Canada’s Subversion of Democracy Abroad: An Interview with Yves Engler

The Canadian government was involved in destabilizing the Haitian state government. They were involved in funding opposition to the Haitian state government.

28 mins read
Yves Engler [Photo Credit: Georgia Straight]

Yves Engler, a writer and political activist from Montreal, Canada, has authored thirteen books, including his most recent book titled Canada’s Long War Against Democracy. News publications such as Briarpatch Magazine referred to Engler as “one of the most important voices on the Canadian left” and The Georgia Straight referred to him as “the Canadian version of Noam Chomsky.” Engler’s writings on Canadian foreign policy also inspired the release of a documentary film series in 2022 on the topic titled Truth to the Powerless: An Investigation into Canada’s Foreign Policy in which he is also featured.

Engler spoke to Pitasanna Shanmugathas, about the historical record of Canada’s actions in undermining democratic governance abroad, as discussed in his new book, Canada’s Long War Against Democracy.

Shanmugathas: I think a common thread among all your published works is shattering this myth about Canada being this benevolent peacekeeping nation. And I think an overwhelming majority of readers for this publication being non-Canadian, may have this understanding of Canada as this benevolent power on the international arena. And your most recent book, Canada’s Long War Against Democracy, certainly shatters that myth. I’d like to know if you could address, in a broader sense, this notion about Canada being this benevolent power and why that isn’t true.

Engler: Canadian mythology claims that Canada has been an honest broker of peace. It’s transparently absurd when you look at Canada’s connections to the main empires of the past 200-plus years — the British and then the Americans. And Canadian foreign policy has been closely aligned with those two great empires while they have launched innumerable wars, while they have overthrown governments.

The notion that Canada has been an honest broker for peace has been a dominant mythology for decades. It’s a strong mythology and it’s self-serving.  From the international standpoint, it serves to generate some degree of sympathy for Canada, but we have two examples in recent times where the international community clearly has not been hoodwinked by that idea. Canada lost its bid for a seat on the [United Nations] Security Council in 2010 and then lost its bid for the [United Nations] Security Council seat in 2020. So that suggests that the international community is not completely bought into this notion of Canada being an honest broker.

Shanmugathas: In the aftermath of World War II, talk about how Canada emerged as a middle power on the international arena.

Engler: Well, before World War II, the Canadian government was hostile to those who tried to oppose the fascism in Spain and against Canadians who went to try and fight against fascism in Spain after Franco’s coup. When then-Canadian Prime Minister William Mackenzie King went to meet with Hitler in mid-1937 he privately praised Hitler. Publicly he didn’t say anything about the antisemitism of Hitler that was very clear at that point. So there was an ambivalence as was common in the US, Britain, and other leading capitalist countries—so long as Hitler was targeting the Soviet Union, they were pretty sympathetic to that. Canada did end World War II as a huge military force—the fourth biggest navy in the world. Huge amounts of training and military production take place in Canada.

In the post-World War II period, the Canadian government plays an important role in the discussions around establishing the United Nations, aligns with giving the big five the veto power, even Australia is against Canada’s position on that, Canada becomes a decisive turn for that. Simultaneously, after the end of World War II, Canada played a role in the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Canada also plays an important role in the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Britain, the United States, and Canada are the three countries that have the initial secret talks about what ultimately turns into creating NATO, and some people say it’s Canada who came up with the idea.

The whole terminology of middle power and some of the official language used in political science, I’m a little bit ambivalent towards some of that language, but nevertheless, Canada was influential at the end of World War II.

Canada is influential because it is a significant capitalist country, has a significant military, and because it has this unique relationship to the former great power empire, the British, and, of course, World War II marks the United States’ ascendance.

Shanmugathas: April 2024 marks the 75th anniversary of NATO. Talk about what was the purpose of NATO.

