The following is a recent article by Canadian author and journalist Yves Engler. It describes a campaign by military-aligned interests to label Canadian dissent as “Russian propaganda.”
Military pays propagandists to call dissenters ‘Russian propagandists’
Military pays propagandists to call dissenters ‘Russian propagandists’ – Yves Engler
Opposing military spending, NORAD and NATO is not an endorsement of Russian violence in Ukraine. But, in the current climate, many are seeking to frame it as such.
On the 74th anniversary of NATO’s formation Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix (MQP) organized a protest in front of CBC/Radio Canada’s offices in Montréal. One self-described progressive labeled the April 4 rally against the alliance “a pro-Russian demonstration of 30 people.” But three years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine MQP organized its first march to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established largely to blunt the European left and help the North America elite rule the world. Through NATO’s mutual assistance program in the 1950s Canada provided large amounts of weaponry to European colonial powers suppressing independence movements in Africa and Asia. Over the past quarter century Canada has contributed to many NATO missions including wars in Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya. Canada’s push to expand NATO – including assisting with the overthrow of an elected Ukrainian president opposed to joining the alliance – contributed to precipitating the ongoing horrors in Ukraine.
A recent report published jointly by the University of Regina Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data and Conflict, University of Maryland College of Information Studies and Toronto-based Digital Public Square provides academic weight to the notion that criticizing NATO is to support Russia’s war. Covered in the Globe and Mail, New York Times, Regina Leader Post and elsewhere, “Enemy of my Enemy: Russian Weaponization of Canada’s Far Left and Far Right to Undermine Support to Ukraine” suggests that “far left” NATO critics on social media are Kremlin stooges. In an article about the report headlined “The Russian propagandists amongst us”, National Post columnist Terry Glavin labels me “among the most prominent pro-Putin apologists in the western world”. But I have referred to Russia’s invasion as “illegal” and “brutal” dozens of times even if I devote most of my attention to Canada’s role in provoking, prolonging and escalating the conflict.
Openly labeling long-standing antiwar positions as pro-Putin, former New Brunswick minister and current MLA (as well as former provincial NDP leader) Dominic Cardy responded to my criticizing his tweet wishing Julian Assange had been killed in the café bombing alongside prominent Russian blogger Vladlen Tatarsky by noting, “It’s relevant to point out that the loudest voices for Assange are the loudest voices for Putin. You’re among them. People need to know about your con game. Your talk of peace is just (thinly-)disguised support for Moscow.”
As part of the intellectual climate equating antiwar positions with pro-Putinism, progressive tweeter Gail Vaz-Oxlade recently criticized Rabble for publishing “Canadian government prioritizes war over climate crisis”, which criticized the Liberals for “ramping up militarism” while “the climate crisis spirals further out of control.” Taking exception to a few paragraphs in my commentary about Canada’s contribution to the NATO proxy war, Oxlade declares “I am disheartened to see this article @rabbleca. Ukraine is taking it in the gut for us all, and from the comfort of his North American home this writer is whining about the support we are giving to a democratic country being invaded by Russia. Shame on him. And shame on you.”
In a similar vein, speaking events I’ve participated in recently on Ukraine, Palestine and Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy have faced pressure or cancellation calls due to my purported support for Russia. The room booking for an upcoming event at the Centre St-Pierre, a union and community group friendly space, was withdrawn on the grounds I promote Russian propaganda. While I can’t be sure where the push came from, it was probably enabled by a Journal de Montréal exposé that portrayed interrupting politicians about Haiti, Palestine, climate, etc. as “Russian propaganda.” In a two-page spread four months ago Québec’s most widely circulated newspaper published “Qui sont ces participants de la propagande russe à Montréal? Des militants prorusses deviennent viraux en perturbant nos politiciens” (Who are the Russian propaganda participants in Montreal? Pro-Russian Activists Go Viral by Disrupting Our Politicians). Included in the alleged Russian propaganda were photos of me calling environment minister Steven Guilbeault a “climate criminal” and Solidarity Québec Haiti interrupting then Francophonie minister Melanie Joly in 2019.
As part of the climate that’s turned questioning militarism and Canadian foreign policy into “Russian propaganda”, Canada’s most prominent military reporter was recently accused of “echoing Kremlin talking points”. Ten days ago, the Canadian-government-funded Kyiv Independent reported that unnamed Ukrainian (and Canadian) officials labeled David Pugliese “undesirable”. Despite a small fraction of the long-time Ottawa Citizen reporter’s articles having anything to do with Ukraine/Russia, a number of his militarist Canadian critics amplified the attack.
Stoking this McCarthyite climate is a network of military and Global Affairs funded academics and organizations, which I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation. They have been recently bolstered by an influx of government disinformation money. In other words, Canadian and American propagandists are being paid to call anyone who disagrees with the official narrative “Russian propagandists”.
A central figure in this milieu is Marcus Kolga, head of the MacDonald Laurier Institute’s DisinfoWatch, whose groupadmits the “Development of the DisinfoWatch platform is funded by the United States Department of State’s Global Engagement Center and the US Embassy in Ottawa.” DisinfoWatch receives money from the Department of National Defence (DND) and Kolga was the lead author of Enemy of My Enemy.
A sponsor of that report – the University of Regina Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data and Conflict – was set up by Brian McQuinn whose career received a boost “when he got a call from the Canadian Embassy in Jakarta.” His university profile further explains, “for his doctoral research, McQuinn spent nine months in Libya, embedded with the [NATO backed] rebels fighting the 2011 uprising.” The Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data and Conflict has alsoreceived funds from the US and Canadian militaries.
Another sponsor of Enemy of My Enemy is the Toronto-based Digital Public Square. Established in 2015 with $9 million from then foreign affairs minister John Baird, Digital Public Square was set up to undermine online censorship in Iran and other enemy states. In July Heritage Canada listed Digital Public Square among “11 projects [that] received more than $2.4 million in funding for a range of activities … countering Russian mis/disinformation.”
The Journal de Montréal hit piece mentioned above was based on research from Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow Jean-Christophe Boucher who co-published the June report “Disinformation and Russia-Ukrainian war on Canadian social media”. Boucher’s bio notes that “he is currently responsible for more than $2.4M of funding from the Department of National Defence (DND) to study information operations.”
Millions of dollars in government funding for “disinformation” research is fueling a political climate in which opposition to NATO, arms shipments and military spending is equated with supporting Russia’s war. The ‘with us or against us’ attitude is striking considering how Canada is not formally at war and the fighting in Ukraine is 8,000 kms away.
Imagine the political climate if Canada formally sent troops or if a war breaks out over Taiwan.