11 Feb From Indigenous Lands to Ukraine: Canada prioritizes profits over people, both at home and abroad, despite existential consequences


The legacy of 150 years of systemic discrimination and attempted assimilation is bleak and intractable. It has resulted in cultural erosion and alienation, relentless intergenerational trauma, and socio-economic marginalization. While representing only five percent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people endure massively disproportionate rates of poverty, interpersonal violence and family breakdown, addiction and substance abuse, lower levels of education, and higher unemployment… And mostly as a cumulative result of the foregoing, Indigenous people are hugely overrepresented in both the child welfare and the criminal justice systems of this country.[i]


… the Supreme Court [of Canada] suggests that Aboriginal title “crystallized” at the same time sovereignty was asserted, hence presumably permitting the layering/burdening of radical title, but the logic of this is perplexing. Some argue, in my view correctly, that the whole construct is simply a legal fiction to justify the de facto seizure and control of the land and resources formerly owned by the original inhabitants of what is now Canada[ii]


~ Mr. Justice Kent, Supreme Court of British Columbia, 2022


Racism at home


“Hugely overrepresented” has been quantified. For example, under the aegis of the ironically-named Department of “Justice”, Indigenous women make up 40% of the female inmate population in Canada, and Indigenous female youths represent 60%.[iii]


What Canadian law is starting to recognize is that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were intentionally dehumanized, delegitimized, and ethnically cleansed. In short, they were treated as “unpeoples”. This was accomplished via genocidal policies and practices that – to this day – continue to bear fruit for corporations that control land and resources, while bearing cumulatively tragic consequences for Indigenous people. Consider, for example, the fact that settler laws systematically stripped Indigenous people of their very rights, status, and dignity as human beings, while granting legal personhood (and all associated rights and protections) to corporations. The beneficiaries whose interests have driven this centuries-long multi-generational genocidal campaign are a tiny group of people who disproportionately control most of our society’s wealth.


In the BC Supreme Court case quoted above, the beneficiary was Rio Tinto, the world’s second largest metals and mining corporation, which has engaged in some of the most extractive and environmentally destructive practices of any industry. A plethora of other capitalist interests have been prioritized by Canada on behalf of various corporations. The “seizing and controlling” of Indigenous land and, more importantly, of Indigenous values, has been instrumental for the maximization of corporate profits. Rather than adopt Indigenous principles that underpin a duty for humans to act as caretakers of the Earth for present and future generations, and for the benefit of all living things, Anglo-American law envisions the Earth as a basket of (presumed endless) resources waiting to be violently plundered and incessantly extracted in the pursuit of profit. Of course the law has failed to recognize (or simply doesn’t care about the fact) that humanity’s very existence is entirely dependent upon the strength and health of that basket and the abundance of its contents. This process has occurred to varying degrees in nearly every industrial sector: mining, fishing, logging, oil & gas, etc. One might well wonder, who are the real “savages”?


Consider this: Canada supports such savage policy and practices with respect to a domestic population – namely, Indigenous people who live with and among all Canadians across our country, who are descendants of the first humans to make this land their home. Canada others and alienates them from the rest of society – persecuting Indigenous people as unwanted intruders and outsiders on their own ancestral lands. In light of that sobering fact, consider what interests would motivate Canadian policy and practice internationally, with respect to a foreign population that lives far away and is ipso facto already alien and othered?



Racism abroad


Case study #1: Haiti – Aristide


In 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an extraordinarily popular priest, became the first democratically elected president of Haiti. His popularity was the product of a widespread and organized grassroots campaign. Canada supported the democracy movement in Haiti (after years of supporting the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier), believing the former World Bank official Marc Bazin would easily win with unprecedented levels of foreign-corporate support. Aristide, however, won by a landslide in what the formally instituted UN Observer Group called a free and fair election: he received 67% of the popular vote (note Trudeau “won” the last election with 33% of the popular vote after backtracking on his promise of proportional representation).


This outcome was unacceptable because Aristide began to implement popular social-democratic reforms, such as instituting a living wage, prioritizing domestic resources for domestic consumption, ensuring clean drinking water and adequate food, increasing literacy rates, and ensuring the provision of healthcare for his country’s population. In short, he diverted Haiti’s meagre resources (both natural and labour) for the benefit of Haitians, at the expense of foreign transnational corporations like Gildan, the fast-fashion Canadian clothing manufacturer.


Fast forward to 2004. After a string of electoral victories for Aristide, having grown tired of this leader who was yet another “voice for the voiceless” implementing social-democratic reforms to improve his nation’s meagre living conditions, Canadian Special Forces invaded Haiti and kidnapped Aristide at the behest of the Department of “Foreign Affairs”. He was deposed to the Central African Republic. His crime? Just like Indigenous unpeoples with respect to “their” land and resources, Aristide failed to appreciate that Haitian resources – namely its poor, indentured labour class – were there to serve the interests of Canadian corporations. Policies and practices that humanized Haitians and improved their quality of life at the expense of Canadian corporate bottom lines had to be stopped.[iv] Canada with its NATO partners acted swiftly to install a new interim government by coup d’état.