Engler: Well, the official notion is that NATO is a defensive alliance, and all the countries will protect each other if any of them are targeted. The real purpose of NATO, at the establishment, is basically two-fold. One is to push back against indigenous communist influence in Western Europe. In World War II, individuals who identified as communists opposed Mussolini’s regime in Italy, battled against the fascists in Greece, and stood up against the Nazi occupation in France. Consequently, they gained significant respect and influence after the war, unlike the wealth-holders and church officials who backed the fascists. If not for the intervention from the United State and British, the communists, without Moscow’s backing, might have assumed control in Greece and emerged victorious in Italy’s 1948 election. In France, the French Communist Party secured 30% of the vote. There was a sense that communism was the way of the future and NATO was a way to bolster the self-confidence of the establishment in Western Europe, and it was done through sending tens of thousands of North American troops to be stationed in Western Europe. Sending North American troops to be stationed in Western Europe was a clear message that we’re not going to accept any radical transformation. And Lester B Pearson, who was Canada’s foreign minister, and an important player in NATO’s establishment, said this openly in the House of Commons. He has a speech I’ve quoted many times where he talks about how NATO is set up, because the communists are taking over all of the institutions, including the kindergartens. He literally talks about the kindergartens! And so, it’s very McCarthy-like thinking that he links directly to NATO.

The other part of the establishment in NATO is that the great colonial powers had been weakened during World War II — the British, the French, the Belgians, and the US were in ascendance. So, a large part of [the creation of NATO] was about bringing this colonial order under a US-directed geopolitical order. And concretely, in the 1950s, Canada gave billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the colonial powers while they suppressed independence movements. The French were using Canadian weapons to suppress the independence movement in Algeria. And that was supposed to be contrary to the principle of the NATO mutual assistance program, but the Canadian government even changed the policy to make it openly acceptable for the French to use these weapons.

Canada was, basically, supportive of emergent US geopolitical order, and NATO helped in subsuming the colonial order that had been the dominant one under emerging US influence. So, the notion of NATO as being defensive is a complete absurdity. And we see that, of course, after the Soviet Union collapses. NATO does not end.  In fact, NATO became more openly belligerent, bombing Yugoslavia in the late 90s, and destroying Libya in 2011. And so, Canada has been a very staunch proponent of NATO since before the alliance was even created.

Shanmugathas: You had mentioned, in the context of NATO, how Canada had suppressed independence movements in the Global South. Talk a little bit more about specific instances where, even outside of NATO, Canada was suppressing independence movements in the Global South.

Engler: In my book, “Canada and Africa, 300 Years of Heat and Exportation,” I delve into Canada’s ties to British, French, Belgian colonialism in Africa. And they’re significant.  Most importantly, Canadians fought and helped the British conquer different parts of Africa in the 1800s and early 1900s. But as the independence struggle picks up in Africa, particularly in the 1960s, the Canadian government is totally aligned with maintaining that order. Congo got its independence in this complicated process where the Belgians basically tried to have this rapid decolonization to avoid a proper decolonization, so they basically kept control of the natural resources and offered political independence. When Patrice Lumumba became Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister and was seeking to pursue a more thorough decolonization, the Canadian government played a substantive role, after the US and Belgium, in assassinating Patrice Lumumba. Canadian troops were sent to Congo as part of the UN mission. Canada headed up the UN mission. Colonel Jean Berthiaume, a Canadian, aided the adversaries of the elected prime minister in recapturing him when he fled house arrest, and shortly thereafter, Lumumba was killed.   In 1966, Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, the nation’s first President.  So, the Canadian foreign policy’s orientation is very aggressively hostile to decolonization and that’s because there’s this whole mythology out there that Canada was a central force in opposing European colonialism in Africa or elsewhere. This is not based on fact. It’s based on just self-serving mythology to present Canada as a benevolent force.

Shanmugathas: In Canada’s Long War Against Democracy, your most recent book, the chapters of the book go country by country—Iran, Colombia, Guatemala, the Congo, Brazil—and you go country by country outlining the way that Canada has really subverted democracy in these several instances.

Engler: An important principle of international law is the self-determination and the respecting of a country’s sovereignty. And the Canadian government has consistently undercut those legal principles in its interventionist interference policies. We list out more than 20 cases, but half are, what we call, the path of Canadian support for coups and the other half are more active support. There are obviously degrees to which Canada was engaged in the more active support for coups.

The penultimate case is the 2004 coup against the elected government of Haiti, where Canadian Special Forces invaded the country and secured the airport while US Marines took the elected president, Jean Betrand Aristide, put him on a plane, and dumped him in the Central African Republic.

