Richard Sanders described it as a â€œDavid and Goliathâ€ contest. On one side, Canadaâ€™s military and weapons contractors (they prefer to call themselves the defence and security industry), along with Ottawaâ€™s mayor, the bureaucracy and most city councillors. On the other side, a small and loosely organized group of citizens drawn from perennially under-funded church and peace groups, including one called the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT), to which Mr. Sanders belongs. The trip wire was the City of Ottawaâ€™s decision to turn its back on a 20-year-old ban against allowing war-related trade shows to occur on municipal property. The recent debate has pulled back a curtain on Canadaâ€™s military-industrial complex â€“ it exports weapons and components that are ultimately used to kill people in foreign wars and other conflicts.
The ban regarding military trade shows on city property was passed by a previous and arguably more enlightened city council in 1989 by a vote of 11 to one. But this year in a neat bit of sophistry, staff advised that the ban no longer applied because the city had undergone various amalgamations and boundary changes. The city was no longer the city, as it were. So it was that a military exhibit called CANSEC 2009 was held on May 27 and 28 at Lansdowne Park, a location that normally hosts home shows, hockey games and a farmersâ€™ market. Security was tight during CANSEC and members of the public were not allowed to attend the event. An ad hoc citizensâ€™ group did demonstrate in the rain at the entrance to Lansdowne and held an evening vigil in a nearby United Church, but to no avail.
CADSI receives government money
CANSEC is the organizational child of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), is a lobby group representing hundreds the countryâ€™s largest weapons producers and exporters of military equipment. CADSI describes itself much more benignly on its website as â€œa not-for-profit business association that represents 800 domestically-based, world-leading, technology-oriented companiesâ€¦â€ The organization receives money from the federal government for its activities and about 200 CADSI exhibitors were on hand in to display their wares for potential buyers at the CANSEC event.
An Ottawa Citizen article about the show was accompanied by a photo of a Danish soldier perched in the turret of a CV90 armoured troop carrier built by a Canadian-based company called BAE Systems. The photoâ€™s cutline said that BAE hoped its product â€œwould interest buyers.â€ Another article in a publication called Flightglobal.com reported that an Ottawa-based company called Gastops held a signing ceremony at CANSEC to celebrate its agreement to sell components to Pratt & Whitney for a plane called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Debate at city council
On June 2, after CANSEC had ended, the action shifted to city council where Councillor Alex Cullen introduced a motion at the economic affairs committee that would have re-established the ban against arms shows on city property. More than 60 people came out to speak, most of them in favour of restablishing the ban. The committee voted against re-instating the ban and then voted in favour of another explicit motion that will allow CANSEC to use Lansdowne Park again in 2010. The question will now move onto the full council.
Ottawaâ€™s mayor Larry Oâ€™Brien normally chairs the economic affairs committee but he was absent. He has had to step down temporarily while he defends himself in court against allegations that he is guilty of attempted bribery and influence peddling in convincing a competitor to drop out of the mayoralty race in 2006. The mayor, however, publicly endorsed CANSEC 2009 and was immediately accused of being in a conflict of interest. Oâ€™Brien is the founder of Calian Technologies, a company that belongs to CANSI and also has contracts with the U.S. military. Oâ€™Brien has continued to hold shares in Calian and chose to remain on the companyâ€™s board of directors after winning the mayoralty. A Calian subsidiary, SED Systems, exhibited at CANSEC 2009.
CANSECâ€™s promoters were assiduous in attempting to cast their event as a mere trade and technology show, but the pesky citizensâ€™ group and others are asking some blunt questions. Do Canadian-based companies build weapons andor components for fighter jets, bombers, attack helicopters and tanks? The answer is yes but it is difficult to get anyone at CADSI to admit it. The second question is whether those weapons or components are provided solely to the Canadian military, or exported to other countries.
The answer is that companies belonging to CADSI sell billions of dollars worth of military equipment to both the Canadian military and to foreign customers. The final, and obvious, conclusion to be drawn is that the weapons are used to kill people — those considered to be enemy combatants, but civilians as well.
