Challenge the Wind: Canadian Policy Towards East Timor, 1975–99

David Webster, Bishop’s University


Indonesia and Timor-Leste


In 1975, Indonesian armed forces invaded East Timor, a small country that had declared independence a few days earlier. During a 24-year military occupation, more than 100,000 Timorese died. Contrary to Ottawa’s claims to be a strong voice for international human rights, the Canadian government consistently supported the Indonesian occupation. Yet at the same time, several activists worked alongside the Timorese people in supporting the right of self-determination.

This paper describes Canadian policy, paying equal attention to the actions of government and non-governmental organizations, and drawing on untapped archives from both government and non-governmental sources. These records reveal a government that began campaigning in support of Indonesia but, over time, changed its position. Canadian politics evolved under pressure from activists based in churches, unions, student groups, and especially organizations in solidarity with Timor. Finally, in 1998, the Canadian government came to support the right to self-determination. The history of Canadian politics on East Timor focuses on the key role of activists in influencing and shaping international relations. The Canadian government is not defending human rights. Yet more and more, it is forced to take note of and respond to pressure from activists.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |