• The Canadian federal election of 2015 is rigged. Stephen Harper has leaned on his corporate cronies and assets in order to fix the outcome of two federal election debates in English-speaking Canada. The Leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, is excluded from both events.
The economic debate takes place on Sept. 17 on the PM’s home political turf of Calgary Alberta, now NDP territory politically. The second and most heavily rigged debate takes place in Toronto on Sept. 28. The host of this debate on Canada’s foreign policy is Peter Munk and Toronto’s Munk institutes. These institutes – the Munk Debates and the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs – are basically Public Relations extensions of the constellation of corporate interests revolving around Barrick Inc.
Peter Munk and Barrick Gold
Peter Munk is the most public face of Barrick Gold Corporation, a controversial global mining conglomerate headquartered in Toronto. Barrick Gold draws on many heritages including Canada’s rich mining history. One of the highlights of this history is the development, starting in 1910, of the Hollinger gold mine around which the northern Ontario town of Timmins coalesced.
Media mogul Conrad Black used the Hollinger heritage as the brand name of his Anglo-American-Israeli media empire. Largely through the spin of Hollinger Inc’s Canadian flagship National Post, Stephen Harper was propelled to the forefront of national politics in Canada. In this election season of 2015, Harper is now seeking a mandate from the Canadian electorate to begin his second decade as Canada’s Prime Minister.
The wholesale destruction of indigenous peoples’ culture and self-reliance marks the darkest side of Canada’s mining history. Barrick has been a key instrument in the saga of internationalizing the mining assault on First Nations, especially in Latin America. This globalization of our country’s frontier expansions has made Canada the world’s reigning mining superpower.
The business story of how this Canadian-based power and resource grab went forward is fascinating, complex and rife with more than its share of corruption. The role of Peter Munk, Brian Mulroney, John Baird, and Nigel Wright in this saga of imperial Canada’s colonizing thrust helps explain the Liberal Party’s replacement by the neocon dynasty lead by Stephen Harper over the last decade.
Barrick’s Meteoric Rise from Obscurity
to Dominance in the Global Gold Trade
There is much more than meets the eye with respect to the locating of the federal leaders debate on foreign affairs. One telling detail took place last January when John Baird, then Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, handed the U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs a federal check. The amount was 100 times larger than the bribe delivered to Mike Duffy from the private pocket of Harper’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. Wright too has extremely close ties to Barrick Gold, the Munk Debates, and Gerry Swartz’s Onex Corporation where Anthony Munk, Peter’s son, is a top executive.
Yves Engler has identified the obvious conflict of interest in allowing a PR offshoot of a Canadian mining conglomerate to host a debate on Canadian foreign affairs at a time when Canada’s “extractive industries” are at the centre of a broad array of international contentions. In rabble.ca Engler writes, “while Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate, don’t expect any discussion of regulating mining activities abroad on September 28… Nor should we expect discussion about matters likely to embarrass the military or major corporations.”
Such topics will probably be papered over, because as Engler predicts, a real spotlight on the reason for Canada’s dwindling stature and reputation internationally “might offend billionaire Peter Munk.”
In the 1980s, the point person on the Barrick complex of companies was the notorious CIA asset and Saudi arms merchant, Adnan Khashoggi. Munk was inserted to replace the flamboyant Saudi playboy once Khashoggi was made to become a fall guy in the Iran-Contra scandal. Munk stepped into Barrick’s spotlight after 1989 when the Torontonian came up with $4 million to bail out Khashoggi from a New York jail after the arms merchant got caught up with Imelda Marcos’ unorthodox gold transactions.
Barrick has been the lead navigator for an elaborate network of enterprises grouped together by the Harper government as the so-called “extractive sector.” Largely because of lax regulation and enforcement mechanisms in the stock exchanges of Vancouver and Toronto, Canada presently leads the world as the preferred headquarters for the transnational “extractive sector.”