The Canadian government was involved in destabilizing the Haitian state government. They were involved in funding opposition to the Haitian state government. They were involved in the so-called Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, where 13 months before the coup, they brought together US-French organization of American states officials to discuss ousting the elected president, putting the country under UN trusteeship, recreating the Haitian military. And 13 months later, it all transpired. Canada, after the coup, had troops on the ground for more than six months. So, this is a flagrant disregard for Haitian sovereignty. And the consequence of it was very brutal. Thousands and thousands of people were killed in the post-coup repression.

But it’s only one case. Another more recent case, the Trudeau government talks a lot about democracy and says its foreign policy is about expanding democracy, well, in late 2019, they supported the ouster of the first ever indigenous president of the majority indigenous country of Bolivia—Evo Morales. And the Canadian government supported that through the Organization of American States. Its electoral mission basically claimed there was fraud when there wasn’t fraud and that was later proven by a number of different analyses of the vote tabulation. Canadians gave the opposition a bunch of momentum to protest, and that ultimately provided the cover for the military to step in. This coup, in 2019, Canada was supportive of it in diplomatic comments. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland backed it, etc. It’s rare that a coup gets exposed so clearly as being anti-democratic. But because of the mass protests of mostly indigenous Bolivians, they were able to have an election, Morales’ political party won the presidency, and most of the other elected positions, and it showed it was clear that he still had popular support.

So, these are a couple of examples, but if you go back in history, you find that Canada massively backed the US’s campaigns against [democratically elected Prime Minister] Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala and Goulart in Brazil. And so, the Canadian government has consistently prioritized its relationship to Washington and its support for corporate interests over democracy all the while talking loudly about its professed support for democracy.

Shanmugathas: Let’s talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict which has garnered a lot of attention in the international media and Canada’s foreign policy relationship to it. On Palestine—your book, Canada’s Long Fight Against Democracy, you begin by discussing the Canadian monitored and facilitated legislative elections in 2006 which Hamas won, and as a result of Hamas’ win, Canada responded by cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority, and then you go from there.

Engler: Canada’s role in undermining the 2006 elections definitely contributes to the current context. But I would say that the broader Canadian anti-Palestinian policy, which is a century plus old, is quite significant. It was a Canadian Royal Military College general [Charles Macpherson Dobell] that tried to conquer Gaza during World War I, who had led the British-French protectorate in West Africa, that seized the German West African colonies. And he unsuccessfully tried to conquer Gaza.  Hundreds of Canadians fought in the General Allenby-led Third Battle of Gaza in their more successful taking of Palestine for the British Empire. Before that, there was a Zionist movement that began as a Christian movement in Canada, going back to the time of Confederation of the late 1860s period. And then Canada plays a very important role in the UN partition plan of Palestine and pushing a plan that’s very unjust from the Palestinian perspective, where it gives the European colonial movement 55% of historic Palestine, even though the Jewish population were less than a third and owned about 7% of land. And the partition plan, what that did is, it gave the diplomatic cover for the Zionist movement to ethnically cleanse Palestine— [the Nakba of 1948.]

Canadian Supreme Court Justice Ivan C. Rand was part of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) that went to the region to come up with a proposal, and Ivan C. Rand was a very Christian Zionist who was quite hostile to the Palestinian indigenous population. And so today, when you see the horrors that Israel is waging in Gaza, most of that population, about two-thirds of Palestinians in Gaza, are refugees of those who were cleansed by Zionist forces in late 1947 and 1948. Canada sells weapons to Israel in the late 1940s to the 1950s. Canada is consistently one of the most anti-Palestinian countries in the United Nations and on UN votes [regarding] Palestine. You have Canada openly supporting Israel’s siege in Gaza. And [Canada has] a history of being aligned with Zionism against the indigenous population. Foreign minister Mélanie Joly went to Israel soon after [October 7] to express support for Israel. We know that the Canadian government’s reaction to Israel’s onslaught in the first two months of Israel’s slaughter in Gaza. They okayed, they sped up permits for arms sales to Israel, $28.5 million worth of permits were okayed in the two months after October 7th. And there’s been a whole slew more permits that have been Okayed. The Canadian government has shown itself to be very late in calling for a ceasefire. It took months of active pressure for Trudeau to finally start raising the matter.  [Canada] has ambivalence towards, or hostility towards South Africa’s effort to bring Israel to the International Court of Justice. Previously, Canada has been very aggressive against efforts to have the International Criminal Court investigate Israel’s war crimes and sent this letter in 2020 that suggested that Canada would actually cut off its funding to the ICC if it was to investigate Israeli war crimes.

