November 16, 2013 - No. 45

No to Harper Government's
Warmongering and
Anti-Human Offensive!

All Out to Oppose the Halifax War Conference!
Saturday, November 23 -- 1:00 pm

Haligonians rally against threats of war against Syria, September 7, 2013.

Halifax Peace & Freedom Park (formerly Cornwallis Park), Hollis & South Sts.
Organized by: No Harbour For War
Endorsed by: Halifax Peace Coalition, CUPW,
NSPIRG, Food Not Bombs and others

For information:

No to Harper Government's Warmongering and Anti-Human Offensive!

Oppose the Halifax War Conference!

Protest at the first Halifax International Security Forum, November 21, 2009.

Hands Off Syria And Iran! Hands Off Palestine!
War Criminals -- Out Of Halifax!
Canada Out of NATO! Dismantle NATO!
Canada Needs an Anti-War Government! No Harbour for War!

Click image to download poster (PDF).

The 5th annual Halifax International Security Forum will be convened on November 22-24 as a platform for warmongering and empire building of U.S. imperialism and the NATO bloc, in which the Harper Government is fully embroiled. The first 2009 forum was dedicated to popularizing NATO's then new 'security doctrine.' Ensuing forums have provided a stage to justify NATO's 'humanitarian intervention' in Libya and Africa, Syria and Iran.

Warmongers from more than 50 countries will join Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and some 300 others at the Washington, DC based Forum "to learn from each other, share opinions, generate new ideas, and put them into action."

Among the sessions are: The West Today: Calculated Power or Complete Paralysis?; If Democracies Won't, Alternatives Will: Reviving Global Responsibility; From India to the Americas: The Trials and Tribulations of a New Pacific Order; African Security: Where is the Next Mali?; Drone: Japan's Abe, Abe's Japan; Russia: Bear With Us (Or Against Us); Trade as a Weapon: The Art of Economic Statecraft; Yes We Scan: Privacy and/or Security in a Democracy.

It is unacceptable that Halifax, or any Canadian city, be used as a venue to plan further crimes against the peace and the peoples of the world. Bring your banners, bring your music and statements, and most of all bring your friends to oppose this war conference.

Also participate in:

Workshop on Syria, Iran and the Pivot of War
Friday, November 29 -- 6:30 pm
Just Us! Coffeehouse, 5896 Spring Garden Road, Halifax

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Angry Crowd of 3,000 Demands Veterans Affairs Office Stay Operational in Sydney

Sydney, November 9, 2013

It was an angry crowd of about 3,000 veterans and their allies that today marched through the streets of Sydney, determined not to let their Veterans Affairs office -- and the face-to-face service delivery upon which close to 4,000 veterans in the region depend -- close.

In their hyper-militarization of the Canadian economy, with spending on the Canadian military set to soon hit the $25 billion mark (at a rate that also far outpaces world military spending trends, except for that of the United States of America), the Harper government appears to have made a key omission in their logic when they recently announced that, soon after Remembrance Day, nine Veterans Affairs offices will be closing.

From a strictly economic sense, downsizing after-service care for veterans -- especially for younger service people returning from theatres of war with a variety of post-traumatic related ailments -- reduces their potential and capability to return to becoming fully productive members of the capitalist machine.

From an altruistic sense, forcing elderly veterans on Cape Breton Island to drive five to six hours to Halifax, just for a human interaction with a case worker in a Veterans Affairs office, risks being understandably interpreted as unduly cruel to a segment of the population that has already suffered greatly.

These offices -- and the case workers and managers who provide assistance -- are, from the testimonies of many of the veterans today on scene at the march, lifelines without which their quality of life would be greatly reduced.

To offer up a telephone service, a website and a phone 'app' in their stead suggests a federal government leadership style that has begun to dangerously detach itself from the reality and concerns of the constituents that may have actually voted them into power.

"I don't even know what an 'app' is," says Ron Clarke, a 36 year veteran. "But this office is my lifeline. My lifeline. I'm one of the sufferers of post- traumatic stress, and there are some of us on Cape Breton Island, and we need it."

Jim Karygiannis, federal Liberal Veterans Affairs critic, suggests that the issue of office closures is only the tip of the iceberg of the Conservative government's grander scheme of leaving veterans without recourse to assistance or programming. Karygiannis notes that he has been made aware that in 2009, the department of Veterans Affairs ordered 27,381 boxes of veterans' medical records destroyed. Karygiannis could not even guess as to how many records were contained within each box, but is it safe to say it's probably more than one.

