Did Canadian Weapons Kill Protesters in Papua New Guinea?
By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
On June 26, 2001, four students were killed and 17 others wounded when police
opened fire on protesters in Papua New Guinea (PNG). (The Independent,
June 28.) Canadian weapons may have been used to murder and wound these
The University of PNG students were camped out in the Waigani area of Port
Moresby, where PNG government office buildings are located. They were
non-violently protesting against corporate globalization, particularly the harsh
structural adjustment and privatization programs imposed on PNG by the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They say that these programs
will "result in 70 per cent of PNG's publicly-held assets passing into
foreign ownership." (The National, June 25, 2001.)
Reading this news, I was shocked, but not just because of the brutality of this
state-sponsored violence. Regrettably, such brutality happens all too
often. The news was shocking because I had recently learned that Diemaco,
a government-subsidized manufacturer of machine guns in Kitchener, Ontario,
claimed to have "export experience" to PNG!
The appropriately named Die-maco has been designated by our government as
"Canada's Centre of Excellence for Small Arms." They produce the
C7 "Family of Combat Weapons." (<www.diemaco.com/>)
The C7, Canada's version of the M16, is produced by Diemaco under licence from
the U.S. Colt Manufacturing Company.
In late March, while researching the last issue of Press for Conversion!, I
downloaded export information on 121 military companies from an online Industry
Canada (IC) database. I was surprised that Diemaco listed the following as
places where it had "export experience": 'Asia or Far East,' 'Middle
East or Near East,' 'Pacific Rim Countries,' 'Arabic Countries,' 'Persian Gulf,'
'Saudi Arabia' and 'Papua New Guinea.' ("Canadian Defence Company
Capabilities," March 30, 2001. <strategis.ic.gc.ca/SSG/ad0
3492e.html>) I sent this information to Homes Not Bombs, a group that
engages in non-violent direct actions at Diemaco. They issued a media
release (April 9) juxtaposing Diemaco's statements that they had only exported
to NATO countries, with the conflicting data from the IC database.
In reading the reports from New Guinea newspapers online, I read that on June
25, "the quiet Waigani night erupted with M16 automatic rifles blazing out
blanks and bullets into the air and gas canisters into the small crowd."
(The National, June 26, 2001.)
On the next night, police again used their weapons to disperse the crowd.
Editors of The Independent, stated that: "The innocent blood of four
university students is now on [the Prime Minister's] hands with many others
injured. Reports that the unarmed students put their hands on their heads
to show that they had surrendered, but were still gunned down by the state's
police force is very serious and must be investigated."
The Independent reports on the huge "public outcry" in PNG.
Calls for the Prime Minister's resignation have been heard from politicians,
union leaders and even the President of the Banking and Financial Institutions.
Meanwhile, here in Canada it seems highly unlikely that such a tragic incident
would ever lead to a public outcry about our military exports. The
prevailing mythology is that Canada is a great peacemaking nation, not an arms
exporter! This myth has a powerful grip on the nation's self-image.
The mainstream media seems to reinforce this myth at every opportunity.
COAT's June 29 media release - stating that Canadian weapons may have been used
to kill PNG protesters - was sent to hundreds of media outlets. Only three
responses were received: CKLN (university radio) and CIUT (community radio) in
Toronto and the Métro a small daily paper distributed in Montreal's subway.
Christian Huot, of the Métro, reported that Diemaco's entry in the IC database
no longer included PNG. I e-mailed the earlier version of their data entry
that did include PNG. Huot then interviewed Frank Johansen, Diemaco's
Director of Sales and Marketing, and confronted him with the fact that Diemaco
had listed PNG as a country where they had "export experience."
Johansen flatly denied that Diemaco had ever exported to PNG and refused to
comment on why they had placed contrary information into the IC database.
Huot then interviewed the bureaucrat who oversees the government's database. He
revealed that on April 9 (the day of the Homes Not Bombs media release!),
Johansen had used his password to remove PNG from Diemaco's entry in the IC
database! (Métro, July 5, 2001)
It is alarming that Canadian corporations and government departments are working
closely together to help arm dozens of regimes that use extreme violence to
suppress peaceful protests and to wage wars on their own citizens. But
perhaps even more alarming is that Canadians do not know, and that the
mainstream media does not care to investigate. Most of our fellow citizens
have no idea that Canada is complicit in arms production, let alone the export
of weapons to warring and repressive regimes. The public is even less
aware that their taxes support government programs designed to promote military
As we go to press, a major international conference on the horrors of small arms
is underway at the UN. There is no hint of irony as Canada's media
dutifully reports that our government representatives are giving impassioned
speeches against the export of these weapons. Perhaps it's time to create
"Canada's Centre of Excellence for Hypocrisy."
It's a sad state of affairs. The Canadian government should - of course -
immediately halt all exports of police and military equipment to PNG. It
should also be illegal to export military hardware to many other governments
engaged in wars and repression. If rational minds prevailed, the first
country on such a list of restricted recipients would be the U.S. But
Canada's government doesn't see it that way. There are absolutely no
restrictions on any military sales to the U.S. and the Canadian government is
doing all it can to increase such sales.