Category Archives: Military

Why the NDP needs a new defence critic

Randall Garrison with Canadian soldiers in Mali

What should be expected from a “defence critic” for a left-wing political party? An easy answer might be criticism from the left, but in the case of the NDP that doesn’t happen much.

The Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces is far and away the largest federal government department. It has the biggest budget, staff, public relations machine and intelligence-gathering capacities of any ministry. With approximately 120,000 employees, DND spends $30 billion annually, 15 times the budget of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Across the country, DND manages the “largest infrastructure portfolio in the federal government” with its many bases and stations covering over two million hectares. DND/CF is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government.

Offensively oriented, the Canadian military has innumerable ties to the “greatest purveyor of violence”, in Martin Luther King’s words, the world has ever seen. Canada has hundreds of cooperation agreements with the US military and Canadian Forces are deployed on more than 20 international missions.

Despite numerous accords, deployments, expenditures, etc. that warrant questioning, the NDP defence critic barely challenges DND (with the exception of sexism within the force). In fact, Randall Garrison mostly advocates for those within the force. As the NDP defence critic told Canadian Defence Review, “if we’re going to send people out and ask them to do tough work we better make sure they’ve got the equipment they need to do it.”

Garrison has stayed silent on Canadian naval vessels taking over NATO’s Standing Naval Forces in the Baltic, North and Norwegian seas. He has also said nothing about Canadian vessels participating in provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea or Canadian vessels engaged in multinational patrols with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. Nor has the NDP defence critic mentioned rotations of Canadian pilots in Romania or the small detachment of troops at a US base in Saudi Arabia. He openly backed Canada’s sizable ‘training’ deployments to Iraq, Ukraine and Latvia.

Garrison has stayed mum on Canadian Defence Attachés promoting arms exports. Nor does he appear concerned with the costly, ecologically damaging and violent nature of Canada’s planned fighter jet purchase.

As I wrote recently, Garrison’s most egregious position concerns the Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) procurement, which is the largest in Canadian history. “Amidst growing media criticism,” I noted in early January, “Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.”

The silence continued after the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated last month that the cost of acquiring 15 highly armed CSCs at $77 billion. Three times the initial estimate, $77 billion is just the sticker price. In a recent Hill Times article former Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel at DND and Assistant Deputy Minister, Supply Operations Service in Public Works and Government Services Canada, Alan Williams, suggests the full life-cycle cost of the CSC will be an eye popping $286 billion. That would cover tuition for every university student in the country for 15 years or guarantee safe drinking water on every reserve 100 times over. But the CSC’s ballooning costs haven’t elicited a peep from Garrison. He supports plowing a quarter trillion dollars into strengthening the navy’s ability to subjugate others.

To get a sense of Garrison’s deference to the military, he responded to a September Canadian Defence Review question about spending millions of dollars into the ecologically destructive public relations tool that are the Snowbirds by saying: “I go with what the Canadian Forces say they need and want to do, so I don’t have a personal opinion about whether this is what they need to do. If the Canadian Forces tell me, and they clearly have, that this is an important part of what they do and we need to spend money on it, then I’ll support them.”

NDP members, activists and MPs shouldn’t accept this. It is past time Garrison was removed as party defence “critic”.

 

If you are interested in hearing voices that question the military, check out the April 3 discussion on “Why Canada should leave NATO”

 

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Why isn’t NDP critic Randall Garrison questioning $200 billion navy procurement?

The job of the opposition in Parliament is to hold the government accountable, in part by asking questions. The role of an NDP critic should be to criticize from the left. So why the silence from Randall Garrison after Canada’s leading military reporter David Pugliese published a 5,000 word expose on the Canadian Surface Combatant headlined, “Billions in trouble: How the crown jewel of Canada’s shipbuilding strategy became a possible financial disaster waiting in the wings.”

Despite revelations over the past month of costs growing to over $200 billion, extreme secrecy, the addition of ballistic ‘missile defence’ and Tomahawk missiles that travel 1,700 kilometers, there has been nary a comment from the NDP defence critic on the 15 new frigates.

Initially pegged at $14 billion, the official price tag for the frigates later rose to $26 billion and now sits at $60 billion. In 2019 the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost about $10 billion higher and an updated frigates cost estimate next month is expected to reach $80 billion. To keep information about the swelling costs under wraps the military has resorted to extreme secrecy, reported Pugliese in the expose.

The recent winner of a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom followed his investigation into the cost and secrecy surrounding the frigates with a story about government officials criticizing companies for speaking out. Subsequently, Pugliese published a story headlined “Top of the line Canadian-made naval equipment shut out of $70-billion warship program” about government subsidized firms cut out of the Lockheed Martin led consortium set to build the frigates. As a result, Thales Canada’s government funded naval radar, which is being used on German, Danish and Dutch warships, won’t be part of the Canadian Surface Combatant.

