13 June 2011

Domestic Counterinsurgency in Canada

By Walter Pels via Marion Doss from Scranton, Kansas, USA (080727-N-1974P-046) [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
We have previously posted on Canadian counterinsurgency with an article by Jon Elmer--see: "Counterinsurgency: From Afghanistan to First Nations Resistance in Canada." Now we want to feature extracts from the controversial 2005 draft Counterinsurgency Operations manual (leaked in 2007) and the final 2008 version, both produced by the Department of National Defence (and available below). We will also underline some key points of public discussion that have transpired, which we think help us to understand the significance of these documents, and add some further analytical considerations of our own.

The Counterinsurgency Manuals

To begin, the draft Counterinsurgency manual contained the following section on page 11, in paragraph 37, in Section Three (Overview of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies):
The rise of radical Native American organizations, such as the Mohawk Warrior Society, can be viewed as insurgencies with specific and limited aims. Although they do not seek complete control of the federal government, they do seek particular political concessions in their relationship with national governments and control (either overt or covert) of political affairs at a local/reserve ("First Nation") level, through the threat of, or use of, violence.
This is the paragraph that attracted a lot of controversy and condemnation. The DND appears to be accusing the Mohawks of being guilty of wanting self-determination. It alleges they do not seek "complete control" of the federal government, as if they ever mention wanting any such control. The language used ensures heightened alarm, even when speaking of goals that are not Mohawk goals, while delegitimating their demands that treaties be respected by calling these "concessions." Nor does the document address the excessive violence routinely used against Aboriginal persons and communities by the authorities. What is also instructive is that the above paragraph, highlighted as a box quote in the document, follows paragraphs that suggest violent insurgencies may use "terrorism" against the civilian populace and, interestingly enough, that they emerge in failed and failing states that ignore the basic needs of the populace. Perhaps it was the placement of a Canadian example in that context that led to the erasure of the box quote from the final draft, more than any concern for having offended Aboriginals.

[As a side note, like its American counterpart which has been accused of containing numerous plagiarized sections, the block quote above was lifted directly, and without credit, "from the master’s thesis of military historian Timothy Winegard who has written a book on the 1990 Oka Crisis" (APTN).]

The revised and finalized version, issued on 13 December 2008 (the second document below), removed the Mohawk example, but still distributed the key ideas of indigenous self-determination as insurgency, across several paragraphs. For example, the new document now refers to these elements:
  • occupying authority (par. 1, p. 11)
  • nationalist desires for independence or autonomy (par. 4, p. 12)
  • inherent racial, cultural, religious or ideological divisions that lead to a lack of national cohesion (par. 5, p. 12)
  • acquire specific but limited political advantages or control (par. 7, p. 12)
  • may only require the support of a powerful portion of the populace (tribe, business class, ethnic minority (par. 10, p. 13)
Thus the document manages to preserve and even amplify the typical traits associated with indigenous self-determination movements, without mentioning Mohawks, but retaining a sense of broad applicability to an even wider variety of Aboriginal organizations in Canada--which struggle against what they identify as occupation, seek greater autonomy, emphasize cultural difference, seek limited control, and are based on support within their nations. In other words, Canada's Department of National Defence manages to effectively criminalize what is in the UN Charter on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, even while the reluctant federal government eventually signed on to that same Charter. The final document is arguably more disturbing than the draft.

Afghan Blowback or Canadian Colonial Continuity?

The Counterinsurgency Operations handbook appears at a particular time and within a specific context. It follows Canadian participation in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, counterinsurgency in Haiti and the overthrow of President Aristide, and Canadian involvement in Iraq. It also comes as Canada has effectively eliminated its engagement in peacekeeping and ended its posture as a more or less neutral party in international affairs. It closely follows the turn to counterinsurgency in U.S. foreign policy and military doctrine. However, it also comes after the deployment of Canadian soldiers during the 1990 Oka crisis, and the 1995 Ipperwash conflict, on top of a long history of Canadian suppression of Aboriginal resistance, including outright warfare. It therefore becomes a challenge to understand whether counterinsurgency doctrine in Canada reflects part of the blowback of Canadian intervention in Afghanistan and Haiti, reflecting an importation and application at home of what has been learned and practiced abroad, or whether it manifests a further articulation of experience gained at home in ongoing internal colonialism, or both. The drive to dominate on all fronts, military, political, economic, and cultural, with so-called "whole of government" approaches, "three block war," and "full spectrum" dominance is apparent in varying degrees in both, and they may be reinforcing each other.

Either way, it seems clear with the production and adoption of this document that the Canadian state has made war central to its policy in confronting substantive difference and opposition outside of parliament. It shows a weakening ability to secure legitimacy and negotiate resolutions. As much as the counterinsurgents appeal to "culture," the doctrine manifests a failure to understand or respect difference in the first place, with the eventual resort to violence coming into play. At best, it offers partial diplomatic approaches after the fact of war, which is a failure of diplomacy itself. This development also reflects the growing militarization of public policy at home and foreign relations abroad, alongside an even tighter alignment to U.S. and NATO imperialism. It stands as an affront to peace, and it should worry all Canadians, because while one might argue that the state has exported its war against "the Indians" to places such as Afghanistan, it seems that the state is equally willing to "bring back home" what it has done abroad.

Some of the steps taken can be seemingly innocuous, but are part of the counterinsurgency doctrine's "winning hearts and minds" and employing propaganda: deploying Canadian troops to Manitoba and Quebec to assist victims of flooding (when the government always has the option of using civilian public workers instead) is part of a plan to raise the profile of the Canadian military in local communities, to heighten military visibility, and to ensure a presence that seeks to win support and build respect for the institution. This tool is used to remove beyond question the significantly increased resources devoted to a military buildup, and to make the military look like a natural, and thus inevitable, part of Canadian social life. The result is to make local and present what was for a while marginal and justified for defense from foreign attack. Regimentation of politics and mindsets is the apparent, sought after outcome of keeping Canada in a permanent "state of exception," and that too should worry Canadians.

To read more on this subject, see:

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