Canada’s “Minister of War” Chrystia Freeland pursues “America First” foreign policy
President Donald Trump and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, participate in the USMCA ("New NAFTA") signing ceremony, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At center is Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

In Canada’s 2015 parliamentary elections, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party ran on a vague anti-war platform that emphasized peacekeeping. However, the last four years have seen an escalation in militarism and Canada’s involvement in U.S.-led regime change attempts around the world. These efforts have been led by one of Trudeau’s cabinet stars, Chrystia Freeland, who has proven herself to be a hardline hawk.

Two years after Freeland was promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs in early 2017, a dispatch to Washington from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa was made public that revealed how much the United States appreciated her appointment.

The dispatch, titled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy,” says Freeland was promoted “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts,” and that her “number one priority” was working closely with Washington. The Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, Peter Kent, was also excited and said he hoped Freeland did not soften her stance.

The first page of a dispatch from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa back to to Washington detailing Freeland’s “America First” approach to foreign policy. | Communist Party of Canada

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as Washington and Kent. Some in Canada’s peace movement had been paying close attention to Freeland’s ties to the coup government in Ukraine that came to power in 2014. Alex Boykowich, a Ukrainian-Canadian member of the Communist Party of Canada, researched the archives of Freeland’s grandfather Michael Chomiak. He found clear evidence that Chomiak was a Nazi propagandist during the war who edited a newspaper in Poland with grotesque anti-Semitic editorials and praise for the Ukrainian Waffen SS division. The newspaper itself was founded after the Nazis stole the press from a Jewish publisher who was sent to die in a death camp.

The Canadian corporate media eventually published this information, but the chorus of “Freeland can’t be blamed for the sins of her grandfather” quickly became the dominant narrative. In fact, Freeland had known the full truth of her grandfather for at least twenty years since she helped edit a paper about his past in 1996. After the information was made public, she again tried to bury the story by alleging that it was part of a “Russian disinformation” campaign. The Canadian government expelled a Russian diplomat who did try and publicize the truth. Freeland still has not acknowledged her grandfather’s crimes.

This story is relevant today. The Trudeau administration has imposed several rounds of harsh sanctions on Russia, sent Canadian troops to NATO missions in the Baltics on Russia’s borders, and provided military training to the Ukrainian military. In 2018, Canadian military officials were photographed with the fascist Azov Battalion, which the UN had connected to war crimes. In August, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine spoke at a ceremony to honor Nazi collaborators, unveiling a new monument at the edge of a cemetery holding the remains of 1,200 murdered Jews. “It’s like putting a monument to the killers on the top of the graves of their victims,” said an official from the Ukrainian Jewish Committee in Kiev.

Freeland’s contact with Ukrainian politician Andriy Parubiy can also be seen in a new light. He came to Ottawa in 2016 to warn Canada against resuming regular diplomatic relations with Russia. Freeland has met with him several times, and he has also met with Trudeau and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan. In the 1990s, Parubiy was a co-founder of the Social Nationalist Party (Svoboda), modeled on the Nazi Party, in Ukraine. Criminal proceedings have been launched against Parubiy over his leading role in the Odessa Trade Union House massacre in 2014 when fascist forces set fire to trade union offices with fifty trade unionists and communists trapped inside who were burned alive. In May, Freeland met with him and proudly posted a photo of them together on her Facebook page: “[we] discussed the role that Canadian election monitors played in Ukraine’s presidential elections and will play again parliamentary elections later this year. Canada stands with Ukraine and its vibrant democracy!”

Chrystia Freeland proudly meets Andriy Parubiy, co-founder of far-right Social Nationalist Party and charged in Odessa Trade Union House massacre. | Posted to Chrystia Freeland’s Facebook page

In addition to worsening tensions with Russia, Freeland has also seen Canada’s relations with China go into freefall, especially after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. government. While Canada does not officially recognize the U.S. sanctions on Iran that Wanzhou is charged with circumventing, Freeland and Trudeau were only too happy to agree to her arrest. Trump declared this was helpful in his trade war with China, while Freeland and Trudeau hid behind the “rule of law” and said that this was not a political decision. Siding with the U.S. in its ongoing trade war with China has led to schisms in the Liberal Party itself and has drawn Canada into the conflict with China.

Perhaps the most high-profile of Freeland’s war-mongering is her leading role in the attempted coup in Venezuela. Over the last two years, Freeland has patiently and persistently worked with the U.S. to organize the Venezuelan opposition, right-wing governments in the Americas, and imperialist countries in order to strangle Venezuelan sovereignty and self-determination.