In response to Pugliese’s reporting, the Ottawa Citizen editorial board criticized the frigate purchase in “Choppy waters for Canada’s warship program”. In November the Hill Times also published a commentary titled “Canada’s surface combatant costs might be taking on water” and a front-page story titled “DND says budget for Surface Combatants remains unchanged; PBO report expected in late February”. Two days before Christmas CBC reported an astounding estimate for the lifecycle cost of the frigates. Initially detailed in Esprit de Corps, former defence official Alan Williams’ concludes that the 15 frigates will cost $213 – 219 billion over 40 years!

One explanation for the astronomical cost of the 15 frigates is the radar system that’s been chosen. According to a CBC story from early December, the radar can be easily upgraded to a ballistic missile defence system, which successive Canadian governments have resisted joining. In the mid 2000s the Canadian Peace Alliance, Échec à la guerre, Ceasefire.ca and others forced the Liberal government to shelve its plan to formally join the US Ballistic Missile Defence. (It’s called “missile defence” because it’s designed to defend US missiles when they use them in offensive wars.)

In November a number of military focused publications reported on the weaponry expected on the vessels. “Canada’s New Frigate Will Be Brimming With Missiles”, is how The Drive described the ships. In a first outside the US, Canada’s surface combatants look set to be outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometers away. As such, the frigates could be near London and hit Berlin or, more plausibly, docked in Panama City and strike Caracas, Venezuela.

As I recently detailed in Jacobin, Ottawa has long used naval force as a “diplomatic” tool. Early Canadian ‘gunboat diplomacy’ included pressing Costa Rica to repay the Royal Bank in 1921 and helping a dictator as he was massacring peasants in El Salvador in 1932. In recent years Canadian warships have gone to war with Libya and Iraq.

Amidst growing media criticism, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison has said nothing regarding the frigates’ cost, secrecy or weaponry. He hasn’t released a single tweet (or retweet) about any of the recent stories on the surface combatant vessels.

This is abysmal. What is the point of having an NDP defence critic if they are unwilling to question or challenge the largest procurement in Canadian history?

At the NDP convention in April members need to press Garrison to clarify his position on these violent, $200 billion frigates.

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New frigates to project Canadian ‘power’ with cruise missiles

A recent report about the weapons on Canada’s new Navy frigates is frightening. Equally troubling is the lack of parliamentary opposition to expanding the federal government’s violent “maritime power projection” capacities.

Naval News recently reported on the likely arsenal of Canada’s new surface combatant vessels, which are expected to cost over $70 billion ($213-219 billion over their lifecycle). The largest single taxpayer expense in Canadian history,the 15 vessels “will be fitted with a wide range of weapons, both offensive and defense, in a mix never seen before in any surface combatant.”

The 7,800 tonne vessels have space for a helicopter and remotely piloted systems. The frigates have electronic warfare capabilities, torpedo tubes and various high-powered guns. It will have a Naval Strike Missile harpoon that can launch missiles 185 kilometers. Most controversially, the surface combatants look set to be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometres away. US-based Raytheon has only ever exported these Tomahawk missiles to the UK and if the Royal Canadian Navy acquires them it would be the only navy besides the US to deploy the missiles on surface vessels.

Canada’s New Frigate Will Be Brimming With Missiles”, is how The Drive recently described the surface combatant vessels. In the article War Zone reporter Joseph Trevithick concludes, “the ships now look set to offer Canada an entirely new form of maritime power projection.”

What has Canada’s “maritime power projection” looked like historically?

Over the past three years Canadian vessels have repeatedly been involved in belligerent “freedom of navigation” exercises through international waters that Beijing claims in the South China Sea, Strait of Taiwan and East China Sea. To “counter China’s” growing influence in Asia, Washington has sought to stoke longstanding territorial and maritime boundary disputes between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the US Navy engages in regular “freedom of navigation” operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters.

A Canadian frigate has regularly patrolled the Black Sea, which borders Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Georgia and Ukraine. In July 2019 HMCS Toronto led a four ship Standing NATO Maritime Group exercise in the Black Sea. Soon after, it participated with two-dozen other ships in a NATO exercise that included training in maritime interdiction, air defence, amphibious warfare and anti-submarine warfare as part of sending “a strong message of deterrence to Russia.”

During the 2011 war on Libya Canadian vessels patrolled the Libyan coast. Two rotations of Canadian warships enforced a naval blockade of Libya for six months with about 250 soldiers aboard each vessel. On May 19, 2011, HMCS Charlottetown joined an operation that destroyed eight Libyan naval vessels. After the hostilities the head of Canada’s navy, Paul Maddison, told Ottawa defence contractors that HMCS Charlottetown “played a key role in keeping the Port of Misrata open as a critical enabler of the anti-Gaddafi forces.”

