Canada before Copenhagen: Truth versus Mythology

[Montréal, Québec, Canada 8°C] An article in Monday’s Guardian newspaper has the following subtitle: “The tar barons have held the nation to ransom. This thuggish petro-state is today the greatest obstacle to a deal in Copenhagen.” The article’s author, George Monbiot, continues in the first paragraph with:

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peacekeeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party.

Not a particularly flattering statement and not an image that most Canadians have of themselves. And as we can see by this article published in a British newspaper, it may be an image that more and more people around the world are beginning to view of Canada.

Syncrude Oil Sands, Mine and Refinery, the world's largest oil sand operation producing crude oil at Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, October 20, 2001. Photograph: Greg Smith/Corbis

Syncrude Oil Sands, Mine and Refinery, the world’s largest oil sand operation producing crude oil at Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, October 20, 2001. Photograph: Greg Smith/Corbis

I posted the article on Facebook and got a comment almost right away: “I object to this article. Canada isn’t giving the rest of the world the finger, it’s the minority CRAP party that’s behind all of this.” The comment’s author, a Canadian from Québec, is referring to the fact that the present, Stephen Harper-led Conservative government is a minority government that does not represent the majority of voting Canadians. Although this is true, a global reputation has nothing to do with internal politics. It’s all about external politics, rumours and behaviour. George W. Bush did not represent a majority of American voters either but look what he did for the American reputation. Of course, it has been in decline for decades but Bush certainly gave it some serious downward momentum.

The Lester B. Pearson days, when the Canadian military was at the forefront of peacekeeping with its blue-helmeted posting in Cyprus, has long faded in Canadian peacekeeping mythology since Somalia and permanently so since Rwanda. Just ask retired Lieutenent-General Romeo Dallaire who commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and who later wrote, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. Canadian government enthusiasm to participate in the American war in Afghanistan is not a positive notation on a reccommendation letter of a ‘world’s peacekeeper’. United Nations peacekeeping is now at an all-time high, with over 82,000 troops worldwide. Guess how many Canadians make up this number?… A mere 55 Canadian soldiers are now active peacekeepers in the world. That’s low enough to debunk any peacekeeping myth.

A page from Extraction! Comix Reportage chapter on Alberta Tar Sands, From the Bottom of the Pit, by PHil Angers (2007, Cumulu Press)

A page from Extraction! Comix Reportage chapter on Alberta Tar Sands, From the Bottom of the Pit, by PHil Angers (2007, Cumulu Press)

If people still believe that Canada is a “a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour” that has since reversed. Canadian government policies since Harper have led a Conservative minority government that is anything but liberal. As for Canada being “the friendly nation” just look at the loathsome practices of mining corporations listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The growing number of people around the world resisting Canadian mining interests in their communities is an indication. Another indication can be read in ‘Noir Canada. Pillage, corruption et criminalité en Afrique, a book that brings together and analyses national and international documents already available to the public (reports, books, documentaries…), concerning various abuses from several Canadian companies working in Africa, in particular in the mining and oil areas. The book would probably have been translated into English but a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuit was filed against the authors and publisher for $11 million, by two Canadian mining companies discouraging interested English language publishers from risking a lawsuit of their own.

Another book that takes a swing at Canada’s mythology is Yves Engler’s Canada’s Black Book of Foreign Policy. He recently spoke at The Kitchener Waterloo Centre for Social Justice. You can listen to the interview on a Rabble.ca podcast.

Cumulus Press published a comics journlism book entitled, Extraction! comix reportage, edited by Frédéric Dubois, Marc Tessier and myself that has one chapter about the Alberta Tar Sands. You can download the Tar Sands chapter (.pdf) that war written by Petr Cizek and illustrated by Phil Angers.

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To get an idea of the local, regional and international impact of continued mining, treatment and refining of Alberta tar sands, watch Shannon Walsh’s documentary film H2Oil. The trailer is below. For those in Montréal, the not-to-be-missed doc is playing at Cinéma Parallèle on Friday, December 4, 2009 when Shannon Walsh will be present at the screening. It will also continue everyday at 2:45pm and 6pm until Thursday December 10th.

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