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The Profit Behind the Myths

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Issue: 59 Section: Ideas Geography: Canada Topics: Canadian Foreign Policy

March 20, 2009

The Profit Behind the Myths

New documentary refutes "benevolent" Canada

by Yves Engler

The new documentary "Myths for Profit" attempts to expose the truth behind several common beliefs about Canada's overseas comportment.

A major obstacle for anyone organizing to "right" a Canadian foreign policy "wrong" is the widely held notion that this country acts benevolently on the world stage. "Myths for Profit," a recently released documentary written and directed by Amy Miller, challenges this assumption head-on.

A summary of the film reads: "The Canadian government and the military would like us to believe that we are altruistic peacekeepers helping people around the world. But is this accurate?"

After exploring how Canadians see their country, "Myths for Profit" provides an entertaining history of NATO and a brief description of Canada's peacekeeping role in the Suez crisis. The film also delves into the role played by government agencies, such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Export Development Canada (EDC), in advancing investors' interests abroad. With helpful graphics, the film discusses the Canadian arms industry, pipeline politics in Afghanistan and some of the social and ecological devastation wrought by Canadian foreign investment.

The movie is probably at its best regarding Canada's bombing of Serbia in 1999. Under the auspices of "humanitarian intervention," Canadian military jets dropped hundreds of bombs on the country, destroying infrastructure and killing civilians.

The film is not without political limitations. It discusses the drawbacks of tied aid at length, but barely mentions how Canadian aid supports US-led military endeavours and has been used to keep poorer countries within the Western sphere of influence. Aid, the film might have made clear, is largely a tool to advance geopolitical interests defined by the global elite.

When discussing the Suez crisis, popularly understood as the beginning of "peacekeeping," "Myths for Profit" could have detailed Washington's support for the UN mission, put forward by Lester B. Pearson. A better understanding of Suez would convince viewers that peacekeeping (usually) advanced Washington's interests during the Cold War, a point made in "Myths for Profit."

The political objective of the film may be too broad for an hour-long documentary, a medium that doesn't lend itself to depth. It is not clear whether the uninitiated viewer will follow all of the movie's transitions, from NATO to peacekeeping and through the reconstruction industry to Canadian mining operations abroad.

Despite these weaknesses, "Myths for Profit" is an important resource for those working for a more just Canadian foreign policy. It asks the right questions and provides a number of answers.

For a documentary with no major institutional financing, its technical quality is impressive. Often quite funny, the film's images and comics make for a highly entertaining documentary.

"Myths for Profit" is being shown across Canada during March and April.

Yves Engler is the author of the forthcoming The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. To help organize a talk as part of a book tour in May or June, please e-mail yvesengler [at] hotmail [.] com.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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