A month before the commencement of the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes and through the 1990s Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions on Iraq. During the first Iraq war Canada dispatched destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and Athabaskan and supply vessel Protecteur to the Persian Gulf before a UN resolution was passed.

Historically the Canadian Navy’s influence has been greatest nearer to home. In a chapter of the 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy titled “Maple Leaf Over the Caribbean: Gunboat Diplomacy Canadian Style” military historian Sean Maloney writes: “Since 1960, Canada has used its military forces at least 26 times in the Caribbean to support Canadian foreign policy. In addition, Canada planned three additional operations, including two unilateral interventions into Caribbean states.”

At the request of Grenada’s government Ottawa deployed a vessel to the tiny country during its 1974 independence celebration. In Revolution and Intervention in Grenada Kai Schoenhals and Richard Melanson write, “the United Kingdom and Canada also sent three armed vessels to St. George’s to shore up the [Eric] Gairy government”, which faced significant pressure from the left.

When 23,000 US troops invaded the Dominican Republic in April 1965 a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo, noted Defence Minister Paul Theodore Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.” Two Canadian gunboats were deployed to Barbados’ independence celebration the next year in a bizarre diplomatic maneuver designed to demonstrate Canada’s military prowess. Maloney writes, “we can only speculate at who the ‘signal’ was directed towards, but given the fact that tensions were running high in the Caribbean over the Dominican Republic Affair [US invasion], it is likely that the targets were any outside force, probably Cuban, which might be tempted to interfere with Barbadian independence.” Of course, Canadian naval vessels were considered no threat to Barbadian independence.

Immediately after US forces invaded Korea in 1950, Ottawa sent three vessels to the region. Ultimately eight RCN destroyers completed 21 tours in Korea between 1950 and 1955.

Canadian ships transported troops and bombed the enemy ashore. They hurled 130,000 rounds at Korean targets. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, “during the war, Canadians became especially good at ‘train busting.’ This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea’s coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight.” Canadian Naval Operations in Korean Waters 1950-1955 details a slew of RCN attacks that would have likely killed civilians.

Canadian warships were also dispatched to force Costa Rica to negotiate with the Royal Bank in 1921, to protect British interests during the Mexican Revolution and to back a dictator massacring peasants in El Salvador in 1932.

Where do the political parties stand on new frigates “brimming with missiles”? The Stephen Harper Conservatives instigated the massive naval outlay and the Liberals have happily maintained course. The NDP has supported the initiative and the Bloc pressed for more shipyard work in Québec. The Greens have stayed silent.

Surely there must be at least one Member of Parliament who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to spend $200 billion to strengthen the federal government’s bullying naval capacities in support of the US Empire and Canadian corporations abroad.

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Time for nuclear disarmament movement to ruffle government feathers

ICAN Activists mobilize to prohibit nuclear weapons.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass

“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”
― Amílcar Cabral

 

To win any social justice victory of import you will invariably ruffle some feathers. The individuals who dominate Canada’s main nuclear disarmament organizations don’t appear to understand that.

Last week Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau in voting against a resolution calling on Israel to “renounce possession of nuclear weapons” and sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). 153 countries backed the call. Beyond isolating Canada against the world, opposition to this resolution contradicts the Trudeau government’s October claim that its “commitment to the NPT has been unwavering” and one reason it hasn’t supported the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty, which will be adopted into international law next month.

During the same session it voted against Israel joining the NPT Canada opposed the 130 states calling on countries to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Six weeks ago, the Trudeau government voted against another resolution backing the TPNW.

On Dec 7 130 countries supported the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The Trudeau government has long been hostile to the initiative. Canada was one of 38 states to vote against — 123 voted in favour — holding the 2017 UN Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination. Trudeau then refused to send a representative to the TPNW negotiating meeting, which two-thirds of all countries attended. The PM went so far as to call the anti-nuclear initiative “useless” and since then his government has refused to join the nearly 90 countries that have already signed the treaty.

At the same time, the Trudeau government has reinforced Canada’s ties to the nuclear armed NATO alliance. Canada participates in the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and contributes personnel and financial support to NATO’s Nuclear Policy Directorate. Nuclear weapons are officially “a core component of the alliance’s overall capabilities.”

