Through its cynical response to the massive earthquakes that has destroyed whole cities in Syria and Turkey and taken the lives of nearly 50,000 people, the Canadian government is showing its true imperialist colours.
Specifically, Canada has hedged on assistance to Syria, choosing not to lift the punishing sanctions it has maintained against the country and its people for more than a decade. Despite the urgent humanitarian crisis, Trudeau and Co. are determined to continue with policies that have already caused terrible harm to the Syrian people, and which make the horrific consequences of the earthquakes infinitely worse.
As the US Peace Council noted, “Even before this catastrophic earthquake, US sanctions and its imposed war on Syria [both of which Canada supports] had already shrunk the Syrian economy by 90 percent and had pushed 90 percent of the population of Syria into poverty.”
The resultant shortages of fuel, electricity, medical supplies and industrial machines are severely affecting the current search and rescue operations. Heavy machinery, medical supplies and even food are prevented from entering Syria, even though they are desperately needed for the survival of tens of thousands of people.
Furthermore, by helping to enforce the sanctions regime, Canada is effectively internationalizing its own scandalous response. As Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bassam al-Sabbagh said, “even those countries who want to send humanitarian assistance, they cannot use the airplane cargo because of the sanctions.”
Even worse, the government appears ready to weaponize the earthquake by funnelling assistance to specifically anti-government forces in Syria, including the discredited “White Helmets.”
The Communist Party of Canada has called on the Canadian government to immediately lift the sanctions and encourage its allies to do the same. “Instead of sanctions and blockade, Canada must send urgent aid and assistance to Syria, lift the sanctions, and call on the international community to do the same.”
It’s a call that should be echoed in Parliament by the NDP, Greens and Bloc. But so far, they’ve done nothing, and the government has remained comfortably unchallenged in its deadly (some might say murderous) approach.
Labour has a huge role to play here – and an opportunity to right an historic wrong. In 2019, Canadian Labour Congress executive vice-president Donald Lafleur attended the Third International Trade Union Forum in Solidarity with Syrian Workers, the purpose of which was to build opposition to imperialist intervention and economic sanctions against Syria. Although Lafleur participated in his own name and paid his own way, he was attacked by the mainstream media in Canada, who questioned why a Canadian labour representative was calling for an end to sanctions.
At that time, then CLC president Hassan Yussuff stripped Lafleur of his duties and placed him on administrative leave. It was a shameful scramble by a labour leader to disassociate himself from basic working-class internationalism and solidarity.
The current situation demands better. The CLC leadership needs to clearly call for an end to sanctions against Syria and mobilize its affiliates to pressure the government to change its policies. The labour movement can and should push the NDP caucus into standing up for peace and solidarity and demanding that the Liberal minority allow the free flow of humanitarian assistance.
Time is running out – in both Syria and Turkey – with freezing winter weather jeopardizing the lives of survivors, the injured and those still to be found. Progressive voices need to flood Parliament and push the government to end sanctions and deliver aid now.
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