Canada carefully cultivates its “peacekeeper” image. But in reality, an independent journalist maintains, this nation has been implicated in brutal events in many parts of the world. And Canada’s politicians, says Yves Engler, have succeeded in covering up most of those covert activities. The Montreal-based writer spoke at the University of Lethbridge as part of a cross-Canada book tour. Even Lester Pearson – though he won a Nobel Peace Prize – was much more interested in maintaining European control of the Suez Canal than protecting citizens of Egypt, Engler said. Canada has been involved in a series of less peaceable actions in the years since, he said during a session organized by the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group.
Yet many Canadians still believe their army leads peace-making efforts, he said, and even more have no real knowledge of Canada’s foreign policies. That’s why Engler wrote “The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy,” released last month. His goal, he explains, “is to reveal a side of international relations that our government and corporations have kept hidden from the vast majority of us.” Regardless of whether they’re aware of what their government or their armed forces are doing in countries around the world, Engler says all Canadians are complicit in those events.
“Every year tens of billions of our tax dollars are spent on the military, on foreign aid and other forms of diplomacy,” he points out. “We ignore foreign affairs at our peril.”
But others may be in much worse peril, he warns. There were about 8,000 murders in Haiti, he says, after Canadian and American troops deposed elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
Canada also supported South Africa’s apartheid policies for many years, he points out – with this nation’s ways of marginalizing its First Nations peoples widely cited as the model. And even today, Engler says Canada’s foreign aid dollars are used to rewrite safety codes to benefit Canadian companies mining in those lands. “Our politicians are lying to us” when they’re faced with some of this information, he claims.
The Canadian public doesn’t pay much attention to overseas incursions, he notes, and their news media doesn’t spend much time digging into those issues, either. So he’s not surprised to find university students among the uninformed. “For the most part, people have been taken aback,” Engler says, describing response to his appearances across Canada. “Even people who think they know about foreign affairs.”
The book, he says, is offered “in the spirit of democratic accountability.” Engler is hoping to hear differing views once knowledgeable Canadians – like military historian David Bercuson at the University of Calgary – have an opportunity to read it and reflect.
Americans may be better informed on their nation’s foreign adventures, he says, partly because their freedom of information laws are more powerful than ours. As well, many Americans support their government and their armed forces when officials cite their “responsibility to protect” policy as justification for taking over a “failed state.”
In Canada, elected officials believe citizens still see their military as peacekeepers in green berets.
“Maybe they wouldn’t lie to us if they didn’t think they needed to.”