Amidst the Trudeau government’s pro-nuclear policies prominent disarmament campaigners have criticized me for challenging the Liberals’ position. After publishing “The hypocrisy of the Liberals’ nuclear policy” regarding Liberal MP Hedy Fry’s last minute withdrawal from a webinar on “Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?”, a leading anti-nuclear campaigner emailed me. He didn’t send congratulations on breaking into the corporate daily The Province but rather called my piece an “ad hominem attack”. After listing Fry’s purported anti-nuclear weapons achievements, he wrote “she cares deeply about the nuclear weapons issue, has for decades, and is a friend and ally in the global campaign to advance nuclear disarmament. So too, Canada’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, H. E. Bob Rae, whom you also attacked quite brutally I thought, in an earlier piece. Besides being patently unfair to these individuals, how does this serve our shared cause? I would urge anyone who thinks that we can win the hearts and minds of decision makers or decision influencers by beating them publicly and very personally with a metaphorical bat, to please reconsider. These are good people who deserve better. And we need all the help we can get.”

Two months ago, another mainstay in peace circles called my response to former Conservative MP Douglas Roche’s praise of Bob Rae an “ugly attack against our own”. In “Antiwar forces need to challenge Trudeau government, not praise it” I criticized a column Roche published extolling Canada’s new ambassador to the UN. Rae, of course, is directly responsible for Canada’s votes against the TPNW and Israel joining the NPT (not to mention a slew of anti-Palestinian votes).

In criticizing Roche’s piece I wrote, “the movement is far too focused on insider lobbying” at the expense of “social movement mobilization.” At some point in a successful social justice campaign backroom lobbying and praising government officials can be useful. But not when it’s taking pro-NATO positions and opposing nuclear disarmament resolutions.

The anti-nuclear movement should not feel any responsibility to defend Liberal officials. It certainly doesn’t require government flatterers. Quite the opposite. It should whip up anti-government sentiment and highlight the Trudeau government’s rank hypocrisy on nuclear arms. While they claim to support nuclear abolition, an “international rules-based order” and a “feminist foreign policy”, they are opposing a widely endorsed UN Nuclear Ban Treaty that directly advances these stated principles.

Winning social justice victories isn’t about making nice with the powerful. Rather, it requires bringing some power to the table. Fortunately for the anti-nuclear movement its latent power is a broadly supportive public. To turn that into policy, activists need to rile up public opinion and channel it politically. If that upsets some important people that’s a reflection of their priorities, not our tactics.

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The people versus war profiteers and their propaganda machine

Despite polls that suggest most Canadians do not support warplanes used to kill and destroy things around the world, the federal government seems determined to spend tens of billions of dollars to expand that capability. While there is a growing movement afoot to block the Liberals’ fighter jet purchase, it will require significant mobilization to overcome the powerful forces seeking cutting edge new warplanes.

At the end of July Boeing (Super Hornet), Saab (Gripen) and Lockheed Martin (F-35) submitted bids to manufacture fighter jets for the Canadian Air Force. The sticker price for 88 new warplanes is $19 billion, but the full lifecycle cost of purchasing the jets will likely top $40 billion.

In response to the government moving forward with the planned warplane purchase, a campaign has taken off to oppose the massive government outlay. There have been two days of action at two dozen MPs offices against the warplane purchase, which is planned for 2022. Hundreds of individuals have sent emails to all MPs on the issue and a recent Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and World BEYOND War webinar pierced parliamentary silence on the planned fighter jet purchase. The October 15 “Challenging Canada’s $19 Billion Warplane Purchase” event included Green Party MP and foreign critic Paul Manly, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison and Senator Marilou McPhedran as well as activist Tamara Lorincz and poet El Jones. Manly spoke out directly against the fighter jet purchase and recently raised the issue during Question Period in the House of Commons (Green leader Annamie Paul echoed Manly’s opposition to the purchase in a recent Hill Times commentary). For her part, McPhedran suggested more sensible priorities for the large sums devoted to the warplane procurement. A noted anti-Palestinian, Garrison equivocated. He said the NDP opposed purchasing the F-35 but was open to purchasing some other bombers depending on industrial criteria.

The no warplane campaign should take heart from a recent Nanos poll. Bombing campaigns were the least popular of eight options offered to the public when asked “How supportive, if at all, are you of the following types of Canadian forces international missions.” Only 28% supported “Having the Canadian Air Force involved in airstrikes” while 77% of those polled backed “Participating in natural disaster relief abroad” and 74% supported “United Nations peacekeeping mission”. Fighter jets are largely useless for natural disasters, humanitarian relief or peacekeeping, let alone a 9/11 style attack or a global pandemic. These cutting-edge new planes are designed to enhance the air force’s ability to join belligerent US and NATO bombing campaigns.

But, using the military to support NATO and allies was also a relatively low priority of those polled. Asked by Nanos “In your opinion, what’s the most appropriate role for the Canadian Armed Forces?” 39.8% chose “Peacekeeping” and 34.5% “Defend Canada”. “Support NATO missions/allies” received the backing of 6.9% of those polled.

