Jane and Finch Education Action

Jane and Finch Education Action

Things are changing for Westview Centennial CI students Cicely and Ashwad as they explained to about 50 parents, students and community activists filling the room at Black Creek Community Health Centre (BCCHC) on Monday night. A Child and Youth Worker who used to support kids making the transition from middle to high school is gone, lost to the cuts the TDSB voted to make back in June. So too, they say, are Education Assistants who helped to build connections between students – other adults in the school to help out when “mental health is a big deal for high school students.” (more…)

Canada and Bolsonaro

By now most environmentally conscious people understand that Jair Bolsonaro is a bad guy. Brazil’s president has scandalously blamed environmentalists for starting fires burning in the Amazon region, after having called for more “development” of the huge forests.

Canadians are lucky we have a prime minister who is not such an embarrassment and understands environmental issues, right?

While Justin Trudeau has called for better protection of the Amazon, his government and Canadian corporations have contributed to the rise of a proto-fascist Brazilian politician who has accelerated the destruction of the ‘planet’s lungs’.

In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup”. While Canadian officials have made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past three years, the Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. In fact, the Trudeau government began negotiating — there have been seven rounds of talks — a free trade agreement with the Brazilian-led MERCOSUR trade block. They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership and Trudeau warmly welcomed Bolsonaro at the G20 in June.

Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Former Workers Party president Lula da Silva was blocked from running due to politically motivated corruption charges, but the Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Lula’s imprisonment and other forms of persecution of the Brazilian left.

With over $10 billion invested in Brazil, corporate Canada appears excited by Bolsonaro. After his election CBC reported, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”

Canada’s support for right-wing, pro-US, forces in the region has also favored Bolsonaro. Since at least 2009 the Canadian government has been openly pushing back against the leftward shift in the region and strengthening ties with the most right-wing governments. That year Ottawa actively backed the  Honduran military’s removal of social democratic president Manuel Zelaya. In 2011 Canada helped put far-right Michel Martelly into the president’s office in Haiti and Ottawa passively supported the ‘parliamentary coup’ against Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo  in 2012. In recent years Canada has been central to building regional support for ousting Venezuela’s government. The destabilization efforts greatly benefited from the ouster of Rousseff and imprisonment of Lula. Brazil is now a member of the Canada/Peru instigated “Lima Group” of countries hostile to the Nicolás Maduro government.

Ottawa has long supported the overthrow of elected, left leaning governments in the hemisphere. Ottawa passively supported the military coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and played a slightly more active role in the removal of Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch in 1965 and Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973. In Brazil Canada passively supported the military coup against President João Goulart in 1964. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn Goulart’s ouster and deepened relations with Brazil amidst a significant uptick in human rights violations. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notesBrazil and Canada in the Americas author Rosana Barbosa.

Along with following Washington’s lead, Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Toronto-based Brascan (or Brazilian Traction) was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Putting a stop to the Goulart government, which made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business for a firm that had been operating in the country for half a century. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.06.”

The company was notorious for undermining Brazilian business initiatives, spying on its workers and leftist politicians and assisting the coup. The Dark side of “The light”: Brascan in Brazil notes, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’état against Goulart in 1964.”

Gallotti, who was a top executive of Brascan’s Brazilian operations for a couple decades, was secretary for international affairs in the Brazilian fascist party, Acao Integralista. Gallotti quit the party in 1938, but began working as a lawyer for Brascan in 1932.

Historically, Canadian companies empowered fascists in Brazil. Today, corporate Canada appears happy to do business with a proto-fascist trampling on Indigenous rights and fuelling climate chaos. Ottawa has also enabled Bolsonaro. At a minimum the Trudeau government should be pressed to follow French President Emmanuel Macron’s call to suspend free-trade negotiations with MERCOSUR until Bolsonaro reverses his wonton destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’.

Children of former refugees urge Ottawa to increase refugee intake from violence-torn Central America

Growing up in Canada, children of Latin American immigrants weren’t directly exposed to the violence and political chaos that marked their parents’ lives, but they heard the tales of sorrow, struggle and survival.

“For all of us growing up in our neighbourhood, we all had a strong sense of history and exile,” said Pamela Arancibia, whose family was part of Canada’s first big wave of Latin American immigrants fleeing dictators and guerrillas from the 1970s to the 1990s.

“Every household was politicized.”

