The Role of Media in a Post-Democratic Canada
by C. L. Cook - Pacific Free Press
Canada's actions these days resemble less those of a democratic country than they mirror the dictatorships of the last century. There and then media supported the government, cheering victory and damning the enemy, while lionizing the Warrior ethos with great martial pageants. Nemesis of course followed.
Canadians have long looked towards America's restless militarism, couching criticism of its neighbour's grosser imperialist adventures saying, "A true friend gives good counsel, rather than flatter, or unblinkingly accept wrong-headed actions." There seems in 2015 little appetite left to defend such quaint democratic sentiments in Ottawa.
In fact, there seems little sentiment here to defend democracy at all. What does remain however is the fervent determination of Canada's state broadcaster, and private media interests, to beaver away protecting, polishing, and above all perpetuating the myth of a demonstrably false dedication to the ideals of democracy.
A Free Press is the bellwether of democratic health, the saying goes. It's accepted, a cliché, to cast the media as guardian and defender of the western ideal; but far from championing the common weal, the over-concentrated, corporate interested fourth estate today is antithetical to the interests of Jane and Joe Blough.
Can we seriously consider the only thing standing between our liberty and its sorry alternative is Sun Media, or Rupert Murdoch? FOX unfettered is one of the worst things to happen to American democracy in nearly two hundred and fifty years, and Sun Media is striving for all its worth to emulate Murdoch's worst efforts up here. And, the sadder truth is: We can't count on the CBC to perform media's necessary watchdog role either.
Though there are many more examples, the following three instances are illustrative of both Canada's abandonment of the democratic promise and Canadian media's failure to meet its self-ascribed standards to truthfully inform, while defending our higher societal aspirations.
American complicity in the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende is generally accepted now, forty years after the fact.1 Less talked about however is the supportive role Canada played in Augusto Pinochet's wide-spread atrocities and human rights abuses. Cables sent by then-ambassador Andrew Ross to Ottawa after the September 11th, 1973 coup reveal the utter lack of Canadian support for Chilean democracy. "Abhorrent but understandable," Ross wrote of the Pinochet regime's mass arrests and summary executions.
“Reprisals and searches have created [a] panic atmosphere affecting particularly expatriates including the riffraff of the Latin American Left to whom Allende gave asylum … the country has been on a prolonged political binge under the elected Allende government and the junta has assumed the probably thankless task of sobering Chile up.”2
As it turned out, Chileans were to spend a generation "sobering up" under Pinochet's brutal regime.
If the Trudeau Liberals' reaction to president Allende's ouster (and "suicide") was tepid,3 Canada's media was even less interested. Apart from some cursory coverage of right-wing reactionaries protesting refugees arriving in Toronto, the Canadian press was largely silent. Few newspaper editors, or television and radio news producers here seemed concerned about a democracy lost, or the fate of the citizen targets of South America's newest dictatorship. Understandable perhaps, considering the glowing relations between Canadian business and the junta. Canadian author and essayist, Yves Engler notes,
“Ottawa did allow refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship asylum in Canada but continued to support the pro-Pinochet and pro-investment policies directly responsible for the refugee problem. As a result of the protests, thousands of refugees from the Pinochet (1973-90) dictatorship gained asylum in Canada, leaving many with the impression that Canada was somehow sympathetic to Chile’s left. But, this view of Canada’s relationship to Chile is as far from the truth as Baffin Island is from Tierra del Fuego.”4
Canada's reluctance to accept Chile's refugees was criticized by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), and most volubly within Canada by the Canadian Council of Churches, who saliently, and succinctly described the nature of the government's recalcitrance as: "Politics."
During its campaign to move the Trudeau administration into accepting Chilean refugees, the council released a statement that read in part,
“Since these refugees are in danger of their lives, under a very repressive military regime, we have only one option: To do what we can to save these lives. Canada opened her doors to refugees from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Uganda. If we refuse to open our doors to people who are in danger under another type of political regime, this would mean that we had acted from political rather than humanitarian motives.”5
The Council identifies correctly: Canada's true sympathies are not with the remnant members of Chile's duly elected democracy, but lay instead with the military dictatorship that usurped it.