"I can't do the math because I don't know how many records were in each box," says Karygiannis. "But the question is, were those vets notified? I know of three vets, whose files I'm working on, who had medical records that were [destroyed]."

As far as a response from his Conservative Cabinet counterpart, Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino, Karygiannis says the response over these missing records has been totally lacking.

"[They just say] I don't know what I'm talking about," says Karygiannis. "And that's from the Minister, department secretary and staff. But Kenneth Young, one of the vets that gave me this [information], his file went missing and he's now before the Supreme Court of Canada."

Judging from the mood of the crowd, which included declarations that whoever tries to close the office in Sydney will have to drag people out "kicking and screaming", as well as the surfacing of information that thousands of medical records have been destroyed, this is an issue that will continue to haunt the Harper government for the coming weeks.

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How the Canadian Government Is Betraying Veterans

The federal government is betraying Canada's veterans. After putting their lives on the line on behalf of all Canadians, many veterans -- especially those living with serious injuries, disabilities and mental health challenges like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- rely on Veterans Affairs for support. The Canadian government promised to take care of them from the day they enlisted until the day they die. But drastic cuts to Veterans Affairs staff and services in the 2012 budget mean that veterans are not getting the care they need and deserve.

The federal government plans to shut nine District Veterans Affairs offices in Corner Brook, Charlottetown, Sydney, Windsor, Thunder Bay, Brandon, Saskatoon, Kelowna and Prince George. The workers in these offices provide crucial services to veterans. The Prince George office has already closed and the others are set to shut their doors in February 2014. We want to help veterans stop those closures.

Government Not Informing Veterans about the Closures

Many veterans don't even know that the Veterans Affairs offices they rely on are closing. Veterans Affairs case managers -- who are PSAC members -- report that they must to break the news to their clients during home visits. PSAC's Union of Veterans Affairs Employees pressed the government on this issue in September 2013 and was told that veterans would not be informed in writing until late November (after Remembrance Day), or one month before each closure.

Office Closures: The Facts

- Nine regional VAC offices are slated to be closed by the end of February 2014.

- As of March 2013, 17,223 clients depended on seven of the offices that are slated for closure: Charlottetown, 2,252; Sydney, 4,200; Windsor, 2,629; Thunder Bay, 792; Brandon, 2,400; Corner Brook, 1,500; and Saskatoon, 3,450. The government doesn't provide separate client numbers for Kelowna and Prince George, but says that those offices and the Penticton office had a total of 9,555 clients as of March 2013.

- The federal government has been in the process of cutting more than 784 jobs from Veterans Affairs since the 2012 budget was implemented. This includes about 89 PSAC members who work in the offices slated for closure, who are case managers, client service agents, disability pension officers, nurses and administrative staff.

- These are the frontline workers who work one-on-one with veterans to ensure that they have access to all of the benefits to which they are entitled. They make sure that elderly veterans can make the adjustments to their homes so they can continue to live independently. They help find community resources and psychiatric and medical care for traumatized war vets suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues. And they walk veterans through the paperwork that needs to be filled out in order to access their benefits and pensions.

- The planned closure of the district offices means that veterans will be forced to travel to other cities for frontline services. Or they will be forced to navigate the system by phone and computer. This is problematic for many veterans, especially those who are older and those living with PTSD and other mental health challenges.

- The government says veterans losing offices will be able to access services through Service Canada offices, but workers at Service Canada are not trained in veterans' programs and services and are facing cuts themselves. Service Canada staff can answer very general questions, provide forms and receive completed forms. They are not able to help veterans complete forms or answer questions about which programs or benefits they may qualify for. When asked for this kind of information or assistance, staff in Service Canada offices have no choice but to point veterans to the computer or the toll-free phone line for help. That's not front line service.

Veterans' Needs Are Growing

Across Canada there are currently 695,700 Veterans and 110,000 serving members of the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. Of them, 126,000 receive benefits and services from the department, excluding survivors, spouses and RCMP members. As of March 2013, Veterans Affairs was serving 212,199 clients. There are 570,000 more veterans who are not clients and may not be aware of the programs and services available to them.

