Roche: Heather McPherson has suddenly become one of the most important MPs in Ottawa

EDMONTON—Heather McPherson, the NDP’s foreign affairs critic who, on March 18, steered through the House a groundbreaking motion banning arms sales to Israel, has suddenly become one of the most important parliamentarians in Ottawa. She got the government to bend to her humanitarian-centred motion to stop these sales and help end the violence in Gaza and, in so doing, took Canada into a G7 leadership position.

In the past decade, Canada has authorized $170-million in arms exports to Israel, and continued to allow arms sales there during the present Israel-Gaza war. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed these sales will now stop, but Global Affairs Canada is trying to wiggle out of the vote on the grounds that contracts are involved.

The language that Joly and the government voted for is clear: “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas.” McPherson and her caucus are standing firm that what was voted on—after tough negotiations—must be implemented.

“Thanks to our motion,” McPherson said, “Canada is the first G7 country to stop sending weapons to Netanyahu’s extremist government.”

In January, McPherson and a small group of MPs travelled to Jordan and Palestine to meet with Palestinian refugees, aid workers, Canadian consular officials, and progressive Israeli activists. She saw first-hand evidence of “the complete failure of the international community to stop the unfolding carnage in Gaza,” as she described it to the House.

Backed by NDP Leader Jasmeet Singh, who has expressed alarm at “the rise of antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia” since the start of the war on Oct. 7, 2023, McPherson introduced a wide-ranging motion calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages. The motion also called on the government to “officially recognize the State of Palestine and maintain Canada’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist and to live in peace with its neighbours.”

Although the opposition day motion was non-binding, the government feared a deep rupture in the Liberal caucus between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine factions. When the Bloc Québécois said it would vote for the motion, the government anticipated that it might pass. Negotiations started for amendments.

To save the heart of the motion—ceasefire, more help for Gaza, no arms sales to Israel, support for the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, continued funding for UNRWA—McPherson gave up the call for Canada to officially recognize Palestine. Canada is not ready to break with its Western allies in the long-held position that the elusive two-state solution must precede the recognition. So she agreed to “water-down” the motion to say that Canada would “work with international partners to actively pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of the two-state solution, and maintain Canada’s position that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.”

The amended motion, supported by the Liberals, passed 204-117. Only three Liberal MPs voted no. Several Liberal MPs openly cheered McPherson.

Once again, McPherson showed that co-operation with her political opponents, and a willingness to move away from dogmatic positions can get results. After travelling to Ukraine, she obtained unanimous consent of the House in February to pass a motion calling on Canada to continue to provide military and financial assistance to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, and also “support Ukraine’s future membership in NATO.” That motion doesn’t sound like the old anti-NATO NDP.  But McPherson, an undoubted devotee of the United Nations—not NATO—as the ultimate guarantor of peace, is a pragmatic politician.

McPherson is building a reputation as an effective parliamentarian. During the COVID period in 2020, she obtained unanimous consent of the House for a motion calling on the federal government to provide an additional $2-billion in funding for affordable childcare programs and back-to-school safety measures. I have never heard of a private parliamentarian, and an opposition one at that, obtaining so much money from the government for a project.

McPherson has multiple interests. She led the fight against coal mining in the Eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. And she journeyed to Hiroshima to see for herself the effects of the atomic bomb. She returned as a strong advocate for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

McPherson, who is 51 years old and married with two teenaged children, stands out in a sea of blue in Conservative Alberta. First elected in 2019, she ran up her margin in the 2021 election to 60.7 percent of the vote. She brought to Parliament her experience as executive director of the Alberta Council on Global Co-operation. She has a master of education from the University of Alberta, and has taught around the world.

In her valiant work, McPherson is not just standing up for Palestinians, but for a rules-based order that the world needs reaffirmed at this fraught moment in history, and which too many Canadian politicians are ignoring. I asked her why she worked so hard to get her Israel-Gaza motion passed. “Because 13,000 children have died in this war,” she said. The world needs to pay attention. “There are children with gunshot wounds to the head and neck, and children so severely malnourished that they are skin and bones. Babies are unable to survive, dying before they even have a chance of life. We have seen two peoples utterly traumatized by violence, death, and terror.”