In the wee hours of February 29th, 2004, Haiti's president Jean Bertrand Aristide awoke to find soldiers in his bedroom. A veteran of two coups d'état already, it didn't take Aristide long to realize what was going on. Though he didn't likely know it then, Canadian Special Forces numbered among the French and American commandos that had come in the dead of night to change Haiti's government. Aristide could be forgiven his surprise at Canadian involvement if he took Denis Coderre's, then-prime minister Paul Martin's minister responsible for La Francophonie, at his word. Before the coup, Coderre reassured of Canada's benign intentions in Haiti, saying,
“It is clear that we don't want Aristide's head; we believe that Aristide should stay.”
This was important, because just nine days earlier Canadian Forces soldiers (including JTF2, Canada's special forces) had landed in Haiti, specifically it turns out, to remove Aristide.6
As for democracy, Aristide had been elected with more than 80% of the popular vote, and his approval ratings at the time of his kidnapping were the highest of any leader in the Western Hemisphere. Ratings Paul Martin's "special advisor on Haiti" in the post-coup period, and now-mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre doubtless appreciates. Coderre would certainly deny his role in subverting democracy, just as the CBC now frames Aristide's fall as the result of a "revolt"7 rather than an international conspiracy by Canada, France, and the United States to ensure Haiti remained shackled, as Chile had been under Pinochet, to neo-liberal economic reforms.
Following ten years of crony capitalism, Denis Coderre and his Canadian cohort can claim complete success: Haiti is a corruption-ridden basket case.
Veteran CBC reporter, Rick Macinnes-Rae wrote a piece remembering his between-the-coups Haitian visit with a delegation sent by Brian Mulroney's government. In his article he frames then-secretary of state for external affairs, Barbara MacDougall's mission as a failed attempt to restore Aristide to power.
Macinnes-Rae's credulity aside, he also allows MacDougall's cynical assessment of the deposed president stand unchallenged. He quotes her saying,
“Who liked Aristide? Nobody. He was a man of the street. He'd made himself into a bit of a demi-god. He had certainly done some evil things, but he had won the election fair and square.”8
In 1991, Macinnes-Rae's abrogation of investigative probity would seem curious, but coming fully twenty-three years after the fact, when numerous sources detailing the reality of the methods and motives behind the attempted "restoration" of Haitian democracy are available, his inclusion of this unadulterated slander is downright sinister.
Rick could have talked to American filmmaker, journalist, and Pacifica Radio broadcaster, Kevin Pina to get a balanced assessment of the dynamics of the Haitian political scene. Pina lived in Haiti for years, married a Haitian, and knows first hand what being on the wrong side of a Haitian jail is like. Pina is uncharitable in assessing Canadian motives in Haiti, saying,
“Canadian mining interests have been getting the land rights, the mineral rights, to Haiti's resources for pennies on the dollar.”9
He fingers too the United Nations' Blue Helmets involvement in taking over for US and Canadian special forces in the post '94 coup period to manage the military occupation of the country in an unprecedented way saying,
“This is the first time that, in a country where there wasn't an open civil war, where this is a UN mission, that's called a "Chapter 7 mission," where the soldiers have shoot to kill orders.”10
From democracy to occupied corporatocracy in a fell swoop, thanks to those three paragons of Western democracy: America, France, and Canada.
Before sunrise on June 28th, 2009, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya too would receive the "Aristide" treatment. Dragged from his bed, hustled to a waiting plane, and flown out of the country while still in his pj's, the populist president wouldn't see his slippers again for years. US president Obama was initially cautious, but Canadian prime minister Harper quickly accepted the legitimacy of yet another military junta, announcing a Free Trade deal with Zelaya's successors just months after the fact. Writing in Ricochet, Sandra Cuffe emphasizes Canada's protracted silence as gross violations were committed by the government and death squads loosed against labour unionists, journalists, and rural opponents to the land rush by metallic mining interests; the same interests Zelaya had frustrated by continuing a moratorium on open pit gold mining due to its detrimental environmental and social effects.
