A story of Canada’s imperialist military servant – People’s World
Many informed Canadians – and Americans and many others, for that matter – remain surprisingly ignorant of the country’s military history. The Canadian military is widely perceived as non-existent, irrelevant or a force for good. The Canadian Forces (CF) public relations department has been very effective in shaping a positive image of the country’s military. Moreover, the constant comparisons with the rampant militarism of the United States benefit Canada’s image.
With the new book Standing Guard For Whom: A People’s History of the Canadian Army, Canadian foreign policy expert Yves Engler produces a rigorously researched document that exposes Canada’s role as a servant of imperialism – first of the British, then of the United States – and reveals countless details that qualify the Canadian army as an international player in its own right.
Private capital and the Canadian arms industry
Like its militaristic neighbor to the south, Canada’s arms industry is an international juggernaut linked to big business and the highest government positions. The country’s largest military company is Montreal-based CAE, which trains thousands of Canadian, American and British fighter pilots. In addition, CAE trained apartheid Israel’s military personnel and the Saudi and Emirati pilots who bombed Yemen beginning in 2015. According to a 2009 report, more than 100 Canadian arms companies exported products to Israel.
Wherever atrocities are committed, Canadian arms manufacturers seem to be found. During the Indonesian genocide in East Timor, Canada “pumped over a third of a billion dollars in military exports to Indonesia, an outlaw state repeatedly condemned by the United Nations,” for example.
Montreal-based construction and engineering firm SNC Lavalin, infamous for a sordid legacy of corruption that implicated Prime Minister Trudeau, oversaw the construction and management of CF bases in Kandahar, Bosnia and Kabul”d’ worth hundreds of millions of dollars” in partnership with the United States and received hundreds of millions more to help warships.
The equally infamous private security firm Blackwater, now renamed Academi, “received over $10 million to form JTF2 [elite special forces] of CF personnel and police” and employed former CF Special Forces members. Many of these private security companies are run by former high-ranking officials who shuttle between private and government positions, often approving funding and contracts for the companies they work for.
Similar to Blackwater, Montreal-based GardaWorld is the world’s largest private security company with over 90,000 employees. Engler reveals that GardaWorld raised hundreds of millions of dollars from the US invasion of Iraq, for example, even though Canada did not declare war on Iraq. Former CF Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Zdunich headed GardaWorld’s operations in Libya and former CF Commander Daniel Menard headed GardaWorld’s operations in Afghanistan. “The Garda board also included ‘distinguished former US and UK military and security officials’.
Colonialist and imperialist
Other chapters detail the use of the CF to clear Indigenous lands for settlement, often building military bases on seized Indigenous territories. As Engler reveals, this process is not ancient history, but has continued unabated from the earliest colonial incursions of the British Empire through the 20th century and into the present day.
“Naval Base Esquimalt was built on land taken from the Songhees… CFB [Canadian Forces Base] Chilliwack was built on land taken from the Three Sto:lo; CFB Petawawa was Algonquins of Holden Lake land; CFB Gagetown in Oromocto Territory,” Engler wrote.
Other chapters detail the Canadian military’s obscene destruction of the environment, its legacy of sexism and racism, its malignant capability within NATO and NORAD, its economic tentacles that extend to every aspect of Canadian life and his important role in overthrowing liberation leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and, more recently, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Mouammar Gadaffi.
Canada’s involvement in the Boer War, the two world wars, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to its leadership position in the destruction of Yugoslavia, Libya and Haiti are all examined in depth.
Canada’s Greatest Public Relations Machine
Many Canadians continue to believe their military is a force for peace, even after Defense Chief Rick Hillier made it clear in 2008 that “our job is to be able to kill people.” Engler does not ignore this aspect of the Canadian Forces, but studies how the army’s public relations department maintains such a high degree of efficiency – an aspect of military operations generally overlooked by analysts or military historians.
“The CF operates the greatest public relations machine in the country,” Engler writes. “To protect its image and promote its worldview, the CF spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on public relations and related military commemorations. More than 600 employees are dedicated to public relations operations.
Meanwhile, activists and anti-war groups fighting the malign influence of CF propaganda campaigns typically work as volunteers in their spare time and make extraordinary sacrifices to raise funds for even the most basic expenses.
In response to any criticism of the Canadian Armed Forces, its public affairs employees engage in smear campaigns, attack journalists who write unflattering stories about the CF, intimidate those who speak out, investigate journalists’ sources and write to their bosses and editors to threaten their livelihoods. At times, the CF has disseminated outright lies to the media and academics.
Engler’s writing is neither steeped in ideology nor speculative or creative. Its great strength lies in its meticulous research and, therefore, this book will appeal especially to those seeking authoritative evidence. While this may detract from any page-turning appeal this subject might possess, the book more than makes up for it in its information density. Sometimes each sentence is followed by a reference – by my calculations the book contains over 2,000 footnotes – and Engler lists about 200 books in the bibliography.
The first edition, published by Black Rose Books, falls short in one respect that could be rectified in future printings: the lack of a comprehensive index. The printed version of this book could be an even more effective tool for researchers with this addition.
Following Engler’s books which focused on the foreign policy of the Trudeau and Harper administrations, historic Canadian foreign policy, Lester Pearson, and Canada’s role in Haiti, Africa and Israel, Engler set out to to write the first general overview of the Canadian military that addressed the subject “from the perspective of those who have been wronged or disenfranchised in Canadian wars, repression and military culture”.
The result is an indispensable publication for scholars, writers, journalists, activists, experts and readers seeking to better understand Canada’s place in the geopolitical landscape of today and that of the past 200 years.
“There was never a clean break from the colonial mentality of imposing imperial rule,” Engler concludes.
Standing Guard For Whom: A People’s History of the Canadian Army
By Yves Engler
Black Rose Books, 2021, 400 pages.