In 2017, Canada was key in bringing together the “Lima Group,” a meeting of countries outside recognized international organizations that included 12 right-wing governments. One of their key demands was for presidential elections in Venezuela. But when the Venezuelan government called the 2018 presidential elections, Freeland and the Lima Group, as well as sections of the opposition, declared them illegitimate before they took place. Freeland made sure Venezuelans in Canada were not able to vote by refusing polling stations at the consulates and embassy, an anti-democratic maneuver that no other country attempted. 250 observers from sixty countries including the former presidents of Spain and Ecuador, and labour and church organizations from Canada, confirmed that the election was fair and transparent and that President Nicolás Maduro had been re-elected.

By not recognizing the elections, Canada and the U.S. set the stage to impose a president that they selected. The Associated Press reported early this year that Freeland’s work was crucial to Juan Guaidó’s attempt to seize power: “Playing a key role behind the scenes was Lima Group member Canada, whose Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaidó the night before Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony to offer her government’s support should he confront the socialist leader.”

Throughout the attempted coup, Freeland’s close partnership with Pompeo, Bolton, Abrams, and Trump lent Canada’s name to a campaign of aggression which risked an illegal invasion by the U.S. This could have, and still could, result in mass bloodshed in that country, similar to what we have seen in Iraq where more than a million people have died over the last fifteen years.

In 2017, Freeland announced Canadian sanctions on over 100 Venezuelan officials. International sanctions, mainly those of the U.S., are a form of collective punishment that are estimated to have caused the deaths of more than 40,000 Venezuelans in 2018. The economic situation in Venezuela is getting worse thanks to even more economic terrorism inflicted by the U.S. in the course of the latest coup attempt this year.

Freeland’s use of sanctions is not restricted to Venezuela and Russia. Increased sanctions on Syria were implemented soon after Freeland took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and this year the progressive government of Nicaragua became a new target of Canadian sanctions. Even where the Liberals promised to normalize relations in 2015, there has been a move towards a more hawkish posture, as in the case of Iran.

Liberal interventionists claim that Freeland is a staunch defender of human rights and that these policies are a demonstration of Canadian leadership globally. However, Freeland has very little to say about the crimes being committed by the Colombian state, where social movement leaders are murdered every week, or Brazil, where the ultra-right Bolsanaro government threatens the LGBTIQ community and Indigenous peoples. Global Affairs Canada (the re-named Ministry of Foreign Affairs) is silent about Honduras, where an uprising is underway against a president who stole the 2017 elections.

In late 2017, Freeland sided with the U.S. and Israel in opposing a resolution, backed by 176 countries, in support of Palestinian statehood. In 2018, after the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem and Israeli snipers shot more than 2,000 unarmed people in Gaza, Freeland appeared with Netanyahu to say that “Canada’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering and ironclad.”

The Liberal government also has to answer for its support for Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a horrendous war in Yemen. The UN has said that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is “the worst in the world” with an estimated 24 million people in need of assistance and protection, and famine threatening hundreds of thousands. In September, Yemen’s Houthi rebels released footage showing captured Canadian-made light armored vehicles, indicating clearly that the armored vehicles exported to Saudi Arabia through Trudeau’s approval of a Stephen Harper-era deal are being used in this bloody war. The Liberal government was forced to launch a review of the arms contract after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia in 2018. There has been no update on this review and human rights organizations have written a letter to Trudeau saying that this has brought “the sincerity of the effort into question.”

The hypocrisy of Canadian foreign policy under Freeland and the Trudeau Liberals cannot be explained by a love of human rights or humanitarianism. Their policies can only be explained by Canadian business interests, especially mining and arms deals, and their ever-closer alliance with an increasingly belligerent U.S. government.

The world cannot afford another four years of Chrystia Freeland and neither can Canada. The Trudeau government’s pledge to raise military spending by 73% over the next eight years, prompted by Trump’s request to NATO countries to pay up, will result in deeper austerity and suffering at home and more war abroad. Freeland represents the worst the Liberal Party has in the way of warmongers, and she must be defeated as a step towards winning an independent foreign policy of peace and disarmament.

This article first appeared in People’s Voice. The author, Drew Garvie, is the candidate of the Communist Party of Canada challenging Freeland for her parliamentary seat in Toronto in Canada’s federal election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019.

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Drew Garvie
Drew Garvie

Drew Garvie is the Ontario leader of the Communist Party of Canada. He writes for People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper.