As Remembrance Day approaches many ordinary people will express their emotions for those who have lost their lives in war and for those who still struggle from the horrors of war. We are supposed to contemplate why those wars occurred and what lessons we can learn to prevent further bloodshed.
Many politicians and pundits use Remembrance Day as an exercise in mythmaking, as a way to evoke a Canadian national identity. This both distorts the past and prevents a collective contemplation about the horrors of war.
While our politicians remember the fallen soldiers at various ceremonies, they are, at the same time, inching Canada closer to war on multiple fronts, including in Eastern Europe and in South East Asia. At home, working people have largely been on the defensive in the class war against these same elites for the past four decades.
World War One overseas and class war at home
One of Canada’s great national myths is that WWI was fought to defend freedom and democracy. The reality of the conflict was one where deeply anti-democratic European empires fought over the right to expand empires and plunder the world’s riches.
Political and economic elites used vicious propaganda to portray the opposing side in the war as undemocratic and barbaric. Back home many of these same elites remained deeply hostile to working class aspirations for democratic and workplace rights.
At the time of the war the majority of Canadian did not have the right to vote, in fact the franchise actually contracted when the right to vote was taken away from conscientious objectors and those who came to Canada from “enemy nations” since 1902. Immigrants from countries such as Germany, Italy, Hungary and the Ukraine, about 8,000 in total, were arrested and shipped to internment camps without due process, while 100,000 others were classified as “enemy aliens.”
Anti-conscription demonstrations took place in Quebec in 1918, with tens of thousands of participants. Buildings were destroyed, skirmishes ensued with the military, and a handful of people died. A large Anglo-Canadian force remained in Quebec for the rest of the war.
Businessmen, often in partnership with the state, aggressively broke strikes and intimidated workers when they demanded improved wages and union recognition. Many returning soldiers were involved on both sides of the growing number of labour disputes.
Our rights and freedoms were not gained and protected on the battlefields in Europe, but achieved via the class war that was roiling in workplaces and communities on the home front.
The Great War did not help establish a “united Canada,” as our history books suggest. More than anything else, this period symbolized a time of heightened class divisions between working people and elites and divisions between English and French speaking Canada.
Canadian imperialism and the American Empire
Myths portraying Canada as a peacekeeping nation and a nation that promotes human rights have long been manufactured by politicians, by the media, and by leading intellectuals.
More recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau developed a “feminist foreign policy” for Canada. While the slogan attracts sound bites for the corporate media and appeals to certain layers of the population, it has not translated into concrete policies.
In fact, the Liberals have continued and intensified the aggressive foreign policy of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Even more dangerous is the Liberal’s direct and indirect support for President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
Canada’s defence budget under the Liberals will increase by over 70% over the next 10 years to $32.7 billion. This increase came on the heels of President Trump suggesting that NATO members increase their military budgets, to “pull their weight.”
After his election, Trudeau continued for months to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. After the ending of the Canadian involvement in those airstrikes, Trudeau increased Canadian troop presence on the ground in the region. Trudeau also supported the U.S. bombing of Syria earlier this year that was based on unsubstantiated claims of Syria’s involvement in a chemical weapons attack. Two months later in June, the Liberals extended Canada’s military mission in Iraq by two years.
Canada has continued to align itself with the United States on the issue of Palestine, providing unwavering support to the state of Israel. The U.S. and Canadian governments have also been highly critical of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Anti-Russia hysteria has been imported north of the border due to the passing of a version of the Magnistky Act. With the bill, the property of individuals who have committed gross violations of international human rights can be targeted by the state. So far, officials from Russia and Venezuela have been targeted. Unsurprisingly, obvious war criminals such as George W. Bush, have been left off the hook.
Canada’s military presence in places like Eastern Europe and the Korean peninsula has expanded under the Liberals, increasing the likelihood of confrontation with Russia or North Korea. The HMCS Chicoutimi was sent to the Asia-Pacific as direct reaction to increasing hostilities between the U.S. and North Korea.
Perhaps most egregiously in April 2016, the Liberals approved the $15 billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite reports from various organizations suggesting that the vehicles would be used by the Saudi regime to suppress its citizens. The warnings issued by the various organizations were corroborated in the summer when video evidence surfaced revealing Saudi forces using Canadian-made LAVs to suppress citizens within the country.
While politicians declare their “support for the troops,” the number of veterans identified as homeless reached 750 at the end of June, according to Veterans Affairs Canada. Many other troops confront severe mental health problems that are not properly addressed by the government, leading to many falling through the cracks.
The Liberal’s “feminist” foreign policy is nothing but imperialism under another name.
Attacks on civil liberties and worker rights
While Canada has developed a more hawkish foreign policy, successive governments have criminalized dissent, while backing big businesses offensive against working people.
The Liberal’s Bill C-59 did not repeal the Conservative’s draconian Bill C-51. Enhanced information sharing and police powers for CSIS remain.
Government surveillance of civilians has increased and privacy declined during the “War on Terror.” Meanwhile, the increased power and presence of police is noticeable in communities across Canada, especially in communities of colour, with forces becoming militarized similar to what is happening in the United States.
At the same time, work has become increasingly precarious and inequality has reached unprecedented heights with more and more wealth concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
Liberal Finance Minister and Bay Street alumni Bill Morneau was recently embroiled in controversy when it was discovered that he waited two years to disclose a private corporation that owns a villa in France.
Morneau found himself in hot water again when it was discovered that the anti-worker Bill C-27 that he introduced, which would allow defined benefit plans to be converted to targeted benefit plans, was a conflict of interest. His family’s pension administration firm lobbied for the legislative change while he retained $21 million worth of shares in the business.
While the Liberals have brought forward legislation that attacks gains made by working people, the party has also refused to bring forward legislation that would protect pensioners when corporations like Sears, or U.S. Steel file for bankruptcy.
Sears’ bankruptcy leaves 12,000 people without a job and pensioners worried about their futures, while those in senior management responsible for running the corporation into the ground are compensated with millions of dollars.
The recent revelations in the Paradise Papers show that there are two sets of rules in Canada, one for the rich and one for the rest. Estimates suggest that the Canadian government loses between $10-$15 billion annually in revenues due to money being funnelled to tax havens. Governments and corporations are pleading poverty when workers demand better working conditions and pay increases, while at the same time they are stuffing boatloads of money offshores in tax avoidance schemes.
Fighting at home and abroad
The elites entangling Canada in military adventures abroad are the same elites who are cutting taxes for corporations, passing pro-corporate trade deals, bringing forward anti-worker legislation, underfunding and privatizing social programs, and exacerbating inequality.
Movements fighting wars abroad must also fight the class war at home and vice versa, because for workers the struggle for peace, democracy, and economic justice are one and the same fight.