There have been a couple of legal cases brought forward. The Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights  they launched a suit [against] the Canadian government for its continued arms sales just a few weeks ago, [alleging] complicity in the genocide and that [the arms sales] contravene Canada’s Export-Import Act to continue selling weapons to a country that’s committing genocide in Gaza. Nicaragua announced that it was taking Canada to the International Court of Justice, alongside UK, Germany, and the Netherlands for its arms sales to Israel. So, the Canadian government has taken a very staunchly pro-Israel position in the past six months.

Shanmugathas: Talk about Canada’s foreign policy with respect to Ukraine.

Engler: On Ukraine, the book details Canada’s role in the 2014 ouster of Viktor Yanukovych, who was elected with Canadian observers, and Canadian observers, who didn’t like Yanukovych before he was elected in 2010, said it was a legitimate election and the Canadian government opposed Yanukovych not because he was corrupt, which my understanding is he was, but because he was supporter of neutrality for Ukraine and he didn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. And so, they worked to destabilize Yanukovych’s government in a whole bunch of different ways from not long after Yanukovych came to office. Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, went on a trip to Ukraine and brought a bunch of very hardline anti-Yanukovych Ukrainian-Canadian Congress officials, and then throughout Yanukovych’s time, opposition and destabilization grew by Canadian officials, and then when the Maidan protests took off you had, John Baird, Canada’s foreign minister going to one of the Maidan protests in early December at Maidan Square, and Paul Grod, the head of the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress, announcing that Canada’s foreign minister was at the protest. So, you had Canada’s foreign minister at a protest, which was part of a movement that ultimately culminated in overthrowing the elected president. You had Canadian embassy, which is close to the Maidan Square, was actually used by opposition protesters, including the far-right C-14, for more than a week as a base in their campaign against Yanukovych. And Yanukovych’s ouster, and then Canada supported the replacement government.

And Yanukovych’s ouster led, of course, to Russia seizing Crimea. It led to a civil war in eastern Ukraine. And it began a process where Canada, the US, and UK, at least were in a low-level proxy war with Russia, which Russia massively expanded a little over two years ago. And I obviously consider Russia’s invasion contrary to international law, but there is a context to this invasion. And part of the context is Canada’s, obviously with the US, anti-democratic undercutting of Ukrainian sovereignty and basically working to oust a government because it wanted neutrality.

And at that point, actually, most polls showed that most Ukrainians wanted neutrality. And so the devastation that we see in Ukraine today and in Gaza, some of the roots of that devastation, I’d say more so with the Ukraine example, but a little bit with the Palestine example, some of the roots of that devastation are in Canada’s hostility towards democracy, both Hamas winning elections in 2006, that led to Israel deepening its feet, further isolating Gaza, a whole series of horrific bombing campaigns in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021. And then also in regard to Ukraine today, Canada’s anti-democratic overthrow of Yanukovych contributed to this spiral downwards, which we see that country is in this devastating war. It seems increasingly clear that Ukraine is going to lose a lot of territory. It lost a whole lot of its men principally. And it’s basically just a horrible situation for Ukrainians. And it still has the potential of escalating to something even more horrible for the whole world.

The Canadian government has also been a very staunch proponent of the NATO proxy war. And something around $10 billion in Canadian arms and other forms of support have been channel to Ukraine. There have been endless stream of diplomatic comments and sanctions on Russia and just a slew of different measures that frame Russia as the ultimate evil. [Contrast condemnation against Russia with what’s happening in Gaza, that this highly moralistic claims about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, and I agree with a lot of the criticism, like I said, I think Russia’s invasion contradicts international law, and I think its war is often quite brutal.

But what Israel is doing in Gaza, far supersedes the horrors of what Russia has done. If you look at the number of children killed, for instance, like the UN says about 600 Ukrainian children have been killed versus it’s like over 14,000 Palestinian children in Gaza. So, what’s happened in Gaza has really exposed that all of the Canadian government’s rhetoric and policies on Ukraine that their whole commitment to international law and all this business is really not a principal thing. It’s more about the fact that Russia is viewed as somewhat of a competitor to the US Empire, and that this is more about a NATO proxy war than it is about defending Ukrainian sovereignty or defending the principles of international law.

Shanmugathas: I think that one of the things that our readers probably don’t know about Canada is that we are a significant mining power in the world and Canadian mining companies have committed a lot of atrocities in the Global South. Could you talk about that?

Engler: Canada is global mining superpower. Half or more of the world’s mining companies are based in mostly Toronto, Vancouver, to some extent, and other cities. And the biggest mining convention in the world takes place in Toronto every year at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Conference. So, it’s global. Canada is less than 0.5% of the world’s population and yet over half of the world’s mining companies are based in this country.  Mostly the junior companies, the smaller firms, the prospecting companies, but not entirely, some of the big companies as well, like Barrick Gold [one of the largest gold mining companies in the world]. And mining, of course, is an ecologically destructive endeavor.

Canadian mining companies often elicit opposition from local communities, often Indigenous peasants, rural communities [in the Global South]. Canadian mining companies are engaged in all kinds of human rights abuses. In Tanzania, Barrick Gold, its operations in the North Mara Mine,  around the 50 to 100 people have been killed by the security forces or the police paid for by Barrick around the mine over the past 17-18 years. And simultaneously, the Tanzanian government accused Barrick Gold of massive underreporting of how much it was extracting. So basically, it owed the government billions and billions of dollars in unpaid royalties and in unpaid taxes. It’s a big dispute.

The Canadian government takes a very hands-off approach towards reigning in Canadian mining companies found to be involved in abuses abroad. The Canadian government devotes significant diplomatic support to Canadian mining companies. I’d say that, arguably, 20 or 30 countries in the world the leading thing the Canadian diplomatic apparatus focuses on is the interest of Canadian mining companies. And they do so even when there are just flagrant abuses [by Canadian mining companies.] Even Canada’s military policy is aligned with advancing Canadian mining interests. The Canadian military planned in the late 1970s and the 80s, basically of invading Jamaica, if Alcan, which was then the Montreal-based bauxite company, that they would invade Jamaica if a socialist government nationalized or harmed Alcan’s interests. So Canadian foreign policy has advancing interests of Canadian mining companies as an important part of what it does, even when those companies are engaged in serious ecological destruction and human rights violations.

Shanmugathas: What has been Canada’s record in terms of combating climate change?

Engler: Canada has among the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. And Canada has had that for a long time. And if you contrast Canadian per capita carbon emissions to many African countries, for instance, you’ll find that it gets 1,500 times the per capita emissions in a country like Congo. So Canada is this big emitter. Canadian extraction of some of the most polluting emissions heavy oil has just ramped up to three or four million barrels a day now of Alberta tar sands extraction.

And the Trudeau government, which claims to be very concerned about climate breakdown and the crisis, spends billions and tens of billions of dollars now in building a new pipeline to get more of that Alberta highly polluting—beyond just the greenhouse gas emissions—oil to the west coast to export the product. And Trudeau made this infamous comment in 2017 to an oil conference in Houston, Texas, that says no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil and just leave it there. But obviously the world needs to just leave the tar sands in the ground. And the important point, I think, from my perspective, from an internationalist perspective, is that if one of the wealthiest countries in the world that already have some of the highest per capita emissions, if that country can’t say “we’re going to bypass extracting this climate bomb,” then how could you possibly expect Uganda not to extract oil? Before the tar sands began being extracted in any significant way, Canada had lots of universities, it had lots of hospitals, and it had lots of city infrastructure and daycares. This not needed by any stretch of the imagination from the standpoint of a functioning life for most Canadians. It’s a serious crime against humanity’s ability to survive when a country like Canada, with a relatively high standard of living, high emission rates, already decides it’s going to extract tens and tens of billions of barrels of some of the worst emitting form of oil.

Shanmugathas: We are now in the 30th anniversary since the atrocities in Rwanda began from April 7th to July 19th, 1994, claiming the lives of more than an estimated 500,000 Rwandans. Talk about what has been Canada’s relationship with Paul Kagame, the current President of Rwanda, who was controversially, and many say wrongly, attributed with bringing an end to the atrocities in 1994.

