Over a hundred people have disrupted the opening of CANSEC, North America’s largest military weapons convention in Ottawa, where 10,000 attendees were expected to gather.
Activists carrying 50 foot banners saying “Stop Profiting from War,” “Arms Dealers Not Welcome” and holding dozens of “War Crimes Start Here” signs blocked vehicle and pedestrian entrances as attendees attempted to register for and enter the convention centre, delaying Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand’s opening keynote address for over an hour. In police efforts to remove the protesters, they grabbed banners, and handcuffed and arrested one protester, who was later released without charges.
The protest was convened to “oppose CANSEC and the profiteering from war and violence it is designed to support”, promising to “make it impossible for anyone to come anywhere near their weapons fair without confronting the violence and bloodshed these arms dealers are complicit in.”
“We’re here today in solidarity with everyone who has faced down the barrel of a weapon sold at CANSEC, everyone whose family member has been killed, whose communities were displaced and harmed by the weapons being peddled and on display here” said Rachel Small, organizer with World BEYOND War. “While more than eight million refugees have fled Ukraine since the start of 2022, while more than 400,000 civilians have been killed in eight years of war in Yemen, while at least 24 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces since the start of this year, the weapons companies sponsoring and exhibiting in CANSEC are raking in record billions in profits. They are the only people who win these wars.”
Lockheed Martin, one of the major sponsors of CANSEC, has seen its stocks soar 37% percent by the end of 2022, while Northrop Grumman’s share price increased 40%. Just prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Officer James Taiclet said on an earnings call that he predicted the conflict would lead to inflated military budgets and additional sales for the company. Greg Hayes, CEO of Raytheon, another CANSEC sponsor, told investors last year that the company expected to see “opportunities for international sales” amid the Russian threat. He added: “I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.” Hayes received an annual compensation package of $23 million in 2021, an 11% increase over the previous year, and $22.6 million in 2022.
“CANSEC shows just how deeply private profiteering is embedded in Canada’s foreign and military policy” shared Shivangi M, international human rights lawyer and chairperson of ILPS in Canada. “This event highlights that plenty of people high up in the government and corporate worlds see war not as a devastating, destructive thing, but as a business opportunity. We are demonstrating today because the people at CANSEC are not acting in the interests of ordinary working people. The only way to stop them is by working people getting together and demanding an end to the arms trade.”
Canada has become one of the world’s top arms dealers globally, with Canadian arms exports totalling $2.73-billion in 2021. However most exports bound for the United States were not included in the government figures, despite the U.S. being a major importer of Canadian weapons, receiving more than half of all Canada’s weapons exports each year.
“The Government of Canada is slated to table its annual Exports of Military Goods report today,” said Kelsey Gallagher, researcher with Project Ploughshares. “As has been the trend in recent years, we expect huge volumes of arms to have been transferred around the world in 2022, including some to serial human rights abusers and authoritarian states.”
The promotional video for CANSEC 2023 features Peruvian, Mexican, Ecuadorean, and Israeli militaries and ministers attending the convention.
Peru’s security forces were condemned internationally this year for their illegitimate use of lethal force, including extrajudicial executions, that resulted in at least 49 deaths during the protests that took place from December to February amidst a political crisis.
“Not only Peru but Latin America and the peoples of the world all have the obligation to stand up for peace and condemn all build up and threats towards war”, said Héctor Béjar, former foreign minister of Peru, in a video message to the protestors at CANSEC. “This will only bring the suffering and death of millions of people to feed the large profits of arms dealers.”
In 2021, Canada exported more than $26 million in military goods to Israel, an increase of 33% over the previous year. This included at least $6 million in explosives. Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and other territories has led to calls from established civil society organizations and credible human rights monitors for a comprehensive arms embargo against Israel.
“Israel is the only country to have a booth with diplomatic representation at CANSEC”, said Sarah Abdul-Karim, organizer with the Ottawa chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement. “The event also hosts Israeli arms corporations – like Elbit Systems – that regularly test new military technology on Palestinians and then market them as ‘field-tested’ at arms expos like CANSEC. As Palestinian and Arab youth we refuse to stand by as these governments and weapons corporations make military deals here in Ottawa that further fuel the oppression of our people back home.”
In 2021, Canada signed a contract to purchase drones from Israel’s largest weapons maker and CANSEC exhibitor Elbit Systems, which supplies 85% of drones used by the Israeli military to monitor and attack Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. An Elbit Systems subsidiary, IMI Systems, is the main provider of 5.56 mm bullets, and it is suspected to be their bullet that was used by Israeli occupation forces to murder Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. A year after she was shot while covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, her family and friends say her killers are yet to be held responsible, and the Israeli Defence Force’s Military Advocate General’s Office has stated that it does not intend to pursue criminal charges or prosecutions of any of the soldiers involved. The United Nations says Abu Akleh was one of 191 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in 2022.