Cuffe quotes MiningWatch Canada's Jennifer Moore, who says,
“In Honduras, Canada’s use of overseas development aid and its diplomacy to promote corporate interests are really evident, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the military-backed coup in 2009.”
“Canada set about, with representatives from the Canadian embassy, together with representatives from CIDA, to start to lobby for a new mining law.”11
As disturbing as Canada's direct involvement in and tacit support of the coups d'état in Chile, Haiti, and Honduras is, it's just the tip of an iceberg. In addition to: Canada's role as willing coalition member in the first Gulf War; providing logistical and moral support for Gulf War II; (while officially not taking part in it)12; and, thirteen years of loyal garrison duty in Afghanistan, Canadian war-making was too unleashed against Libya, in the form of aerial bombardment, contributing to the Gaddafi regime change and abetting that leader's gruesome assassination. The effect of that illegal intervention is precursor to the chaos and civil war destroying Africa's once most-prosperous nation, and is a major factor in the refugee crisis playing out upon the waves of the Mediterranean still.
Canada is now determined to expand its foreign policy strategies to include dropping bombs on Syria, in addition to attacking Fallujah, that most benighted of Iraq's cities. Despite the disastrous failures in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and everywhere else this strategy is deployed, Canada's government refuses to be turned. Of this attitude, the late Gil Scott-Heron sagely warned, "We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can't bomb it to peace." But peace doesn't seem to be on the agenda.
We count on media to be the true friend that tells us when our government, the one charged with running our democracy, is going in the wrong direction; instead, unblinking flattery and banality is what we, and the far-flung victims of our new self-identification as a global gun for hire, are condemned to.
Chris Cook is a contributing editor to the web news site, Pacific Free Press.com, and long-serving host of the weekly public affairs program, Gorilla Radio, broad/webcast from the University of Victoria.
1. Peter Kornbluh, "Kissinger's Role in the Chilean Coup", The Nation, September 11, 2013, Accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/blog/176138/peter-kornbluh-kissingers-role-chilean-coup
2. Yves Engler, "Canada's Secret Role in Iraq", CounterPunch.org, Weekend Edition March 29-31, 2013, Accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/29/canadas-secretive-role-in-iraq/
3. John Foster and Bob Carty, "Chile's 1973 Coup, 40 Years Later: Observances, Part Two", Embassynews.ca, September 11, 2013, http://opencanada.org/branch-news/chiles-1973-coup-40-years-later-observances-part-two/, Accessed November 5, 2014
4. Engler, "Canada's Secret Role in Iraq"
5. Francis Peddie, "Unwilling Host: The Admission of Chilean Refugees to Canada, (1973-1975)", Diálogos, March 15, 2008, Accessed November 4, 2014, http://dialogos.ca/2008/03/unwilling-host-the-admission-of-chilean-refugees-to-canada-1973-1975/
6. Dru Oja Jay, "Denis Coderre Played Key Role in Destruction of Haiti's Democracy", Coop Média de Montréal, October 25, 2013, Accessed November 10, 2014, http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/story/denis-coderre-played-key-role-destruction-haitis-d/19454
7. CBCNews, "Haitian president calls for peace as 4,500 troops patrol the streets", May 14, 2006, Accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/haitian-president-calls-for-peace-as-4-500-troops-patrol-the-streets-1.581140
8. Rick Macinnes-Rae, CBCNews, "How Canada tried – and failed – to help Haiti's Aristide return to power", CBCNews, October 13, 2013, Accessed November 5, 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/how-canada-tried-and-failed-to-help-haiti-s-aristide-return-to-power-1.1991900
9. Kevin Pina, "Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Kevin Pina, Yves Engler, Janine Bandcroft Aug. 27, 2014", Gorilla Radio.com, August 27, 2014, Accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.gorilla-radio.com/index.php?tag=Engler
10. Pina, "Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Kevin Pina, Yves Engler, Janine Bandcroft Aug. 27, 2014"
11. Sandra Cuffe, Richochet, November 10, 2014, Accessed November 10, 2014, https://ricochet.media/en/177/blood-for-gold-the-human-cost-of-canadas-free-trade-with-honduras
12. Yves Engler, "Canada's Secret Role in Iraq"