Engler: The M23, the Rwandan-backed force, and Rwandan forces—this has been reported by the UN—have re-launched an invasion in Eastern Congo. Now, more than a million people have been displaced, with huge numbers of human rights violations reported. Rwandan forces and the M23 are positioned around the edges of Goma, the major city in Eastern Congo. This represents nearly 30 years of belligerence and horrors committed by Rwanda in Eastern Congo. While it is difficult to determine the exact number of deaths, no one would dispute that it is in the millions of deaths directly from warfare, displacement, lack of food, and other war-related issues. The Trudeau government has deepened its relationship with Kagame during this recent year-and-a-half of Rwandan-backed violence in Congo. [Most recently], a new [Canadian] High Commissioner presented credentials to Kagame.

Now, going backwards in the history of Canada’s policy with regards to Rwanda: the basic story of what happened in April of 1994 is just a very simplistic account. In 1990, Ugandan forces that were mostly people who had fled Rwanda in 1961 that were aligned with the Tutsi monarchy in Rwanda, they fled into Uganda. Museveni wins power in Uganda in the late 1980s. And the official story is 4,000 Ugandan military deserts overnight and invade Rwanda—and this included people who were like the second in charge of the defense ministry—and they had the backing of the Ugandan government. And this created a very brutal war. A large swath of the population in Rwanda are displaced, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people are displaced, and the country basically becomes a tinderbox. Simultaneously in Burundi, a country that has a similar ethnic make-up, which is somewhere around 10% Tutsi and 90% Hutu, and the poor and historic distinction between Tutsi and Hutu is that Tutsi just basically means closer to the monarchy. There’s no actual difference. They speak the same language. They act as more or less the same customs. Tutsi were the ones who monopolized more military positions and they monopolized wealth from the lens of being the cattle herders.

In 1993, the first-ever elected Hutu government in Burundi was overthrown by a Tutsi military, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. It was a tinderbox situation. Then, Paul Kagame’s forces blow up the airplane carrying the Hutu President of Rwanda, as well as the President of Burundi and many high-ranking military commanders of Rwanda. This act unleashed a massive bloodletting. Kagame’s forces capitalized on the chaos and destabilization that they created, to a large extent, by blowing up the plane and Kagame seizes power. A couple of years later, [Kagame] invaded Congo and overthrew the President of Congo. The person they installed, [Laurent-Désiré]Kabila, kicks them out. They later reinvaded [Congo] and sparked an eight-year war from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, which most people believed resulted in the death of millions of people. Kagame was somebody who was trained by the Americans at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in the American Military Officer Training academy, and he was somebody who was basically the Anglo-Sphere’s guy in East Africa.

A Canadian, Roméo Dallaire, [the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda in 1993-94] when he goes to Rwanda in the mission in ‘93, his boss, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, who is the former Cameroonian foreign minister, is in charge of the overarching mission. Booh-Booh has a book called, Le patron de Dallaire parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), and [he] talks about how Dallaire supported the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), supported Kagame’s forces in contravention of United Nations policy. And so even before Kagame seizes power, Canada is aligned — it’s disputed about exactly how far — but Booh-Booh says that Dallaire basically enables the RPF to get weapons in, from Uganda, and even, I think, uses UN flights coming in from Entebbe (the airport in Kampala, the Ugandan capital) to send in weapons. A UN aircraft is even used to bring in weapons. So, the Canadian government has had this alliance with Kagame, it’s ebbed and flowed, but Trudeau has been close, even as Kagame rekindles this almost 30-year-long war and horror that he’s unleashed in eastern Congo, and there’s almost no reporting about this in the Canadian media. Many in the Congo refer to Kagame as Africa’s Hitler for all the horrors he is responsible for in Congo.

Shanmugathas: Why does Canada support, as you say, Africa’s Hitler? What does Canada, what does the West have to gain by supporting Kagame as he commits these atrocities in the Congo, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Africans on his hands?

Engler: Well, why wouldn’t they? The presumption that the state operates based upon moralistic principles is just an erroneous assumption. There is a very strong pattern that shows that it’s just not the principal concern. That’s not how states operate. So that’s the first way to look at the question. And to get into specifics, [the reason the West supports him] is about controlling the reason. If you go back to the Rwandan invasion of Congo in 1996, a whole bunch of mining companies benefited from this. So, for instance, Barrick  had concessions. They made concessions actually with the Kabila’s forces that Rwanda was backing. And there was Canadian mining interests. Obviously, Congo is a huge mining hub with just hundreds of billions of dollars in mineral resources. But I think that the main explanation is that Kagame was the US’s guy. He has used, he has dispatched his troops on a whole bunch of different missions in Somalia, for instance, where the US needed military support. Controlling East Africa is valuable to the US Empire, and whether that leads to hundreds of thousands or millions of people being killed, that’s just not the priority of the people making decisions in Washington or in Ottawa. They focus on geopolitical questions, corporate economic questions, and human rights are just far down on the list of concerns.

Shanmugathas: Noam Chomsky, prominent linguist and political dissident, once asserted that if the Nuremberg Principles were applied every post-World War II US President would be indicted. I think a case can be made that just about every post-WWII Canadian Prime Minister could also be indicted under the Nuremberg Principles. Let’s run down the list real fast. What did Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent (1948-1957) do for which you think he would be indicted?

Engler: Saint Laurent for the war in Korea. I think it’s pretty clear that Canada was sending 27,000 troops, with a war that left three to four million people killed. [US-led forces] stopped bombing North Korea because every building of one or two stories was destroyed. I think that would meet the threshold.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (1957-1963)?

Engler: Diefenbaker’s role in over-throwing Patrice Lumumba—Congo’s first democratically elected leader—would it meet the threshold of Nuremberg? I don’t know. But it certainly is a major imperial crime.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Lester B Pearson (1963-1968)?

Engler: Lester Pearson has a role in delivering US bombing threats to North Vietnam, clearly a war crime. He used Canada’s position on the International Control Commission—which was supposed to bring an end to the war in Vietnam—to spy for the Americans, and then to deliver US bombing threats saying, “If you don’t do this, we will bomb you.” And US bombing that then transpired led to at least 100,000 people being killed.Also, huge amounts of Canadian weapons sold to the US during the war in Vietnam, the use of Canadian bases to test [chemical weapon] US Agent Orange and the other colored agents that were explicitly tested there because it mimicked the conditions in Vietnam. That testing and the delivery of bombing threats and arms sales would be more than sufficient to indict Pearson.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979;1980-1984)?

Engler: Two things come to mind for which Pierre Trudeau might be indicted. Firstly, his role in overthrowing [democratically elected President Salvador] Allende in Chile where he supported destabilizing Allende, and then cutting off financing [to Chile] from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank IMF, and then immediately after dictator [Augusto] Pinochet comes to power, he supported restarting those loans, and recognizing Pinochet and justified Pinochet’s killing of opponents.

And secondly, [Trudeau’s] role with regards to supporting the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and just total destruction of the Timorese. Canada increases its economic and subsequently military relationship with Indonesia after its horrors there. And even at the diplomatic front, [Trudeau] doesn’t even really condemn the horrors that [Indonesian dictator]Suharto unleashed in East Timor.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark (1979-1980)—who was only Prime Minister for a few months—but has a more distinguished record as Canada’s foreign minister under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984-1993).

Engler: Yes, he was only Prime Minister for nine months but as foreign minister he supported Israel’s destruction and killings in the West Bank and suppression of the First Intifada. As foreign minister, he [also] supported the US invasion of Panama.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984-1993)?

Engler: Brian Mulroney is involved in the first invasion of Iraq; the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Quite significantly, Canada’s quite hawkish, 4,000 or 5,000 Canadian troops are part of that mission. And it’s only the US, Britain, France, and Canada, I think, that actually have their fighter jets that are bombing Iraq and they participate in a whole bunch of these horrific bombing campaigns that leave 10,000 or 20,000 or so Iraqi troops killed. A lot of whom, there was no need to kill them, because they were fleeing, they were giving up. Thousands of Iraqi civilians [killed] and destroyed much of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure. Mulroney was very hostile to the diplomatic efforts that could have avoided this huge war campaign. And then even if they were going to fight, they didn’t need to fight in such a horribly destructive way, so I think it would be a good case to indict Mulroney for the first Iraq war.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien (1993-2003).

Engler: Jean Chrétien continued the Indonesia policy—[supporting Indonesia during its occupation of East Timor] and it became more controversial during his time.  The 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Canadian fighter jets were responsible at 10% of the NATO bombing, I believe it’s something like 530 bombs dropped were by Canadian fighter jets.

And Chrétien’s government hosts the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti where they planned to oust Aristide—Haiti’s first democratically elected President. He is no longer Prime Minister by the time of the 2004 Haiti coup, but the Chretien government begins the coup policy in Haiti and the destabilization of Aristide.