The no fighter jet campaign should link the $19 billion warplane purchase to Canada’s recent history of participating in US-led bombings such as Iraq (1991), Serbia (1999), Libya (2011) and Syria/Iraq (2014-2016). All these bombing campaigns – to varying degrees – violated international law and left those countries worse off. Most obviously, Libya remains at war nine years later and violence there spilled southward to Mali and across much of Africa’s Sahel region.

The no fighter jets campaign is also right to highlight warplanes contribution to the climate crisis. They are carbon-intensive and purchasing a fleet of expensive new ones is completely at odds with Canada’s stated commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. During the 2011 bombing of Libya, for instance, Canadian jets burnt 14.5 million pounds of fuel and their bombs destroyed the natural habitat.

Most Canadians have no idea about the scope of the air force and military’s ecological destruction. To mark Disarmament Week NDP MP Leah Gazan recently asked on Twitter “Did you know that according to the 2017 Canadian Armed Forces Defence and Environment Strategy, all military operations and activities are EXEMPT from national emission reduction targets!!??”

DND/CF is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the federal government. In 2017 it released 544 kilotons of GHGs, 40 percent more than Public Services Canada, the next largest emitting ministry.

While the background issues and polling numbers suggest campaigners are well placed to mobilize public opinion against the $19 billion fighter jet purchase, there is still a huge hill to climb. The military and associated industries are well organized and conscious of their interests. The Canadian Forces want new jets and the CF/DND has the largest public relations operations in the country.

There are also powerful corporations set to gain substantial profits off the contract. The two main competitors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, finance think tanks such as the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Conference of Defence Associations. All three companies are also members of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which supports the fighter jet purchase. Boeing and Lockheed advertise aggressively in publications read by Ottawa insiders such as iPolitics, Ottawa Business Journal and Hill Times. To facilitate access to government officials Saab, Lockheed and Boeing maintain offices a few blocks from Parliament. They actively lobby MPs and DND officials and have hired retired Air Force generals to top executive positions and contracted retired Air Force commanders to lobby for them.

Scrapping the entire 88 warplane purchase won’t be easy. But people of conscience can’t sit idly by as huge sums are devoted to one of the most destructive parts of the military, which is among the most damaging elements of our government.

To stop the fighter jet purchase, we need to create a coalition of those who oppose war, are concerned about the environment and anyone who believes there are better uses for our tax dollars. Only by mobilizing large numbers to actively oppose the warplane purchase can we hope to overcome the power of war profiteers and their propaganda machine.

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Remember the history of the red poppy and Canadian militarism

As we approach the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month our political, media and military elites are once again blanketing the public sphere with martial patriotism.

NDP MP Don Davies got the ball rolling with some Yankee capitalist bashing that cheaply covered for his jingoism. After Whole Foods blocked its employees from wearing anything on their uniform – implemented in response to workers expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter – he put forward a motion in the House of Commons critical of Whole Foods for not allowing employees to wear red poppies. He subsequently published a statement noting:

American billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Whole Foods tried to ban their employees from displaying the poppy while at work. Thankfully, due to massive public pressure and a condemnation by Parliament, the company has quickly reversed their decision. But no Canadian should ever be told they can’t wear the poppy to remember our veterans and the sacrifices they made to preserve our free society from the horrors of fascism. Our veterans sacrificed too much. It’s time to enshrine in law the right for every Canadian to wear a poppy in the workplace so this situation never arises again.”

Global News’ Ontario news director, Mackay Taggart, sent an email to staff stating, “Poppies should be worn by all Global News anchors, reporters and radio hosts appearing on television and in online videos from Sunday November 1st to Wednesday November 11th.” The email also counselled Global staff to wear a poppy while off work. “In today’s era of social media, it would also be good practice for all our personalities to be diligent and mindful of wearing a poppy when out in public”, added Taggart.

As I detail in this story, a militaristic, imperialistic, Royal Canadian Legion owns the copyright to the red poppy. To help the historically racist and homophobic organization fundraise, the federal government granted it a monopoly over poppy distribution more than a decade before Canada got involved in the fight against “fascism”, which Davies wants us to believe the poppy represents.

Red poppies were inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian army officer John McCrae. The pro-war poem calls on Canadians to “take up our quarrel with the foe” and was used to promote war bonds and recruit soldiers during World War I.

As Davies must know Remembrance Day marks the end of WWI, which was a capitalist, colonialist, horror show. The ruling elites of France, Germany, England and Russia saw war as a way to weaken working class challenges in their countries. The other major force that spurred WWI was inter-imperial rivalry in Europe. It was a struggle for global supremacy between up-and-coming Germany and the imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. In fact, support for the British Empire was Ottawa’s primary motive in joining the war. As Canada’s Prime Minister Robert Borden saw it, the fight was “to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honour of our empire.”

