Dimitri Lascaris, Green Party Candidate for London-West, Ontario, says the Green Party wants to shift the role of the Canadian military to UN peacekeeping, poverty alleviation efforts, and disaster relief
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Canada spends nearly $20 billion annually on its military. In the coming federal election on October 19, that is this coming Tuesday, how that $20 billion is spent, for what purpose, allied with whom, are points of debate. In a recent interview we did with Justin Podur and Richard Sanders, the Real News discussed what the NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives have to say about military spending and Canada’s presence abroad. But we unintentionally left out the Green Party’s position, while suggesting the story included it. Now joining me to discuss the Green Party’s position on military expenditure and arms dealings is Dimitri Lascaris. He’s running to become a member of parliament for London-West riding in Ontario, as a member of the Green Party. When he’s not doing that, Dimitri Lascaris is a partner with the Canadian law firm Siskinds, where he heads the firm’s class action practice. He is also a member of the Real News Network’s board. Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: Dimitri, first let me give you an opportunity to address the Green Party platform on military spending and our presence abroad in the various wars at hand. LASCARIS: Sure. An important piece of background information to help your audience understand our position is that the Harper government, the current Conservative government, has committed Canada to purchase F-35 stealth fightercraft. Fighter jets. Which are estimated to cost, ultimately, $44 billion. For Canada, which has an economy that’s approximately one-tenth the size of that of the U.S., that’s a lot of money which could be used for a variety of much more socially positive purposes like strengthening our healthcare system. Our party is opposed to the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter jets. The NDP, historically the progressive party in Canada, has not ruled it out but wants to subject the procurement process to a higher degree of scrutiny, so they’re leaving the door open, surprisingly and disappointingly, to purchasing these jets. The Liberal party is saying we should buy a better jet. One that has a proven track record. I think their focus is on the F-16. So ultimately neither of them is categorically rejecting the purchase of these jets. We categorically reject them, and we do that for a couple of reasons, one of which is they’re very badly designed and they’re suffering from extensive cost overruns. Experts who have flown the plane say the F-35 is a very poor dogfighter. Recently a report came out that found that at certain speeds when the pilot ejects, the pilot’s neck is liable to snap. There’s a host of design defects in this plane. It’s a complete and utter boondoggle. And on that basis alone we shouldn’t be buying it. But more broadly, it isn’t really a defensive weapon. You know, an anti-fighter missile system would be a defensive weapon. These fighter jets are being sent abroad to wage wars in distant countries for non-defensive purposes, as far as I’m concerned. So we are against buying them, or some other type of fightercraft. And we want to reorient the military in our country to its more historic orientation of peacekeeping, and poverty alleviation and disaster relief efforts. And rather than buy these expensive boondoggle jets which are ultimately made to wage war and cause destruction and death, we want to buy fixed-wing search and rescue planes, icebreakers, and replace some dangerous old military hardware to ensure threats to our military are not posed by the aging equipment that we give to them. But really, the main thrust is we want to reorient our military to peacekeeping. And I think that that is a decidedly different position than either of the other parties, than any of the three other parties is adopting. It’s consistent with the foundational principles of the Green Party. One of the foundational principles of the Green Party globally is the pursuit of peace. And that’s why we oppose, we were the only party that opposed Canada’s participation in the bombardment of Libya, which created a failed state, which gave Islamic violent extremists a foothold in the country that they didn’t have previously, which is exacerbating the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. We opposed the bombardment of Syria. We opposed the bombardment of Iraq. And unfortunately, our message of peace is not getting out to the public because, for example, our leader is being kept out of the debates despite the fact that 81 percent of Canadians want her in them. So we have to work overtime to help the public understand that we really have staked out a different position from the other three parties on the issue of military spending and the orientation of our military. PERIES: And Dimitri, give us a take on the Green Party’s positions on the secret arms dealings that are going on with Saudi Arabia and Canada. LASCARIS: Yes. So let me say at the outset that this is a difficult issue for those who are running in my community, London, Ontario, city of around almost 400,000 people in Southern Ontario, because we have here not in my riding but in a riding next to mine in London a General Dynamics plant that is manufacturing arms for the Saudi government. It’s a multi-billion dollar contract which was approved by the Conservative Harper government. And reportedly it accounts for approximately 3,000 manufacturing jobs here in London, which has been particularly hard-hit in the last several years by the loss of manufacturing jobs. The Economist recently called this part of the country, Southern Ontario, the new rust belt, and with good reason. And so local officials are very loathe to say anything negative about that agreement. And in fact the Conservatives are enthusiastically championing the agreement. And the Liberal Party, which seems the party that is best poised at the moment to take the reins of power from the Conservatives, has said quite clearly that they also support the contract. And so that’s the background. And one other important fact. It’s widely known that Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record. But I think it would be instructive for us just to visit the most recent report of Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia, and I want to just read to you a few excerpts to really bring home just how abominable this government, the Saudi regime’s human rights record is. And briefly, Amnesty reported in this 2014-15 report on Saudi Arabia, that the government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly and cracked down on dissent, arresting and imprisoning critics, including human rights defenders. Torture of detainees was reportedly common. Courts convicted defendants on the basis of torture-tainted confessions and sentenced others to flogging. Women face discrimination law in practice, and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence, despite a new law criminalizing domestic violence. And the authorities made extensive use of the death penalty and carried out dozens of public executions. And in Saudi Arabia in the last twelve months, 175 executions occurred. The courts there allow executions for things like adultery, apostasy, and witchcraft. It’s really a barbaric regime, and there’s widespread reports and compelling evidence that at this very moment in time the Saudi regime is engaged in war crimes in Yemen. In the last two weeks two wedding parties were struck by Saudi aircraft, or Saudi-led coalition aircraft, and 150 civilians were killed, the majority of whom were women. These weren’t militants who were targeted. So this is an abominable regime. And the question I have to ask in good conscience is if we’re going to sell arms to this regime, to what regime would we not sell arms? And in good conscience I cannot support this agreement. The Green Party cannot support this agreement. And we have to find another way to give those 3,000 employees a good living. And I condemn in the strongest possible terms the government of this country and other parties in this country who are pitting, effectively pitting workers who are simply trying to support their families against the victims of Saudi human rights abuses. They shouldn’t be put to that choice. They should be given an opportunity to gainfully employ themselves and support their families without having to build arms for one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. And that is something that’s eminently within our capacity to do as a government. PERIES: And further, this apparently violates our export control regulations, which forbids exporting arms to countries where they have a human rights record the way you describe it. LASCARIS: Sure. I think there’s a strong case to be made that it does violate the law. The government has been very secretive about what if any assurances it was given by the Saudi regime. It’s not clear that it was given any assurances at all about the uses to which these arms would be put. And therefore there is every possibility that this is a violation of Canadian domestic law. But quite apart from that, if you’re dealing with a government that is prepared to engage in these atrocities, what possible assurances could they give that we would trust, or could trust? You know, I would say a government that has shown itself to be so disrespectful of the most basic human rights of its own citizens and the citizens of other neighboring countries, there are no assurances it can give that we can trust. The only way that we can ultimately assure ourselves that we are not facilitating the abuse of human rights is to not engage in arms trade with countries like Saudi Arabia. PERIES: What about Israel? Now, the other parties have come out very strongly in support of the state of Israel. But they’re also involved in human rights violations of Palestinians, as we saw last summer, and the Canadian government and the other parties have clearly come out in support of that state. Where is the Green Party on that? LASCARIS: Well, the Green Party has taken a moderate position, I would say. More protective of Palestinian rights than that of the three major parties. And we have repeatedly called for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. But I must say, and I say this with some, with a degree of disappointment, frankly, about the issue, that our party could take a stronger stand on the issue of the rights of the Palestinian people. The fact of the matter is that under the International Court of Justice held in 2004, unanimously, that the settlements are a violation of Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention. The entire world except for Israel recognizes that the settlements are a violation of international law. They continue to expand relentlessly. Whatever soft language comes out of the mouths of Western politicians, the reality on the ground gets worse every day for the people of Palestine. And all of us, I must say, all the parties in this country including my own, need to stand up more vigorously for the rights of the Palestinian people and demand that the settlements not only cease to be expanded but that they be dismantled forthwith, and that the Palestinian people be given, in accordance with the international consensus a viable state along the 1967 borders. PERIES: Dimitri Lascaris, I really appreciate you coming on. I know you’re on the campaign trail and every minute matters. So I thank you for joining us. LASCARIS: Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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