If Canada spied on Brazil, it could have consequences for the Vancouver economy
Reports of Canadian spies putting the Brazilian mines and energy ministry under surveillance won't surprise anyone who's read The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy.
Montreal author Yves Engler's 2012 book outlined how the Canadian foreign service and Harper's trips abroad have advanced the Canadian mining industry, regardless of its ethical conduct.
"Under Harper all levels of Canadian diplomacy have promoted mining," Engler noted.
Harper hasn't confirmed or denied a Brazilian television report that Communications Security Establishment Canada used a software program called Olympia to compile metadata of email and phone communications from the Brazilian government.
Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who broke the U.S. metadata-surveillance story, worked with Globo television on the latest report. It came with the help of documents from National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden.
If all of this turns out to be true, Canadian spies and their political masters will have driven a stake in Canada-Brazil relations and jeopardized a growing friendship between the two countries.
In addition, this episode has probably harmed how Canadians are viewed in other Latin American countries.
These spooks may have also undermined the efforts of many B.C. educational institutions, which have invested enormous time, money, and energy trying to lure Brazilian students to Vancouver.
In 2011, Brazil's president, Dilma Roussef, launched the imaginative Science Without Borders program to send 100,000 undergraduate students abroad.
About 12,000 will have come Canada by 2015, with quite a few ending up at SFU, UBC, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Canada has received a large share of the students because Gov. Gen. David Johnstone, along with 30 university presidents, visited Brazil in 2012.
Private career and language schools in Vancouver have also attracted hordes of Brazilian students, boosting Vancouver's economy and enhancing cultural life in the city.
With a $2.4 trillion gross domestic product in 2012, Brazil has the seventh-largest economy in the world. Canada ranks 11th.
The two countries have a bilateral air-transport agreement, a bilateral social-security agreement, a Canada-Brazil CEO forum, and a science and technology action plan.
Tourism officials have been working hard to attract more visitors from Brazil as the number of U.S. visitors remains flat.
If Canadian spies have been working on behalf of the mining industry, they have left all of these areas vulnerable to retaliation by Brazil—a proud nation emerging as a 21st-century superpower.
And the sleuths' only justification for such unethical conduct would be that Brazilians are competitors to Canadian mining companies, which have a dubious track record in some countries.
Engler wrote in his book that "under Harper, this country's foreign policy enforces the interests of all mining companies, no matter the context".
"Is this a foreign policy to make us proud?" he added.
More to the point: is this a foreign policy that is going to cost the Vancouver economy a great deal over the long run?