Heather McPherson is a human rights politician. She has earned the respect she receives from all corners of the House. But, she told me, “it’s emotionally draining.”

Former Senator Douglas Roche’s latest book is Keep Hope Alive: Essays for a War-free World (Amazon).

The Hill Times  

Article in pdf here: Roche_032524

Roche: Trudeau may not be able to fend off NATO’s ceaseless demands for more money

The booming voices of the militarists claiming peace can only be won through more arms carry a lot of weight.


EDMONTON—You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence, to be held March 7-8 at the Chateau Laurier, will launch a massive campaign to get the Trudeau government to commit to a date by which it will devote two per cent of GDP to NATO. The Conference on Defence Associations, the conference’s sponsor—heavily financed by the defence industry—is rolling out one high-level speaker after another to demand that Ottawa get in line with the new mantra that Canada is headed for the scrapyards unless we dramatically boost military spending.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should hold to his stand of fending off NATO’s ceaseless demands for more money, but he may not be able to. The booming voices of the militarists, both inside and outside government, claiming peace can only be won through more arms, carry a lot of weight. Those who argue—as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres does—that the world desperately needs a return to the peace-building principles of the UN Charter rather than more military spending, cannot be heard in today’s clamour.

“NATO and the world is watching what Canada is doing,” U.S. ambassador to Canada David Cohen proclaimed on the CBC. The U.S. intimidation tactics are in overdrive. This from the country whose $886-billion annual defence budget is larger than that of the next 10 countries combined.

While castigating Canada for staying at 1.38 per cent of GDP, the ambassador conveniently forgot to mention that, in volume terms, Canada is already the 13th-largest military spender in the world, and the sixth largest in NATO. The government plans to spend $553-billion over the next 20 years to buy new weapons systems like fighter jets, armed drones, and warships. But the militarists say this is not enough. NATO cares not about the chronic underfunding of domestic health and housing programs, strained beyond capacity by the annual intake of half a million immigrants a year.

The two per cent target is a great fraud perpetrated on the public by the military-industrial complex, which drives American policy, which, in turn, drives NATO. Peggy Mason, policy adviser to then-prime minister Joe Clark and now the head of the Rideau Institute, says, “It is absurd to peg military spending to a percentage of economic activity, extrapolated into the future. We need to base our funding on our assessment of the threats to security that Canada faces and our determination of the best means, including non-military means, to address them.”

Trudeau deserves credit for at least questioning NATO’s militaristic thinking that puts the welfare of defence contractors ahead of the financial needs of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a 15-year multi-billion-dollar program to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable people, and which is itself a prime contribution to global security. So far, Canada has contributed $35.5-billion to the SDGs. I have not observed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg—or the U.S. ambassador—thanking Canada for that.

NATO’s two per cent intonation is taking over political thought because the world—which, after the end of the Cold War, started moving from the old culture of war to a new culture of peace—is in a state of severe disruption. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars have so far produced a state of paralysis in international diplomacy. Those who argue for negotiations to bring about a just peace are shouted down, and aspirations for global cooperation in the name of common security are brushed aside.

The tribal instincts of warfare have been resurrected, in which military might is glorified as the only solution to dictators and autocrats who are springing up on a wave of right-wing populism, which is itself a reaction to the failure of the international system created after the Second World War to build enduring and productive centres of peace. In other words, Western nations have put their faith in NATO’s arms stretch instead of the UN’s diplomatic outreach.

Of course, oppression must be stopped, but feeding the arms merchants is not the way. This has only led to global deadlock. In this new time of world upheaval, NATO should be working with the UN peacebuilding systems, which attempt to implement integrated strategies to end conflict and build conditions for peace.