In the last two years, the number of traditional veterans -- excluding family members, survivors and the RCMP -- served by Veterans Affairs has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000. But the number of Regular Force Veterans served by Veterans Affairs -- again excluding family members, survivors and the RCMP -- has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. That number will continue to increase, especially given that in 2013, the average age of the 594,300 Canadian Forces veterans is 56.

It's important to note that as older veterans age they require more care and services, and that younger veterans turning to Veterans Affairs for services, such as those returning from Afghanistan, tend to have more complex needs, as many have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions such as PTSD and OCD as a result of their experiences while deployed.

Services Reduced

- If these offices close, the remaining VAC offices will need to absorb the clients from the soon-to-be shut offices. This will mean that employees managing an already overwhelming workload will have even less time to help veterans. Our members report that the Sydney office alone deals with 4,200 clients, including widows and other surviving family members. Those veterans and their families will be forced to travel five to seven hours to Halifax if they want frontline services. Prince Edward Island is closing its only office -- veterans who depended on the Charlottetown office will have to travel to Saint John, New Brunswick for frontline services.

- The federal government has privatized the administration of veterans' benefits to Medavie Blue Cross. The company was recently given responsibility for doing all of the follow-up for the Veterans Independence Program. Veterans Affairs client service agents used to call veterans every year and help them make sure that they were accessing the benefits they need. Now, Blue Cross sends a letter and cuts the veterans off if they can't reach them by phone. It can take three months or more for veterans to have their benefits re-instated once they've been cut off.

- Veterans are also losing out because Blue Cross calculates the next year's entitlement based on the receipts that veterans submitted in the few months previous. If veterans are a little behind on their paper work, they can see their benefits arbitrarily slashed as a result. Resolving any changes can be an administrative nightmare.

- The government privatized the Veterans Affairs call centre run by Service Canada. When a veteran calls the phone number listed on the Veterans Affairs website, they are actually directed to an employee of Quantum Management Services, not a government worker. These workers are not well informed about veterans programs and are not able to walk clients through the process of filling out an application for benefits. Veterans end up being transferred several times and waiting on hold, before they can actually speak with a client service agent at Veterans Affairs. Elderly veterans often give up, and many, especially PTSD-affected vets, get frustrated with the delays and misinformation.

What the Closures Will Mean for Veterans

- Veterans will be forced to travel further if they need to access one-on-one services. Many elderly vets are no longer permitted to drive, and some of the younger veterans with PTSD or other mental health issues find driving difficult.

- If veterans seek in-person help at a Service Canada office, they are most often directed to a computer kiosk and told to "self serve." The average World War II or Korean War veteran is 88 years old. Their ability to navigate complicated forms online is limited, to say the least. In one case, a 92 year-old veteran arrived at a Service Canada office, was directed to a computer kiosk and offered no assistance. He ended up leaving and called the 1-800 number again, only to get caught in another administrative loop.

- VAC used to take care of veterans from the day they were released until the day they die. Now workers are being told to treat each call as a "transaction." Workers used to walk veterans through their applications and follow up to ensure they were accessing all of the benefits they were entitled to. This happens less and less because of cuts to Veterans Affairs staff.

- Cuts to case managers also means fewer home visits for veterans. These visits are crucial for those who can't easily leave their homes.

- Veterans need advocates -- elderly people are often too proud to ask for help and younger vets suffering from PTSD need one-on-one assistance. The federal government is betraying veterans with these cuts and disregarding veterans' years of service to Canadians. We need to stop the closure of the District offices, so veterans can access the services they need and deserve.

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Britain Extends Training of
Thousands of Troops in Canada

Map of CFB Suffield -- click to enlarge.
On November 4, the UK announced that to deliver its Future Training Plan for the British Army, it would continue training at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield in Alberta for the foreseeable future.

In a press release from the Canadian Department of National Defence, Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson stated, "British Army Training Unit Suffield has been training at Canadian Forces Base Suffield for more than 40 years, and we are delighted and fully supportive of the UK decision to remain in Canada. Canadian Forces Base Suffield and BATUS have an excellent working relationship and continue to find effective ways to deliver world class training." The announcement and response from the UK and the Defence Minister were done in a business-as-usual manner that implies that Canadians should simply accept this as a done deal in which they should have no stake or concern, and which they cannot change in any case.

CFB Suffield is the largest Canadian Forces Base and the largest Commonwealth military training base in the world. It is located in southeastern Alberta, 5.6 km north-northwest of Suffield, 50 km north of Medicine Hat and 250 km southeast of Calgary -- and a nine-hour 7,030 km flight from the UK.

