An invader, warrior, peacekeeper and arms supplier in conflicts near and far

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, compared the Russian invasion of Ukraine to Benito Mussolini’s Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s.

This invasion was an opening salvo in the run-up to World War II.

In Ethiopia in the 1930s and in Ukraine today, the effects of invasion are devastating. But how has Canada dealt with military invasions throughout its history?

Based on invasions

First, Canada was built on invasion and displacement. French and later English merchants came in search of furs and other wealth, invading native territory. But alliances with some Indigenous nations have become unstable, displacing communities, disrupting ways of life and attempting to erase culture.

Colonization continued with the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. In 1870, Britain gave Canada the Northwest Territories, which then covered all of the north and west of the Great Lakes.

Manitoba was born out of negotiations between the Canadian army and the Métis resistance.

The “pacification” of much of what is now Saskatchewan followed the Battle of Batoche in 1885, in which Canadian forces crushed the last armed resistance. Famine followed as Canada “cleared” the prairies.

Read more: ‘The Cleansing of the Plains’ continues with the acquittal of Gerald Stanley

Overseas invasions

Canadians also participated in British invasions overseas. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald refused to send Canadian militia to Sudan in 1884, but the pro-British “imperialists” raised a volunteer army.

Canada also helped Britain annex the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State to create South Africa, with Canadian imperialist volunteers fighting alongside their British cousins ​​in the American War. Africa from 1899-1902.

British Canadians flocked to the defense of the “mother country” during the First World War, but French Canadians remained indifferent. Desperate for young men to fight against the Germans, a new Prime Minister, Robert Borden, imposes conscription for the first time. The controversy between enthusiastic Ontario and skeptical Quebec nearly tore the country apart.

Cheering Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge in northern France in 1917.
(National Archives of Canada/Chateau William Ivor)

When the Russian government fell and the new Soviet Union was formed, Canada joined British, American and other troops in landing at Vladivostock to try to prevent the new communist state from taking root.

Post-war Prime Minister Mackenzie King, however, rejected a British appeal to help Britain fight Turkey. Some call it Canada’s true declaration of independence.

Post-World War I period

Canada did not seize, like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, a former German colony after the First World War. But Canada asked Britain for certain colonies in the Caribbean.

Britain instead offered Canada a mandate to govern Armenia as it emerged from genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

The Canadians had raised large funds for the aid of the Armenians and sent food and supplies. But despite sympathy for the Armenians, Ottawa refused the offer and Armenia was divided between Turkey and the Soviet Union.

Instead, Canada found itself accused of invasion in the 1920s at the League of Nations.

Cayuga Chief Deskaheh, speaking on behalf of the Six Nations of the Grand River (near Brantford, Ontario), called on the League of Nations – the predecessor of the United Nations – to help defend his people against a “Canadian invasion” by the RCMP.

Panama, Persia, Estonia and Ireland supported it, but the league buried the petition.

To this day, First Nations leaders seek international support to end the Canadian invasion of their lands – a word used more recently by the Wet’suwet’en.

A man waves an orange and yellow flag while standing on a train track.
Protesters block a train line in Toronto in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP in northern British Columbia in November 2021.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

World War II, post-war period

When Mussolini’s Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia and Japan invaded China, Canadian diplomats spoke out against the invasions, but Mackenzie King’s government refused to act.

During World War II, Canada became a significant military power and was known as a warrior nation, but after the war, Canada took less interest in military action.

Read more: “Warrior Nation” or “Peacekeeper”: Canada’s Dilemmas

Neither Britain nor France invited Canada to participate in the invasion of Egypt organized in 1956 to “protect” the Suez Canal from Egyptian control. Britain and France have faced global condemnation, even from their main ally, the United States.

Canada’s foreign minister at the time, Lester B. Pearson, did not condemn Britain and France. Instead, he worked behind the scenes for peace, which resulted in the creation of the first large-scale peacekeeping mission. Since then, Canadians have followed “a cult of cargo for peacekeeping,” even as Canada’s contribution to UN peacekeeping plummets.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, was at the heart of Canadian foreign policy.

Canadian officials convinced skeptical Americans to make a permanent military commitment to Europe. Sold as an alliance to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, NATO ended up justifying the colonial wars in Indonesia, Algeria and Portuguese Africa.

Men and women sit in a parliamentary chamber in this black and white photo with a man behind a podium.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau speaks during the opening session of a two-day NATO conference in the Senate Chamber of Parliament in Ottawa in June 1974.
(CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand)

After the Cold War ended, NATO sought a new military mission in “humanitarian intervention,” pushed hard by Canadian intellectuals like former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. It ended tragically with the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011, from which that country has yet to recover.

When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979), Canada condemned the attacks, but resisted calls from Americans and others for a “return back” aimed at delegitimizing the Soviet states.

Instead, Canada focused on receiving and settling refugees from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which gave rise to Canada’s diplomatic self-image as a country of refuge.

American invasions

Frequent American military interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean did not fuel strong Canadian opposition. Although Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau condemned the American war in Vietnam, his government made no effort to stop the flow of Canadian-made weapons to the Americans.

A helicopter hovers above an anti-aircraft gun.
A US Marine Corps helicopter hovers above the ground near a Soviet anti-aircraft gun during the US invasion of Grenada in October 1983.
(Sergeant MJ Creen, USAF)

In fact, the Trudeau government has relaxed controls on Canadian arms exports like never before. Since then, Canada has, deliberately or not, armed invaders all over the world. In Indonesia’s interventions in East Timor, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Canada has armed invaders, not defenders.

Read more: Canada’s checkered history of selling arms to human rights abusers

When the United States planned to invade Iraq in 2003, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien oscillated between American/British enthusiasm for war and German/French reluctance. In the end, he shared the difference, staying out of battle but providing military support.

When it comes to Ukraine, Canada’s fierce rhetoric marks another step away from the increasingly fictitious pretense of being a peacekeeping nation.

Martin E. Berry