That consciousness is still collectively held by this now-grown generation — especially in light of an escalating refugee crisis in Central America where violence by organized criminal gangs, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, have turned the region into one of the most dangerous places on Earth, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee at the very same time that the Trump administration has restricted access to asylum.

As a result, some offspring of Latin American migrants have created the Coalition for Northern Central America to lobby Ottawa to repeat the generosity Canada showed to their parents.

The coalition, formed following a University of Toronto panel discussion about the crisis earlier this year, has just launched an online petition to ask the federal government to increase its intake of resettled refugees from the so-called Northern Triangle. They also plan to start community outreach to raise public awareness about the crisis, said Arancibia, one of the group’s founding members.

“You see women and children walking the distance to find safety. It’s not a decision these people take lightly,” said the 37-year-old University of Toronto PhD student who was born in Calgary to Chilean refugee parents.

“Given Canada’s history with refugees and the resettlement of our own families, we, as second-generation, are in a better position than our parents to advocate for these refugees.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of refugees displaced from Central America is expected to reach 539,500 by the end of this year.

A World Bank report in 2016, the latest available, found El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world, 83 homicides per 100,000 people, followed by Honduras, with 57 per 100,000, while Guatemala ranked 10th, with 27. (As a comparison, in Canada, it was 1.69.)

Yet, most recent figures show that in 2017, Canada allocated only 380 of 25,000 refugee resettlement spots to those from the Americas, down from 590 in 2013.

Arancibia’s father was a political activist in Chile in 1975 when he was scooped up off the street, blindfolded and threatened in an attempt to get him to reveal the identities of members of the banned Revolutionary Left Movement. Upon his release by secret police, he fled to Argentina where he and his family were referred to resettlement in Canada by the UN.

“We were approved in two-and-a-half-months. Canada saved many lives from Latin America then,” recalled Roberto Arancibia, now 69. “It makes no difference whether you’re fleeing violence from the military, drug cartels or criminal gangs. You fear someone is tearing down your door in the middle of the night and threatening to take your life.”

Monika Oviedo, who was born in Canada to Salvadorian refugee parents, said she has close family ties in the U.S. and in El Salvador, and that migration rhetoric and policies from the Trump administration have concerned them all. The diaspora, she said, is disappointed that Canada has been silent over the mounting refugee crisis.

“My family history is tied to the opportunity to resettling in Canada,” said Oviedo, 26, whose family was resettled in Kitchener from El Salvador in 1991 amid a prolonged civil war. She believes Canada should not be afraid to stand up against the U.S. over Central American affairs.

In the 1970s, Canada opposed political intervention in Latin America by the U.S., which supported anti-Communist regimes in the region during the Cold War. In the 1980s, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney continued to voice opposition to U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s policies and took in refugees.

“Canada, under Mulroney, took a strong stand against U.S. foreign policy led by president Reagan as the U.S. was directly funding repressive regimes in Central America, including the Salvadoran military. So we have seen Canada deviate from the U.S. before,” said Oviedo.

Oviedo’s mother, a former teacher and now a bookkeeper, said her family wouldn’t have left El Salvador if they had other options. “We consider ourselves very blessed, but our heart is still with the people back home. We feel very grateful for the opportunity to be here and we hope others can have that opportunity as well,” said Helen Oviedo, who is in her 50s.

Pati Flores, who as a teenager came to Canada from Honduras with her mother in 1995, returned to her homeland last year and witnessed the poverty, political oppression and fear of gang violence there. She feels the diaspora and other Canadians have an obligation to speak up.

“A lot of immigrants and refugees from my community feel as if we carry the trajectories, stories and borders marked in our bodies,” said Flores, 42, a multimedia artist, who sends money to help relatives in Honduras.

Flores’ mother, Norma Zubickova, said that with the surge of displaced people from Latin America, Canada must step in to offer a safe pathway for legal migration through resettlement.

“It’s dangerous what’s going on in the U.S. People can’t even go and find safety there,” said Zubickova, 64, who came to Canada under a sponsorship by her second husband, a Canadian.

“I was so pleased when my daughter told me about this new coalition they were creating. I’m retiring soon and I’m going to get involved and do all I can to help. It is important that we stay connected to our roots.”

