While it’s refreshing that there will be a leaders’ debate on foreign policy this election, there’s a good chance Canada’s role in many important international issues will be ignored. While leaders’ debates may not shine a spotlight on these pressing issues, together we can ensure they’re not ignored.
1. Redirecting military spending
While the narrative in the mainstream media has been that military spending is decreasing, annual military spending is still several billion dollars higher than when Harper took office in 2006, and Harper’s plan is still to spend half a trillion dollars by 2029 through the Canada First Defence Strategy.
Meanwhile, the government claims the cupboard is bare and public services, environmental safeguards and other priorities need to be cut. We need a debate on priorities that doesn’t assume unnecessary military spending is locked in. We need a debate about who is for peace and prosperity and who is for war and austerity. We need a debate on the expansion of Canadian military bases around the world and the near total lack of accountability of Canada’s Special Forces, which Harper is pledging to expand.
2. Canadian complicity in torture
The government’s record on condoning deportation to torture and the use of “evidence” obtained through torture, including of Canadian citizens, including the cases of Maher Arar and the use of Security Certificates. The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) has noted that the Enhancing RCMP Accountability Act has opened the door for the violations of the International Convention Against Torture.
3. Trading with human rights abusers
While Harper’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia is shrouded in secrecy, the issue may come up as it did in the French debate. But will it be mentioned that Canada is shipping $15 billion in weapons to a regime that beheads more people than ISIS? Or that, by proxy, Canada is supporting Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen?
Saudi Arabia is just tip of iceberg when it comes to Canada’s booming arms trade. Canada is now “near the list of top 10 arms exporters worldwide.” Canada’s weapons exports are increasing to a range of countries embroiled in human rights abuses or internal conflicts, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey.
As the Globe & Mail notes, “Canada’s sales to Bahrain shot from zero in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012, while Algeria’s skyrocketed from $29 to $242,000 that same year – a period during which both countries suppressed pro-democracy democratic protests.” We also likely won’t hear about the investment of our pensions in war profiteers.
Despite commemorating nearly every other military misadventure, the Harper government has been silent on this year’s fourth anniversary of Canadian military action in Libya. Perhaps because it was an abject failure and Canada’s role directly contributed to creating countless lost lives and refugees in the region?
5. Canada`s role in creating and rejecting refugees
The issue of refugees will likely come up, but the question is will the root causes? Climate and war have both been major factors in creating the current refugee crisis. Canadian policy under Harper has contributed to this. Much attention has been focused recently on the plight of Syrian Refugees, but it’s much broader, with the government’s border policies getting increasingly restrictive, while contributing to the causes of refugees – mining, war, climate, and more – in Africa, Middle East, and beyond.
6. The climate costs of war and militarism
War is one of the leading sources of climate pollution, but whenever there’s debate about whether or not to go to war the climate impacts are ignored (as are potential civilian deaths and refugees).
7. Canada’s role in international mining injustice
Canada is home to the majority of the world’s mining companies. A new report from MiningWatch Canada and the ICLMG is a scathing indictment of the Canadian government’s promotion of mining at the expense of human rights. The report chronicles “how the Canadian government and Canadian mining companies have helped turn the law against individuals and groups fighting for their water, lands, livelihoods and ways of life.”
As Sakura Sanders writes, “Barrick Gold, the company founded by Peter Munk, does not escape this seeming industry norm… it will be interesting to see how much Canadian mining impunity will feature in the foreign-policy debate hosted by none other than the Munk Debates.”
8. Israel & Palestine
This will likely come up, but will there be a debate on Israel’s war crimes during its various assaults on Gaza? Will there be a debate on ending the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements or the crushing blockade of Gaza? Will there be a debate on whether to prosecute the leadership of the Israeli government for breaking international law?
9. The rights of indigenous peoples
After years of foot dragging, the Harper government signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but still rejects its central feature: the right of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, Informed Consent. Will there be a debate on whether the reason for the opposition to this landmark declaration was to defend Canadian corporate interests here and around the world?