To look for a larger way out of war is not to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, who must be condemned for his invasion, or to close our eyes to the killing tactics employed by both the Hamas and Israel, but to recognize that humanity is calling out for survival.

At the core of the two-per-cent argument is the plain truth: NATO’s constant aggrandizement, burgeoning from the original 12 members to 32—which now virtually surround Russia—is a violation of the promises made after the end of the Cold War that NATO would expand “not one inch.” A bigger NATO has undermined the UN’s political and legal authority.

Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, told me personally that NATO’s obsolete policies were one of the biggest thorns he’d had to endure. He at least pushed back. But NATO bullying never stops.

The present Prime Minister Trudeau faces the same system of outmoded thought. There are millions of Canadians who want him to stand up against it.

Former Senator Douglas Roche’s latest book is Keep Hope Alive: Essays for a War-free World.
The Hill Times

Meyer: The Russians are Coming! The threat of space based weapons is no longer a dark fantasy

“Any nuclear detonation in space would also violate the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty which confined nuclear weapon testing to underground locations only. These prohibitions reflected the realization by the Soviet Union and the United States, at that point the leading space powers, that any nuclear detonation in outer space would have devastating effects on everyone’s spacecraft.

“While positioning a nuclear weapon in orbit is unlikely, a troubling development that has been occurring over the past few years has been a resumption of testing destructive anti-satellite weapons (ASATs). These so-called kinetic weapons are launched by missiles with guidance systems able to direct them on a collision course with the target satellite. China was the first to employ such a direct-ascent ASAT in 2007, followed by the US in 2008, India in 2019 and most recently Russia in November 2021.”

Read the full essay in Open Canada:


Jaramillo: After supporting UN calls for Gaza ceasefire, Canada must now stop military exports to Israel

By Cesar Jaramillo
December 19, 2023, Published in The Hill Times

A recent Project Ploughshares report raises questions about the risks posed by Canada’s major military exports to Israel, and underscores the need for Canada to comply fully with domestic and international arms control obligations.

Operation Iron Swords—Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack—is causing unprecedented harm to Gazan civilians, violating human rights, and flouting international humanitarian law. So horrific is the devastation that Canada has deviated from its staunchly pro-Israel stance, and supported a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire, despite Israel’s opposition.With this politically significant vote, Canada joins almost the entire international community in urging the immediate end to the carnage in Gaza. Now Canada needs to act in the spirit of that non-binding resolution by scrutinizing its role in supplying military goods to Israel.

Project Ploughshares has just released a report by researcher Kelsey Gallagher, entitled Fanning the Flames: The grave risk of Canada’s arms exports to Israel. It raises critical questions about the risks posed by our substantial military exports to Israel, and underscores the need for Canada to comply fully with domestic and international arms control obligations.

The international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to which Canada is a party, imposes clear obligations on member states to prevent arms transfers if there is a substantial risk that they would be used in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law. In taking a stand for a ceasefire, Canada has acknowledged the devastating impact on Gazan civilians under the Israeli offensive, which has been widely denounced for disregarding the most basic humanitarian principles. The logical next step is to reassess the role of Canadian military goods in perpetuating this crisis.

The ATT offers a clear framework for responsible arms transfers, emphasizing the prevention of their misuse, including in breaches of international humanitarian law. Canada, having ratified this treaty, must demonstrate unwavering commitment to its principles. Our nation is duty-bound under the ATT to halt these transfers of military goods to Israel given the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza.

As Fanning the Flames highlights, Canadian military exports to Israel—valued at $27,861,256 in 2021 and $21,329,783 in 2022—include electronic equipment, aircraft, and bomb components. Particularly notable are parts critical to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A variant, the F35I, is being used by the IDF in its bombing campaign in Gaza, and Canadian-made components—including parts of the landing gear, pieces of the engine, and segments of the wings—are found in these Israeli planes.

Israel’s right of self-defence cannot extend to wanton aggression and the flouting of international norms. The global community cannot afford to endorse a narrative in which humanitarian violations are thus excused. And Canada must recognize and rectify its own role in perpetuating the cycle of violence in Gaza through the exporting of its military goods.

