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June 9, 2010

Merchants of death come to Ottawa

Reuel S. Amdur

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The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) hosted CANSEC at Ottawa's Lansdown Park on June 2 and 3.

CADSI is the trade association for the weapons trades, promoting “the interests of industry to governments, politicians, the media, special interest groups, opinion leaders, and the public.” 

CANSEC is an arms fair, where manufacturers hawk their wares and where buyers from Canada and around the world come to see and purchase.

Not just anyone could get into the exhibit.  I tried.  In order to gain access, a person needed confirmation of registration, photo ID and/or a government employee badge, and a business card. 

With those items, a person was then directed to security where a badge was issued.  Staff such as food services also had to wear badges and to be vetted by security. 

Why the tight security on who could get in?  Ottawa City Councilor Alex Cullen says that it was to keep protesters out.  If CADSI wanted to be more open, it could have been possible to allow a certain number in at a time, without undue interference with the important—dare I say grave—transactions taking place.

In 1989, Ottawa City Council voted not to allow the merchants of death to use city-owned facilities for their exhibitions. 

Since that time, municipal amalgamation has come to the city, and the technical legal opinion was that, as a result of the changes, the 1989 decision was no longer in effect.  A majority of Council voted to allow the exhibition.

Councilor Eli El-Chantiry argued in favor of the arms show, to give our troops in Afghanistan the benefit of the best equipment possible.  That is not the point, argues Cullen.  “CANSEC is to promote export.  We don’t want these things being used in other countries against innocent people.” 

Advertised speakers at CANSEC were U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson; General Walter Natynczyk, who was second in command to international forces in Iraq before being made Canada’s military chief of staff; Minister of Defence Peter MacKay; and Industry Minister Tony Clement.  His presence illustrates the export function of the exhibition. 

CADSI has been on the receiving end of tens of thousands of dollars from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to promote their sale of death and destruction.

Canada, as well as exporting generals to fight in Iraq, also had at least 100 companies aiding the American war effort with military supplies and services.

Cullen noted that, while his tour of the conference had to be escorted, he saw Mayor Larry O’Brien wandering around by himself.  O’Brien is the founder of Calian Technologies, itself an Ottawa-based military company.  SED systems, a division of Calian, had a booth at CANSEC.

Canada was not alone in being represented at the arms bazaar, according to Cullen. 

There were companies from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Israel, and Sweden.  Sweden?  Yes, Sweden’s SAAB manufactures fighter aircraft and tanks.  These companies, along with the Canadian ones, came to CANSEC with expensive glossy handouts.

By far the lion’s share of Canadian military exports go to the U.S., 78% between 2003 and 2006. 

While Israel took a more modest amount, some 50 military firms sold to them. 

One of the uglier weapons used in Operation Cast Lead against Gaza was a rocket weapons system that sent out missiles that scattered flechettes, dart-like objects that are designed to penetrate tanks but that also slice easily through human flesh.  Many Gazans were sliced up by these little things which Israeli human rights organizations tried unsuccessfully to get the Israeli Supreme Court to ban.  Bristol Aerospace sells the rocket systems sending out flechettes, and Israel might have bought from them. 

Guests at this event were, according to Cullen, about half military and half other government officials. 

The fair benefited by the presence in the nation’s capital.  The City of Ottawa also benefited, to the tune of $112,780.50 for rent and the expectation of another $20,000 for parking. 

You might say that the city of  Ottawa made a killing.  So did the buyers and sellers. 

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