Protests at Ottawa weapons fair

This article was last updated on June 4, 2022

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Hundreds of protestors have blocked access to the EY Centre in Ottawa for the opening of CANSEC, North America’s largest weapons fair and “defense industry” convention.

40-foot posters reading “Blood on Your Hands,” “Stop Profiting From War,” and “Arms Dealers Not Welcome” blocked driveways and pedestrian entrances as guests attempted to register for and enter the convention centre just before Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand’s opening keynote presentation.

“The same conflicts that have caused millions of people to suffer have brought record profits to arms manufacturers this year,” Rachel Small, an organizer with World BEYOND War, said. “These war profiteers have blood on their hands, and we’re making it impossible for anyone to attend their weapons show without being confronted with the violence and bloodshed in which they’re involved. We’re disrupting CANSEC to show our support for the millions of people killed, suffering, and displaced around the world as a result of the weapons sold and military deals made by the people and corporations inside this convention. While more than six million people have fled Ukraine this year, more than 400,000 people have died in Yemen’s seven-year war, and at least 13 Palestinian children have been killed in the West Bank since the start of 2022, the weapons companies sponsoring and exhibiting at CANSEC are making record profits. They are the only ones who are able to win these battles.”

Lockheed Martin, one of CANSEC’s key sponsors, has seen its stock price jump by about 25% since the beginning of the year, while Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman each saw their stock prices rise by around 12%. On an earnings call just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Officer James Taiclet projected that the crisis would result in inflated defense budgets and additional revenues for the corporation. Raytheon’s CEO, Greg Hayes, told investors earlier this year that the company expects “potential for overseas sales” as a result of the Russian threat. “I definitely anticipate we’ll see some advantage from it,” he continued. Hayes received $23 million in yearly salary in 2021, an increase of 11% over the previous year.

“The weapons, vehicles, and technologies on display at this armaments exhibition have far-reaching ramifications for human rights in Canada and around the world,” said Brent Patterson, Director of Peace Brigades International Canada. “What is celebrated and sold here is the violation of human rights, surveillance, and death.”

Canada has risen to become one of the world’s top arms dealers, and the Middle East region’s second largest weapons exporter. Even though these customers have been consistently implicated in egregious violations of international humanitarian law, the majority of Canadian weaponry are shipped to Saudi Arabia and other nations involved in violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Since the start of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in early 2015, Canada has sold $7.8 billion worth of armaments to the Saudis, mostly armored vehicles made by CANSEC exhibitor GDLS. Yemen’s war, now in its seventh year, has killed over 400,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Given well-documented instances of Saudi abuses against its own citizens and the people of Yemen, an exhaustive analysis by Canadian civil society organizations has credibly shown that these transfers violate Canada’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates the trade and transfer of weapons. International organizations such as Mwatana for Human Rights in Yemen, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented the devastating role of bombs made by CANSEC sponsors such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin in air strikes on Yemen that hit a marketplace, a wedding, and a school bus, among other civilian targets.

“Canadian corporations plunder the oppressed nations of the world outside its borders, while Canadian imperialism benefits from its role as a junior partner in the vast complex of military and economic warfare waged by US-led imperialism,” said Aiyanas Ormond of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle. “From plundering the Philippines’ mineral wealth to supporting Israeli occupation, apartheid, and war crimes in Palestine, to its criminal role in the occupation and plunder of Haiti, to sanctions and regime change machinations against Venezuela, to arms exports to other imperialist states and client regimes, Canadian imperialism uses its military and police to attack the people and suppress their just struggles for self-determination and national and international recognition. Let’s get together to bring this war machine to a halt!”

Canada sent more than $26 million worth of military goods to Israel in 2021, up 33% from the previous year. This included explosives worth at least $6 million. Last year, Canada agreed to buy drones from Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer and a CANSEC exhibitor, which supplies 85 percent of Israeli military drones used to watch and target Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. IMI Systems, an Elbit Systems company, is the primary supplier of 5.56 mm bullets, which were used by Israeli occupation troops to murder Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation, a government agency that facilitates deals between Canadian arms exporters and foreign governments, recently brokered a $234 million deal to sell 16 Bell 412 helicopters to the Philippine military, according to CANSEC exhibitor the Canadian Commercial Corporation. Since his victory in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has been characterised by a reign of terror that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, including journalists, labor leaders, and human rights advocates, under the cover of an anti-drug campaign.

This year’s CANSEC arms exhibition is expected to draw 12,000 visitors, with an estimated 306 exhibitors, including weapons manufacturers, military technology and supply companies, media outlets, and government agencies. A total of 55 international delegations are expected to attend. The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), which represents over 900 Canadian defense and security industries, is hosting the weapons show.

Hundreds of lobbyists in Ottawa work for arms merchants who are not only competing for military contracts, but also persuading the government to change policy priorities to suit the military equipment they are selling. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Airbus, United Technologies, and Raytheon all maintain offices in Ottawa, most of them within a few blocks of Parliament, to facilitate access to government officials. For more than three decades, CANSEC and its predecessor, ARMX, have experienced fierce criticism. In April 1989, Ottawa City Council voted to prohibit the ARMX arms display from taking place at Lansdowne Park and other City-owned locations due to public outcry. More over 2,000 people marched along Bank Street from Confederation Park to oppose the arms fair at Lansdowne Park on May 22, 1989. The Alliance for Non-Violence Action organized a major demonstration the next day, Tuesday, May 23, in which 160 people were arrested. ARMX did not return to Ottawa until March 1993, when it was renamed Peacekeeping ’93 and held in the Ottawa Congress Centre. Following widespread opposition, ARMX was not conducted again until May 2009 as the first CANSEC arms show, hosted at Lansdowne Park, which had been sold from the city of Ottawa to the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1999.

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