To See Real Foreign Influence, Check out Canada’s Military

If you believe the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Conservatives, the Chinese own a backbench Liberal MP, which has been front page news recently. But no one mentions Washington’s possession of our military.

According to a leak reportedly from CSIS, the Chinese consulate in Toronto assisted Han Dong win the Liberal party nomination for the riding of Don Valley North. A source in the intelligence agency claims the consulate bused Chinese international students and seniors to vote for Han during a tightly contested Liberal party vote in 2019. Conservative MP Blaine Calkins, National Post columnist Terry Glavin and others have openly labeled Han an “agent of China”.

But Han and the Liberal Party deny the claims. Additionally, Karen Wen Lin Woods, a harsh critic of the Chinese government, points out that Han’s main competitor for the nomination, Jiang Banggu, was “also very China Friendly. So essentially, the Chinese Consulate had no skin in the game whether or not Han or Jiang wins in the end, they will get a ‘pro China’ Liberal MP.” (Or to put it differently, the Chinese speaking community in that riding is not hostile to Beijing and wanted a candidate to reflect that.)

Other peculiarities about this story are how and why the information was released. One of the principal reporters in relaying CSIS’ recent claims about Chinese interference, Robert Fife, also quoted unnamed CSIS sources to justify the imprisonment of Maher Arar. In the official “Report of the events relating to Maher Arar”, former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis R. O’Connor, concluded the purpose of a leak Fife relayed was to “influence public opinion against Mr. Arar at a time when his release from imprisonment in Syria was being sought by the Government of Canada, including the Prime Minister.”

The recent uproar about Chinese interference seems to be part of a broader campaign CSIS has joined to contain China’s rise. Its partner in the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement, the US National Security Agency (NSA) pressed Ottawa to ban Chinese-owned Huawei from Canada’s 5G network and Ottawa recently followed the US in banning TikTok from government devices.

As part of laying the groundwork for more conflictual relations with China, the House of Commons unanimously endorsed a resolution last month reiterating its claim that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang and calling for Canada to accept 10,000 Uyghur refugees. The group driving the initiative was the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, which said on its website the “Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project is funded by the Washington-based National Endowment Fund for Democracy for its Advocacy work in Canada.” Other Canadian organizations are also funded by the US government to target China.

Connecting the dots draws a picture of much larger US interference in Canadian affairs than Chinese. But to only consider direct US interventions into Canadian politics is to miss the forest for the trees. From top-40s music to Hollywood blockbusters, best-selling books to news outlets, Canada’s cultural and media sphere is massively influenced by the US. Ditto the economy.

Probably the most important institution pushing an anti-China outlook — Canada’s military — offers a unique window into US influence. “Over the last 15 years or more, there has not been one Chief of Staff who has not been vetted or trained by the U.S. Armed Forces”, wrote Tony Seed in a 2017 article titled “‘Interoperability’ — Euphemism for integration and annexation of Canadian Forces in the service of empire-building.”

Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) from 2005-08, Rick Hillier graduated from the US Army War College and was the first Canadian Deputy Commander of General III Corps, which is based in Texas. The next CDS, Walter Natynczk, also attended US Army War College and became Deputy Commanding General III Corps. Through this role Natynczk helped plan the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq from Kuwait and then served as Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps in Baghdad in charge of 35,000 troops. Natynczk’ successor as CDS was Tom Lawson who led the military until 2015. Deputy Commander of NORAD in Colorado Springs in 2011–2012, Lawson previously attended the United States Air Force Air Command and Staff College and United States Air Force Air War College. The current CDS Wayne Eyre was Deputy Commanding General of Operations for the US Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and was the first non-American deputy commander of the US-led United Nations Command in South Korea.

A March 2017 dispatch from the US embassy in Ottawa to the State Department in Washington entitled “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy” highlighted Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Canada-US Relations) Andrew Leslie’s close ties to the US military. The former Chief of Transformation and Chief of the Land Staff, reports the memo, “has extensive ties to U.S. military leaders from his tours in Afghanistan.”

(The “Canada Adopts ‘America First’ Foreign Policy” cable also notes that Chrystia Freeland was appointed foreign minister “in large part because of her strong U.S. contacts”. Uncovered through a freedom of information request, the memo notes that Freeland’s “number one priority” was working closely with Washington.)

From the weapons it employs to its doctrine, the US greatly influences Canada’s military. Through NORAD the US Commander of the alliance has de facto control over a number of military installations in Canada. In some circumstances US forces are authorized to enter Canada under that country’s command. During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, for instance, US troops were quietly deployed. Canadian military leaders have repeatedly instigated secret discussions to further integrate the two countries’ militaries, which politicians have often had to restrain. 

The depth of the Canada-US military alliance is such that if US forces attacked this country it would be extremely difficult for the Canadian Forces to defend our soil. In fact, given its entanglements with their southern counterparts the CF, would likely enable a US invasion. As with the 2003 invasion of Iraq — which Ottawa officially opposed — some Canadian troops on exchange in the US might march north and, as is the norm when the US invades another country, Canadian officers would likely operate NORAD systems aiding the aggression.

Unpalatable as it may be to some, the USA is the only nation that could realistically invade Canada. In 1812 Britain/Canada fought a war with the US. In the decades after the War of 1812 border disputes led to the 1846 Oregon Treaty and Irish Fenians attacked Canada from the US in the 1860s. In 1848 the US seized more than half of its southern neighbour’s territory.

In 1898 a 200-man Yukon Field Force was created out of fear the US might seek to seize the region in the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush. During that decade Canadian officials feared war between the US and Britain because they were in conflict over a Venezuela-Guyana territorial dispute. Through the 1920s and 30s US military planners crafted detailed invasion plans. Ostensibly for a war with Britain, Canada War Plan Red included abolishing the Canadian government and holding territory “in perpetuity”. A 1928 draft of the plan added, “it should be made quite clear to Canada that in a war she would suffer grievously.” The invasion plans, which were approved by the Secretary of War and Secretary of Navy, remained current until WWII.

Today, the US and Canada have multiple territorial disputes. Most significantly, Washington doesn’t recognize Canadian control over the North West passage.

Directly and indirectly, the hullabaloo about China is largely an outgrowth of US influence. On Twitter Alex Boykowich recently noted, “‘Chinese interference’ in Canadian elections or politics is really American interference.” That’s not far from the mark.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.