For Canada, ceasing all military exports to Israel—given the substantial risk that they may be implicated in human rights violations—is a necessary step and a legal obligation. But we should go further by adopting a presumption-of-denial policy for new export permits related to military goods destined for Israel. Such a policy, when aligned with ATT obligations and humanitarian imperatives, would acknowledge the heightened risks associated with such transfers and aim to prevent our country’s complicity in potential human rights abuses.

The Canadian government must also close loopholes that enable unregulated military transfers to Israel via United States procurement channels, through which Israel receives components for its F-35I fighter jets. This proactive measure would align our domestic control regime with what is required under the Arms Trade Treaty.

Without swift action, Canadian military goods will continue to pose the risk of contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and could even affect the trajectory of future conflicts. What is unfolding in Gaza is a stain on our collective humanity. And if Israel’s behaviour stands as an example of what the West considers acceptable in armed conflict, the whole international community—including the West itself—will surely suffer.

Any such endorsement not only jeopardizes the well-being of those directly affected, but also exposes the vulnerability of international norms to the whims of powerful actors.

Evidence of violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza is indisputable. And history will judge Canada’s response to this critical moment. Support for a long-overdue ceasefire is a good start. Now it is time for Canada to stop arming Israel.

Cesar Jaramillo is executive director of Project Ploughshares,
and chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group.

Turcotte: UN Summit to Talk About UN Emergency Peace Service

UNEPS is envisioned as a permanent, integrated, multi-functional unit of up to 13,000 well-equipped and highly trained personnel, ready for almost immediate deployment when authorized by the Security Council.

December 14, 2023, Published in The Hill Times

CNN reports on yet another Israeli airstrike in Gaza. After panning across the seeming total destruction of residential buildings, the camera trains on a small clearing where bodies of some of the dead have been laid out. One is a toddler no more than three years old. Standing over him is a devastated Palestinian boy about 10 years old, who screams in his language “they killed my father and my baby brother!” He leans down to kiss his tiny brother on the cheek to say goodbye. Such indescribable heart-break. Such an inhuman outrage. As was the murderous attack by Hamas on innocent Israeli men, women, and children on Oct. 7 that left 1,200 dead, and an additional 240 taken hostage.

Admonitions notwithstanding, nations of the world stand by as the slaughter of innocents continues in Gaza, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere. Some add fuel to the fire. In 1992, then-United Nations secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed that the UN Security Council be provided forces and resources to enable it to intervene—militarily if necessary—in an imminent or ongoing conflict when all efforts at mediation and negotiation have been exhausted. Moreover, he proposed that such forces be available on a permanent, rather than ad hoc, basis. In effect, he wanted to create a standby UN force with the mandate and might to challenge belligerents if necessary in order to prevent or bring violent conflict to a summary end; UN ‘peacemakers,’ as distinct from ‘peacekeepers.’

It was never suggested that such a force could effectively challenge the world’s most powerful countries. Even so, Boutros-Ghali speculated that its very existence could deter most breaches of the peace. With more than a hint of irony, his proposal failed to garner adequate support within the UN Security Council itself.

The Brahimi Report on United Nations Peace Operations, issued in 2000, echoed the need for such a capacity, and recommended that the UN maintain brigade-size forces of 5,000 troops able to deploy in 30 to 90 days as part of a UN team, including political, development, and human rights experts. This proposal also went nowhere.

The latest iteration of this general concept is a proposal to establish a UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) that would provide a rapid UN response to prevent or end armed conflict, protect civilians at extreme risk, prepare for peacekeeping operations if required, and to provide the basic necessities for survival in conflict zones where others either cannot or will not.

UNEPS is envisioned as a permanent, integrated, multi-functional unit of up to 13,000 highly trained personnel, well-equipped and ready for almost immediate deployment when authorized by the Security Council: a body that could respond in a matter of days, as opposed to the months required for ad hoc arrangements—when they happen at all. This proposal will be discussed during the upcoming 2024 United Nations Summit of the Future in September. One wonders if UN member states will finally muster the resolve to provide the UN with substantial means to prevent or end violence.