The core of Barrick’s business model is the trade in insider information. Strategic data is regularly brought to Barrick especially by former politicians seeking to cash in on their privileged access to state secrets and global contacts acquired in the days when they held public office. Prominent among this genre of Barrick operative has been Mulroney and Baird who have followed the trail pioneered by the former US President, George H.W. Bush.
When he was in the Oval Office from 1989 to 1993 and during the years that followed his one-term US presidency, George Bush Sr. played a major role in the rise of Barrick’s fortunes. By virtually gifting Barrick the USA’s most lucrative gold mine on federal land in Nevada, Bush kick started a progression that projected the Canadian company from obscurity to dominance in the global gold business.
John Baird is Brian Mulroney’s new understudy on Barrick’s International Advisory Board. Baird knows well from his own extensive ministerial involvement with the relevant files that the activities of Canada’s most famous gold company have been volatile centres of turmoil and contention in the conduct of Canadian foreign policy. For instance, widely-reported revelations of environmental degradation together with Barrick’s corruption of Chilean politicians to promote the Canadian gold company’s disastrous Pascau Lama project have energized an upsurge of condemnations blackening Canada’s reputation throughout Latin America.
The growing web of international controversy is extending to transnational networks of police forces, media, courts, government ministries, financiers and politicians. The prominent individuals being drawn into this maelstrom include former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney, former Chilean President Ricardo Largos, banker Andronico Luksic Jr, and Peter Munk himself. How can the Munk Debates offer a platform of credible neutrality for a leaders’ debate on Canadian foreign policy when Barrick Gold has become such a toxic vehicle of Canada’s relationship with the global community?
Barrick at the Centre of a Firestorm of Criticism and Hostile Litigation
Earlier this year John L. Thornton moved on from his top executive post at HSBC, and his prior post as Goldman Sachs president, to replace Peter Munk as Chair of Barrick Gold. Thornton is taking over an office with a lingering residue of bad publicity. This legacy is epitomized by Munk’s nomination by Mother Jones as piggy number one in its rundown of America’s top ten embodiments of corporate pork.
Increasingly hostility is being directed at Barrick and its sister firms like GoldCorp. It is also being directed at the Canadian government. For instance the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights responded to Canada’s instant backing of the primary beneficiaries of the military coup in Honduras in 2009 by condemning the role of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
Following the overthrow of President Manuel Zalaya’s government, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is alleged to have gone to work to help the Honduran coup leaders write “new mining laws” even as “targeted violence” was being pointed against “communities, lawyers, journalists, and activists.” The Harper government was the first national government in the Western Hemisphere to extend formal recognition to the post-coup usurpers of Honduran sovereignty.
The UK’s Guardian has paraphrased the Commission’s serious charges that Barrick and other Canadian mining companies active in nine Latin American countries have been, with the backing and sanction of the Canadian government, “destroying glaciers, contaminating water and rivers, cutting down forests, forcibly displacing people, dividing and impoverishing communities, making false promises about economic benefits, endangering people’s health, and fraudulently acquiring property.” Those who protest such assaults “have been killed or seriously wounded while others have been persecuted, threatened or accused of being terrorists.”
Barrick’s annual shareholders’ meetings have become the site of strife and acrimony because of the growing array of individuals, groups and associations claiming that the company has hurt them. At the low end of the scale are accusations that Barrick’s directors and executives are too highly paid and rewarded with lucrative stock options. At the high end of the scale are accusations that the company has repeatedly and systematically committed fraud by making false reports to security regulators and investors in a variety of countries.
Introducing Jorge Cortes Lopehandia and
The Pascua Lama Mining Debacle
Ground zero in Barrick’s litigious mess of claims and counterclaims is the Pascau Lama mine on the border of Chile and Argentina in the high Andes. The gargantuan mining project has been closed down by order of the Chilean judiciary. Barrick’s serial displays of incompetence, malfeasance and outright contempt for victims of the company’s recklessness have assumed epic proportions. Peter Koven at Canada’s Financial Post accused Barrick in 2013 of “screwing up the Pascua Lama project about as badly as any mining company has ever screwed up a major project.”
The company claims to have invested $8.5 billion in its Pascua Lama project with almost no return so far. There is virtually nothing in Barrick’s own accounting of this project, however, that can be taken at face value. The evidence continues to grow suggesting that the books have been cooked and that shareholders have been robbed, defrauded and scorned.
The evidence suggests that titles have been fabricated, while the actual titles to the mineral resources of Pascua Lama have been misrepresented and subjected to political subterfuge. As a result, Barrick is being accused of making public share offerings based on proprietary claims to gold and other precious minerals it never really possessed.
After almost two decades of litigious struggle with the Canadian corporate giant and its Chilean subsidiaries, Jorge Cortes Lopehandia, a Canadian citizen from Chile, is gaining positive public regard especially in Chile. Jorge is gaining traction for his unwavering assertion that he, not Barrick, is the true holder of the metallic titles beneath large parts of the Pascua Lama project. Central to the strength of his position is the court injunction of 2001 against Barrick’s local branch, Compania Minera Nevada (CMN). The injunction results from Lopehandia’s presentation in court of registered titles obtained through his agent, Rudolfo Fancisco Villar.
In 2004 Barrick made one of its very few references to the contested title in its annual report to investors and security regulators. The authors of Barrick’s report acknowledged that three years earlier “Villar obtained an ex parte injunction barring CMN from selling or encumbering the claims while the suit is pending before the Chilean courts.”
In a subsequent proceeding in 2012 in the 2nd Civil Court in the City of Villenar, Jorge Lopehandia put the Chilean subsidiary of Barrick to the test. As he tells it, his opponents failed to pass. They could come up with nothing more than a word of mouth agreement to prove their title claims.
Jorge has struck up a partnership in Vancouver with Brent Johnson. Johnson is CEO of Mountainstar Gold that is helping, along with other interests, to fund the legal proceedings against Barrick in both Chile and Canada.
Lopehandia and Johnson share much in common. Mountainstar Gold is asserting in US courts that it is the proper inheritor of the titles to the Goldstrike mining property in Nevada. In a transfer whose legal validity is still being contested, the Goldstrike property was transferred to Barrick Gold through the actions of two US presidents, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
By virtue of having survived many rounds of combat with Barrick’s legal pit bulls, Jorge is emerging as something of a champion for those opposed to the degradation of Canada’s international reputation. Many are against allowing our country become an accommodating platform of convenience for the worldwide operations of even the most dubious of “extractive industries.”
Barrick’s SLAPP Suits in Canada and UK
As the contest unfolded, Barrick pressed charges in Ontario, beginning in 2002, against Lopehandia for Internet Libel. Barrick’s lawyers alleged that Jorge was disseminating on the worldwide web false information defaming the Canadian mining company and its Chilean subsidiary. Their legal procedures can be interpreted as a manifestation of Barrick’s propensity to press SLAPP suits—strategic lawsuits against public participation.
The aim of SLAPP suits is to exhaust and bankrupt those who criticize large corporations with deep pockets. This tactic serves the purpose of containing or blocking the spread of embarrassing information in the media, no matter how solid the relevant evidence.
Among those that have felt the wrath of Barrick’s censorious litigiousness are Greg Palast. Also targeted were the Guardian and the Observer, UK publishers of Palast’s investigative work. Other victims of Barrick’s SLAPP attacks have been Alan Denault and the publishers of his Canadian books on Barrick, as well as human rights lawyer Tundu Lussu of the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
The judges involved in the eventual ruling in 2004 in the Ontario Superior Court of Appeals sided with Barrick against Lopehandia making him, in Jorge’s own words, “a symbol of Internet Libel in Canada and around the world.”
