Countering CANSEC

Southminster United Church, strategically located across the Rideau Canal from the City of Ottawa's Lansdowne Park, the site of the 2009 CANSEC arms bazaar, was the scene of a major rally on the evening of May 27, 2009. A large and enthusiastic crowd of peace activists, members of various faith communities and other concerned citizens gathered for an exciting evening of speeches and music.  They heard from representatives of the rich array of groups opposed to this event. The speeches were interspersed with songs by “Just Voices,” “Grateful We’re Not Dead” and the “Raging Grannies.” At the end of the evening the crowd, with lighted candles in hand, streamed across the Bank St. bridge in a silent and dignified procession against the event. The rally capped a very full day of activity at the Park.


This event was the culmination of several intensive months of planning by an ad hoc group called Oppose Arms Trade Shows (OATS) which came together to raise awareness about the City of Ottawa's staff decision to ignore Council's twenty year ban on holding of arms trade shows at municipally-owned facilities. Activists are still lobbying to encourage Council to respect their historic ban and to prevent any such events in the future. OATS is a broadly based grouping of peace activists, members of various faith communities and citizens concerned about the arms trade and city governance.


Upon learning in July 2008 of the return of CANSEC and other military trade exhibitions to City property, the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) initiated this latest phase in the campaign.  COAT's staff person worked part-time on this campaign throughout last fall and then full time for the first six months of 2009. COAT thereby provided a series of detailed research reports and articles that informed the antiCANSEC campaign. COAT was also the source of basic literature for the campaign (including pamphlets, flyers, posters, fact sheets and petitions), provided the necessary web tools (including the campaign's web site, online petition and email listserve) and numerous other essential resources used by the OATS campaign.


COAT was formed in 1989 and its efforts at that time led to the City of Ottawa's 20-year ban on leasing any municipal facilities to arms shows.


After the very successful antiCANSEC rally on May 27, activists in this campaign were busy preparing presentations for the Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee of Ottawa City Council. On June 2, some sixty people attended this Committee's meeting in the Council Chamber of Ottawa's City Hall. Almost all of the five-minute statements made that day were done on behalf of peace and development groups, while some were done by concerned taxpayers who oppose the return of arms trade shows to City property. There were only a few war-industry representatives who came to present their views on the special corporate interests that they are pursuing. This contingent was led by Tim Page, the CEO of a military industry lobby group called the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) that organizes the CANSEC arms exhibition.


The anti-CANSEC presenters favoured a motion presented by Councillor Alex Cullen to ban all future exhibitions of this kind at any City owned facilities. The motion has the strong support of Councillors Clive Doucet, Diane Holmes and others. However, its ultimate passage by the full Council is, by no means, assured.


Predictably, the military industry representatives at the June 2 hearing gave a strong emphasis to the repeatedly-used term, "defence." They spoke of "defence products," "defence industries," "defence spending, etc. This euphemism is frequently and routinely substituted for the word "war" and is used to frame the way that people think about these issues.  This clever use of language by those promoting military exports is contrived to spin the discussion in a certain direction. It is also a useful linguistic defence for deflecting attention away from the fact that CANSEC exhibitors are almost exclusively engaged in providing military hardware and services that fuel wars now raging around the world. The primary end users of equipment produced by CANSEC exhibitors are armed forces that are engaged in the Iraq and Afghan Wars.


The presentations made by those with a vested interest in the production of military equipment for war also went to great lengths to emphasize a very few, relatively benign products on display at their military trade show. For example, CANSEC representatives stressed that a variety of federal Government departments as well as police forces (national, provincial and local), fire departments, ambulance services and the like, attend this so-called "defence and security" exhibition. They thus tried to make it appear that a sizable percentage of the wares being displayed and promoted at their event are used for such positively-viewed activities as fighting fires, aiding the public during natural disasters and during civilian search and rescue operations.


In reality however, only a small portion of the show is devoted to these types of products which serve more as a mask or facade to cover up the prime function of the exhibition, which is to market military products used in war.


They thus deliberated downplayed what they called the “pointy end of the stick.”


The CANSEC speakers on June 2, also tried to present a publicly-favourable view of their event by saying that its sole purpose is to provide federal government customers, such as the Department of National Defence (DND), with the equipment they need to protect Canada's troops. The fact that DND is currently engaged in waging a highly unpopular and deeply questionable war in Afghanistan was conveniently sidestepped. The industries' simplistic insistence on providing the very best military hardware for Canada's armed forces obliterated any and all discussion or recognition of the tens of thousands of totally innocent Afghan civilians whose lives have been snuffed out as a result of violent attacks made by US-led forces during this horrible war. 


The victims of wars in which Canada and its allies are engaged and the role of CANSEC in supplying the necessary hardware for these wars was duly ignored by industry representatives.


Tim Page, the CANSEC organizer, did admit that various foreign embassy officials attended the arms show at Ottawa's Lansdowne Park this year. He said that "most" of these foreign delegations, though not all, were from NATO countries.  He also stated that 80% of Canada's military products are sold to the United States.  However, he did not -- of course -- connect the dots by stating that the presence of foreign government procurement officers helps to facilitate the export of Canadian military hardware to war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. As COAT research has amply demonstrated, a full 90% of the value of Canadian military exports (between 2003-2005) went to countries that were then engaged in these and other major armed conflicts.


When the Committee’s quorum disappeared about mid-afternoon, many of the presentations were deferred to the next meeting on June 15.


Presentations to this Committee were important, although its members were totally unsympathetic to the idea of continuing the 20-year ban on holding military trade shows at City facilities.


On June 15, they voted 7 to 0 to reject Councillor Cullen's motion. They then promptly passed their own motion opening Ottawa's arms to all federally-supported military trade events.


The struggle however continues.  We are calling for a "Surge for Peace" to inundate Councillors with emails before they vote in City Council as a whole on June 24.  If you are in Ottawa, please join us for this historic vote.


Learn more about our "Peace Surge" here