Trudeau’s precarious hold on the Liberal foreign policy agenda


Popular criticism of Liberal foreign policy focuses on the government’s hypocrisy that its actions do not live up to Trudeau’s hyperbolic rhetoric. Pundits regularly draw attention to the lack of consistency and superficiality in Trudeau the man. Collectively, they cast doubt on his ability to achieve his post-election promise of bringing Canada back onto the world stage.

More importantly, these criticisms draw attention to Trudeau’s precarious hold on the foreign policy agenda, if not leadership of the Liberal Party, while simultaneously giving credence and weight to more hawkish, “small c” conservative cabinet members who are ready to take a more prominent leadership role within the party.

Indeed, over the past four years the Liberal government has demonstrated a willingness to operate from several different truths simultaneously, allowing them to make questionable choices inconsistent with Trudeau’s campaign’s vision. Thus far they have avoided the destructive power of moral ambiguity brought about through palpably contradictory policies.

Chief among these contradictions are a controversial and unfulfilled climate change agenda coupled with a pro-pipeline energy policy; punishing some countries for human rights violations on the one hand, while selling arms to odious regimes on the other; promoting a feminist development assistance program while not investing in foreign aid; and working with allies who undermine regional stability through unilateral sanctions and military intervention while claiming leadership in strengthening the rule of law.

This shift to a contradictory agenda coincides with the removal of former Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion in 2016 and the insertion of Chrystia Freeland in his place. Under Freeland’s tenure, Canada has drifted so far from Trudeau’s optimistic 2015 campaign that Liberal foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from the Conservative’s: take a hard line on Russia and Iran, undermine the Venezuelan government, and do not negotiate with China. For Freeland the U.S. is the “indispensable power” without which Canada would apparently be lost.

For her efforts, Minister Freeland receives tributes from U.S.-based think tanks. This kind of grooming is troubling given that American elites don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Canada is a sovereign nation with interests distinct from their own. Yet efforts to exercise that sovereignty are undermined by the fact Freeland has only limited access to Russia due to her persona non grata status. While many allies have expressed concern over the Trump Administration’s approach to Iran, Freeland has stayed quiet.

Meanwhile, 2015 campaign promises languish on the sidelines. Increasing Canada’s commitment to the UN specifically and strengthening international institutions generally remain unmet challenges. To fill the void, former Prime Ministers Mulroney and Chrétien have emerged as guiding voices for Canada, variously speaking about making good with China, finding a way to work with Russia on the Arctic and Eastern Europe, and carefully calibrating Canadian interests and values vis-à-vis the U.S., working co-operatively when it matters and standing up when needed.

Trudeau’s disinterest in foreign policy, as documented by former foreign policy adviser Jocelyn Coulon, reverses a long-standing trend of Prime Ministerial leadership on foreign policy. Trudeau has handed over responsibility for foreign policy to Chrystia Freeland, who appears happy to continue where Stephen Harper’s Conservatives left off. Unfortunately apart from a few impromptu ad hoc efforts to build like-minded coalitions, Canada continues to watch on the sidelines as the international liberal order, on which Liberals staked their political reputation, slowly withers away.

In its place, we see the U.S. unilaterally deploy and threaten sanctions against friend and foe alike: Iran in the former instance, Germany in the latter. The Trump administration is even keen to sanction the International Criminal Court, an institution the Liberals were instrumental in creating.

Our government remains silent and fearful of what might happen should we speak out or take action. Indeed, U.S. trade adviser Peter Navarro quipped that no country would impose retaliatory sanctions on the U.S. because its market is too large and too important. This bold claim based on U.S. exceptionalism cries out to be tested, if not by Canada, then surely by rising powers and like-minded coalitions.

A world order in which our main trading partner believes it cannot be disciplined for acting outside the rule of law is a world in which Canada cannot survive. As a trading nation, Canada depends on a predictable, rules-based system. Far from being the “indispensable nation,” the United States in the Trump era is fast becoming a country with the potential to become both unpredictable and unreliable.

Going into an election, Liberal foreign policy is an unstable balance between contradicting visions. The 2019 election outcome will determine which vision wins out. But whose foreign policy will it be? Justin Trudeau’s yet to be realized idea of bringing Canada back, or Chrystia Freeland’s conservative agenda?

David Carment is CGAI Fellow and editor of Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. Richard Nimijean is a member of the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. They are co-editors of the recently published book, Canada, Nation Branding and Domestic Politics.