Case study #2: Venezuela – Maduro


In 2013 social-democrat Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and trade-union leader, was elected by a narrow margin – just 1.5% of the vote. A recount confirmed his victory over Henrique Capriles, a conservative tax lawyer. It is important to note that outside observers, including the Carter Center (founded by former US President Jimmy Carter) and Emory University, monitored this election and found it to be free and fair.[v]


Like Aristide, however, the Maduro government continued Chavez’ policy and practice of prioritizing the needs of poor- and working-class Venezuelans over the interests of transnational corporations – especially Canadian and American mining and oil & gas companies. This too was unacceptable. On 08 August 2017, Trudeau’s Canada, working in concert with and for its parent-partner the US, assumed leadership of the newly created so-called Lima (read Ottawa) Group, an ad hoc breakaway group of the Organization of American States (OAS).  In early 2019 the Ottawa Group tried to overthrow Madura with yet another coup d’état.  This time however, the Canada-US efforts failed, and Maduro remained in power, continuing to institute policies and practices that prioritized the needs of the domestic population over the profits of foreign corporations.



Case study #3: Russia – Ukraine


The case of Russia and Ukraine is different in some respects, but quite similar in others. Although this conflict was not characterized by the dehumanization and delegitimization of peoples-of-colour, it is nonetheless driven by the impetus to stifle a potential alternative path to development and by a desire to very publicly punish any opposition to NATO.


To understand the Russia-Ukraine-NATO conflict, we have to appreciate how we got here. The problem with Russia at the beginning of the 20th century was not that it was undemocratic. Canada did not care one iota for democracy. Recall the people who were unpeoples within our own borders. Half of the Canadian population – women – had no democratic rights whatsoever and were the property of men. People of colour, such as Chinese immigrants, had no democratic rights despite literally financing and building the infrastructure that created Canada, including our national railroad. Sikhs who came to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century as British subjects, on the promise that they were entitled to nationalize anywhere in the Commonwealth, were dehumanized and left to rot in Victoria’s holding cells or on ships that were not permitted to dock in Vancouver’s ports (i.e. the Komagata Maru “incident”). Upon returning to India many of the Sikhs helped spawn the Ghadr (Revolutionary) Party and thus initiated anti-British “terrorist” activity and the push for independence. Finally, as already noted, Indigenous unpeoples who had populated the Americas since “time immemorial” were granted no democratic rights whatsoever.


The problem with Russia at the beginning of the 20th century was the alternative path that it was taking toward economic development. The state directed a controlled economy and the collectivization of resources. Profit-driven transnational corporations were not running the show for their own gain. Within a generation Russia had gone from a third-world country to a second-world country with a markedly improved standard of living. However, it was not interested in doing business with transnational corporations from the West.


No less than three times in the span of 150 years, from 1812 to 1944, Western Europe came close to wiping Russia off the map. Though history may be unimportant to powerful actors within NATO, Russians do not forget this history. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Senior reached an agreement that NATO – a hostile military alliance whose sole purpose was to counter the Warsaw Pact – would not advance one inch toward the East. Immediately after the Berlin Wall came down, NATO advanced into East Germany. Each successive American President, working alongside his NATO partners, has extended NATO to the East. Now, NATO sits at Russia’s doorstep, and Ukraine has gained particular strategic importance for Russia as a buffer against the NATO invasion. Imagine for a moment, what kind of rhetoric would dominate the newswire if China spearheaded a hostile military alliance with the nations of Central and South America to counter US-NATO hegemony in the World. The thought does not arise in public discourse because it is our right to subjugate the unpeoples of the World.


The problem with Russia in the 20th century was that, like Haiti and Venezuela above, it dared to pursue economic development founded upon principles of equitable resource distribution and the amelioration of life and conditions for the impoverished and suffering working class. The problem with Russia now is that it continues to defy NATO and its member states. Any defiance, whether domestic or international, cannot be tolerated and must be eliminated.



The Path Forward


We face an existential crisis. The stakes are too high to continue treating fellow Canadians and impoverished people in the developing world as unpeoples.


The Doomsday Clock, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and the University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, is now set at 100 seconds to midnight.[vi] NATO members, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel all possess enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet countless times over. The US under Obama, and now Biden, is spending nearly half a trillion dollars on strategic nuclear re-armament. The growing risk of nuclear holocaust and the ever-escalating climate catastrophe together pose an existential crisis for all of humanity.


I remain hopeful that we have the power to overcome these crises – to start working together towards peace, respect, renewal, and sustainability. But it will require deep public understanding, empathy, compassion, solidarity, and organized activism to force our government, Trudeau’s Canada, to prioritize the fate of our species (indeed, all living things) above the interests of transnational corporations. Our government dedicates unprecedented resources to domestic and international militarism, policing, and the armed forces. It is time to dismantle this militant relationship with the unpeoples of the world. Whether at home or abroad, it is time that we welcome everyone into the ranks of equally-deserving fellow human beings – to accept and treat everyone as people. To treat others as we ourselves wish and expect to be treated – with respect, appreciation, and compassion. In short, to engage in true reconciliation. To meaningfully acknowledge and heal past wrongs, and to take real measures aimed at ensuring that such harms are not perpetrated again. As humans we should be united in our fight against COVID, our efforts to save the environment, our fight to eliminate the threat of nuclear holocaust, and our desire to ameliorate growing socio-economic divides. Let’s devote our energy, resources, and efforts toward organization and action, if not for ourselves, then as caretakers for our children and their children. Our very survival as a species depends on it.



[i] Thomas and Saik’uz First Nation v Rio Tinto Alcan Inc., 2022 BCSC 15, at para 177 [Saik’uz]

[ii] Saik’uz at para 198. Available on CanLII at: https://canlii.ca/t/jlnn6.

[iii] Scott Clark. 2019. “Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in the Canadian Criminal justice System: Causes and Responses.” Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada. Report available as a pdf online at: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/oip-cjs/oip-cjs-en.pdf.

[iv] See, for example, Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton, Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (Black Point and Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2006).

[v] https://www.cartercenter.org/about/index.html

[vi] https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/