Indonesia is another country armed by Canada whose security forces have come under heavy criticism for violent crackdown on political dissent and killing with impunity in Papua and West Papua. In November 2022, through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the United Nations, Canada recommended that Indonesia “investigate allegations of human rights violations in Indonesian Papua, and prioritize the protection of civilians, including women and children.” Despite this, Canada has exported $30 million in “military goods” to Indonesia over the past five years. At least three companies that sell weapons to Indonesia will be exhibiting at CANSEC including Thales Canada Inc, BAE Systems, and Rheinmetall Canada Inc.
“The military goods sold at CANSEC are used in wars, but also by security forces in the repression of human rights defenders, civil society protests and Indigenous rights,” said Brent Patterson, coordinator of Peace Brigades International-Canada. “We are particularly concerned about the lack of transparency in the $1 billion of military goods exported from Canada to the United States every year some of which may be exported again to be used by security forces to repress organizations, defenders and communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere.”
The RCMP is an important customer at CANSEC, notably including its controversial newer militarized unit – the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG). Airbus, Teledyne FLIR, Colt and General Dynamics are CANSEC exhibitors who have equipped the C-IRG with helicopters, drones, rifles and bullets. After hundreds of individual complaints and several collective complaints were filed to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), the CRCC has now launched a systematic review of the C-IRG. In addition, journalists at Fairy Creek and on Wet’suwet’en territories have brought lawsuits against the C-IRG, land defenders at Gidimt’en have brought civil claims and sought a stay of proceedings for Charter violations, and activists at Fairy Creek challenged an injunction on the grounds that C-IRG activity brings the administration of justice into disrepute and launched a civil class-action alleging systemic Charter violations. Given the seriousness of the allegations concerning the C-IRG, various First Nations and civil society organizations across the country are calling for it to be immediately disbanded.
10,000 people are expected to attend CANSEC this year. The weapons expo will bring together an estimated 280 exhibitors, including weapons manufacturers, military technology and supply companies, media outlets, and government agencies. 50 international delegations are also expected to attend. CANSEC promotes itself as “a one-stop shop for first responders, police, border and security entities and special operations units.” The weapons expo is organized by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), the “industry voice” for more than 650 defense and security companies that generate $12.6 billion in annual revenues, roughly half of which come from exports.
Hundreds of lobbyists in Ottawa represent arms dealers not only competing for military contracts, but lobbying the government to shape the policy priorities to fit the military equipment they are hawking. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Airbus, United Technologies and Raytheon all have offices in Ottawa to facilitate access to government officials, most of them within a few blocks from Parliament.
CANSEC and its predecessor, ARMX, have faced staunch opposition for over three decades. In April 1989, Ottawa City Council responded to opposition to the arms fair by voting to stop the ARMX arms show taking place at Lansdowne Park and other City-owned properties. On May 22, 1989, more than 2,000 people marched from Confederation Park up Bank Street to protest the arms fair at Lansdowne Park. The following day, Tuesday May 23, the Alliance for Non-Violence Action organized a mass protest in which 160 people were arrested. ARMX did not return to Ottawa until March 1993 when it took place at the Ottawa Congress Centre under the rebranded name Peacekeeping ’93. After facing significant protest ARMX didn’t happen again until May 2009 when it appeared as the first CANSEC arms show, again held at Lansdowne Park, which had been sold from the city of Ottawa to the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1999.
Among the 280+ exhibitors that will be at CANSEC:
- Elbit Systems – supplies 85% of drones used by the Israeli military to monitor and attack Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and infamously the bullet used to murder Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
- General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada – makes the billions of dollars of Light Armoured Vehicles (tanks) Canada exports to Saudi Arabia
- L3Harris Technologies – their drone technology is used for border surveillance and targeting laser guided missiles. Now bidding to sell armed drones to Canada to drop bombs overseas and surveil Canadian protests.
- Lockheed Martin – by far the largest weapons producer in the world, they brag about arming over 50 countries, including many of the most oppressive governments and dictatorships
- Colt Canada – sells guns to the RCMP, including C8 carbine rifles to the C-IRG, the militarized RCMP unit terrorizing Indigenous land defenders in service of oil and logging companies.
- Raytheon Technologies – builds the missiles that will arm Canada’s new Lockheed Martin F-35 warplanes
- BAE Systems – builds the Typhoon fighter jets Saudi Arabia uses to bomb Yemen
- Bell Textron – sold helicopters to the Philippines in 2018 even though its president once boasted he had thrown a man to his death from a helicopter and warned he would do the same to corrupt government workers
- Thales – weapon sales implicated in human rights violations in West Papua, Myanmar and Yemen.
- Palantir Technologies Inc (PTI) – provides Artificial Intelligence (AI) predictive system to Israeli security forces, to identify people in occupied Palestine. Provides the same mass surveillance tools to law enforcement agencies and police departments, circumventing warrant procedures.