Industry spokespersons are adept at avoiding just those kinds of questions. A CADSI news release issued on May 27 (during the CANSEC exhibit) quoted Tim Page, CADSIâ€™s president, as saying: â€œThe technologies on display here today provide leading edge equipment and services to allow our paramedics, firefighters, police officers and military personnel to carry out their responsibilities more effectively and safely â€“ helping them do their jobs and save lives.â€ Page sent on to say that many of the innovations unveiled at CANSEC over the years such as alarm systems, can be found in homes across Canada. No doubt many of the CANSEC exhibitors do produce products for civilian use â€“ but they also produce weapons and components and they export them.
Pointy end of the stick
The words weapons or war are not mentioned in CADSI promotional material either, but CADSIâ€™s Mr. Page was somewhat more explicit when he appeared before city councillors, urging them to defeat the motion requesting a ban on military related shows. The Ottawa Citizen quoted him as saying: “[CANSEC] is a very technology-oriented show with lots of software applications, simulation and training presentations … but the pointy-end of the stick is part of the arsenal required to protect, defend and promote Canadian values and interests.”
The arms show occurred against a backdrop of Canadaâ€™s military presence in Afghanistan and CADSI attempts to exploit that reality. Page was quoted as saying, â€œIt is essential that when we ask men and women in uniform to put themselves in harm’s way that we do so by ensuring they have the best possible equipment and training available to them.” Canadians, of course, do want to protect their soldiers, 120 of whom have lost their lives in Afghanistan â€“ although it is, at the same time, perfectly legitimate to challenge the decisions of our government to send and keep them there. The citizenâ€™s group opposing CANSECâ€™s exhibition at Lansdowne Park introduced another perspective by providing a message from Malalai Joya, a female member of Afghanistanâ€™s parliament. She sent, via email, a deeply disturbing set of pictures of Afghan children, most of them from her region, who have been killed and horribly maimed in NATO bombing raids. She asked if any of these weapons had their origin in Canada.
Canada as arms exporter
Resarch provided by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade indicates that Canada is the worldâ€™s seventh largest arms exporter. Canada military exports totaled more than $5.6 billionÂ between 2003 and 2005. Of the 73 countries that received these exports, 39 had troops that were engaged in major military conflicts, either at home or abroad. The Canadian arms industry is closely integrated with that of the United States. Canadian-based companies supply weapons and components to the Americans, who either use them or provide them to other countries. The U.S. was the recipient of 70 per cent of Canadian military exports between 2003 and 2005, at a value of approximately $4 billion.
Richard Sanders says, â€œNinety percent of the CANSEC 2009 military trade show exhibitors — the data is available from Industry Canada — report that they do export their products.â€Â He says that by researching the websites of Canadian-based companies exhibiting at CANSEC he was able to produce detailed information about Canadian military hardware that is embedded in approximately 40 U.S. weapons systems being used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. These weapons include the lethal A-10 Thunderbolt airplane, the AC 130 Spectre gunship, the AH 64 Apache attack gunship, a light armoured vehicle made by General Dynamics in London Ontario, and missiles and warheads made by Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg.
Sanders says that in recent years CADSI has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).Â The grants are part of the government’s Program for Export Marketing Development and were specifically designed to assist CADSI in its efforts to promote international trade, and the international business development activities of its member corporations. CANSEC is the major annual event organized by CADSI. Sanders says that export data obtained online from Industry Canada also indicates that most of CANSEC 2009â€™s approximately 200 exhibitors report that they do indeed export their products.
CADSIâ€™s trump argument revolves around money and jobs. The organizationâ€™s website claims that its member companies provide 70,000 Canadian jobs and $10 billion in economic activity. Itâ€™s a strategic and probably effective argument, particularly during a recession that has thrown more than 400,000 Canadians out of work since October 2008. It is a point that has been emphasized in letters to the editor and columns in Ottawa newspapers. But the same argument could be made (and has been) to support the tobacco and asbestos industries, not to mention gambling, prostitution, and even the cultivation of drug bound poppy crops. The solution proposed for those industries is conversion. Itâ€™s a good word.