Relinquishing Sovereignty

People Power or the Police State

by Kim Petersen
January 24, 2004

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Canadians often distinguish themselves from Americans by pointing to Canada’s more progressive social politics as opposed to the harder line conservatism of the US. Cases in point are the Canadian reluctance to openly support an invasion of Iraq, the push behind the international treaty banning landmines (much to the chagrin of then US president Bill Clinton who found himself alienated from the international Zeitgeist), relaxing of marijuana possession laws, and recognition of same-sex marriages.


These progressive trends stand in stark juxtaposition to an emboldened surge of the political right-wing in Canada.


Canadian politics is beginning to resemble the same two-corporate-party choice Americans have.  As I wrote earlier, Canada now has a CEO prime minister, Paul Martin, who has dragged the previously left-of-center Liberal Party to the right. The official opposition now is the recent amalgamation of the Alliance Party and Progressive Conservative Party into the Conservative Party. This right-wing merger has seen the departure of more socially-conscious members. A leadership contest is underway now and the corporate media is touting the bid of telegenic CEO heiress Belinda Stronach to lead the Conservative Party. Among the planks in Stronach’s platform are the scrapping of the capital tax, ensconcing Canada within the US-led North American security net, and increasing military expenditures.


The next election -- sometime this year -- is shaping up to be a contest between two major parties fronted by millionaire capitalists.


Canada, however, unlike the US, does have a viable social democratic choice: the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP seems to be undergoing a revival thanks to the corporate takeover of the other political parties.


Courting Empire


Martin has turned a blind eye to the terror of the Bush administration in Washington and abjectly courts inclusion within empire. First order for Martin was to open the door for Canadian companies to take part in the plunder of an illegally occupied Iraq.


The originally expressed fear of corporate Canada that business would be hurt by Canada’s refusal to participate in the so-called Coalition of the Willing has been allayed by Martin’s deference to the US. Previous Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had publicly stood firm against the unprecedented diplomatic offensive launched by Washington. Canadians pressured Chrétien into defending Canada as a “sovereign independent country.”


Martin, like his courted president down south, ostensibly has few qualms about mouthing the words that appeal to voters while contradicting himself through his own actions. Martin claims to stake out an independent role for Canada while simultaneously relinquishing sovereignty. Martin embarrassingly attempts to ingratiate his government with the US neoconservatives by expressing eagerness for the Son of Star Wars program. This amounts to a reversal of longstanding Canadian foreign policy. Corporate Canada stands to be the beneficiary of this surrender of sovereignty.


Steven Staples of the Ottawa-based public interest research group Polaris Institute delineated the alarming Martin currying of favor on behalf of corporate Canada in Washington.


Canada’s version of the US Homeland Security has been set up: the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ministry. Its mandate is to liaise with its US counterpart on intelligence and security matters.


Martin has implemented a government-spending freeze with the exception of health and the military. Ratcheting up Canadian military expenditures has been a openly sought-after aim of the US. To oversee all this Martin “handed the keys for Canada’s warplanes to the most hawkish of the Liberal caucus, his newly appointed Defense Minister David Pratt.” Pratt has the dubious distinction of being the most vocal Liberal advocate for joining Bush’s folly in Iraq.


Although Martin has promised a more democratic government than his predecessor, already Pratt has drawn the ire of backbenchers for pushing forward with the of Son of Star Wars without government consultation.


Steven Staples noted at a presentation on 15 January at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada that despite a Macleans magazine poll, which indicates Canadians underwhelmingly prioritize terrorism post-9-11, Martin pursues a contrary agenda. The same poll showed Canadians agreed with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s contention that Canadians must be masters in their own country.


Staples also pointed out that the Canadian navy has essentially been co-opted into the US navy. This triggered NDP foreign policy critic Alexa McDonough to write to Pratt:


The new Martin government of which you are a part appears so intent on appeasing George Bush that you are not satisfied that we have already caved on border security issues and entered into active negotiations for Canada to participate in Star Wars leading to the weaponization of space. We now learn you are prepared to go even further by deepening integration of Canada's naval forces with the US, giving American fighter planes and naval ships remote control of Canadian missiles aboard our Canadian ships.


It is hard to maintain a credible pretense to sovereignty under such circumstances.


Police State Tactics


Referring to the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen sent to Syria, a country functioning as a proxy torturer for the US, Martin chortled, after his Monterrey meeting with Bush, that he had made a diplomatic breakthrough with regard to the deportation of Canadians to third countries. The risible breakthrough was that now the US will consult with Canada before sending Canadians off to be tortured elsewhere.


Arar feels that he must pursue his deportation on moral grounds. Says he, “[W]hat happened to me could also happen to other people in the future, so I felt it's an obligation upon me as a human being and as a Canadian, to do something for other people in the future.”


Arar has filed suit against US Attorney General John Ashcroft and other ranking US officials stating that the US knew he would be tortured when sent to Syria. The Canadian government while admitting having provided information on Arar to the US has denied wrongdoing in the affair. Nonetheless the Canadian government drags its feet over the demanded public inquiry into how Arar came to be sent to Syria. One can imagine the diplomatic invective Canada would be subjected to (and worse) if it dared consider deporting an American citizen to a proxy torture nation against Washington’s wishes.


Following coverage of the Arar story, Ottawa Citizen writer Juliet O'Neill was subjected to a police raid in search of the identity of whoever leaked information from a secret file on Arar to O’Neill. O’Neill’s files, disks, and other materials were impounded under the Security of Information Act passed after 9-11.


“It is a black, black day for freedom in this country,” said Citizen editor-in-chief Scott Anderson “I am outraged. The Canadian government has a lot to answer for, and it’s using intimidation to prevent the search for the truth. Canadians should be appalled at the Star Chamber mentality that’s creeping into our justice system.”


Martin responded from the site of the elite gathering in Davos, Switzerland, “That just simply wasn’t fair that that information be leaked and obviously, given that it was security information, made it all the more serious.”


“What is of interest, should be of interest to everybody is who leaked that information, not the journalist that received it.”


Really? One can only surmise that Martin isn’t aware of the Hutton Inquiry into the death of chemical weapons expert David Kelly or that he is incapable of understanding the mechanics of what has happened. Either scenario bodes ill for Canada. What patently is unfair is that a man lost nearly a year of his life because of some spies playing games with people’s lives. Martin seemingly has difficulty grasping the immorality of this.


The appearance is potentially ominous for Martin’s stalling government. The police raid has only served to heighten calls for a public inquiry. This is what is of interest to many Canadians and Martin ought to be better in tune with Canadian voters.


The leader of the NDP Jack Layton described the raids as “outrageous, appalling, clearly designed to send a chill through the journalistic community ... it's like something out of Kafka.”


The NDP has agitated for a public inquiry into the Arar case and calls for the rescinding of the Security of Information legislation.


The situation has become bleaker for Martin. It now appears that Canadian officials were aware of Arar’s looming deportation. The TV program “60 Minutes” reports that Canadian authorities had, in fact, approved US actions.


The Choice


Canadians are now presented with a choice as Heather Wokusch sees it:


[E]ither support the United States in its “pre-emptive” wars or instead, choose the path of international diplomacy. Either risk the lives of Canadian troops in Bush’s ongoing battles or simply refuse…

The bottom line: a strong and opinionated Canada is a powerful counterbalance to US intransigence, and one that will be ever more crucial in the years ahead.


Canada by itself can exert negligible influence on the US. The US decision to invade Iraq -- Canada and most of the rest of the world be damned –- demonstrated this nugatory influence. Canada’s clout will be determined more by how the rest of the world responds to Canada’s actions. For the northern neighbor of the US to refuse participation in US adventurism sends a signal to other nations that they too can follow their own course in the world.


That Canadian people power can at least affect its own government gives hope to people power elsewhere including the US.


Sovereignty resides in the people and it is the responsibility of the masses to fight for and protect their sovereignty. For people to relinquish sovereignty to the caprice of the elites is to be the agents of their own undoing.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: kimpetersen@gyxi.dk.


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