Chretien also dispatches Canadian troops to Afghanistan and some of it is a bit covert and then the bigger, more aggressive warfighting in Kandahar begins later. But he covertly dispatches Canadian Special Forces and I think its October of 2001 into Afghanistan and then begins the build-up of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

[Chretien’s government also covertly supported the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.] Chretien provides significant support. Canadian generals were actually in charge of about 35,000 troops in Iraq. The Canadian Navy was in charge of a naval blockade of Iraq.  And then obviously Canadian weapons sales to the United States went to aligning with the US occupation in Iraq. So, Chrétien, I think, would be interesting to see how that would be viewed by a court, how his policy definitely supported the US war in important ways, but he also didn’t officially endorse the coalition of the willing.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin (2003-2006)?

Engler: The February 29th, 2004, coup in Haiti, ousting the nation’s democratically elected leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Overthrowing the Aristide government and thousands of other elected officials—it’s a gross violation of Haitian sovereignty and it had wildly deleterious effects on the country that we’re frankly still seeing today. Also the Martin government continued Canada’s covert military support of the 2003 US-invasion of Iraq. The Canadian generals, the whole series of them were in charge of thousands or tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, and that continued under Martin.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2006-2015)?

Engler: The clearest would be the 2011 [NATO] bombing of Libya. A Canadian general [Charlie Bouchard] oversaw the whole bombing campaign, and Canadian fighter jets, naval vessels, special forces were part of that war. And they had a UNSC resolution that was passed, but the UNSC resolution was a totally defensive resolution that didn’t say you can bomb the whole country. And they used that to bomb the whole country, to overthrow the government. And also his role in the torture and violence in Afghanistan, Canadian troops being dispatched there and the whole cover-up of the torture of Afghan detainees.

Shanmugathas: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2015-present)

Engler: Trudeau’s enabling of Israel’s genocide in Gaza is a criminal act. Nicaragua has actually announced they are going to take Canada to the International Court of Justice for its arming of Israel. There has been two different cases actually launched around Canada violating its own Export-Import Act in terms of arms sales, but their complicity in this genocide in Gaza is substantive. If you delve into how many ways in which Canada funds Israel and there is always charities that fund projects in Israel, including those that support the Israeli military, and there are Canadians fighting in the Israeli military. [By allowing Canadians to fight in the Israeli military] it violates Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act and [there have been] violations of the Canada Revenue Agency rules around registered charities financing other countries’ militaries, etc. So, to me, the clearest case of Trudeau would be for what is supported in Gaza over the past six months.

Shanmugathas: I think all in all you have made a compelling case for indicting all of the prime ministers I’ve mentioned.  Lastly, what would you like readers to take away from your most recent book, Canada’s Long War Against Democracy?

Engler: If we want to have any ability to change the government’s pro-empire foreign policy, we have to know what they are actually doing and recognize that their primary focus is advancing corporate interests and those of the US empire. Specifically, all the rhetoric around democracy promotion is just nonsense. Additionally, the idea that Canada’s conflicts with China, Russia, and Iran are due to being a democratic country while they are authoritarian is hard to take seriously when considering Canada’s involvement in overthrowing more than 20 governments.  There are extensive discussions about foreign interference in Canada, and while I don’t support foreign interference, I believe it is crucial for all countries to be cautious and push back against such interference. However, it is somewhat comical to suggest that China has more influence in foreign interference than Israel or the United States. Clearly, the US has by far the most foreign interference in Canada.

Considering Canada’s moral standing, especially regarding its role in ousting governments abroad and its current influence in Haiti, where Canada is part of a core group—the Organization of American States—that appointed the leader of Haiti nearly three years ago through a tweet, the level of foreign interference Canada has is significant.

While the book primarily focuses on history, I hope it contributes to understanding some of the contemporary issues we face today. It should help shape people’s views about Canada’s actions across various fronts.

Shanmugathas: Yves, thank you for speaking with me!

Pitasanna Shanmugathas

Pitasanna Shanmugathas is a documentary filmmaker and advocate for peace and disarmament. Inspired by progressive thinkers, he embarked on a three-year exploration of Canada's foreign policy while completing his post-graduate studies in global affairs at the University of Toronto.

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