Brief History of CFB Suffield and Its Use by British Army

CFB Suffield is the base for the defence science organization (chemical warfare) and the Counter Terrorism Technology Centre. It commenced operations in June 1941, as the Suffield Experimental Station. The Suffield facility  began as a joint British/Canadian biological and chemical research facility, administered by the Canadian Army. The heads of the British and Canadian governments, Winston Churchill and Mackenzie King, signed off the high-level operation. An American chemical weapons specialist was stationed there, while a Canadian counterpart was assigned to a Maryland facility. In violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol against chemical weapons, chemical weapons, including sarin and mustard gas, were stored and tested there for decades. Canadian soldiers were deployed to Suffield, not Europe, as the unwitting guinea pigs. The weapons were tested on approximately 3,700 members of the Canadian military at Suffield from 1941 to the mid-1970s, but mainly in the Second World War era, and at Ottawa from 1941-45. It is also known that chemical weapons were tested on personnel at Alberta's CFB Wainwright during the 1960s.

Meanwhile, following World War Two, the British Army established bases in Libya at El Adem and Tobruk, Italian airfields captured during the war. British geography lacks suitably expansive areas to allow the British Army to undertake large-scale armoured warfare exercises to prepare for war in other people's lands, meaning the territory of other countries must be exploited for such purposes.

When the new government of Libya led by Col. Muammar Gadhafi came to power in 1969, a negotiated closure of foreign bases in that country commenced and the UK began a search for alternative locations to train its military. The British military installations located at El Adem and Tobruk were closed in 1970.

The federal government of Pierre Trudeau stepped up to the plate. On August 5, 1971, the UK signed a 10-year lease with the Trudeau government for battle group training by the British Army to take place in the Suffield, Alberta area, for an undisclosed fee. The British were granted access to three-quarters of the Suffield Block for armoured, infantry, and artillery live-fire training. BATUS is 2,690 sq km -- between eight and nine times the size of the UK's largest military training area at Salisbury plain, which is 375 sq km.

In January 1972, BATUS was formally established. In July of that year, the first live rounds were fired by the 4th Royal Tank Regiment Battle Group. In 1981 the lease for Suffield was extended and in 1991, the lease was again extended. In 2006, on the expiration of this lease, the British and Canadian governments concluded an agreement allowing British forces to maintain their training practices in Canada indefinitely.

During the Malvinas (Falklands) war in 1982, the British transported -- using Canadian National Railway (CNR) flatbed rail cars -- tanks and armoured personnel carriers from Alberta to Nova Scotia for potential transhipment to the conflict in the South Atlantic. Anti-war activists took photos of the rail cars loaded with tanks adjacent to the Fairview Cove container terminal as evidence, despite a curtain of secrecy by the monopoly media and the Trudeau government which, together with all so-called major political parties, endorsed the British colonial side.

BATUS is equipped with in excess of 1,000 vehicles, including a full complement of Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Britain trains five Battle groups, such as its forces that invaded Iraq, each containing approximately 1,400 soldiers, at BATUS each year for up to 30 days at a time -- more than 7,000 British soldiers a year. Military exercises are split into two phases: live fire and simulation. The size of the training area located within CFB Suffield allows all elements of a combined arms battle group (Infantry, Armour, Artillery, Engineers, Air Defence, Logistics and Equipment Support) to conduct realistic live firing training at all levels and to practice sustaining this activity over a long period of time.

The continued presence of the British Army at CFB Suffield is just one example of the series of facilities across the country that serve aggression and war by the U.S. and British imperialists and their allies in the aggressive military alliance NATO. These include the NATO air training facility in Goose Bay, Labrador (used by Britain, Germany and Italy) -- vehemently opposed by the Innu Nation of Labrador since the 1950s, CFB Cold Lake in Alberta (Operation Maple Leaf), the U.S. naval base in Nanoose on Vancouver Island, BC and the Canadian ports placed in the service of the U.S. nuclear fleet -- all to realize what former Defence Minister Peter MacKay brazenly called Canada's "go-to" role for the U.S. and the NATO bloc.