10. The international dimensions to Bill C-51
Secret Police bill C-51 opens the door for being tried for terrorism for supporting human rights defenders that repressive governments label as “terrorists”. Two-Tiered Citizenship bill C-24 then makes it easier to be stripped of Canadian citizenship and deported. Will there be a debate about the international implications of C-51 and C-24?
11. Nuclear disarmament
In a shameful move earlier this year, the Harper government blocked a UN agreement on nuclear disarmament, citing support for Israel to justify abandoning moral leadership on this crucial issue.
12. War resisters
Despite Harper admitting that the 2003 Iraq war was an “error” the government has continued its efforts to deport U.S. war resisters who sought refuge in Canada so they wouldn’t be complicit in U.S. war crimes.
13. Military drones
Despite drones having a record of thousands of civilian deaths, Harper has been seeking to spend at least $1 billion on drones for Canada’s military. The use of drones in war is becoming a slippery slope toward national police forces using them, as the RCMP has already begun to do so in many provinces raising concerns about potential privacy abuses.
14. Canada in Africa
Canada’s role in Africa is so expansive, including mining operations in 35 countries, militarism, massive privatization of public infrastructre, colonialism, that it deserves its own top 10 list. There’s one here, in the form of highlights from Yves Engler’s new book Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation.
15. Canada’s legacy in Haiti
It may seem like a distant memory now, given Canada’s various military misadventures since, but Canada played a key role in a coup that unseated a democratically elected president in Haiti. While Canadians are focused on the future of democracy here, the legacy of Canada’s destructive intervention in Haiti lives on in the form of democratic abuses there.
16. Mass surveillance & interference
A leaked document from U.S. whistle blower Edward Snowden revealed that Canada’s CSEC spy agency used information from the free Internet service at certain Canadian airports to track the smartphones and laptops of thousands of passengers for days after they had left the terminal. The government denied CSEC was collecting data on Canadians. Then, they acknowledged the use of metadata (locations and telephone numbers that someone called).
The ICLMG has pointed out that Bill C-42 (The Strengthening Aviation Security Act) passed in 2011 gives U.S. officials final say on who may board a plane in Canada if they are to fly over the US en route to a third country. The bill allows disclosure of the personal information of Canadians to foreign entities, overriding existing Canadian privacy law prohibiting companies from doing so.
Will there be a debate about Canadian complicity in the NSA’s international surveillance of pretty much everyone? Will there be a debate about the Canadian government spying on millions of people internationally including Canadians? Will there be a debate about the Canadian government spying on Brazil’s ministry of mining?
Will there be a debate about the proposed Snowden Treaty to address these pressing issues?
17. The Leap Manifesto
As Naomi Klein noted at the launch of the Leap Manifesto, system change isn’t on the ballot this election, but it should be. The Leap Manifesto calls for Canada to play a leading role in leaping forward with systemic change at the international level. The Leap Manifesto’s call for respect for Indigenous rights, meaningfully and rapidly addressing the climate crisis, and reducing military spending should be part of the debate this election. But will it be? Unlikely.
18. Sabotaging international environmental accords
The Harper government continues to reject the recognition of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, despite its adoption at the UN General Assembly. Under Harper, Canada withdrew from an important anti-drought & desertification treaty.
The list of Harper’s sabotage of international climate negotiations is a long one. This government
19. Canada’s role in propping up austerity, neoliberalism, and the 1%
While the Occupy movement shone a spotlight on the inequality brought about by neoliberalism, the agenda of the WTO, G7, G20, IMF, World Bank hasn’t stopped. Austerity – cutting public services to enrich corporate interests – is part of an international consensus among governments. Included in this is the deepening integration of foreign aid with commercial operations through so-called tied aid.
Maybe that’s what they meant by “good to go”?
All of this and more should be part of a robust debate on Canada’s foreign policy. The leaders may not debate these issues, but we can make sure they’re part of the discussion. Tweet about these issues during the remaining leaders’ debates, raise them at candidates’ debates, and ask your local candidates where they stand on the issues.
Most importantly: this election vote for peace and prosperity not war and austerity.