On March 17, the Liberal Party government announced that, while totally supporting Washington’s goals in the region, it refused to join the so-called "coalition of the willing," and refused to send additional troops to the Mideast, because the war is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council. Ottawa’s actions, however, show that Canada’s capitalist rulers not only support the U.S.-led assault, but are part and parcel of the military effort to conquer Iraq.
"Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of the 46 countries that are fully supporting us," U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci stated in a recent speech, criticizing Ottawa for its diplomatic opposition to the war.
Currently, 31 Canadian soldiers are serving on exchange programs with U.S. and British forces. Six of them are in Iraq, one operating with a British regiment of military engineers that is assisting in the siege of Iraq’s second largest city.
About 1,300 Canadian personnel on three frigates are part of a multinational task force in the Arab-Persian Gulf. These vessels and a dozen other warships are under the command of Canada’s Commodore Roger Girouard, who reports to U.S. Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating. The fleet protects U.S. aircraft carriers, which serve as "platforms" for Washington’s air war against Iraq. They are also screening passengers in the Arab-Persian Gulf, looking for Iraqi military officials and government leaders to be turned over to U.S. authorities if caught. According to La Presse, this fleet also "escorted" all U.S. and British ships carrying troops and war materiel to Kuwait.
For months, Canadian military planners have been working with the U.S. Central Command, directing operations in Iraq. The 25 military planners from Canada are working at the U.S. forward command post in Qatar in the Persian Gulf. They have taken part in determining war strategy and are now helping to run operations from the inside.
Canadian forces are also part of crews on Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which are the nerve centers that guide fighter jets and bombers so they can deliver their payloads.
By contributing 1,000–2,000 troops to the imperialist forces occupying Afghanistan, Ottawa has freed up key U.S. logistical and military assets for redeployment in Iraq.
Washington is Canada’s biggest military customer. Canadian military production is thoroughly integrated into the U.S. military machine.
U.S. military aircraft carrying troops bound for Iraq regularly stop to refuel and change crews in Newfoundland.
On March 26, Foreign Affairs Minister William Graham expressed Ottawa’s support for Washington’s goal of overthrowing the Iraqi government, and wished the U.S. a "swift victory." Five days later, Defense Minister John McCallum, speaking in Parliament, praised the Canadian military personnel in Iraq and the Arab-Persian Gulf. "We are behind them 100 percent," he said. "We thank them for putting their lives on the line." Ottawa also supports an international tribunal to try Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other government officials for "crimes against humanity," if they are captured alive. On March 26, all parties in Parliament supported a resolution put forward by the right-wing opposition, the Canadian Alliance, on setting up such a tribunal.
Ottawa’s posturing under attack
As a smaller imperialist power neighboring the United States--which is both its main imperialist competitor and trading partner--Canada’s ruling class stands in Washington’s camp in the drive to take Baghdad and install a U.S. protectorate. Ottawa’s drive to war against working people abroad is an extension of the intensifying assault on the rights of workers at home--such as the use of so-called "antiterrorist" laws to secretly jail immigrants as threats to "national security." The government’s actions are determined by the unfolding world capitalist depression, and intensifying interimperialist competition for resources, raw material, and markets.
Ottawa’s refusal to officially endorse the war reflects the efforts of Canada’s capitalist rulers to maintain the carefully constructed illusion of Canada’s role in world politics as a "peacekeeper," working through the United Nations. This foreign policy framework, put in place at the end of the 1950s, has well served the interests of Canada’s ruling rich for almost five decades. So too has the government’s anti-American brand of Canadian nationalism, which is used to whip up support for its foreign policy initiatives and mask the class character of its participation in imperialist wars of plunder.
Canadian nationalism is also used to mask the class divisions in Canadian society. It’s used to masquerade Ottawa’s anti-working class domestic policies, aimed at increasing the capitalists’ profit rates, by slashing the social wage won by workers and farmers in struggle, and weakening union and other workers’ rights.
In this context, a minority of the ruling class is calling for an open declaration of support for the war against Iraq, and the sending of more of Canada’s armed forces into the conflict.
The Canadian Alliance has called for the sending of a full contingent of Canadian forces to Iraq.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Cellucci thanking Washington for its leadership "in the war on terrorism and tyranny."
"We need to stand with our friends and allies in times of trouble," said Ontario premier Ernest Eves. "The people of Iraq should be free, not oppressed and threatened by a dictatorial regime.... While I respect the decision of the prime minister, I believe his position is wrong."
An April 2 editorial in the Globe and Mail titled "Hiding the Troops" states that "Canada has soldiers involved in a war that Canada opposes.... The soldiers’ actions aren’t shameful at all, but the government’s actions have been."
"Where our government has failed, our troops make us proud," declared the Toronto Sun tabloid editors April 4. "We salute them for their resolve and dedication to duty. For showing what their political masters lack."
Encouraged by these declarations, pro-war forces organized demonstrations in a number of cities calling for open support to the war and criticizing Ottawa’s position. Thousands turned out in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Calgary, and Vancouver the March 29–30 weekend. In Toronto, 800 prowar demonstrators took to the streets April 4, in a noon-hour "Friends of America" demonstration addressed by the Ontario premier.
Despite the march to war and prowar campaign of all sectors of Canada’s ruling rich, workers fighting to defend their rights are showing they are not willing to subordinate their interests to those of the bosses and their government.
On April 1, unions representing 40,000 Air Canada workers, for example, rejected demands by the airline bosses for a 22 percent across-the-board wage cut, a wage freeze, and an end to layoff protection to "save" the company, Canada’s major airline. The airline bosses, who have asked for government support, then filed for bankruptcy protection in the courts.
John Steele is a meat packer and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
U.S. forces take Baghdad, plan occupation regime
Invaders kill thousands of Iraqi soldiers in capital and Basra
No to the imperialist occupation of Iraq! Get troops out now!
Canadian troops out of Mideast!
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