An important component of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s international branding has been his government’s widely touted “feminist foreign policy.” A recent aid contract to Haiti highlights the hollowness of this claim.
Under its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) the Trudeau government has tendered a $12.5 million contract in operational support to the Haitian police. According to the Government of Canada’s open procurement information service:
The Support for a Professional and Inclusive Police in Haiti (SPIP) Project will contribute to three of Canada’s six Feminist International Assistance Policy action areas: (i) gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, (ii) inclusive governance, and (iii) peace and security. By strengthening the HNP’s [Haitian national police] institutional and operational capacities, the project will help stabilize the country politically and socially, and maintain peace and public safety in a fragile country, which are essential to sustainable development in Haiti.
One must employ an extremely elastic definition of “feminism” to claim funding the Haitian police benefits women. Haiti’s Canadian trained and funded police force is what has sustained the repressive, corrupt and illegitimate regime of President Jovenel Moïse. Since a popular uprising began in July 2018 against Moïse’s government, the police have killed dozens of people, with nary a criticism from the Trudeau government.
But this is not the first time the Liberals have used funding under the FIAP to pursue policies that have little to do with any serious pursuit of feminism.
Along with praise for Moïse, the federal government has many public-facing products that tout its work in the country, including a page on the Global Affairs Canada website about “Canada’s international assistance in Haiti” that focuses on gender equity. During a February 2018 visit to the country, then Minister for International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, launched the first project under the FIAP’s $150 million Women’s Voice and Leadership Program. “It’s a new president and we want to support him,” Bibeau told the CBC before leaving on a trip that included a meeting with Haiti’s embattled president.
Less than a year earlier, in June 2017, the Trudeau government officially launched the FIAP, which was designed to direct bilateral aid towards gender-focused initiatives. Sixteen months later, Chrystia Freeland convened the first ever Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with representatives from about 20 countries. At the September 2018 gathering in Montréal, Freeland announced that the Liberals would appoint an Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, which Trudeau later said would “help advance Canada’s feminist foreign policy.”
Yet, the Liberals have always viewed ‘feminist’ as a “branding tool rather than a realignment of power relations,” notes Rafia Zakaria in a story in The Nation headlined “Canada’s ‘Feminist’ Foreign Aid Is a Fraud.” Moreover, the evidence suggests that the Trudeu government’s commitment to feminist internationalism has always been paper-thin.
One year ago, Ottawa joined Washington as the only other government to vote against a United Nations Economic and Social Council resolution stating, “the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights.” As the Liberals touted their “feminist foreign policy,” they also sold armoured vehicles to the Saudis and deepened ties to other misogynistic Gulf oil kingdoms. They also aligned with anti-woman Jihadists against a secular (if repressive) government in Syria.
Disregarding their promise to rein in Canadian mining abuses abroad also undercuts Trudeau’s claim to uphold a “feminist foreign policy.” Sexual assault often plagues communities near Canadian-run mines and, as the primary caregivers in many nations in the Global South, women are disproportionately burdened by the ecological destruction caused by mining. At the same time, most mining jobs go to men.
Trudeau has touted right-wing allies for being pro-woman while seeking to get rid of leftist governments with stronger feminist credentials. The prime minister lauded far-right Colombian President Iván Duque for adopting “a gender-equal cabinet,” yet at the very same time, the Liberals sought to oust a Nicaraguan government in which women held more than half of all cabinet positions and 40 percent of the legislature. Canada’s ‘feminist’ foreign minister also backed the overthrow of a Bolivian government led by Evo Morales which adopted a series of legislative measures that greatly advanced women’s representation in politics.
Two days before launching the FIAP the Liberals announced their defence policy review, which included a plan to increase military spending by 70 percent over a decade. The government committed $62 billion more to the military—already five times the aid budget—over 20 years.
The Canadian Armed Forces is already a highly patriarchal institution. Women represented just 15.4 percent of military personnel in 2018. In 2015, former Supreme Court judge Marie Deschamps found a “culture of misogyny” in the Canadian military that is “hostile to women.” Her investigation concluded, “the overall perception is that a ‘boys club’ culture still prevails in the armed forces.” Four years later Deschamps told a House of Commons defence committee there had been little progress in eliminating sexism within the CF.
Along with increasing military spending, the Liberals have promoted the arms industry and its billions of dollars in annual sales around the world. A male-dominated sector, Canadian weapons are consistently sold to numerous violent, autocratic and misogynist governments including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The Trudeau government has also deployed Canadian military personnel on a number of dubious missions in concert with Washington. In Iraq, the Liberals even celebrated a record-shattering lethal shot fired by a Canadian sniper in Iraq.
A purveyor of violence, the Canadian military is the institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity. A genuine “feminist foreign policy” would seek to rein in—not expand—the CF.
The Liberals’ so-called feminist foreign policy is yet another example of this government’s “talking left and acting right” agenda that is an insult to Canadian feminists, as well as all those who believe in a progressive foreign policy.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.