Halifax International Security Forum: The Voice of Women for War

Published in a slightly altered format in The Canada Files here.

Remembrance Day commemorations are barely a week behind us, but the event to celebrate war, the Halifax International Security Forum, is nipping at our heels for attention.

In two days, the Halifax International Security Forum, birthed by Harper’s Tory government in 2008 and first led by then-Minister of Defence Peter MacKay will celebrate its 13th anniversary. The international conference of warmongers, which gathers at Halifax’s Westin Nova Scotian, has comforted scores of cold warriors – who, having just cried their crocodile tears in memory of the millions killed in WWI, WWII, Korea and beyond – are ready to gear up for some new war.

Take for example the NATO-supported initiative called the Halifax Peace With Women Fellowship. Twelve women, decorated with military gongs, bling and gold braid on their uniforms, have spent the last three weeks on an “executive tour of the political and technological capitals of the United States and Canada.” All this in an effort to help to women military leaders “to advance modern security.“

These “distinguished leaders”, who boast a total of 330 years of military experience, are armed forces cheerleaders. They are NATO’s ladies’ auxiliary.

How about the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service awarded by the Security Forum first in 2018. The award was named after McCain who died that year. Back in the 1970s, McCain, an American navy officer, was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese for 5 years during the US’s imperialist war against Viet Nam—which the US lost.

For the final 31 years of his life,McCain was a Republican senator from Arizona. He was rabidly anti-abortion, and fought for more conservative appointments to the US Supreme Court in order to ban abortion. He publicly stated that Islam was evil, and that gays were immoral. He wholeheartedly supported the invasion of Iraq and demanded that the US never surrender—as they did in Viet Nam. On one political stump speech, McCain sang out “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to the Beach Boys’ hit tune “Barbara Ann”.

Still the media loved to portray him as a moderate, and a war hero. As political science professor Shawn Bowler noted, “He is the GI Joe doll they played with as kids.”

He associated with unsavoury characters such as Jerry Falwell Sr and gave the 2006 commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University*, which teaches “creationism studies”. Another McCain backer was Texas preacher John Hagee who blamed Hurricane Katrina on gay sin in New Orleans. McCain’s spiritual guide, Rod Parsley, insisted America was founded to destroy Islam. McCain’s personal nastiness was also legendary, including when he said –in public in response to his wife Cindy’s teasing about his baldness– “At least I don’t plaster on the make-up like a trollop, you cunt.”

“[McCain] is the GI Joe doll the [media] played with as kids.”

professor Shawn Bowler in The Guardian

By the way, McCain ran unsuccessfully (against Obama) for US president in 2008 on the Republican ticket. His running mate was Sarah Palin—need I say more?

That’s just off the top.

Let’s have a look at the Security Forum’s agenda. One plenary session will heap praise on McCain, “W.W.J.M.D? (What Would John McCain Do?)”. Another plenary is a nod to the anti-Chinese animus around Covid, “The next 9/11: From Kabul or From California (or from some lab we haven’t heard of yet)?”
The “informal session” topics are equally disturbing. “The Fight for Freedom: To the End of History, and Beyond”, promises sabre-rattling by our Good Guys as does “Iran and its Proxies of Evil”. Then there is the glee club event, “Israel Booster” which likely will tell a story about the plucky Israel fighting knife-in-the-teeth Palestinians. While most of the other sessions give some pretence to analysis, “Israel Booster” indicates nothing more than a pep rally. Clearly there will be no mention of Israel’s 51-year-old illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine—or the fact that since 2015, Israel has jailed more than 6,000 children under the age of 15. There is also “Arabian Fights” which reeks of Islamophobia. Finally, there is “Xinjiang: Genocide 2022” which will deliberately ignore another genocide—the one Israel is perpetrating on the Palestinians.

Peace with Women Fellowship, a misnomer

As noted earlier, the Halifax International Security Forum sponsors two “leadership” initiatives: one is the women’s auxiliary (sorry, Women’s Fellowship) which aims to “increase women’s leadership roles in international security affairs [which] is central to safeguard democracy.” In a little video on the site, you can watch US Colonel Katherine Graef from Newton, Mass. who recalled that at military staff meetings she often felt “like a lone voice in the wilderness”. But after her recent three-week Women’s Fellowship tour, Graef now believes that women in the military “can be positive disruptors.” I guess that’s a kind of leadership…

And the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service is clearly about leadership in the military and NATO – the world’s major war-mongers. As ‘Mrs’ Cindy McCain (McCain’s widow) stated in her introduction to the award winners, the Halifax Security Forum promotes “how best to secure our freedoms and see them flourish in all nations.”

All those freedoms. Tell that to the people Afghanistan, nearly 50,000 of whom were killed by the US and its allies (including Canada) who invaded and occupied the country for the last nearly 20 years. Talk about security and freedoms issued to the 151,000 plus citizens of Iraq who were killed in the US and its allies’ bombings and air strikes from 2003 to 2011. Remember the lie used as the pretext for war – Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? Conveniently, Mrs McCain forgot how her late husband John, Colin Powell and other US military men (and women) crowed about WMD as the reason to launch the war on Iraq.

McCain’s legacy: Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran

Do I have to remind anyone of the US War on Terror’s that targeted Pakistan? Under former President Obama, the US fired more than 400 drone strikes on the people of Pakistan. As one former legal advisor to Obama boasted to audiences in 2013, “This government has decided that instead of detaining members of al-Qaeda [at Guantánamo] they are going to kill them.”

And despite the “collateral damage” – the 4,000 Pakistanis killed by the strikes, in McCain’s view, “No one — no one — believes you can’t use drones anymore. That’d be crazy.”
Talk about freedom.

But who is really behind the The Halifax International Security Forum which takes place this weekend? The cold warriors, security experts, shills for arms and weapons manufactures, CIA and CSIS operatives, and a few washed out, or recently washed in, politicians. Just washed in is Canada’s Minister of Defence, Anita Anand, the first woman to have the portfolio. She is the host of this year’s Security Forum.

Just before Remembrance Day, in reference to the Forum, Minister Anand said, “The tone of any organization is set from the top, and that is why programs like this are so important. They give women the training, encouragement and the network needed to succeed.” But succeed at what, and at what cost? Men in the military leadership are a dangerous, apparently incorrigible and bad breed.

Canada on the record: clockwise: CSIS recruitment ad in Regina; Sawatsky’s book which exposed the spy, Igor Gouzenko; book cover for S Portrait of a Spy, by Ian Adams who died last week in Toronto. Adams wrote this novel in 1977 and was sued by the real spy whom he fingered. To read more read this, here is Adams’ obit written by columnist Rick Salutin; the cover of 1963 issue of Maclean’s magazine; and cold warrior spy Igor Gouzenko disguised in his trademark hood when his novel Fall of a Titan was released in 1954. Gouzenko had defected from the USSR embassy in Ottawa. You can see how anti-Communist Canada (like the US) had become when in 1954 Gouzenko’s mediocre novel won the Governor General’s prize.

Surely Minister Anand should not have to stomach any more from them. Yet there is no end in sight to the array of disgraced military men. Since February 2021, 11 “respected” and senior Canadian military leaders have been pushed aside, investigated or forced to retire for sexual assault and misconduct or for covering up colleagues’ misconduct.

It is telling that at least one current “leader”, Acting Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, has bemoaned the “brain drain” of senior leaders — men who opted to retire rather than to stay on. Perhaps they exited before they would have to face the music themselves, or pick up the pieces of fellow “leaders” whose conduct was appalling, if not criminal. Eyre calls the shrinking ranks of the armed forces an “existential crisis” and even a matter of national security! Eyre spoke at the Kingston Conference on International Security, which took place a month before the upcoming one in Halifax.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented a golden opportunity for the Canadian military to spy on the social justice group, Black Lives Matter (BLM) Canada. It turns out neither the government nor the cabinet sanctioned activities by the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), then headed by Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau. Rouleau resigned this summer after it was discovered he had been golfing with Gen. Jonathan Vance who was under military police investigation for inappropriate sexual conduct .

More than a year ago, at the height of Covid when the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) were deployed to service in long-term care homes, Rouleau and CJOC decided it was a perfect time to investigate BLM. The CJOC claimed it needed to track intelligence on BLM because its anti-police demonstrations were disrupting Toronto and Waterloo. CJOC claimed that knowing more about BLM would enable the military to circumvent demonstrators in an effort get to long-term facilities more easily. If this seems far-fetched, it was. Sandy Hudson, co-founder of BLM in Canada was not amused. She said, “I’m not surprised, but I’m deeply disappointed that the Canadian military is spying on people who are simply engaging in the civic process. I don’t buy that this has anything to do with COVID.”
Hudson is more than correct.

It turns out that CJOC intelligence officers wrote one section in their BLM report entitled “Hostile Foreign Actors” – a section completely censored for “national security reasons”. The inference is clear – it was outside or foreign agitators who were behind the Black Lives Matter campaign. This is something Hudson and many others totally reject.

Hudson responded that any demonstration by BLM was “not caused by (foreign actors) trying to stir up racial strife. It was caused by the very public execution of a number of Black people.”

In late 2020, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) also spent more than $1 million money to train officers in what it called the “weaponization of public affairs.” They trained military specialists to collect and analyse information from the public’s social media accounts, to data-mine accounts in order to change attitudes and behaviours of Canadians. Eventually, then-Minister Harjit Sajjan and others put a stop to it—but only months after the surveillance and data-mining had been done.

CAF spied on Canadians’ social media, and mined our data

In fact the tag team of CAF’s Acting Chief of Staff Wayne Eyre and DND deputy minister Jody Thomas have recently acknowledged that the Canadian military’s various propaganda initiatives launched on an unsuspecting public did get out of hand. “Errors conducted during domestic operations and training, and sometimes insular mindsets at various echelons, have eroded public confidence in the institution,” noted a June 9, 2021, message signed by Eyre and Thomas. “This included the conduct of IO (Information Operations) on a domestic operation without explicit CDS/DM direction or authority to do so, as well as the unsanctioned production of reports that appeared to be aimed at monitoring the activities of Canadians.”

This is a clear example of what the bread and butter activities of the Halifax Security Forum are. When the Canadian military are not making war on Muslims, a world away, they are making war on Canadians who fight for social justice at home.

So the military has its Women’s Fellowship and social justice advocates have our Voice of Women Canada. I wouldn’t be surprised if the former spies on the latter.

*for more on Liberty University and Jerry Falwell, see my book: Faith Hope No Charity: An Inside Look at the Born Again Movement in Canada and the United States (New Star Books, 1985)

Featured image above: Senate Hearing, 1950 by William Gropper (credit De Young Museum, San Francisco, California). Gropper was contracted by the US War Department to be a war artist, but the offer was withdrawn when Gropper was found to be “of unsatisfactory character”, due to his previous Communist affiliation.

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