‘Fact-free blather’ in Canadian foreign policy

By Yves Engler, Jan. 18, 2023

We need to make sure that the solutions are driven by the people of Haiti themselves,” noted Justin Trudeau after meeting US president Joe Biden in Mexico City last week. In December Canada’s prime minister was quoted in a release saying Canada was working to “support a Haitian-led solution” to the country’s crisis while in October foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly declared, “we need to support a Haitian-led solution” and later said, “the solution to this crisis must be Haitian-led.”

As Canadian officials have traveled the hemisphere discussing Haiti in recent months, they’ve repeatedly talked about “Haitian-led” solutions to the country’s problems. The cognitive dissonance is stunning.

They can do so because the commentariat don’t challenge their statements. Imagine Trudeau getting together with the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan to announce a British Columbia-led solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis. It would be ridiculed. But, observed Rick Salutin, “foreign policy is a truth-free, fact-free zone. When leaders speak on domestic issues, citizens at least have points of reference to check them against. On foreign affairs they blather freely.”

The Toronto Star columnist vividly captured an important dynamic of political life. What do most Canadians know about our government’s actions in Haiti?

So, it was disappointing to see one of the only left voices given space in the dominant media engage in “fact-free blather” in “Does hypocrisy matter in foreign policy? Yes and no — take Bob Rae”. Contrasting Trudeau’s support for US imperialism with Lester Pearson’s supposed independent streak, Salutin writes, “In the Vietnam era, PM Lester Pearson tried clumsily to straddle both sides of the raging conflict over that U.S. invasion and actually got himself throttled by President Lyndon Johnson on the White House porch for it. Yet, I think people elsewhere at least recognized his effort.”

Sadly, Salutin’s “White House porch” incident is itself fact-free blather at worst or nationalist folklore at best. According to the mythology, the day after Pearson spoke out against the war in Vietnam at Temple university in Philadelphia the US president accosted him. But here’s part of Pearson’s 1965 speech: “the government and great majority of people of my country have supported wholeheartedly the US peacekeeping and peacemaking policies in Vietnam.” As I detail in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, which I gave Salutin during one of a number of our conversations on Canadian foreign policy, all that Pearson called for at Temple was a pause in the US bombing campaign of North Vietnam. When Pearson met Johnson the next day the president was mad because senior US foreign-policy planners were debating a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam (which would take place months later and when Washington restarted their bombing campaign Pearson publicly justified it). By speaking out Pearson effectively sided with Johnson’s opponents in the US administration after he enabled the bombing campaign. As Noam Chomsky argues in the foreword to my book, Pearson abetted war crimes by having Canadian International Control Commission officials deliver US bombing threats to the North Vietnamese leadership in 1964.

The story about Johnson challenging Pearson at Camp David – not the White House – the day after his supposed antiwar speech only came to light a decade later, once US actions in Vietnam were widely discredited. In 1974 former Canadian ambassador in Washington Charles Ritchie wrote: “The President strode up to him and seized him by the lapel of his coat, at the same time as raising his other arm to the heavens.” Ritchie reported Johnson saying, “you don’t come here and piss on my rug.”

While the ambassador’s description is almost certainly an exaggeration, subsequent commentators have further embellished Richie’s account.

Six decades later one of the only left-wing voices allowed in the corporate media promotes liberal nationalist mythology. It’s an element of the intellectual climate that allows politicians to “blather freely” on international affairs. If we assume Canadian politicians’ aim is to assist the world’s poor, we are less likely to investigate their claims seriously. ‘Benevolent Canada’ mythology enables government officials to utter obviously untrue statements such asCanada seeks a “Haiti-led solution” (not to mention claims that Canada promotes the “international rules-based order,” Russia’s murderous war was “unprovoked”, Canada promotes a “feminist foreign policy”, etc.).

A cursory look at recent Canadian history shows the absurdity of Trudeau and Joly’s claims. Eighteen months ago the US and Canada-led Core Group selected current leader Ariel Henry through a tweet while a decade earlier those two countries intervened to make Michel Martelly president, which set-in motion ongoing criminal PHTK rule. In maybe the starkest example of Canada undermining Haitian solutions, Canadian officials brought together high-level US, French and Organization of American States officials to discuss the country’s future in 2003. No officials from the elected Haitian government were invited to the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting, which discussed ousting then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and placing the country under UN control.

Canadian officials’ declarations about “Haitian-led” solutions are designed to paper over this history and grant some legitimacy to Ottawa’s imperial actions. The media laps it up partly because Canadians generally believe this country is a benevolent force internationally, reality be damned. Only once journalists do their self-proclaimed job of telling the truth is this likely to change.


Posted Jan. 18, 2023