CANADA REPORT

O Canada, He Stands On Guard For Thee

. . . In Trinidad, the riot cop keeps the peace after assaults on Canadian banks. He’s there because of growing new hostility to Canada’s $600-million investment empire in the Commonwealth Caribbean

COURTNEY TOWER,C. ALEXANDER BROWN July 1 1970
CANADA REPORT

O Canada, He Stands On Guard For Thee

. . . In Trinidad, the riot cop keeps the peace after assaults on Canadian banks. He’s there because of growing new hostility to Canada’s $600-million investment empire in the Commonwealth Caribbean

COURTNEY TOWER,C. ALEXANDER BROWN July 1 1970

O Canada, He Stands On Guard For Thee

CANADA REPORT

. . . In Trinidad, the riot cop keeps the peace after assaults on Canadian banks. He’s there because of growing new hostility to Canada’s $600-million investment empire in the Commonwealth Caribbean

COURTNEY TOWER

C. ALEXANDER BROWN

THE MANAGER OF the Royal Bank of Canada in Port of Spain was imperturbable, cool as Clive in India, in a startling new role for Canadians in the Caribbean: that of the colonialist under siege. When riots erupted in the Trinidad capital on April 21, he simply shut the bank, sent his staff home . . . and went to play golf. On that same day, as strident placards denounced Canadian “racism” and crowds shouted for the expulsion of foreigners, a Canadian diplomat warned, “Now don’t exaggerate that fuss out there.” What was he going to do? “I’m going to choir practice, as usual.”

The diplomat never got to choir practice. A curfew kept him off the streets. An angry new reality was surging through the Caribbean, a corner of the world most Canadians think of only as carefree pleasure islands, a corner where 110,000 of us sought sun and sand and steel bands last year. The banker was recalled from the fairways, to

board up his bank’s broken windows. Despair, bred of poverty, had finally rebelled at the sight öf the affluence beside it, the affluence mostly of the foreign and the local light-skinned. Economic nationalism, black nationalism, is moving through the Commonwealth Caribbean, where a startled Canada finds itself a dominant power in the economies of 4.5 million people. That nationalism flared because 10 West Indian students had been fined $33,500 in Montreal for destroying the $2-million computer centre at Sir George Williams University last year.

In Trinidad and Guyana, “they think the trial was just a monkey trial,” says Blair Humphrey, a chemistry-teaching volunteer of the Canadian University Service Overseas in Port of Spain. Anti - Canadian protests in Trinidad led to stormy Black Power demonstrations, which led in turn to an army revolt. The revolt failed, but “the atmosphere has soured on us

ever since,” says a Caribbean expert in External Affairs in Ottawa. This, combined with Canada’s economic role, meant: “We’re not colonialists by intent, but by circumstances we’ve taken on a neocolonialist aura there.” In the thick of the riots, Maclean’s sent reporter C. Alexander Brown to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica to report their present feelings about Canada’s singular role. Brown, a black Canadian, born in Jamaica, reported first from Port of Spain:

“I walked from the diplomat-choirmaster’s office into a mob of young men. They ripped the film from my camera. Then one said: ‘Get the hell out of here.’ Before I did, he added, ‘Sorry, man, but people are tired of the whole damn situation . . . violence is the only way!’

“My lost pictures had captured some of the reasons for and manifestations of their anger: Independence Square, with Canadian banks dominating three of its corners; posters denouncing foreign economic control; students marching with older men who have not known work for 10 and 20 years.” Brown found other friction points. All signal less comfortable relations between Canadians and the Caribbean countries :

Trinidad-Tobago — One million population; average per capita income $850 a year; unemployment 20-30% ; under - employment immense. Says Brown: “I walked through Canadian banks and found they hire Trinidadians all right, but mostly the white and the light-skinned ones — there are very few black bodies in management chairs.” Guyana — 750,000; per capita income $250 a year; unemployment 15%; underemployment immense. Prime Minister Forbes Burnham’s government plans to take over 51% of Aluminum Company of Canada’s $ 130million bauxite-mining operation over an indefinite period. Burnham, running ahead of most Caribbean radicals, is setting a possible future pattern in the West Indies for

dealing with foreign investment. The policy is: “We will control our own resources.” Jamaica — 1,893,000; per capita income $442 a year; unemployment 20-30% ; underemployment immense. Here there is little overt friction with Canadians or other foreigners. But there is an atmosphere of spreading vio1 e n c e — murders, rapings, robberies — by desperately poor people who live beside the ostentatious wealth of rich Jamaicans, of foreignowned tourist hotels, foreignowned banks, real estate and insurance companies.

The friction is inescapable simply because, as a Trinidadian cabinet minister puts it, “Canada’s presence is so massive.” Canada’s $ 600$900 million private investment includes $300 million by Alcan to extract bauxite from Jamaica and Guyana.

Alcan is the largest single industry in both nations. Canadian banks control from 6090% of the banking in Commonwealth Caribbean countries; they’ve been there for up to 80 years. Canada is big in insurance, real estate, hotels and resorts.

Canada has grown to its present importance in Caribbean nations partly because they have needed us. The islands lack the resources to live alone. Britain is pulling out and, like the United States, has closed the old safety valve of emigration. (West Indian emigration to Canada rose from 7,800 in 1968 to 14,200 last year.)

The Caribbean’s struggling mini-nations also feel a need for a powerful friend, sympathetic, as former Prime Minister Lester Pearson appeared to be. Though Canada and Britain are now the providers

of the greatest volume of aid to the region — Canada committed $24 million this year, plus extras — relationships have cooled. Some of our diplomats are distressed. They say Pierre Trudeau’s government has been distant to these sensitive regimes. Nearly every West Indian prime minister, they say, has discreetly sought an invitation to Ottawa to discuss problems, but Trudeau has generally been too busy. The Trudeau government also cancelled a $1.2 million subsidy to sugar-producing countries without consulting them. It was the lack of consultation that hurt.

There are other complaints. Canada’s aid terms are said to be too stiff — this is supported by diplomats and aid workers in Ottawa. Alcan and the banks and insurance companies are accused of rarely permitting local ownership, not reinvesting sufficient profits in the West Indies, failing to hire local people in sufficient numbers for responsible jobs.

If the banker and diplomat were surprised by the fury of the April riots, Jeanna Batey was not. She’s one of the 129 CUSO volunteers, who with 120 teachers and many technical advisers are Canada’s best ambassadors in the Caribbean. She has thoroughly identified with the Trinidadians since 1967 — she calls Canadians “them” and “they.” But she has been forced by the new mood on to her own side — the white side in a black and brown country. And she is coming home. “How much can you do,” she asks, “when you feel you’re not wanted by the people?” □

For generations West Indian street vendors have sold big red Delicious apples from Canada at their little stalls at Christmas time. They come by ship and are slightly overripe when sold, giving off a rich winy smell. The Minister of Agriculture in Guyana has now banned the import of Canadian apples. “We can eat mangoes,” he said.