Sakura Saunders, the Globe and Mail,
and the Munk Fellowship in Global Journalism
Sakura Saunders has played a significant role in many facets of this saga. She is a driving force in the Protest Barrick and Munk Out of U of T campaigns.
Saunders has identified the close ties linking Barrick Gold with the Globe and Mail, which bills itself as “Canada’s national newspaper.” The Globe and Mail is hosting the other major leaders debate on the economy. Like the Munk Debate, the Globe Debate excludes Elizabeth May, the sole female leader of a Canadian federal political party.
In an article published by the Toronto Media Co-op in 2013, Saunders explained the close ties between Barrick Gold, the Munk institutes and the Globe and Mail. She included observations of the partnership of the Globe’s partnership with Munk School of Global Affairs in training journalists. Saunders’ essay helps underline that those rigging the federal leaders debate on foreign affairs are closely tied in with those rigging the leaders’ debate on the economy.
Networking in Toronto on the Munk and Harper Teams
Rudyard Griffiths is the organizer and moderator of the Munk Federal Election Debate on Foreign Affairs. Griffiths describes himself as a “social engineer.” He is Peter Munk’s designate heading up a network of interlinked agencies that extends incestuousness to new frontiers of corporatized narcissism. It was Griffith’s who made the decision to exclude Elizabeth May from the event at Roy Thompson Hall on Sept. 28. The exclusion of May’s excellent female debating voice is part of the way Canadians are being cheated in DebateGate.
The federal leaders’ debate in Toronto is billed as part of the regular cycle of Munk Debates. The Munk Debates are run by the Aurea Foundation. Like the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Aurea Foundation receives funding from the Peter and Melanie Munk Foundation. Peter Munk himself has emphasized the overlapping character of the Munk Debates and the Munk School. In announcing his personal triumph in landing the main debating event of the 2015 federal election campaign, Munk beamed, “Whether it is the support we provide to the Munk School at the University of Toronto or the creation of the Munk Debates through the Aurea Foundation, Melanie and I are committed to broadening public knowledge, education, and informed discourse.”
The Advisory Board of the Aurea Foundation includes Prof. Janice Gross Stein, the Founding Director of the Munk School. Earlier in 2015 Prof. Stein was pictured in her trademark red glasses with the former Foreign Affairs Minister, receiving on behalf of the Munk School the federal check for $9 million. The purpose of this handover of public money from Baird and the Harper government was to help dissidents undermine Iran’s Islamic government. Prof. Stein was Baird’s closest adviser when he was Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister. The Munk School Director has been instrumental in guiding the Harper government in how to mirror Israeli policies.
Also on the Advisory Board of the Munk Debates is Allan Gotlieb, a former Canadian Ambassador to the USA, a member of the Trilateral Commission, A Canadian Panel member on George H. W. Bush’s Carlyle Group, and a senior legal adviser to Bennett Jones. Bennett Jones is a Calgary-headquartered law firm that does much work for the international operations of Canada’s extractive industries. Other members of the Advisory Board are George Jonas and Dr. Robert Pritchard.
Mark Cameron is one of the younger members of the Munk Debates’ Advisory Board. Cameron describes himself as Senior Vice-President and Energy Practice Leader with Hill and Knowlton Strategies, and a former Director of Policy and Research to Prime Minister Harper. Hill and Knowlton is the notorious international PR firm that hired “Nayirah,” the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in the USA, to be the star crisis actor in a now-legendary press conference in 1990.
The tearful young woman identified only as “Nayirah.” claimed to have witnessed Saddam Hussein’s soldiers removing babies from incubators and smashing them into the floor to die. The purpose this PR fraud, at the highest level of international media manipulation, was to sell a new war. It was to arouse public opinion to back a US-led invasion of Iraq that would subsequently unfold as Operation Desert Storm. Selling wars has long produced the most lucrative contracts for the PR industry whose Canadian agents of spin include the Munk Debates.
Where the Barrick and Onex Corporations
Meet the Harper Government
Anthony Munk is a close friend and colleague of Nigel “good to go” Wright. Until recently, Wright and Munk Jr. worked together on the Aurea Foundation’s Board. They continue to work together as top executives at the Onex Corporation. Wright is godfather to Anthony’s son, Peter Munk’s grandson.
Gerald W. Schwartz is CEO of Onex Corporation that specializes in mergers and the restructuring of corporate assets. Schwartz is married to Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books. For a time Reisman had a big role in determining the invitation list to the annual Bilderberg meetings, a high-power event where new inductees are introduced to some of capitalism’s chief plutocrats.
Schwartz and Reisman are both avid supporters of the Israeli state. Formerly prominent Liberal Party backers, the most formidable power couple in Canada’s business community shifted their support to the Conservative Party of Canada when the Harper’s policies better embodied their own pro-Israel aspirations. As demonstrated in the friendship and business connections linking Anthony Munk with Nigel Wright, the Onex Corporation has become an important interface with the Harper government and its favoured Barrick Corporation.
Schwartz essentially gifted the very brainy, effective and accomplished Wright to the PMO to become Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff in 2010. Wright’s specialty at Onex has been mergers and acquisitions in the fields of aerospace, defence, energy and transportation. He was involved, in various ways, on the Canadian facet of the Harper government’s negotiations with Lockheed Martin, and related agencies, to purchase F-35 jet fighters.
Before being fired fired by Harper, Chief of Staff Wright faced his most serious allegations of conflict of interest – not on the F-35 file – but because of revelations he was contacted repeatedly to assist Barrick with its deals. Barrick’s intervention with Harper’s Chief of Staff involved efforts to modify Canadian government relations with the government of Argentina. Were issues related to Barrick’s Pascua Lama project connected to Barrick’s phone calls to Wright?
It fell to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to intervene, in 2012, in order answer journalists’ questions about Barrick’s exploitation of access to Wright in order to lobby Stephen Harper on Canada’s foreign policy towards Latin America. The National Post paraphrased an interview with Baird on this subject. Baird is reported to have said, “Wright did nothing wrong; he merely listened to Barrick’s concerns, said nothing, passed the matter over to others responsible for the file and was not involved in any decision relating to the company.”
Baird’s defense of Wright and, by implication, Wright’s boss, may have conveyed, for the gullible at least, a certain sense of detached objectivity when the explanation was offered in 2012. The words Baird expressed back then, however, have taken on entirely new meanings during this election season of 2015. The situation is radically different now that Baird has joined Barrick’s International Advisory Board after handing over $9 million in public funds to the Munk School of Global Affairs. Similarly, the perspective is altered as the federal leaders’ debate on the subject matter of Baird’s former portfolio is about to take place under the auspices of the Munk Debates.
How far did John Baird go in using his power as Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs to help Barrick and the corrupt elites the company enlists in Chile, and thoughout the world? When deciding whether to protect Barrick’s executives or its shareholders, what side did Baird choose?
What Will Be the Scope of the Federal Leaders’
Munk Debate on ISIL?
In an interview in Embassy News Rudyard Griffiths promised that Canada’s hostility to ISIL would definitely be the subject of debate between Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau. Reports of the Canadian government’s help to ISIL surfaced briefly in Canada’s mainstream media in March of 2015. Canadian news agencies echoed reports in Turkish media that a Syrian agent, employee or asset of Canadian intelligence operations based in Jordan had been arrested and identified. Mohammed Mehmet Rashid had been caught helping three young women from London travel into Turkey and then Syria in order to join ISIL.
The apprehended agent of the Canadian deep state was operating in the network of Bruno Saccomani, Canada’s Ambassador to Jordan with special responsibilities for Iraq. Saccomani was elevated to his post in the diplomatic service from his former position as a RCMP bodyguard for Stephen Harper.
Where is the insistence on getting to the bottom of a story that the Canadian government is involved in helping the very group that Canadian soldiers are being put in harms way to fight? Why should we be surprised that the same interests are apparently backing both sides of conflict, that there is money to be made from keeping the machinery of war perpetually churning? Often, it doesn’t matter what side wins or loses. For war profiteers the important thing is to keep the fighting going: divide and conquer and profit.
The question of whether or not Canada, and other Western Powers including the United States, is involved on both sides in the war on ISIL should figure importantly in any credible electoral debate on Canadian foreign policy. Certainly this discussion is very well developed in venues like Global Research.ca, Russia Today and Press TV, the international English-language broadcasting service of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Few Canadians realize that the Iranian Armed Forces are also at war with ISIL.
Crisis Actors, PR Companies, Police Informants,
and the Selling of War
The artificial nature of Harper’s war on jihadism is suggested by the main themes of Trevor Aaronson’s The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. This text illuminates the role of police infiltrators in encouraging, setting up, entrapping, and often taking the credit for preventing acts of concocted Islamic jihad.
Currently the FBI has about 15,000 individuals on its payroll engaged in manipulating vulnerable Muslims to create the kind of fear that the perpetuation of the War on Terror requires. The picture the author draws of this kind of activity could well have been a factor in the prelude to the killing of two soldiers by two “recent Muslim converts” in the Ottawa-Montreal area in October of 2014.
The police and military response to the Ottawa shooter incident provided evocative imagery for front-page coverage in newspapers throughout the world. A survey of the photojournalism generated by the elaborate mobilization of anti-terrorist squads in Ottawa last October 22 raises suspicions. The extravagant content and massive deployment of the images by worldwide media could lead one to be sceptical. Was the operation meant, in part, to create pre-planned iconography with the objective of arousing international support for the anti-jihad cause. The basic narrative was that the war on ISIL is at once domestic and international.
The selling of this war against ISIL might in the light of future history turn out to involve manufactured elements as outrageously artificial as the images in 1990 of Hill and Knowlton’s tearful crisis actor, “Nayira.” What future did the White House of President George H. W. Bush’ (Honorary Ph.D, University of Toronto, 1997) have in mind for us by paying “Nayira” through its PR agency to pretend she had witnessed Saddam Hussein’s vicious army snatching babies from incubators and smashing them into the floor?
Removing the Barricades
The unregulated extraction of resources abroad, and the raiding of pension funds at home, give new meaning to the attacks of Barrick’s Barricudas. Surely it is time to end the farce of treating old sawfish like Peter Munk or Brian Mulroney or Henry Kissinger or George H. W. Bush as darlings of the academy who are above the law. Sooner or later we will have to come to grips with the fact the centre of organized crime and state terror is located in places like the boards rooms of HSBC, the International Advisory Board of Barrick Gold and the PMO of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
We need to move beyond old paradigms like the lionization of wealth and the intensifying marginalization of the wretched of the earth. We need to embrace life over death, to get off the grid, to say no to smart meters, GMOs, geoengineering, fracking, Tar Sands, forced fluoridation, more Fukushimas, species depletion, and the ongoing genocide of some our most vulnerable brothers and sisters
We need to sort fact from PR spin in order to ramp down the activities of the war machine with its voracious hunger for a steady stream of new enemies to vanquish. We need understand how it is that Barrick Gold’s poster boy of Internet libel would emerge a decade later as a prophetic critic of the more dubious tactics deployed in making Canada an international mining superpower. Only by casting light on such narratives of repression can we fully apprehend the larger implications of Harper’s crimes against democracy. This crime spree now extends to fixing elections in Canada through the rigging of public debate.
Anthony Hall is professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge. He has written for the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Canadian Dimension and many other periodicals. His most recent books are Earth Into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism and The American Empire and the Fourth World.