Immediately after two Canadian Forces soldiers were killed in separate incidents on October 20 and 22, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the assailants ‘terrorists’. Leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, disagreed, citing a blend of factors, psychological and political.
Harper seized on the gun fight in a hallway of Parliament, in which a deranged man with a rifle fell in a hail of police bullets, to step up his assault on civil liberties. Mulcair and the labour-based NDP opposed Harper’s words, but should oppose his direction on principle, not just on semantic grounds.
Against a backdrop of widespread grief for the dead soldiers and their families, Harper and the business media stoked the fires of patriotism, which spilled over into Islamophobic acts across the country.
The assailants, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau, recent converts to Islam, were not linked to ISIS. What is not known is whether they lashed out for political or personal reasons. Thus, their actions can be seen as an indictment of Canada’s faltering mental health care system. Or they can be cited as ‘blow-back’ from western military intervention in the Middle East. Or both.
In any event, the context of the attack on the soldiers, and the Conservative government’s rhetoric in response to it, reveal another crack in the myth that Canada is a peace-keeping state.
In early October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper commited fighter jets, pilots and ground crew to join the U.S.-led bombing campaign in war-torn Iraq and Syria. That came on the heels of 13 years of Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan, and Ottawa’s involvement in NATO wars in the former Yugoslavia, in the Persian Gulf, Libya, and Somalia. This is not to mention Harper’s brash support for the Israeli apartheid state, and for its brutal summer 2014 onslaught against the people of Gaza.
Conservative foreign policy makes many enemies at home and abroad, but individual attacks against military personnel on Canadian soil play directly into the hands of the capitalist rulers, fanning the flames of pro-war sentiment, racism and jingoism. Stephen Harper and his collaborators, by their engagement in military interventions in the East, have certainly outraged peoples there, fanning the flames of their discontent with the West. Every bomb dropped by Canadian, American and allied fighter jets on Iraq and Syria brings fresh recruits to ISIS.
And the context of intervention goes back much further.
In this centennial year of World War 1 it is timely to recall Canada’s contribution to the sad legacy of big power nationalism and imperialism as it continues to plague the peoples of the Middle East. Canada joined WWI at Britain’s behest to fight for the class interests of the Triple Entente rulers against those of the Central Powers. Arms producers became obscenely rich, while millions of workers died in trenches, at sea, and by aerial bombardment.
That conflagration was sparked by an assasination in Sarajevo that detonated an already tense situation. For the Arab and Kurdish peoples then living in the countries now under attack, it meant the drawing of artificial borders along lines beneficial to the British and French colonial powers. The foreign rulers called that infamous arrangement the Sykes-Picot Agreement. It is no surprise that the current prime target of the Western rulers, the Islamic State, pledges to abolish the borders imposd by Sykes-Picot.
Prime Minister Harper, in the wake of the Ottawa shootings, made an emotive speech that was broadcast live. In it, he condemned any and all who attack Canadian soldiers as somehow attacking all “Canadians as a free and democratic people”, and he doubled down on his “national security” plans. But one is hard pressed to recall the Prime Minister making such a hardline speech regarding the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women. He continues to refuse to launch an inquiry into that ongoing tragedy.
In the face of Conservative plans to legislate U.S. Patriot Act-style infringements on civil liberties, progressive and working class people should stand up to the government and its insidious plans. We should expose the big lies – the false claims that the Canadian state has a duty or right to interfere militarily in the Middle East, that the Canadian Forces are serving to protect all, rather than uphold the interests of corporate Canada, and that we should accept the expansion of the surveillance state for our own good.
Instead, the streets should be filled with demonstrators demanding: Canada out of NATO! Ottawa, Washington, London and allies, Out of the Middle East!
Statement of the NDP Socialist Caucus delivered to NDP MP Craig Scott during sit in at constituency office:
NDP Leader’s policy is Neither Balanced Nor Just
Lift the Siege of Gaza! Boycott Israeli Apartheid! Justice for Palestine!
Members of the New Democratic Party Socialist Caucus, joined by anti-war, labour, human rights and community activists, are here today to say: We stand with the people of Gaza. We are on the side of Palestine in the present conflict.
We call on NDP MP Craig Scott (Toronto Danforth) to stand up for justice, human rights, self-determination for Palestine, and the prosecution of Israeli war crimes. Statements by the NDP Leader, which MP Scott has echoed, fall far short of a ‘balanced’ or just approach to the war waged against the people of Gaza, in which the Israeli war machine has killed nearly 2,000, the vast majority of whom are civilians, including hundreds of children.
In the Toronto Star, Thomas Mulcair wrote: “New Democrats have long been committed to a policy of supporting peaceful coexistence in viable, independent states with agreed-upon borders, an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and an end to violence targeting civilians.”
This policy is wrong on many counts. The ‘two state’ solution is neither viable nor just. It would reduce Palestine to a few disconnected, impoverished Bantustans. The Oslo Accords failed even to slow, let alone halt the proliferation of Zionist settlements across the West Bank. Israeli jails are full of Palestinians never convicted of any crime. With the ‘separation’ wall, the Zionist state illegally seized Palestinian land and crippled the commerce of Arab cities and towns. Mulcair proposes lifting the blockade, but only after Gazans halt their justified armed resistance. He urges aid for reconstruction, and bringing injured Gazan children to Canada for treatment. The latter are fine sentiments, but grossly inadequate. Totally missing is a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the crimes committed by the dominant power. There is no moral equivalence between, on the one hand, brutal and devastating forms of collective punishment, using the most sophisticated weaponry, against an imprisoned people, and on the other hand, the firing of homemade ‘bottle rockets’ incapable of hitting a target. Mulcair’s stance blames victims and victimizers equally. This is an infernal ‘balance’. He says ‘end the occupation’, but robs it of any clear meaning.
NDP members across the country, alongside millions of working people from coast to coast to coast, want the labour-based party and its parliamentary caucus, to advance NDP adopted policy. ‘End the Occupation’ must be more than a tag-on phrase. It must be linked to: Dismantle the settlements. Tear down the Wall. For the Right of Return of all refugees. End the shipment of arms to Israel. Free the political prisoners. Prosecute Israeli war criminals, starting with Benjamin Netanyahu. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Apartheid Israel. Abrogate the special trade arrangements between Ottawa and Tel Aviv. For a single, secular, democratic state, based on full equality of rights for Jews, Muslims, Christians and non-believers, for Arabs and all others, in a unitary, free Palestine/Israel.
chair, NDP Socialist Caucus