During WWI Canadian troops supported the colonial system in the Caribbean. Canadians also fought to conquer German West and East Africa, as well as Iraq and Palestine. In East Africa alone about one million died as a direct result of the war.

The horror of the war in Europe is hard to wrap one’s head around. Over four days nearly 16,000 Canadian were killed or gravely wounded fighting for a few yards of terrain at Passchendaele. During the battle for Hill 70 9,000 Canadian suffered casualties while militarists boast that Canadians “killed or wounded an estimated 25,000 Germans” fighting for the largely inconsequential hill.

The total number of Germans and others killed by Canadians during the war is unknown. Canadians killed many Germans who surrendered though. In a 1929 book English poet Robert Graves wrote, “the troops that had the worst reputation for acts of violence against prisoners were the Canadians.” One Canadian soldier wrote his parents, “after losing half of my company there [Neuville-Vitasse], we rushed them and they had the nerve to throw up their hands and cry, ‘Kamerad.’ All the ‘Kamerad’ they got was a foot of cold steel thro’ them from my remaining men while I blew their brains out with my revolver without any hesitation.” Some Canadian commanders even ordered their soldiers not to take prisoners. In “The Politics of Surrender: Canadian Soldiers and the Killing of Prisoners in the Great War” official military historian Tim Cook points out that the evidence of these killings came from interviews the CBC conducted with aging veterans for a 1960s radio series. “Dozens of Canadians testified to the execution of German prisoners,” Cook said of the 600 WWI interviews. But “none of these grim accounts found their way into the final 17-hour script.”

No one in their right mind should celebrate WWI. But what about Canada’s other military deployments?

The 385 Canadians sent to Sudan in 1884 to defend Britain’s position on the upper Nile should not be celebrated. Nor should the 7,000 Canadians dispatched to strengthen Britain’s position in southern Africa during the 1899–1902 Boer War. The 26,000 Canadian sent to Korea in the early 1950s helped turn a civil war into a multi country conflict that left as many as four million dead. In the 1990s Canada contributed significantly to the first Iraq war and participated in NATO’s 78-day bombing of Serbia. Both of these conflicts were bad for humanity. So was the war in Afghanistan, which saw 40,000 Canadian sent there between 2001 and 2014, and the bombing of Libya in 2011.

Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. And even in that case, it was Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, that led Ottawa to battle. Additionally, Ottawa’s position on the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War enabled the rise of fascism in Europe and Canadian forces were responsible for numerous atrocities during WWII. Nonetheless, WWII was ultimately justifiable.

While some Canadian military deployments under the auspices of the UN have contributed to the betterment of humankind, that history is also not simply positive. In early 2004 Canadian troops invaded Haiti to oust the elected president and then they helped violently suppress the popular resistance in the slums of Port-au-Prince.

In 1960 Canadian troops were dispatched as part of a UN mission to the Congo. They enabled the assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba with a Canadian Colonel, Jean Berthiaume, assisting Joseph Mobutu in recapturing the popular leader.

Do red poppies commemorate the Congolese or Haitians harmed by Canadian peacekeepers, or the Afghans, or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s, or the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s, or the Koreans killed in the 1950s, or the Germans, Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that? By focusing exclusively on “our” side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous. They create an ideological climate that supports military spending and future wars.

Canadians of conscience should not help fund the reactionary Royal Canadian Legion. Nor should they promote the martial patriotism red poppies/Remembrance Day represents. To remember all victims of war support peace organizations’ white poppy campaign.

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Canadian military support for nukes must be met with popular resistance

Why hasn’t Canada signed the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty?” is the title of an upcoming webinar featuring Liberal MP Hedy Fry, Green Party MP Elizabeth May, NDP deputy foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, as well as Setsuko Thurlow, who accepted the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

This is an important and timely question in light of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) recently reaching the threshold required to enter into law. On October 24 Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the TPNW, meaning it will enter into force for those states in 90 days.

Since taking office Justin Trudeau has not only refused to sign or ratify the treaty, but his government voted against holding and then boycotted the conference where two thirds of the world’s nations negotiated the TPNW. Still, the Trudeau government claims to support nuclear disarmament, the “international rules-based order” and a “feminist foreign policy” (the TPNW makes these ghastly weapons illegal and is the first nuclear treaty that seeks to remedy their disproportionate impact on women).

How to explain the gap between the government’s rhetoric and its nuclear policy? US pressure is the reason most commonly cited by proponents of the TPNW. There’s no doubt the world’s leading nuclear power and only nation to have ever dropped an atomic bomb on a human population is threatened by the treaty. In the hopes of blocking the TPNW from reaching its required threshold, the US recently called on countries to “withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession” to the treaty. After the 50th country ratified a US State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, told the New York Times, “the TPNW will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, enhance the security of any state or contribute in any tangible way to peace and security in the geopolitical reality of the 21st century.”

