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Could These Foreign Lobbyists Be Working Against Canada's Interests?

The neoconservative think tank has, despite being a foreign U.S.-based organization, been invited over 10 times to the House of Commons in Canada.

07/10/2017 13:33 EDT | Updated 07/10/2017 13:38 EDT

Last month, a series of revelations and actions in the Persian Gulf area rocked the world of international relations. In quick succession, a Qatari state news website was hacked, deep and broad sanctions were placed on Qatar by its neighbours (led by Saudi Arabia), and an email exchange showing coordination between repressive Gulf monarchies and a U.S.-based lobbying organization named the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) was leaked. It is the latter exchange, seemingly far removed from our country, which should be of great interest to Canadians.

Keith Binns
Parliament Building Reflection on Glass

What was understandably missed by many Canadians in the course of this Shakespearean drama in the Gulf was the role of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Canada. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD for short) is a neoconservative think tank which has, despite being a foreign U.S.-based organization, been invited over 10 times to the House of Commons in Canada and several times in the Senate to testify as expert witnesses, often speaking in favour of reprehensible and divisive legislation on immigration and security issues. These include supporting the odious Bill C-24, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which would allow the Canadian government (under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper) to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens.

The influence that the FDD has in Canadian politics is extremely important to understanding the revelations that came with the leaks last month. The email leaks suggest that not only did the FDD work with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to isolate Qatar, but that it was also trying to prevent companies from entering the Iranian market.

The massive impropriety, verging on gross negligence, implied by this situation should not be missed here.

In the leaks, the FDD sent a list of companies to the UAE ambassador. This list consisted of companies who are doing business in Saudi Arabia or the UAE and have expressed interest in selling to the burgeoning Iranian market. The FDD executive suggests to the ambassador that the UAE and Saudi Arabia put a choice to these companies between doing business in Iran or their two countries -- essentially planning economic intimidation.

Most importantly for Canadians, one of these companies is Bombardier, the struggling flagship Canadian aerospace company in which both federal and provincial Canadian governments have invested billions over the years, and which has consistently expressed interest in expanding into Iran as an integral part of its efforts to reverse its economic fortunes.

UIG via Getty Images
Qatar skyline.

The massive impropriety, verging on gross negligence, implied by this situation should not be missed here; Canadian parliamentarians would have allowed a foreign organization to have a significant impact on Canadian policy at the legislative level. In addition, if these email leaks are indeed legitimate, this foreign organization has shown not only that it is indifferent to Canadian interests, but that it is actively working with repressive foreign governments to undermine these interests.

This matter has been brought to the attention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parliamentarians and the Commissioner of Lobbying. Though the Commissioner has acknowledged receipt of a complaint against the FDD, they have not (at least publicly) committed to investigating the matter at a serious level, claiming that the progress of investigations is "private." Additionally, none of the Canadian politicians or officials who were responsible for the invitation of the FDD to the House of Commons and Senate have responded to the concern, nor have they promised to at least place a moratorium on the presence of this organization as witnesses in the Canadian legislature until an investigation of this issue has been completed.

Shouldn't Canadians be able to expect their government to maintain the integrity of its legislative institutions?

This begs the question of why Canadian politicians and institutions have been so slow to move on this issue. Shouldn't Canadians be able to expect their government to maintain the integrity of its legislative institutions and to keep them free of malicious influence? Furthermore, where is the Canadian media on this issue? Surely, they have a duty to inform their audience that a foreign organization with considerable influence among Canadian politicians may be working with repressive foreign states against our country's interests.

In the face of the unwillingness of our institutions to deal with this issue, perhaps the only way in which to assure this matter is taken seriously is for Canadians to pressure the commissioner of lobbying and their MPs and Senators directly by asking them to follow up on this case. Otherwise, Canadians may be allowing a foreign organization to present before our democratic institutions while continuing to work with foreign governments to undermine our economic interests.

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