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Another take on Jagmeet Singh and political violence

Jagmeet Singh. Photo: United Steelworkers/flickr

We should be concerned about Jagmeet Singh's support for political violence. But not the stuff that's making news. While the media makes much of the new NDP leader's ties or indifference to Sikh violence, they've ignored Singh's leadership of a party and community that has repeatedly backed Canadian aggression.

In a rabble story on the controversy, Karl Nerenberg described Singh as the "leader of a party that has throughout its history favoured peaceful and non-violent solutions." As such, Nerenberg called on the NDP leader to "make a stronger statement against any use of violence in furtherance of Sikh goals."

While not downplaying the terrible human loss in the 1985 Air India bombing or disagreeable aspects of the Khalistan movement, it's more salient to know Singh's position on Canadian violence. Contrary to Nerenberg's claim, the NDP has repeatedly supported Canadian aggression. Seven years ago the NDP endorsed bombing Libya, a quarter century ago it backed the bombing of Serbia and in 1950 it supported Canadian participation in the Korean War. At the beginning of the century, important members of the party expressed support for military troops during Canada's deployment to Afghanistan and the NDP was ambivalent towards Canadian-assisted violence in Haiti.

After the Communists took control of China in 1949, the U.S. tried to encircle the country. They supported Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, built military bases in Japan, backed a right-wing dictator in Thailand and tried to establish a pro-Western state in Vietnam. The success of China's nationalist revolution also spurred the 1950-1953 Korean War in which eight Canadian warships and 27,000 Canadian troops participated. The war left as many as four million dead.

The NDP's predecessor, the CCF, endorsed the U.S.-led -- though UN sanctioned -- war in Korea. Deputy leader and party spokesperson Stanley Knowles endorsed the deployment of Canadian naval units to the Western Pacific, which the government sent in case they "might be of assistance to the United Nations and Korea." Before Ottawa committed ground troops, the CCF Executive Council called for them. The CCF started to shift its position on the Korean War when Washington had the UN condemn Chinese "aggression" six months into the fighting.

The NDP backed Canada's significant contribution to NATO's 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia. Contravening international law, the 78-day bombing campaign killed hundreds and spurred the ethnic cleansing of Albanian Kosovars NATO officials claimed to be curbing. The party only became critical over a month after the bombing began.

Important members of the NDP did not unequivocally oppose Canada's October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Two days after the George W. Bush administration declared war, NDP Leader Alexa McDonough and Defence Critic Peter Stoffer issued a "joint statement," saying they "completely back the men and women in the Canadian military assigned to the U.S. coalition."

The NDP was wishy-washy on the February 29, 2004, U.S.-France-Canada coup in Haiti and violence that followed. In the days after the U.S.-France-Canada military invasion NDP Foreign Critic Svend Robinson called for an investigation into Jean-Bertrand Aristide's removal and asked if "regime change in Haiti" was discussed at the January 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, where high-level U.S., Canadian and French officials deliberated on overthrowing the elected president. But subsequent foreign critic Alexa McDonough largely stayed mum as Canada offered military, policing, diplomatic and financial support to a dictatorship and UN force that killed thousands, violently suppressing Port au Prince's poor (pro-Aristide) neighbourhoods.

In 2011 the party supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya. "It's appropriate for Canada to be a part of this effort to try to stop Gadhafi from attacking his citizens as he has been threatening to do,'' said party leader Jack Layton. But the NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime's human rights violations as I discuss in detail in The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's foreign policy. Additionally, NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians. Canada also defied UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 by selling drones to the rebels. After Gaddafi was savagely killed, NDP leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, "the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months."

Beyond this history, there are good reasons to fear Singh will support Canadian aggression. During the leadership race he allied himself with pro-U.S. MP Hélène Laverdière and subsequently reappointed the former Canadian diplomat as NDP foreign critic. At last month's party convention he mobilized supporters to suppress debate on the widely endorsed Palestine Resolution. Singh has also said little (or nothing) about Canada's new defence policy, which includes a substantial boost to military spending and offensive capabilities.

In the interests of a "first do no harm" Canadian foreign policy, it's time for a comprehensive discussion of Singh's views on political violence.

Photo: United Steelworkers/flickr

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