US pressure contributes to Canada’s opposition to the TPNW, but Ottawa hasn’t simply caved to Washington.

Long before the rise of Donald Trump or Justin Trudeau, Canada’s free trade agreement with the US or the TPNW, Ottawa opposed efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. In the 2006 book Just Dummies — Cruise Missile Testing in Canada John Clearwater writes, “the record clearly shows that Canada refuses to support any resolution that specifies immediate action on a comprehensive approach to ridding the world of nuclear weapons.” As early as 1948 Canada voted against a UN call to ban nuclear weapons.

For years Canadian Forces (CF) leaders pushed for Canada to formally acquire nuclear weapons. They’ve also possessed these ghastly arms and supported the US and other allies’ atomic weapons.

Beginning in 1950, notes Clearwater in Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada’s Cold War Arsenal,the “Canadian military longed for the weapon which separated the military haves from the have-nots.” In 1960 the Department of National Defence developed a position in favour of formally acquiring nuclear weapons. In a PHD thesis on the history of The Defence Research Board of Canada Jonathan Turner notes, “the [Defence Research] Board, and especially the Chiefs of Staff, were keen to acquire Canadian atomic and nuclear weapons.” A 1961 joint staff paper titled “Nuclear Weapons for Canadian Forces” opened by saying its objective was “to present a rationale in support of nuclear weapons for the Canadian Armed Forces.” External Affairs was opposed. After contributing to the development of the first atom bombs, CF members took part in 29 nuclear weapons trials in the US and South Pacific between 1946 and 1963.

During this period Canadian air force brass placed significant “importance” on acquiring an “offensive nuclear-strike role”, notes the official history Swords, Clunks and Widowmakers: The Tumultuous Life of the RCAF’s Original One Canadian Air Division. The Royal Canadian Air Force began secret negotiations with their US counterparts for nuclear weapons. “The clandestine nature of these discussions over the assignment of nuclear targets begs the question as to the RCAF’s motivation for secrecy,” notes Ray Stouffer in Swords, Clunks and Widowmakers. Air force leaders didn’t want government officials to know their plans.

At the height of Canadian nuclear deployments in the late 1960s the Canadian air force had between 250 and 450 US atomic bombs at its disposal in Europe. Based in Germany, the CF-104 Starfighter, for instance, operated without a gun and carried nothing but a thermal nuclear weapon.

Today Canada participates in the NATO Nuclear Planning Group and contributes personnel and financial support to NATO’s Nuclear Policy Directorate. For more than six decades Canada has backed NATO forces’ use of nuclear weapons. These ghastly weapons remain “a core component of the Alliance’s overall capabilities.” Through NATO Canada has effectively committed to fighting a nuclear war if any country breached its boundaries.

Beyond potentially disrupting its role in NATO, the TPNW could interfere with the Canadian military’s prized relations with its US counterpart in other ways. US nuclear armed vessels dock and train in Canadian waters. Since 1965 nuclear-armed US submarines have fired torpedoes at CF Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges (CFMETR), Nanoose Bay. Having endorsed Nuclear Weapons Free legislation, BC’s NDP government sought a review of Nanoose Bay’s environmental impacts in the late 1990s. In response Ottawa expropriated CFMETR’s land in the first hostile expropriation of provincial property since the early 20th century.

Through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) the Canadian Forces have supported US nuclear policy. NORAD highlights why the CF opposes eliminating nuclear weapons and displeasing their US counterparts.

Through NORAD and a slew of other military accords the CF access “a sophistication of defence technology unavailable in Canada”, notes Ann Crosby in Dilemmas in Defence Decision-Making: constructing Canada’s role in NORAD, 1958-96. A Canadian general is the vice commander of NORAD’s advanced (mostly US) capabilities and runs the entire command when the US commander is absent. “NORAD brings the Canadian military more deeply within the US defense establishment than any other ally”, explains Ann Griffiths in The Canadian Forces and Interoperability: panacea or perdition?.

The US offers the CF special treatment. In the 1960s Washington didn’t want Ottawa to share its nuclear weapons accord with the allied West German government because they weren’t given “the same level of control afforded Canada in the Canada-US agreement”, notes Clearwater.

The CF leadership prizes its special relations to the US military and its role in the nuclear armed NATO. Canadian military leaders have long sought to gain access to the most powerful weapons the world has ever produced and in their efforts to do so were willing to keep secrets from elected officials. Ottawa’s hostility to the TPNW is far more complicated than what most understand when they hear about “US pressure”.

