A journalist was barred from entering CANSEC, one of the world’s largest arms and weapons ‘defense trade show.’ The organizer stated they did not want to see headlines like, “War mongers gather in Ottawa” and get questions like, “how do you feel about killing children?”
This year, CANSEC only granted access to select, friendly media. Organizers wanted to avoid reports that are critical of war and those profiting from weapons sales that kill millions around the world every year.
This despite the event’s sole purpose of showcasing and blatantly doing business in service of war and global conflict.
Every year since 1998, hundreds of arms dealers, weapon manufacturers, foreign government representatives, Canadian ministers, surveillance manufacturers, and military officers have come to Ottawa to attend CANSEC.
The nation’s capital has been a prime location for arms trade since 1981. Other trade shows preceded CANSEC – ARMX, for instance, which was chased out from the city property by a 1980 City Council motion.
“The arms trade has little or no consideration of moral or humanitarian issues in that weapons have been used against civilians,” the motion stated, continuing that “exports of Canadian military equipment and components end up in countries which persistently violate human rights.”
As of 2023, CANSEC continues on private property over a span of two days, and is guarded by a heavy presence of public-funded police and private security. It is much bigger in scale than ARMX ever was.
Hundreds of protestors have blocked and picketed the entrances of the convention to oppose, protest, and expose the crimes of the corporations in attendance for the last two years the convention has run.
Peace activists in Ottawa are joined by others from Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, who show up a little before 7 am on the first morning of CANSEC. Anyone entering the venue is then faced with messages like “war crimes start here,” “stop profiting from war” and “arms dealers are not welcome.”
The convention gives peace activists and those fighting against imperialist powers the rare opportunity to come face-to-face with the corporate powers of companies such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Sig Sauer, and many more.
These companies and the few people who own them profit an estimated $100 billion in total from the war economy, every year. They have a well-documented and direct material interest in the use of weapons and military machinery.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer and the biggest arms supplier to Saudi Arabia since 1965, has contracts worth billions with the country.
Saudi Arabia has been carpet bombing and killing millions in Yemen in devastating war crimes. Lockheed Martin, along with BAE systems and other suppliers to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen were all present at CANSEC.
Also in attendance was Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company. It supplies 85 per cent of the drones used to surveille Palestinian people and the attacks in Gaza every day. India has also purchased these drones in large volumes for use in its occupation of Kashmir.
Elbit also supplies tanks to the Philippine government, whom the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has found to carry out systemic and widespread human rights violations, including killing human rights activists.
Elbit deliberately promotes the fact that its equipment is used against the people in Gaza on its website. It notes that the Hermes 450 drone, for example, is “combat proven.”
COLT Canada, an Ontario-based company, also exhibits at CANSEC. COLT sells weapons to the RCMP. Earlier this year, the RCMP conducted a militarized raid on Indigenous land defenders in Wet’suwet’en territories.
This was just part of an “ongoing campaign of militarization and criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders,” as UN Special Rapporteur José Francisco Calí Tzay put it.
Cops defend the war profiteers
This year, police and security staff met protesters at the convention with brute force.
Ottawa Police Services (OPS) had started approaching known peace activists at other events earlier this year to inquire about the protest planning. They told activists that they “will not tolerate” any blocking of vehicles at CANSEC.
On the day, scores of police cars surrounded the venue. Police pushed the protestors away to make way for the cars going in. They also issued open threats of arrests, handcuffed protesters, and used verbal abuse.
Many of the protestors had immigrated to Canada because of insecurity in their home countries brought on by war and authoritarian regimes. Many have precarious visa and immigration status. Fears of deportation mean they are deeply impacted by any criminalization.
Sophie, organizer with the Anti-Imperialist Alliance, shared her experience at the protest:
“One officer was pushing me one way, while two other officers were pushing me the other way. All of them assumed I was resisting them and then they all tried to arrest me. They tried to tangle my arms behind me, while pushing me in opposing directions, while I was trying to gently wiggle free. I got free and people surrounded me to protect me. I came out of that with many bruises, and when someone asked me if I was alright, I broke down crying from the event. I’ll always remember the safety I felt from my community and the indiscriminate threat of the police.”
Ibhrahim Alsahary also shared his experience. He was a journalist in Egypt before migrating to Canada. He is now a labour organizer with Immigrant Workers Centre, Montreal.
“My journey to Canada was a direct result of the despicable support given by countries like Canada to the Egyptian regime,” he shared. “Millions of Egyptians suffer in poverty, their hard-earned money is being squandered to enrich the military-industrial complex of powerful Western Nations. This is nothing short of exploitation.”
Police and the war industry
The OPS’ response to anti-war protestors at CANSEC stands in stark contrast with the police’s lenient treatment of the ‘Freedom’ Convoy movement in February 2022. The convoy had led to a crisis in the local police leadership, as well as the Trudeau government’s enactment of the Emergencies Act, which allowed municipal governments to bypass municipal forces, and work directly with the Provincial Police and the RCMP.
But in that instance, the OPS had offered friendly gestures and assistance to the anti-vaccination mandate protesters.
There are also documented instances of the infiltration of the Canadian police and military by the far right. In fact, the convoy’s leadership included former RCMP and military officers like Tom Quiggin, who was considered to be one of Canada’s top “counter-terrorism” experts. Various active members of the Canadian Armed Forces were also alleged to have participated in the movement.
An organizer from the Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization described their encounter with the police at the CANSEC protests in a different light
“The police showed us this year, as they do every year, which side of the war industry they’re on,” said an organizer from the Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization.
They recounted, “my sister and I were violently assaulted by police for verbally engaging conference attendees while they screamed ‘you’re disturbing the peace.’ The actions of the CANSEC attendees and those profiting from war were the only ones disturbing the peace that day.”
Bolstering other systems of oppression
Despite the unaffordable cost of living in Canada, housing policies that do not work for most people in the country, and the brutal suppression of Indigenous peoples, Canada is still investing and increasing military budgets for wars in which it is not directly involved.
These wars and the regimes associated with them incite extreme sexual violence and assault, brutality, torture, and destruction of homes and livelihood that disproportionality impacts women and children from working-class and marginalized communities.
Marie Botie, from the International Women’s Alliance, stated on the role of women in the anti-war movement:
“We are dismayed to see women showcased in events like CANSEC – some have been promoted to leadership positions in government and in the war industries. You can see them making the opening speeches at the weapons extravaganza. But we, as women of the working classes, as women who have felt the impact of wars and seen the destruction, we take our place in the growing movement to oppose imperialist wars.”
Furthermore, the war economy is not a stand-alone system of exploitation. It is closely connected to other exploitative industries.
The Columbian military has used Black Hawk helicopters manufactured by Lockheed Martin Canada, the Ottawa-based company, to arrest social leaders demanding compensation for destroyed resources from Frontera Energy, an oil company based in Toronto, or in support of mining interests of Canadian companies.
Canadian workers’ pension funds are also now connected to investments in the weapons industry that in turn are causing forced displacement and migration to Canada in the first place.
‘Defence’ for whom?
Media and government statements continue to use the rhetoric that wars are for national defense and the protection of the people.
But the hypocrisy becomes clear when that rationale of protection does not evenly apply to Palestinians, Filipinos, or Indigenous peoples’ armed struggles for freedom and liberation.
There is also a serious lack of calls for peace in global conflicts. In fact, we see calls for escalation the of war in Ukraine, a massive supply of arms, and support for the military alliance NATO’s aggressive expansion.
As with most of Canada’s history, the government is pouring billions into weapons manufacturing and support of forces that have been the aggressors and on the side of imperialism, facing relentless opposition and struggle from people most affected by it.
Meanwhile, weapons manufacturers make huge profits, and corporations expand their control of other countries’ resources.
For the protestors’ part, they plan to continue disrupting events like CANSEC as long as they keep happening.
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