|Canada the good?
Did you know that the Canadian military funds the largest public relations machine in the country? Did you know our government hosted the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti in early 2003 (a meeting to which not a single Haitian was invited) to lay the planning groundwork for 2004’s coup, a military intervention involving Canadian troops as well as American and French? The coup removed a democratically elected government in Haiti and led to years of death squad violence in the tormented island country.
If you are aware of these facts, seldom, if ever reported in Canada’s mainstream media, you are likely familiar with the work of one of this country’s hardest working public intellectuals, Yves Engler. If not, you should be.
Engler, who made his bones as a left activist as a student radical at Concordia, has devoted the last decade to tireless criticism of Canadian foreign policy. He is one of the few Canadian writers to challenge the national myth that Canada is “a force for good” in the world (a position held by nine out of ten surveyed here and cast into doubt by any objective assessment of the role Canada has played as the go-to ally to support American imperialism and the interests of predatory Canadian companies around the world.)
Successfully branded as a champion of peace and human rights, Canada has been a useful corporate home for the mining companies that flock to incorporate in a country that doesn’t ask too many inconvenient questions about human rights and environmental abuses. These companies dig for gold, copper or uranium in the third world, and for impunity in Ottawa.
Engler’s earlier books include: Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation; The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy; Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt; Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay (with Bianca Mugyenyi); The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy (shortlisted for the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non Fiction in the Quebec Writers’ Federation Literary Awards); Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical, and (with Anthony Fenton) Canada in Haiti: Waging War on The Poor Majority; and Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid.
In the cumbersomely titled, A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, Engler provides a detailed and lucid description of the network of direct military public relations bodies, corporate sponsored think tanks, academics and big companies that co-operate in promoting the myth of Canada’s selfless foreign policy and obfuscating the true role of many of our foreign policy and foreign aid initiatives, the protection and promotion of company profits and power around the world.
Engler is the first commentator I have encountered who boldly declares that Lester Pearson, far from being the avuncular champion of peacemaking he is portrayed as in most accounts, was a war criminal, deeply complicit in many moments of US imperialism.
At a moment when the phrase “fake news” has a lot of currency, this is an important read for anyone who sometimes suspects that Canada’s highly concentrated business-controlled media may be purveying an unhealthy slice of pro-business, pro- imperialism propaganda- fake news in service to predatory power.
Engler’s goal is to deliver the results of his impressively thorough research in accessible language and down to earth metaphor. For example, the author, a former junior hockey player, repeatedly and entertainingly argues that the Canadian military and the business class it serves are best understood by seeing the parallels between the Canadian Forces and the Montreal Canadiens – dubious enterprises that are propped up by major public relations campaigns. This is only one example of Engler’s fluent, genuinely popularising style, which makes his books both informative and easy to read and digest.
But all his research and the virtues of his prose style can only have an impact if his books are widely read, and this country’s mainstream media show no interest in reviewing works that run counter to the interests of big advertisers and the military.
Un-reviewed and little known outside of left circles, Engler’s books don’t have the wide readership they deserve, at least not yet. I urge every reader to pick up a copy of A Propaganda System. If you agree that this is vitally important information and analysis, pass your copy on to friends and family, and promote the book and the author on social media.
As another Montreal writer, Leonard Cohen wrote “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,” but most of us need the kind of specific detail that Engler spells out in this book to help protect us from the pro-business propaganda that loads the dice in the nations newspapers and broadcast journalism. If you desire a Canada that lives up to its currently undeserved good reputation, read and promote the works of this writer.