Earl Turcotte is a former Canadian diplomat and United Nations official, and a member of Canadian Pugwash Group.

The Hill Times

Meyer: A lost opportunity for ‘pragmatic diplomacy’

Canada has flunked an early test by failing to attend as an observer a major meeting of states party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons last week.

Unless you have been living on an ice sheet in Antarctica for the last couple of years, you will be aware of a major deterioration of the international security environment. The initiation of aggressive war against a sovereign state, coercive threats to use nuclear weapons, and the dismantlement of existing arms control agreements that imposed some basic level of restraint on nuclear weapon states have all contributed to a “strategic instability” unknown since the heights of the Cold War. A recent Ipsos poll had 86 per cent of the Canadians surveyed believing that the world has become more dangerous.

If Canada is going to do more than merely lament this turn of events it will need to pursue an active diplomacy. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly sounded a welcome note in an Oct. 30 speech in which she promised a “pragmatic diplomacy” that would recognize the imperative to engage not only with the like-minded, but also crucially those with whom we disagree. In the global arena, progress is not going to be possible unless states reach out to those with differing views and values in the interest of finding common ground.

Paul Meyer is adjunct professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University and a director of the Canadian Pugwash Group. Photograph courtesy of Paul Meyer

Regrettably, Canada has flunked an early test for “pragmatic diplomacy” in failing to attend as an observer a major meeting of states party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) during the week of Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 at the United Nations in New York. This treaty, which was concluded in July 2017 and entered into force in January 2021, currently has 93 signatories and 69 ratified parties. The TPNW came about out of frustration with the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament as stipulated under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which, since 1970, has been the principal agreement governing global nuclear affairs with 190 states parties.

The TPNW sets a higher standard for nuclear disarmament than the NPT, prohibiting as it does the possession of nuclear weapons as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons of mass destruction. Importantly, all the states supporting the TPNW are also parties to the NPT, and view the two treaties as complementary. Others, namely the states possessing nuclear weapons and their allies, have opposed the TPNW in light of its explicit stigmatization of nuclear weapons and its challenge to policies of nuclear deterrence that essentially threaten the use of nuclear weapons in certain unspecified contingencies.

A disagreement amongst NPT parties over the best way to fulfil the treaty’s common obligation on nuclear disarmament should not in itself be an intractable problem, but it has been made worse by the hostility shown by Canada and many allies to the TPNW and its adherents. Already, when the TPNW was being negotiated at the UN, Canada and most other NATO allies boycotted the meetings under the direction of the United States. Upon the TPNW’s adoption, NATO indulged in specious criticism of the treaty to the effect that it was somehow incompatible with the NPT. Once the TPNW had become international law and its first meeting of states parties was held in Vienna in June 2022, states not party to the TPNW were invited to attend this meeting as observers. Despite their non-adherence to the TPNW, several U.S. allies participated in this meeting in an observer capacity (Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Australia). They recognized the desirability of engaging TPNW supporters in the common interest of strengthening the NPT at a time when the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime was under increasing stress.

There are diplomatic consequences for Canada once again being a “no-show” at the second meeting of TPNW parties. If we are ever going to have any prospect of strengthening the existing legal framework for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament when it is under assault from several quarters, we need to engage and not shun other NPT states simply because we differ over the perceived value of the TPNW. Pretending that the TPNW doesn’t exist and its adherents not worthy of engaging with is unbefitting of a country that has long seen itself as a bridge-builder in the international system. It is one thing to propose a “pragmatic diplomacy,” it is another to practice it consistently.

Paul Meyer is adjunct professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University, and a director of the Canadian Pugwash Group. A former career diplomat in Canada’s foreign service, he served as ambassador and permanent representative to the UN and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (2003-2007).

Published in The Hill Times