The permanent foreign bases, facilities and exercises are accompanied by servile and seditious agreements guaranteeing the U.S. and other foreign powers impunity from Canadian laws, such as the Status of Forces Agreements, the Visiting Forces Act and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP).[1] In addition, restrictive Orders in Council such as the Controlled Access Military Zones order ("military security zones," designated on October 31, 2002) gives the federal cabinet despotic powers over designated naval ports,[2] suspending all the laws of the country and provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The arbitrary arrest and prosecution of hundreds of Canadians including the defiant Innu people opposed to these bases has been carried out by successive governments that dare not support the conscience of the Canadian people.

In the larger context, the operations of the U.S. and British militaries in Canada are part of the imperialists' plans to establish a global network of military bases or "hubs." These foreign military bases in Canada and integration with the U.S. military forces profoundly damage not only Canadians' desire to contribute to peace in the world, but Canada's sovereignty.


1. The U.S. Empire has used the sovereign territory of Canada to prepare interventionist military actions against sovereign countries, e.g., illegal mining of the harbours of Nicaragua, 1984 (Operation Minex), condemned by the International Court at the Hague; the murky "rescue" operation against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States, which crashed in the desert south of Tehran, April 1980 (Operation Eagle Claw); and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, March, 2003 -- Unified Spirit amphibious exercise in Newfoundland, June 1998 and the use of airports in Newfoundland and Labrador to tranship as many as 5,000 soldiers a day in preparation for the war against Iraq.

The U.S.-NATO war machine has stepped up its use of Canadian territory. In 2005, Canada and the U.S.-trained Israeli F-18 fighter pilots at Cold Lake, Alberta during the U.S. exercise prior to the Israel Defense Forces' resumption of barbarous bombing raids on civilian targets in Gaza. On May 30, 2010 Harper provided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an invited guest of the Canadian state, communication facilities at Harrington Lake, an official residence of the Canadian prime minister in the Gatineau Hills, to order the premeditated and murderous assault of the Israeli armed forces on the Gaza flotilla, known as the Freedom Flotilla, in the early morning darkness of May 31, 2010 in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

Since 2009, U.S. troops now exercise annually in the Arctic under the pretext of "defending Canadian sovereignty."

2. Anyone can be forcibly removed from a military zone. They will not be able to sue for damages, losses or injuries. The penalty for contravening a controlled access military zone is a fine or a year in prison.

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For Your Information

About the Halifax International Security Forum

The Halifax War Conference, aka the Halifax International Security Forum, held its first meeting in November 2009. The conference is part and parcel of the NATO aggressive military alliance to reconfigure itself with a "new security doctrine" to replace that of "humanitarian intervention" introduced during the 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia and the first absorption into NATO of states of the former Soviet bloc. In a statement issued to oppose the first conference in 2009, CPC(M-L) pointed out: "The demand for this 'new doctrine' is impelled by the crisis of NATO itself. After eight years of occupation of Afghanistan under the pretext of opposing terrorism, NATO has been unable to quell the important resistance of the Afghan people. The people of Afghanistan refuse to accept NATO's 'international security assistance' and the peoples of NATO's member countries have not been convinced of the nobility of the war or NATO's present course and its raison d'être."

The current website of the Halifax War Conference describes its history as follows:

"With the generous support of the Canadian government, the Halifax International Security Forum was founded in 2009 as a program within the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The first Halifax Forum put Halifax, Nova Scotia on the map as the natural meeting place in North America for informed leaders from the military, government, business, academia and the media. The second conference in November 2010 confirmed Halifax International Security Forum's prominent place on the international calendar by attracting leaders from 44 countries.

"Now an independent organization, Halifax International Security Forum continues to be funded by a generous grant from the government of Canada. In 2011, Halifax was proud to welcome Foreign Affairs as its Media Partner. The 2013 Forum will again highlight the most pressing issues for international security decision-makers and feature participants from some 50 countries."

As CPC(M-L) pointed out in 2009, "The German Marshall Fund, founded by a grant from Germany in 1972 to commemorate assistance provided to it by the Marshall Plan, is actively involved in NATO's attempts to redefine itself and expand its global reach. The conference website describes the role of the fund as follows: 'GMF is known for its innovative convening, including Brussels Forum, its annual flagship event, and its NATO Summit Conferences at Istanbul, Riga, and Bucharest [...]'"

Thus, the purported independence of the War Conference proclaimed by its 2013 website is meant to fool the gullible. Far from it, the conference is meant to serve the interests of the monopolies and the U.S. imperialists and their aggressive alliance NATO.

As for using Halifax as the venue for the War Conference, the Nova Scotia Committee of CPC(M-L) pointed out in 2009:

"The organizing of the Forum is directly linked to promotion of the Atlantic Gateway, a project designed to facilitate rapid transport and military links between South Asia, the Middle East and the U.S. It is thus no accident that this 'security forum' is to be held in the port of Halifax, headquarters of Maritime Command and the most important NATO military base in the North Atlantic."

As TML pointed out at the time of the second Halifax War Conference in 2010:

"It is not by accident that a conference that is inextricably part of NATO is being imposed on Halifax. Halifax and its harbour have long held strategic significance for the imperialists and their monopoly interests. It is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and is North America's easternmost port of call with transcontinental rail connections."

While the War Conference holds its proceedings in Halifax, the organization is actually headquartered in Washington, DC. This underscores the integration of Canada into the U.S. military apparatus and that the U.S. imperialists and their Canadian quislings consider Halifax to be their colonial military outpost within the annexed territory of Canada.

Agenda of the 2013 War Conference

A November 5 press release from the War Conference states in part:

" The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Canadian Minister of National Defence, will host American Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, at the fifth annual Halifax International Security Forum. Secretary Hagel is delivering the opening remarks at the Forum [...]

"Secretary Hagel and Minister Nicholson will be joined by more than two dozen international Ministers, as well as military leaders and security experts from over 50 countries. The Halifax International Security Forum brings together 300 individuals annually who are on the ground facing consequential local threats, writers who challenge and influence the world’s thinking on security, and decision-makers who make the tough choices. [...]

"The 2013 Halifax International Security Forum features eight on-the-record sessions and 28 off-the-record sessions. The on-the-record panels focus on the following subjects:

- The West Today: Calculated Power or Complete Paralysis?
- Bloody Autocracy, Religious Kleptocracy, Unstable Democracy: In Search of Better Choices for the Middle East (and Beyond)
- If Democracies Won’t, Alternatives Will: Reviving Global Responsibility
- From India to the Americas: The Trials and Tribulations of a New Pacific Order
- Robot Wars: The Technology Strikes Back
- Arctic Encounters: Hot Commodities, Cold War
- Free Radicals (With Return Tickets): Boston, Nairobi, and the Future of Terrorism
- WMD: Whose Moral Dilemma?"

A draft agenda released October 2 lists the following Small Group Sessions (Off-the-Record):

- Afghanistan 2014: Withdrawal Symptoms
- African Security: Where is the Next Mali?
- Climate Change as Background Music?
- Is Cyber Offense the Best Cyber Defense?
- Dangerous Liaisons: Relying on Corrupt Allies
- @DigitalDiplomacy #Really?
- Drone: On
- Egypt: Mummified Democracy
- Global Energy Security
- Guns and Butter: Development as Defense?
- Europe’s East: Promise Fulfilled or Promise Denied
- Impotent or Important: Europe’s Role in Global Security
- Iran: New Face, Old Regime?
- Japan’s Abe, Abe’s Japan
- Leading Latins: Up and Coming in the Western Hemisphere
- Middle East Peace: More Process or Real Prospects?
- Merkel’s Germany
- Multilateralism Today: Who Are the Cooks? Where is the Kitchen?
- North Korea: What Do We Know?
- Nuke-Free or Nuke-Full? Disarmament vs. Proliferation
- Pakistan and the West: Friends Without Benefits?
- Russia: Bear With Us (Or Against Us)
- Peaking China: The Shrinking Rise
- "Siri, How Do I Save the World?": Technology in a Crisis
- Space: Big Enough for All of Us?
- Syria, Syria
- Trade as a Weapon: The Art of Economic Statecraft
- Turkey at 90: The Future of the Secular Republic
- What Future for Deterrence?
- Yes We Scan: Privacy and/or Security in a Democracy

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This Day in 1885

Anniversary of the Hanging of Louis Riel

Métis leader Louis Riel (centre) surrounded by councillors of the Métis Legislative Assembly of Assinaboia.

On November 16, 1885, the British colonial power executed the great Métis leader Louis Riel. Riel had been charged and found guilty of high treason after the Métis were defeated at the Battle of Batoche in May of that year. The execution of Louis Riel was intended as an assault on the consciousness of the Métis nation, but was unsuccessful in putting an end to their fight for their rights and dignity as a nation. The struggle of the Métis to affirm their right to be and exercise control over their political affairs continues to this day.

The two great uprisings of the Métis, the Red River Uprising (1869-1870) and North West Uprising (1885) were not isolated events but took place at a time when the First Nations and the Quebec nation were also striving to affirm their nationhood, and at a time of revolutionary ferment in Europe. The Métis' uprisings represented a response to the colonial project that sought to reproduce the British state in North America and block the legitimate aspirations of the nations that comprised Canada.

The British North America Act of 1867 and the federal government's purchase of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869-1870, juxtaposed with the decline of the traditional Métis economy based on the buffalo hunt, forced the Métis to engage in a power struggle with the colonial authorities and negotiate Manitoba's entry into the Confederation after the establishment of a Legislative Assembly. The spirit that motivated Riel and the members of the provisional government at the time is contained in the Declaration of the Inhabitants of Rupert's Land and the Northwest that affirms the sovereignty of the Métis over their lands. The latter also refused to recognize the authority of Canada, "[...], which presumes to have the right to come and impose on us a form of government even more incompatible with our rights and our interests [...]."

The Manitoba Act, which established that province, was voted on and passed in the federal Parliament in May 1870. The government wasted no time in exerting control over its new territory as evidenced by the Wolesley military expedition later that year -- which led to Riel fleeing to the U.S. for fear of his safety -- the creation of the Northwest Mounted Police (1873) and the Indian Act (1876). With the national policy he had been promoting since 1878, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald championed the colonization of the west and the development of agriculture. With the help of the Oblates (lay members of the Catholic church affiliated with a monastic community), the authorities sought to settle the Métis and force them to adopt an agricultural lifestyle. Facing an existence within this rigid framework and under pressure from land speculators, some Métis sold the land that had been granted to them and settled in Saskatchewan.

This was a period when nationalism was in the air. The events in Manitoba alerted Quebeckers to the fragility of the Métis' situation, while the abolition of the teaching of French in New Brunswick in 1871 indicated the need for organization. National organizations such as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society to defend the rights and interests of Francophones spread across the continent with the waves of migration from the St. Lawrence valley. The National Convention of Montreal in 1874 and the Saint Jean Baptiste celebrations in Quebec in 1880 and Windsor in 1883 brought together delegations from all of French America in a strong show of the vitality of the "French-Canadian family." Acadians held their first convention in 1881 where they held a celebration and adopted a national doctrine.

Métis leaders, under the sway of the Church at that time, did not rock the boat. In the aftermath of the Red River resistance, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Association of Manitoba was founded in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba. Its vice-president was none other than Louis Riel. This association included in its infancy as many French Canadians as Francophone Métis.

However, aware of their distinct identity, Métis leaders wished to forge their own nationalism. Riel would come to articulate a Métis nationalism, with its own holidays and national symbols. This process would culminate in the creation of the Métis National Council at Batoche in September 1884, to promote the development of their political consciousness.

The Métis once again took up arms to affirm their nationhood and right to be in the North West Rebellion of 1885. For three days between May 9 and May 12, 1885, 250 Métis fought valiantly against 916 Canadian Forces at the Battle of Batoche but were defeated and Riel surrendered.

Macdonald and his cabinet took a hard line with respect to Riel and his compatriots. Riel was tried in Regina over five days in July 1885. After half an hour's deliberation he was found guilty of treason by the jury, which recommended mercy. Nevertheless, Judge Hugh Richardson sentenced him to death. From September 1885 to October 1886, Riel and several of his comrades, all indigenous, would be condemned to hang.

While times have changed, the Canadian state has inherited the colonial power and it persists in the aim of negating the nationhood of the Métis, First Nations and Quebec. The proud history of the Métis and their fight to affirm their rights and nationhood is not some historical artifact gathering dust, but continues to gleam brightly in the light of the present day. The fight to affirm rights that belong to people by virtue of their being human is precisely the fight for modern, human-centred arrangements. Louis Riel's life epitomized the fight for the recognition of rights on a modern basis.

Louis Riel's life is an important legacy that is as relevant as ever at this time when the Canadian state is doing its utmost to negate the rights of the Métis, First Nations and the Quebec nation, as well as the workers, women, youth, national minorities and all the collectives in the society, all in the name of security, balance, austerity and other phony high ideals.

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