Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Bloodied Hands of the Canada-Israel Drone Warfare Relationship

 


            In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes from decades of Israeli attacks against Gaza, four children playing on a beach were murdered in 2014 by an Israeli drone strike. Last December, Canada quietly purchased from Israeli war manufacturer Elbit Systems a $36 million, next-generation version of one of the drones implicated in that notorious murder.

The Hermes 900 drone that Canada is purchasing is a larger and more advanced version of the Hermes 450, an aerial attack and surveillance drone that was notoriously used by the Israeli army to deliberately target civilians in Gaza during Israel’s 2008-2009 onslaught, according to Human Rights Watch. Such Israeli drones have been in continuous use over Gaza, both surveilling the people below and then bombing them ever since.

            There has been increased focus on the growing Canadian relationship with Israel’s drone warfare industry over the past month, as the Israeli military – which ranks #20 in the Global Firepower Index and possesses at least 90 nuclear weapons – pulverized Gaza with a relentless 11-day terror bombardment that targeted medical facilities, schools, roads, housing complexes, and electrical systems.

            The Elbit Systems Hermes drone that Canada purchased was widely advertised as “combat proven” against the Palestinian people in Gaza in 2014, when 37% of Palestinian casualties were linked to drone strikes. At that time, Amnesty International condemned Israeli forces for the commission of war crimes in what was then their third military offensive against Gaza in less than six years. Amnesty also called out Hamas for activities that they said amounted to war crimes as well.

Palestinians have long served as human targets for the lethal testing of Israeli war equipment. As the Israeli army’s “technology and logistics” division head Avner Benzaken told Der Spiegel shortly after the murder of 2,100 Palestinians in 2014, “If I develop a product and want to test it in the field, I only have to go five or ten kilometers from my base and I can look and see what is happening with the equipment. I get feedback, so it makes the development process faster and much more efficient.” 

            Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East have been urging Transport Minister and Mississauga Liberal MP Omar Alghabra to cancel the Elbit drone contract, demanding to know why Canada would be enriching the bottom line of a company so clearly complicit in the murder of Palestinians and the devastation of Gaza.

            Elbit Systems is one of Israel’s largest war manufacturers, but its financial fortunes have been less than lucrative lately, with CEO Bezhalel Machlis bemoaning the fact that “Elbit is still suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic because there are no air shows to showcase its equipment.” The balance sheets will likely improve, however, given the most recent display of their firepower in action against the people of Gaza. Indeed, Forbes Magazine is already examining the role new weapons systems played in the assault as investors look for the next good bet for war profiteering; early estimates reveal a 50-100% increase in Israeli bombardment over the 2014 slaughter.

 

Elbit’s Border Controls

            Like many war industries, Elbit also specializes in surveillance and “border security,” with $171 million in contracts to provide U.S. officials with equipment to prevent refugees from crossing the border with Mexico, and a xenophobic Fortress Europe $68 million contract to prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean. Critically, Elbit provides technical infrastructure to monitor Israel’s border wall. In 2004, the International Court of Justice found the wall to be illegal, called for it to be torn down, and for Palestinians whose homes and businesses were stolen because they were in the wall’s path to be properly compensated.  The wall, of course, remains standing.

            While the Trudeau government touts itself as a beacon of respect for international law and human rights, the Elbit drone purchase is certainly not a good look. Nor is the fact that in 2019, Israel was the top non-U.S. recipient of weapons export permits from Global Affairs Canada, with 401 approvals in military technology totaling almost $13.7 million. Since Trudeau was elected in 2015, over $57 million in Canadian war exports have been delivered to Israel, including $16 million in bomb components. In 2011, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions National Committee called for an arms embargo against Israel similar to the one imposed against apartheid South Africa.

            Perhaps to deodorize the drone’s war crimes stench, last December’s Canadian purchase of the Elbit weapon was couched in gaslighting terms of humanitarian concern, green economies, and, perhaps most tiresomely, respect for Indigenous sovereignty. Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and then Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the deal as an opportunity to “keep Canadian waters safe, and to monitor pollution.” As if this weren’t noble enough, the release also pointed out that prior to the purchase, “Transport Canada engaged with Indigenous groups in Canada’s North,” though it is not clear (given Canada’s total failure to fully engage with the principle of free, prior, and informed consent) who it was that picked up the phone message stating Canada would be flying a drone over stolen lands and waters. There was certainly no small irony in the fact that a settler colonial state is buying drones to monitor stolen lands and water from another settler colonial state that uses the same drones to spy on and bomb the imprisoned population whose lands and waters were also stolen.

 

Cancelling the Drone Purchase

            Minister Alghabra’s silence on the issue is not surprising, given his apparent acquiescence in accepting Canada’s $15 billion weapons deal for Saudi Arabia and refusal to join 24 Liberal and NDP MPs and Senators who jointly called on Canada to impose sanctions on Israel in a remarkable May 20 letter to Trudeau. Indeed, throughout the 11 days of Israeli bombing, Alghabra confined his twitter feed to statements about life jackets, railroad safety, and anodyne cheerleading over pandemic vaccination numbers.

            While the MP who prides himself on providingconstituents a strong voice on both local and national issues” hides away, it must be increasingly difficult for Alghabra to ignore the fact that over 10,000 people have emailed him protesting the drone purchase.

It may only be a matter of time before Ottawa is forced to respond. Public pressure has played a key role in distancing and divestment from Elbit Systems for over a  decade.  In 2009, The Norwegian Pension Fund said having shares in Elbit Systems "constitutes an unacceptable risk of contribution to serious violations of fundamental ethical norms as a result of the company's integral involvement in Israel's construction of a separation barrier on occupied territory" in the West Bank. Then Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen declared, "We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law." At the end of 2018, global banking giant HSBC confirmed that it had divested completely from  Elbit Systems after a year of campaigning. This followed a similar divestment from Barclays and AXA Investment Managers, which objected to the firm’s production of cluster bombs and white phosphorous and pulled a significant chunk of its shares out as well. In February, 2021, the East Sussex Pension Fund also divested itself.

            Meanwhile, a petition for the EU to stop purchasing or leasing Israeli drones continues to grow; Australian organizers are also trying to end a governmental partnership with Elbit Systems; and U.S. migrant rights activists are also opposing the role of companies like Elbit in the further militarization of the border. Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa reports that although the New Zealand Superfund divested its Elbit shares in 2012, the military continues to purchase war materiel from the Israeli firm. Notably, the Australian military has decided in a most unprincipled fashion to end its use of a battle management system produced by Elbit simply because they feel the company is charging too much.

            Direct action at Elbit subsidiaries has long been a focus of UK campaigners, who shut down for a day a UK Elbit factory earlier this month, part of a years-long campaign in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Members of the UK-based Palestine Action who had splashed red paint signifying blood on Elbit’s UK subsidiary were also arrested earlier this year under the UK’s anti-terror legislation, with raids conducted on arrestees’ homes. The actions have been so effective that Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen reportedly told Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab that he was concerned about whether Israeli firms like Elbit would be able to continue doing business in the UK if they were subject to this kind of nonviolent resistance.

 

Canada’s Own Blood-Stained Drone Industry

            Were Minister Alghabra to discover a backbone and cancel the Israeli Elbit contract, he would no doubt try and turn it into a “good news for Canadian industry” announcement since there are numerous firms in this country that already enjoy a roaring drone warfare business. While Elbit’s Canadian subsidiary, GeoSpectrum Technologies, certainly works on drone warfare components from its offices in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the long-time leader of Canada’s drone warfare pack is Burlington, Ontario’s L-3 Wescam (whose drone products have been frequently implicated in the commission of war crimes, as documented by Homes not Bombs and, more recently, by Project Ploughshares).

            At the same time, L-3 Wescam is also a key player in a lesser-known joint Canadian-Israeli effort to reap the rewards of up to $5 billion in planned armed drone purchases for Canada’s War Dept. “Team Artemis” is a partnership between L3 MAS (a Mirabel subsidiary of L3Harris Technologies, which also owns drone targeting equipment manufacturer L-3 Wescam) and Israel Aerospace Industries. It is proposing what they call a Canadian version of  the Israeli Heron TP drone. The Heron saw significant use during Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in  2008–2009, another grouping of war crimes that resulted in the murder of over 1,400 Palestinians. Canada subsequently leased the “combat proven” drones for use in Afghanistan in 2009.

            According to an enthusiastic profile of the proposed drones in the Canadian Defence Review,  Canada’s occupation forces in Afghanistan were enthusiastic about the drones, with MGen (Ret’d) Charles “Duff” Sullivan gushing: “Canada’s use of the Heron in theatre provided valuable experience and lessons learned,” and MGen (Ret’d) Christian Drouin applauding “the Heron [as] a key asset in my arsenal.”

            Such drones are known as Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE), yet another in an endless line of subconscious nods to the fact that most generals suffer intense bouts of missile envy and just about everything in the military has a name that reflects profound male fragility.

The Canadian-Israeli Team Artemis proposal envisions the use of Canadian-made 1200 shaft horsepower Pratt & Whitney Turbo-Prop PT6 engines and is expected to fly more than 36 hours at altitudes as high as 45,000 feet. It also promises “interoperability” with other military forces with the capacity to “segregate” where needed “flight systems from intelligence and weapons systems.” Given that the drones  will play a significant role in spying, Team Artemis promises that its intelligence gathering will only be shared among the Five Eyes Alliance (Canada, U.S., UK, New Zealand and Australia).

 

Israel’s Mission-Proven Canadian Drone Proposal

While Canada crows about the use of drones for civilian purposes, this drone comes prepared with a “standard NATO BRU rack capable of holding multiple payloads,” a euphemism for the rack that holds up to 2200 pounds of bombs. Critical with respect to the role of Israeli testing on Palestinians, Canadian Defence Review assures potential buyers that “the Artemis’ Heron TP platform is mission-proven. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has flown the Heron TP UAV for tens of thousands of hours since 2010 and it has been operated extensively under combat conditions.” It conveniently leaves out the names of the Palestinian people who have been the targets of its missions.

As if that guarantee weren’t enough, Israeli Aerospace Industries CEO Moshe Levi notes: “Team Artemis offers Canada a mature, low-risk [drone] that contains state of the art technology; built upon the heritage and operational experience of all Heron TP customers, including the [Israeli Air Force].” 

The Team Artemis folks also note that, in addition to the civilian public relations cover of the drones being used to detect forest fires, they will also help the Canadian military “provide enhanced security at international summits and other special security events, and aid law enforcement operations as required.” In other words, the drones that flew over Black Lives Matter protests in the USA last summer will be similarly deployed against dissent in the land known as Canada, and no doubt prove extremely valuable in more “remote” locations where Indigenous land and water defenders are trying to prevent further invasions of their sovereign territories.

If Team Artemis wins the bid, the drones will be assembled by MAS in their Mirabel facility, which for three decades has worked to ensure Canadian CF-18 bombers are in mint condition and up to the task of dropping bombs.

As CTV reported earlier this month, Canada will be seeking official bids for drone warfare this fall, with plans to establish a drone warfare training centre in Ottawa. There’s been little public discussion about the proposal, which could see Canada becoming a player in the growing club of nations who employ drones to engage in targeted assassinations, deliver Hellfire missiles, and provide surveillance of border areas, among other tasks. CTV added, “The government and military say the unmanned aircraft will be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering as well as delivering pinpoint strikes from the air on enemy forces in places where the use of force has been approved. The government has also said little around the scenarios in which force might be used, including whether they could be used for assassinations. Officials have suggested they would be used in the same way as conventional weapons such as fighter jets and artillery.”

No To Military Drones, Period

To remain silent in this time is a betrayal of those whose bloodshed is produced by these drones, the majority of whom live in Gaza and the majority of whom are children. Last week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared: “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”   Guterres also “painted a grim picture of damaged civilian infrastructure in Gaza, closed crossings, power shortages affecting water supplies, hundreds of buildings and homes destroyed, hospitals impaired and thousands of Palestinians homeless. ‘The fighting has…forced over fifty thousand people to leave their homes and seek shelter in UNRWA (the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees) schools, mosques, and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services.’”  

As the people of Gaza look warily on the latest ceasefire and worry about the next round of attacks – what the Israeli military refers to as “mowing the grass” – ­­ people in this country can demand an end to all Canadian weapons exports to Israel, insist on the cancellation of the  Elbit Systems drone purchase, and shut down any consideration of building a weaponized drone force for the Canadian military. In advance of a national day of action being organized by Homes not Bombs, those opposed to the Israeli Elbit drone purchase can generate an email with the handy online tool provided by Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. (By Matthew Behrens. This piece also appears on rabble.ca, punished the week of May 24, 2021)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

After 24 years, a Roma Refugee's Happy Victory and Request for Support

 


Happy News! And a request for support.

We are thrilled to say that after living in Canada for 24 years in the shadows without status, an intensive campaign has finally won permanent resident status for Roksana Hajrizi, a tireless Roma refugee rights activist who led the campaign to get her Mama Celina granted PR status as well.

While this is good news, as always with Canadian immigration, it is one step forward, two steps to the side or back. In June, 2020, despite the significant risk to him, Roksana Hajrizi's father was wrongfully deported after living here for 23 years. As he awaits a possible return to Canada under a sponsorship (another lengthy process), he must live in the face of the virulent anti-Roma racism in Eastern Europe, where finding housing and employment is impossible.

The Rural Refugee Rights Network is collecting donations to assist Roksana and her father with some of those expenses. Imagine living in a country where your identity prevents you from obtaining the most essential basics to survive. That is where her father is trying to survive now. If you can contribute something, anything, please send an etransfer to tasc@web.ca or a cheque to Homes not Bombs at 2583 Carling Ave., Unit M052, Ottawa, ON K2B 7H7 (memo: Roksana). Meantime, congratulations to Roksana!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Despite Biden's Pledge, Saudi-Bound, Canadian-Made War Machines Being Loaded in Baltimore on Valentine's Day

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Peace Activists Protest Loading of Military Hardware on Saudi Arabian Ship at Port of Baltimore

CONTACT: Max Obuszewski 443-761-5899 [c] or mobuszewski2001 at Comcast dot net

                                Richard Ochs 443- 846-6638 or rjochs at Comcast dot net                                 

                                Janice Sevre-Duszynska 859- 684-4247or rhythmsofthedance1 at Gmail dot com

 

WHO: Baltimore Peace Action [BPA] is part of Maryland Peace Action. Peace Action works for smarter approaches to global problems. If we want to address problems like war, the nuclear threat, poverty, climate change, and terrorism – the U.S. needs to work together, cooperatively, with other nations. Peace Action is the nation’s largest grassroots peace network with chapters and affiliates in states across the country. Through a close relationship with progressive members of Congress, the national organization plays a key role in devising strategies to move forward peace legislation.

 

WHAT:   Baltimore Peace Action has been concerned for years about U.S. involvement with Saudi Arabia and other countries in their attack on the people of Yemen.  In fact, US weapons contractors sell weapons to Saudi Arabia which have been used in war crimes on the civilian population of Yemen.  Today, the United Nations has declared Yemen a humanitarian disaster. BPA has engaged in numerous protests against the Port of Baltimore for loading weapons on Saudi ships.   

 

  On February 2, President Biden declared his commitment to “end the war in Yemen,” during his first major foreign policy address. He called the war a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” and announced a halt to all “relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia. 

 

   Baltimore Peace Action has been informed that Light Armored Vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario are to be loaded on the Bahri Jazan, a Saudi Arabian ship, by dockworkers at the Port of Baltimore.  The Saudi ship is expected to arrive at the Port on February 13. Encouraged by the president’s words, BPA will hold a protest urging dockworkers not to load these weapons on the Bahri Jazan. 

  

WHEN: Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2021 from 2 to 3 PM

WHERE: 
outside the Dundalk Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore, 2700 Broening Highway  


WHY: While President Biden’s words can be seen as a huge victory for all peace advocates who have fought for nearly 6 years to end this brutal and unjust war, there are still concerns and questions. Will the president end all arms sales to Saudi Arabia?  Will the president work to achieve a peace agreement?  Will the U.S. provide reparations for the role played by the United States for the death and destruction caused? Regardless, the Baltimore Peace Action will continue to protest any arm shipments to Saudi Arabia and link up with groups around the world calling for a peace settlement in Yemen. It must be noted that workers in Canada, France, Italy and Spain have been involved in work actions against the Saudi ships. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/.

 

Baltimore Peace Action, 431 Notre Dame Lane, Apt. 206, Baltimore, MD 21212

Press Release – For immediate release – February 13, 2021   

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Inaugural Delusions and the 30-Year War Against Iraq

 

By Matthew Behrens

            The day Joe Biden was inaugurated as U.S. President, the Iraqi people were on my mind.

A few weeks earlier, Donald Trump had drawn significant condemnation for granting a pardon to four American Blackwater mercenary contractors who had infamously murdered 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. Blackwater was a notorious organization led by Erik Prince, brother of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

But the day Trump left office, the airwaves were full of triumphalist “new day dawning” interviews featuring the blood-stained architects of and cheerleaders for the past three decades of relentless Canadian, American, and NATO warfare against the Iraqi people, the same individuals who had set the stage for the Nisour Square massacre. Among those lauded on Inauguration Day were former President George W. Bush and General Colin Powell, whose vicious lies led to the escalation of that war: an illegal 2003 invasion and occupation during which Bush passed Order 17 to immunize from prosecution any private soldiers caught up in such bloodshed.

Also receiving copious applause that day was Bill Clinton, who under the guise of enforcing Iraqi “no fly zones” oversaw the bulk of what was until then the longest U.S. bombing campaign since the war against the people of Vietnam. His administration also enforced the brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people that a United Nations humanitarian coordinator deemed genocidal, killing upwards of 1.5 million people. Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright (a hero to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland), asked whether the killing of so many civilians was justified, famously responded: “we think the price is worth it.”

As I watched the coverage, I felt I was being gaslit. Yes, Trump was a neofascist nightmare, but how could there by such uncritical and unquestioning applause for late-in-the-day statements of discomfort about Trump’s behaviour from the likes of former War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and ex-Vice President and torture enthusiast Dick Cheney? On a day of relief for many given that the twitterer-in-chief was gone, few risked stepping into the unsavoury role of party pooper to suggest that while one ranting racist had lost some of his power, systemic racism was still here. This was clearly evidenced by the celebration of those responsible for the ongoing torture and murder of the long-suffering people of Iraq, a conveniently forgotten backdrop whose losses at our hands could not in any way spoil this magnificent day of American democratic triumphalism.

 

A Grim Anniversary

Biden’s inaugural fell 30 years and four days after the start of “Operation Desert Storm,” when the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs had already been dropped on Baghdad by Canadian and other bombers.

Like their American counterparts, Canadian media and politicians did not mark this anniversary. Perhaps it would have brought up some uncomfortable connections, as the Prime Minister who enthusiastically embraced the 1991 war, Brian Mulroney, spent the last four years supporting the American bully’s call for increased Canadian war spending and spent time as a Mar-a-Lago guest.

Mulroney, ever the fatuous opportunist, changed some of his public colours on November 6, though, when it appeared Biden would win. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Mulroney praised Trump, but noted in comments that came months before the seditious acts of January 6, 2021: “If anybody did in Canada what [Trump] has just done and has the temerity to run for public office, I want to tell you the guys with the white coats would come after you and they would have a powerful case against you.”

Mulroney’s – and by extension, the Canadian media’s – complete lack of self-awareness were on full display with that self-serving, “Canadians are different” declaration. Indeed, a “powerful case” could be made out against Mulroney and Clark for their contribution to serious crimes against humanity during Iraq War 1.0.

 

Seeds of Slaughter

Few remember that hot August day in 1990 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He seemed to have cleared the invasion with the American government that had been arming his regime throughout the 1980s – Donald Rumsfeld famously shook hands with Hussein while deliveries of chemical weapons made their way to Baghdad – but failed to recognize the bait and switch that was about to take place. Almost immediately, the Pentagon, Bush and Mulroney administrations – who were secretly bemoaning the fall of the Berlin Wall because it meant that calls for a peace dividend and significant cuts to war budgets were gathering steam – declared their Iraqi ally a new Hitler and began sending troops overseas.

While Colin Powell had at that time decried the fact that the U.S. “no longer has the luxury” of having an enemy to prepare for, he and others now saw that this new development meant gold for weapons profiteers. Ratcheting up war fever was assisted by the blood-stained Hill & Knowlton PR group (which created the myth of Kuwaiti babies being ripped from incubators). Hill & Knowlton's Canadian arm was then run by David MacNaughton (Justin Trudeau's first ambassador to the U.S.).

While Brian Mulroney was quick to utter self-righteous pieties about illegal occupations of sovereign territories, the Conservative government of the day did the exact same thing that summer by sending in 2,600 Canadian troops to occupy sovereign Mohawk land during the Oka crisis. Their armoured vehicles, helicopters, aerial surveillance equipment, miles of barbed wire, and countless other means of firepower served to enforce against the people of Kanesatake  the same kind of sanctions the Iraqi people were about to face, cutting off power and trying to deny the entry of food, water, medicines, and clothing to the Indigenous land protectors behind the wire. The military bolstered an additional 4,000 paramilitary SQ members, numbers that dwarfed the initial commitment of 900 Canadian troops sent to take on Hussein.

In a "post-Cold War" world, Canada's military and its war industries also welcomed a new enemy, and while Indigenous resistance has always provided a major raision d'etre for Canadian Forces and related state security agencies (witness the massive, barely reported Gustafsen Lake crisis of 1995), having an overseas target proved invaluable. Indigenous lands were the first testing ground for weapons systems used against the Iraqi people, from fighter bombers who dropped 1,000-pound "dummy" bombs over the Innu territory of Nitassinan to cruise missiles tested on Cree Territory. The very first time that cruise missiles were used – their inertial guidance systems had been built with a hugely controversial contract at Toronto’s Litton Systems during the 1980s –  was during the 1991 war against Iraq.

Meanwhile, Canadian universities helped with some of the more horrific forms of firepower. For example, fuel air explosives, known as a "poor man's atom bomb," invert gravity and are designed to suck people out of air raid shelters; they were researched at McGill University, which continues to be a major war research contributor. Canada's chemical weapons testing field at Suffield, Alberta, had been used by a Belgian company to experiment with long-range artillery shells that were sold to the Iraqis during the 1980s.

 

Canada Eager for War

From the moment Kuwait was invaded in 1990, Canada was eager for war, taking every conceivable step to prevent a negotiated solution while lobbying UN Security Council members to authorize force. Then external affairs minister Joe Clark said Parliament need not be recalled if the perceived need to go to war was imminent. And while the narrative of sanctions as a tool to force Hussein out of Kuwait was trumpeted by the U.S.-led coalition, the Toronto Star reported that "when Canada was committed to no more than enforcing a trade embargo against Iraq, Ottawa was calmly setting aside funds for a full-blown war." Some $500 million in federal cuts to social programs were initiated to help pay for the war, and the government resurrected legislation allowing it to control wartime production, with General Motors in London (the predecessor to General Dynamics Land Systems, currently pumping out $15 billion in weapons exports for the Saudi wars of repression at home and against the people of Yemen) announcing it could switch from civilian work to military production of armoured personnel carriers at a moment's notice.

Clark also distinguished himself by naming as "counterproductive" any pledges that Allied forces would not use nuclear weapons against Iraq. On October 26, 1990, he declared Canada would go to war whether the UN authorized it or not. In November, the government ordered 800 body bags (with a weak-kneed NDP only questioning the high number of the bags). With the outbreak of war, General John de Chastelain cheerily declared, "We are now at war and the distinction between whether our roles are offensive or defensive is immaterial.”

Canadian bombers began their runs over Iraq on January 20, 1991, with General Gerard Theriault reminding Toronto Star readers "the destructive ability of one CF-18 [is] as great as an attack by hundreds of bombers during World War II." After the equivalent of one and a half Hiroshima bombs was dropped on Baghdad the first night of the war, the NDP's John Brewin stood and declared: “The first feeling is one of concern for the safety of the pilots and sympathy for them. We admire the courage they will need in a very difficult assignment.” Keeping in mind the Iraqis had little anti-aircraft capacity and half the country's population was under the age of 15, Brewin's remarks were hardly a voice of principled opposition. (Despite the deadly capacity of the CF-18, Canada is currently considering investing scores of billions of dollars in a “new generation” of bombers.)

Meanwhile, Joe Clark proclaimed, “Some wars can be a point of principle; this is one of those wars.” He insisted that the Geneva Convention protocols to which Canada was a signatory (concerning "excessive loss of civilian life") were not being violated. Clark then fumbled his way through another statement, the like of which he was quite famous for, when he declared: “If there is one priority, one lesson, which the world must learn from this war, is that an unrestricted arms trade in the region is no longer acceptable and constitutes a threat to all members of the United Nations.” Fine words, perhaps, but not matched by the actions of a government that would very shortly change the Criminal Code at the behest of arms manufacturers Diemaco (now known as Colt Canada, located in Kitchener) and London’s General Motors to allow for the import and possession of automatic weapons (crucial to the signing of the first Saudi armoured brigade vehicles contract in 1991). Indeed, over the past three decades, Canadian weapons exports have grown to the point where, in 2020, Canada was the second largest exporter of weapons to the region.

 

Anti-Arab Racism

One of the “strongest” NDP stands during the slaughter of the Iraqi people urged people across the land to send Valentine's messages to the troops. Meanwhile, Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae, despite closing hospital beds due to budget cuts, opened up several spaces for troop casualties, while his government discussed security measures to deal with “terrorist” threats. Needless to say, anti-Arab sentiment and violence ran high (as documented in Zuhair Kashmeri's book, The Gulf Within: Canadian Arabs, Racism, & The Gulf War). When the Toronto Sun produced unsubstantiated scare headlines like “Iraqi Agents Here”, falsely claiming a dozen saboteurs were lurking in the city, the results were predictable: among many such incidents of violence and vandalism, an Arabic teenager at Father Henry Carr High School was beaten by 10 white students as passersby stopped to watch.

Even at the municipal level, NDP partisans like Jack Layton joined in the celebration of slaughter, with the late federal NDP leader (then a Toronto City Councillor) refusing the requests of peace groups not to appear on the reviewing stand for the returning troops’ Bay Street victory parade.  

The horrific war crimes committed against the Iraqis continued directly for a good three months, followed by a 12-year-long daily grind of aerial warfare termed enforcement of no-fly zones, and the genocidal sanctions enforced by the Canadian navy, which spent over $1 billion ensuring that medicines, school supplies, and essentials to get water purification and electricity running would never make it to the people of Iraq. Then came the 2003 escalation of the war: a bloody invasion and occupation with major Canadian participation that continues in various forms to this day, with hundreds of Canadian troops still occupying the country under the rationale of providing training for military and police forces that are regularly implicated in enforced disappearances, torture, and murder of protesters, among many other crimes.

While Canadian academics, media and politicians continue to propagate  the myth that Prime Minister Jean Chretien bravely stood up to Bush and refused to take part in the invasion, the historical record is clear that Canada played a significant role. Indeed, as CBC reported  a decade ago, the very same day Chretien informed the House of Commons that Canada would allegedly not  be involved in the invasion, Canadian  officials met with their U.S. counterparts in Ottawa to promise that Canadian naval and air forces could "discreetly" be deployed to assist the U.S.-led slaughter. In a briefing note for the State Department, a U.S. official noted: “While for domestic political reasons… the [Government of Canada] has decided not to join in a U.S. coalition of the willing,… they are also prepared to be as helpful as possible in the military margins.”

When Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 with the promise to end what had to that moment been a fairly extended Canadian bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, initiated under the Harper regime, he failed to act promptly, and hundreds of additional “sorties” were flown before that part of the military campaign was officially brought to an end. Six years ago this month, Team Trudeau worked diligently to cover up the CF-18 slaughter of some 30 Iraqi civilians, an air strike that only came to light eight months later when The Globe and Mail reported on documents released not by Ottawa but by the Pentagon. They indicated that “[t]he Canadian military made it clear to the United States shortly after the alleged incident that it felt no obligation under the Geneva Conventions to probe what happened, the Pentagon records show. 'It should be noted that Canadian Joint Operations Command [legal advisers] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) there are no obligations for the Canadian Armed Forces to conduct an investigation.’”

 

Preserving Memory

As I turned off my TV on inauguration night, sickened by the triumphalism and invocation of allegedly better times to come when America could “once again count on allies” to wage wars, I thought about the 408 women and children who were incinerated when two U.S. 2,000-pound laser-guided “smart” bombs were deliberately dropped on top of them in February, 1991, their shadows permanently etched into the concrete like images from Hiroshima.  It became a war memorial where Umm Greyda, who lost 8 of her children in that bombing, moved in and acted as a caretaker.

I often think about what it must be like to live and shiver with fear under the bombs. While many in Canada have experience of that terror as refugees from countries where Canadian-made weapons are frequently “delivered,” most of us are far too removed to think about, much less imagine, what it looks, feels, and smells like. That distancing, which also decreases the possibility for empathy and solidarity with a people who have been demonized before we murder them, has long been a priority for those who wage “modern warfare,” and prevents us from recognizing – and acting upon the fact – that our tax dollars are used every day in the slaughter of people in countries like Yemen.

The 1991 attack on Iraq was specifically designed to prevent such connection with and empathy for the victims of our violence. Military briefings of the time portrayed a “clean” war that looked as harmless as a high-tech Nintendo game. Generals cracked jokes while showing footage of bombs hitting targets that looked no different than animated gaming figures at a video arcade.

During such bleak times, it is critical to look to those who keep memory alive, like Umm Greyda. They remind us of our responsibility to the vulnerable and targeted, as well as the power we have to change individual lives or, at the very least, provide some hope in troubled times. They also remind us that no matter how many years separate war criminals from the crimes they have committed, we must never forget – and always seek to hold accountable – those who signed the paperwork, ordered the torture, approved the bombings, and concluded that “the price was worth it.”