After a recent incident of racism in the Canadian military, General Jonathan Vance and defense department deputy minister Jody Thomas acknowledged: “historically, the social structures that formed our nation disproportionally privileged white people.”
Unfortunately, their letter does not detail their understanding of this, but scholars have provided an analysis of the historic and contemporary role of the military and the para-military Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP).
Sean Carleton has written: “In recent decades, Canadian military and police forces have continued to play a central role in suppressing Indigenous resistance.”
Carleton gives this critical example: “In 1990, during the Oka conflict, Mohawks at Kanehsatà:ke endured a 78-day siege by La Sûreté du Québec and the Canadian military for opposing the expansion of a nine-hole golf course on unceded Kanien’kéha:ka territory.”
Pam Palmater adds: “[In June 2019] the national inquiry found that all levels of government — federal, provincial, territorial and municipal — have engaged in historic and ongoing genocide; a form of gendered colonization which targets Indigenous women and girls for violence and denies them basic human rights protections.”
She further notes: “This genocide includes the theft of Indigenous lands and resources and the criminalization of Indigenous peoples who peacefully defend their lands and peoples from the violence, especially from the extractive industry.”
Within recent years, a federal cabinet minister even threatened to use Canada’s “defense forces” in this context.
In December 2016, Jim Carr stated that the military could be deployed to quell protests against the construction of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline that would cross unceded Secwepemc territory without free, prior and informed consent.
The minister of natural resources said: “If people choose for their own reasons not to be peaceful, then the government of Canada, through its defense forces, through its police forces, will ensure that people will be kept safe.”
While Carr did apologize, the federal minister of infrastructure was then asked in February 2018 to guarantee that he would not use the military or the police to force through the construction of the pipeline. The minister refused to give that guarantee.
Others have pointed to a pattern of racialized militarism globally as well.
Bianca Mugyenyi recently wrote: “Each and every time we consider Canadian support for corporations or military interventions, we must take into account the standpoint of the largely Black and brown countries that make up most of the world.”
“In 2011, a Canadian general led the bombing of Libya, which the African Union vigorously opposed. AU officials argued the NATO war would destabilize that country and the region. An upsurge in anti-Blackness, including slave markets, subsequently appeared in Libya and violence quickly spilled southward to Mali and across much of the Sahel.”
Tamara Lorincz further points out: “Over the past decade, Canadian fighter jets have bombed Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, prolonging violent conflict and contributing to massive humanitarian and refugee crises.”
And Code Pink for Peace activists Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies have written:
“As we chant ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we should include the lives of Black and brown people dying every day from US sanctions in Venezuela, the lives of Black and brown people being blown up by US bombs in Yemen and Afghanistan, the lives of people of color in Palestine who are tear-gassed, beaten and shot with Israeli weapons funded by US-taxpayers.”
The links have also been made between the military and climate breakdown, which disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Just one example that connects military spending and the fossil fuel economy is the paper by a clean-energy advocacy group composed of retired military and business leaders that found (in a conservative calculation) that the United States spends US$81 billion a year defending its oil supplies around the world.
Phyllis Bennis has observed: “The U.S. military is clearly an obstacle to a safe climate — so any comprehensive climate justice policy must confront U.S. militarism head-on.”
The current movement around defunding the police and the increasing militarization of the police opens up the space to talk about all this.
Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, has explained: “Defunding the police means we’re actually resourcing communities with access to health care, access to adequate public education, and access to jobs.”
Years ago, Petra Kelly similarly noted:
“We spend billions on weapons research and millions training our young people at military academies. Why not invest in peace studies and peace actions? We need to support groups like Peace Brigades International that intervene nonviolently in situations of conflict. We need to work concretely to realize peace and nonviolence in our time.”
In this regard, the Canadian Peace Initiative has a campaign to establish a federal Department of Peace. And Eriel Tchekwie Deranger has urged NGOs advocating for a Green New Deal to: “center the destructive intertwined roles of capitalism, consumerism, militarism and colonialism as foundations to the current crisis.”
As the Canadian government prepares to spend $1 billion on Raytheon missiles and related equipment, award a $19 billion contract for new fighter jets in 2022, and increase spending to $32.7 billion a year on the military by 2026, it is both timely and necessary to have a conversation about peacebuilding and the structures of violence.
Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. To follow on Twitter, @CBrentPatterson @PBIcanada.