraine/Russia
Is it possible for opposition parties in Ottawa to promise big change from Conservative rule when they share the Conservative–and NATO–ambition for a ‘long war’ with Russia? It is not. Canadians are seriously mistaken if we believe that a country embarked on confrontation with the peoples of Russia and elsewhere in eastern Europe can simultaneously tackle the important issues of our times such as climate change, political rights and social justice (particularly as concerns Indigenous peoples).
The website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond is writing and publishing extensively about the ‘blame Russia’ group think in government and mainstream media in Canada and other NATO countries over the war in Ukraine. With few exceptions, mainstream media in the NATO countries is acting as an echo chamber of government policy. The ‘blame Russia’ narrative says that the governing coalition in Ukraine of billionaire neo-conservatives and right-wing extremists are brave defenders of Ukraine worthy of support against ‘Russian aggression’, end of discussion.
It gets worse in Canada. Two of the country’s leading newspapers—the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail—have been publishing articles promoting the fundraising efforts in Canada of Ukraine’s extreme-right paramilitaries for the purchase of weapons and other military equipment.
The Liberal Party, supposedly a party of the mainstream center, is proving every bit as hawkish and warlike as the Conservatives. A key voice of the party on Ukraine and Russia is Chrystia Freeland. She is an author, former editor of the Globe and Mail, and the star candidate of the Liberals who won the hotly contested by-election race in 2013 for the Parliamentary seat of Toronto Centre , narrowly defeating the candidate of the NDP, Linda McQuaig, a left-wing journalist.
One of Freeland’s parents was Ukrainian and she is fluent in the language.
Freeland spoke bluntly to a gathering of Ukrainian Canadian women on March 8 at an event in Toronto marking International Womens Day. A brief portion of her remarks (in English) was broadcast in a Ukrainian language news program here (at the 7′ mark).
She told the gathering, “This conflict with Russia is not going to end in one day. Our community, our country, the entire Western world needs to really be prepared for a new environment. This is not something that can end quickly, and we need to adjust the way we think. We need to understand this is a very profound ideological battle going on.
She went on, “It’s actually a conflict even bigger than Ukraine. This is about the rule of law and democracy in Europe and the Western world. That’s why it is being fought so fiercely.”
She gave an interview to a Ukrainian-Canadian publication at the same event in which she said, “Having said that [the West has been valiantly aiding Ukraine], I think we need to be prepared that right now this Minsk-2 [ceasefire] moment is a pause, not the end. And we need to be prepared for this conflict to be a very, very long conflict.”
Yvan Baker, the Liberal member for Etobicoke Center (Toronto) in the Ontario Legislature (an electoral district with a large number of Ukrainian-Canadians), is another of the Liberal hawks on Ukraine. He gave a statement to the Legislature on March 11 in which he said, “Today, Ukraine is at war and the situation is dire. Russian-backed forces have occupied part of Eastern Ukraine and continue to advance. The soldiers I met [while visiting Ukraine in November 2014] are fighting against state-of-the-art equipment with outdated weapons, some from World War II.”
“The invasion is a global threat. It is a violation of international law and order established at such great cost during WWII.”
“Efforts at peace have failed. For months, Ukraine’s president has been asking for defensive [sic] weapons so that his nation stands a chance against the larger and more advanced Russian military. Others such as [U.S. Senator] John McCain and John Boehner [Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives] have echoed his call and the U.S. Congress has passed authorization for the U.S. to arm Ukraine.
“I urge our federal government to act on the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’s Feb. 21st statement which calls for Canada to, and I quote: ‘dramatically increase sectoral sanctions’, ‘increase the provision of communications and intelligence capabilities’ and ‘provide Ukraine with the defensive weapons, equipment and training it needs to defend its territorial integrity’.”
Liberal Party Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne joined the pro-war chorus last August when she appeared at a Ukraine Independence Day event in Toronto. It was organized by the extremist Ukrainian Canadian Congress and it featured a fundraising booth of the fascist Right Sector party of Ukraine. Funds were directed to the purchase of military equipment.
Wynne’s speech was a vigorous call to continue Kyiv’s war in eastern Ukraine. At the time, the war was at one of its bloodiest stages. Rockets and mortars were raining down relentlessly on civilian targets, including school and hospitals, while residents, including children, were living months on end in makeshift bomb shelters.
Wynne told the gathering that Ukraine armed forces “are defending the very independence that we are here to commemorate”. She declined to speak to journalists afterward.
It is unusual, to say the least, for a provincial premier in Canada to pronounce vigorously on a foreign policy issue, particularly so when it concerns a brutal war against a civilian population. But such is the group-think support for Kyiv’s war that Wynne’s call to arms raised little attention or controversy.
A Liberal member of Parliament in Montreal, Irwin Cotler, succeeded on March 25 in gaining unanimous support for a motion in Parliament to extend sanctions against Russian officials deemed to be involved in the death in prison custody of a Russia lawyer more than five years ago.
The official opposition party, the NDP, has not been as vigorously outspoken as the Liberals (excepting an appearance by MP Peggy Nash at an event in Toronto last November where she shared a stage with a Right Sector guest speaker). But it supports the government/NATO drive.
The one Green Party member in Parliament has been in lock-step on Ukraine, notwithstanding her divergence from the government on the bombings in Iraq and on civil liberties issues. Elizabeth May put an innocuous question to the government in the House of Commons on March 25 in which she assured, “We all join the Prime Minister in condemning Putin’s aggression [sic]…”
Ironically, the opposition parties in Ottawa are voicing discomfort and even some opposition to a new set of police-state laws in Canada which resemble an awful lot those which have come into force in Ukraine during the past year. Bill C-51 contains several new “national security” provisions which will make it easier for Canada’s political police and other police agencies to spy on, disrupt and pre-emptively arrest people deemed to be a threat to vaguely denied “national interests” and “national security” in Canada. The bill has been condemned by human rights lawyers and advocates, environmentalists and trade union leaders, among many others, who say its provisions are aimed squarely at critics of government and industry such as them. (See a full explanation of Bill C-51 here.)
Indeed, the political policing to which Bill C-51 gives further legitimacy has been on full display in the streets of Montreal and Quebec City in the past ten days as tens of thousands of post-secondary students have gone on strike in Quebec against hikes to tuition fees and other antisocial, austerity policies. Last week, police in Montreal and Quebec City assaulted several large student demonstrations and arrested hundreds. In Quebec City on March 24, 274 protesters were arrested and detained by police during an evening protest and street march. Two days later during another evening march, some students were shot point-blank in the face by Quebec City police with tear gas canisters.
The police actions in Quebec should concern every Canadian and they raise the obvious spectre of the cruel, war policies in Ukraine coming home to roost in Canada. And in an eerie replication of the pattern of mainstream news reporting of Ukraine, the news of police actions in Quebec has largely gone unreported elsewhere in the country.
Illegal war in the Middle East
Another taste of the new, Ukraine-inspired law and order in Canada is the federal government’s decision to extend to Syria the aerial bombing campaign it has been conducting in Iraq alongside its U.S. big brother. The bombings are purportedly targeting “terrorists”. On what legal basis is Canada going to war in Syrian territory? Roughly the same as in Iraq, namely, ‘the U.S. is doing it, so we should join them’.
Harper told Parliament that Canada is “pursuing this action on exactly the same legal basis as its allies”. But he did not answer what, exactly, is that basis.
Foreign affairs minister Rob Nicholson told the chamber, “The Americans have operated in there [Syria] for six months without resistance from the Syrian government.”
Minister of Defense Jason Kenny says Canada is acting at the behest of the discredited and U.S. puppet government in Iraq. He said, “Iraq has asked Canada and allied countries to help them defend their innocent civilians from terror attacks being launched out of eastern Syria in a part of that country the Syrian government either is unwilling or unable to control.”
When pressed by opposition parties and journalists, the Conservatives agreed to send a letter to the United Nations to inform it of its plans.
The Liberals and the NDP agreed to the bombings in Iraq when they were launched six months ago but are uneasy over extending this to Syria. Both voted against the Syria adventure, though a section of the Liberals disagrees with party leader Justin Trudeau.
There is an atmosphere of intellectual intimidation prevailing in Canada whereby criticism of the war and of NATO is said to amount to uncritical support of the Russian government (or what they call “Putin’s regime”). As a consequence, some alternative media is silent. Academia and antiwar groups are largely quiescent. In 2003, the advocates of war against Iraq did not get very far with accusations against antiwar forces of “appeasing” Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. Today, a parallel argument against Russia has been effective in quieting voices that would otherwise be expected to be critical.
The NATO confrontation with Russia is a reckless and dangerous course that is corroding politics in Canada. It threatens the capacity to forge a progressive alternative to the governing warmakers if it is not challenged. That’s why it is important to speak and act against the war in Ukraine and its wider implications.
Roger Annis is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond.