Indigenous protesters march toward Canada’s parliament building in Ottawa, Jan. 11, 2013. | Photo: Reuters / Twitter – cfsns
The fireworks and flags of the day obscure a far less talked about history.
This weekend, Canadians will take to the streets to march in parades, fire up barbecues, and don white and red to collectively venerate the idea of Canada as a liberal haven.
July 1, 2017 marks Canada’s 150th-anniversary celebrations — where billions of dollars have been funneled into celebrating the founding of what is now called Canada on what is still in many parts of that country, Indigenous land.
During his time in office since October 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with a deeply unpopular predecessor, a storied last name, and a youthful countenance, has burnished his reputation as a progressive — and Canada as a country that is a bastion of progress, multiculturalism, and inclusion.
But what the vainglory of fireworks and flags of that day obscure, is an ongoing history of genocide against Indigenous people, imperialist wars and militarism, environmental destruction at home and abroad, decades of racist immigration policies, and a little-known history of slavery.
For Canada’s 150th, teleSUR examines these five reasons why the day is not worth celebrating.
1. Residential schools and genocide against Indigenous communities
Deemed as a method to rid Canada of its “Indian problem”, the dark history of residential schools saw thousands of Indigenous children forcefully uprooted from their families in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As they were apprehended from their communities and placed in the boarding schools, often under the supervision of Catholic religious leaders, most were starved, beaten, tortured, raped, and medically experimented on. Some schools saw upwards of 40 percent of Indigenous children never make it out alive.
“It was always against colonial and Canadian law to assault, rape, torture, starve, and murder children,” writes Pamela D. Palmater, an Indigenous professor at Ryerson University.
With the last residential school having closed in the 1990s, its effects linger into today — with more Indigenous children in state care now than during the residential school era.
In 2016, the government’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) produced a report detailing an inquiry into the history of residential schools, concluding the state had engaged in a form of genocide.
According to Marxist author and academic from the Dene Nation, Glen Coulthard, while settler colonial violence in the past in Canada against its Indigenous population overall — who are called First Nations, Metis or Inuit — was enacted through more outright, brute force, today, they are suppressed mostly through negotiation and law.
On Indigenous reservations, essential services such as food, water, sanitation, housing, health, and education, are severely underfunded, leading to the premature deaths of Indigenous peoples in the country by 7-20 years. The population is disproportionately represented in prisons — at 10 times the national rate. And in the last few decades, there have been over 1,200 cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
2. Decades of supporting wars
Since World War II, Canada has played a role in supporting NATO-led or U.S.-backed wars from Asia to Europe, to the Middle East.
Shortly after World War II, Canadian Forces were sent to support U.S.-led forces in Korea during the Korean War. Twenty-six thousand troops and 8 destroyers were sent, providing transport, supply and logistics support. The proxy war on the Asian peninsula, under the command of the United States, resulted in ramped up hostilities against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which continues to be treated as a pariah state today by the Western bloc that fought it then.
Decades later, when NATO began Operation Allied Force on March 24, 1999, Canadian pilots flew combat missions for the first time since the Korean War, also sending its largest single overseas deployment since then.
The 78-day operation was the devastating U.S.-backed intervention in Yugoslavia, which saw 5,700 people killed, including 400 children. Nearly 7000 people were wounded, while 821 people remain missing from the operation.
The Canadian Armed Forces had extolled the intervention as the “liberation” of Kosovo.
Years later in Libya, in the regime-change operation that was disguised as a “people’s revolution,” NATO forces invaded Libya to overthrow its leader Muammar Gaddafi, which has since resulted in Libya becoming a hotbed of extremist violence, with reported instances of slavery as well. Canada participated in the mission by sending troops from the Royal Canadian Air Forces.
While in August 2011, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed that the actions of the aviation forces in Libya caused no civilian casualties, the invasion killed more than 20,000 people and resulted in more than 350,000 people becoming refugees.
Canada has also played a massive role in the U.S.-led War on Terror, sending more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members in its 12-year campaign in Afghanistan, as early as October 2001.
When the War on Terror was declared at the onset of the invasion of Iraq, NATO forces also joined, using forbidden weapons, such as white phosphorus, that continue to devastate Iraqis today.
The war there has seen over 1 million Iraqis killed— the greatest loss in modern history.
In December 2016, it signed a record CDN $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, dwarfing any other sale of arms ever made by the country. In fact, under Trudeau, Canada has become the second biggest arms exporter to the Middle East, second only to the United States, June figures by the IHS Jane’s show.
Ottawa’s own legal arguments admitted that the December sale of arms to the Saudis could be used against civilians in Yemen.
Still, government lawyers had said at that time, “Saudi Arabia is a key partner for Canada and an important ally in the region, plagued with instability, terrorism, and conflict … Saudi Arabia is not a threat, but more so a key military ally.”
3. Environmental destruction at home and abroad, through pipelines and mining
Despite Trudeau’s pledges to be “a leader against climate change”, last fall, his government approved two major tar sand pipeline projects, to the ire of Indigenous communities and environmental activists alike.
In November, Trudeau announced the approval of the CDN$6.8 billion Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which is set to carry highly toxic tar-sands oil almost 1 thousand miles to the west coast of the country, as well as the CDN$7.5-billion Enbridge Line 3 project which is to set to carry tar-sands oil across four Canadian provinces and the state of Wisconsin to the shores of Lake Superior.
The projects, which are expected to lead to a combined increase in tar-sands oil production, have led to swift and furious reactions from those concerned about its consequences.
“Mark my words, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will never see the light of day,” declared Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of the B.C. Indian Chiefs. “We do not accept the unscrupulous liability of dirty oil coming through any pipeline system to benefit some Texans or multinational interests at the expense of our inherent responsibilities to our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”
Abroad, most notably in Latin America, Canadian companies have a track record of egregious human rights violations and a dismal environmental record in its mining activities on the continent.
An October 2016 report by the Toronto-based Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School documented incidents in over a dozen countries by 28 Canadian mining giants, including big names like Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources. Many of these corporations have repeatedly garnered criticism for damning reports of human rights violations and environmental destruction at their mines.
The report found that the corporations were responsible for 44 deaths — 30 of which are described as clearly “targeted” — across 11 countries and 403 injuries — 363 of which happened during protests and other confrontations — across 13 different countries, between 2000 and 2015.
In addition, four United Nations bodies and the Inter-American Commission on Human Right have all condemned the systematic abuses committed at the hands of Canadian companies.
In 2016, over 180 organizations from across Latin America penned a letter to Trudeau demanding the government act in the face of runaway abuses by Canadian mining companies.
Attempts to have the Canadian-based companies regulated by Ottawa to ensure human rights compliance have so far failed.
4. WWII internment camps, head taxes and racist immigration policies
From early in the country’s founding, Canada implemented a number of racist laws against various ethnic groups that had migrated — or attempted to migrate there.
Between 1881 to 1885, 15,000 laborers were brought over from China to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Upon the project’s completion, Canada enacted the Chinese Immigration Act (1885), which stipulated that a head tax was required for any Chinese person that wanted to immigrate to Canada — the first official policy in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic origin.
Decades later, just before World War I began in 1914, a ship named the Komagatu Maru, carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, colonial British India, was turned away as it landed at a port in Vancouver. The passengers, comprised of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all British subjects, were turned away based on immigration laws that were used to exclude immigrants of Asian origin.
Upon the ship’s return to India, many were assaulted, some even killed by colonial British troops.
A few years later, during World War II, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, and Canada’s subsequent declaration of war on Japan, Canada interned hundreds of Japanese-Canadians.
A men’s dormitory during Japanese Canadian internment and relocation. | Photo: City of Vancouver Archives / Creative Commons
The community was forcibly removed, detained, and sent off to the interior of British Columbia, where they forced to labor in internment camps. They were also subjected to government-enforced curfews and interrogations, job and property losses, and forced repatriation to Japan.
To this day, migrants to the country face daily instances of racism — that is, if they make it past its immigration system.
Last year, Trudeau’s government imposed a cap on the number of private applications to sponsor Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2017 to just 1,000.
In addition, Canada passed a law in 2004 that effectively bans anyone entering Canada via the United States from claiming refugee status at the border, called the Safe Third Country Agreement, a near-death sentence for those clamoring to escape Donald Trump’s xenophobic policies.
5. The history of slavery and anti-Blackness today
(L) Slaves being sold at an auction. (R) Protesters march in Ottawa against police killing of Abdirahman Abdi, a Black man. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Reuters
The history of slavery in Canada spanned two centuries in what was New France and Lower Canada under British rule. Black people were kept captive by people of all classes — from governors to priests, to blacksmiths, to tailors; and from figures such as Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, to James McGill, the founder of McGill University, one of Canada’s top universities. Introduced by French colonial settlers in New France in the early 1600s, it lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834.
But while the formal system of enslavement ceased to exist in 1834, 183 years later, Black people remain monitored and marginalized by state institutions in Canada today.
While they make up only 3 percent of the population, they represent 10 percent of the people incarcerated in Canada.
As Anthony Morgan wrote in the Toronto Star, anti-Blackness in Canada today manifests in a myriad of other ways as well, including through restricted access to housing, the child welfare system, discrimination in employment opportunities and the resulting disproportionate levels of extreme poverty.