To counteract pressure from the military, substantial grassroots pressure is required to force the government to fulfill its expressed support for nuclear disarmament, a “rules-based international order” and “feminist foreign policy”. For Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, we need to both rekindle an anti-nuclear movement that has garnered mainstream successes and revitalize broader antiwar/demilitarization/anti-imperialist activism.

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Antiwar forces need to challenge Trudeau government, not praise it

Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau

Should antiwar forces challenge power or praise government officials in the hopes of getting some crumbs for their pet issue?

Douglas Roche’s recent Hill Times column suggests the latter. In an article extolling Canada’s new ambassador to the UN Roche writes: “When Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council the second successive time last June, I thought a foreign policy review from top to bottom was the solution to get Canada back on track internationally. But I’ve changed my mind for two reasons: the world is in multiple crises revolving around COVID-19 that need to be acted on now, and Bob Rae has arrived on the scene. I don’t mean to present the estimable new Canadian ambassador to the UN as a world saviour, but he has quickly established himself as a champion of the UN humanitarian agenda, which centres around reducing the grotesque economic inequalities that the pandemic has worsened.”

In essence Roche is saying that a few months ago he was troubled by the world’s rejection of Canadian foreign policy but now that Rae and Prime Minister Trudeau have delivered a couple of high-minded, internationalist statements there’s little need to challenge government policy.

But things are far from all fine and dandy. The Trudeau government refused to join 122 countries at a UN conference to ban nuclear weapons in 2017 and has failed to sign the resulting treaty. They have announced a 70% increase in military spending, oversaw record (non-US) arms exports last year and dispatched troops on US and NATO missions to Iraq and Latvia (not to mention breaking their promise to rein in Canadian mining companies’ abuses, support for a repressive Haitian president, unprecedented campaign to overthrow Venezuela’s government, anti-Palestinian positions, etc.)

Rather than representing a break from the Liberals’ pro-US, pro-militarist and pro-capitalist policies, Rae’s appointment reflects a continuation of this outlook. As I detailed in “New UN ambassador Bob Rae pushes pro-US, militarist and anti-Palestinian positions”, Rae aggressively promoted bombing Libya in 2011, allied with Stephen Harper to extend the occupation of Afghanistan and has repeatedly undercut Palestinian rights.

A few high-minded speeches by Rae and other government officials does not make a just foreign policy. Rather than make nice with Rae, peace and antiwar minded individuals should directly confront the Trudeau government’s foreign policy. The two recent national days of action at dozens of MPs’ offices against purchasing new fighter jets and selling arms to Saudi Arabia are a good step. So was the “no Canada on UN Security Council” campaign.

Unfortunately, Roche’s perspective on this issue matters. A former ambassador for disarmament, Progressive Conservative MP and senator has significant influence in peace circles. He’s influential within the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and two weeks ago Roche did an event with World Beyond War. But, Roche’s perspective is deleterious even if you stick to Roche’s main issue: nuclear disarmament.

If we are serious about forcing Ottawa to sign the UN nuclear ban treaty we need to grow the broader peace/demilitarization/anti-imperialist movement. More specifically, if many begin agitating against fighter jets and arms exports, or for Canada to leave the nuclear armed NATO alliance the government is more likely to concede to a push to sign the nuclear ban treaty.

Roche’s column praising Bob Rae should serve as a wakeup call to antiwar activists. The movement is far too focused on insider lobbying and policy wonkery. It needs to be much more oriented towards broad principled positions and social movement mobilization.

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Canadian military training in Africa is extension of US imperialism

Which is more believable as motivation to send soldiers to other countries, altruism or self-interest?

Canadian forces don’t train their African counterparts out of a commitment to professionalism or democracy but to extend this country’s influence.

Recently the Ottawa Citizen reported that Canadian special forces will continue to participate in “U.S.-led training exercises despite links to instructing troops who have been involved in two separate military uprisings in Mali. Malian soldiers forced the resignation of the country’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after they launched a coup on Aug. 18. Coup leader Col. Assimi Goita, as well as many of the soldiers who took part in the uprising, had received training at the U.S.-led annual Flintlock military exercises which involves western special forces providing counter-terrorism training to African units. A former army officer has now taken over as president in Mali and Goita has declared himself vice president.”

The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different nation of the Sahel region of northern Africa each year. Although Flintlock is considered an exercise, it is really an extension of ongoing training, engagement, and operations that help prepare our close Africa partners in the fight against extremism and the enemies that threaten peace, stability, and regional security,” said the commander of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahel, Colonel Kenneth Sipperly, during Flintlock 2014.

In addition to Flintlock, Canadian forces have trained thousands of African military personnel in recent years in a variety of forums and countries across the continent. Hundreds of African soldiers have also come to train in Canada through the Military Training Assistance Program (MTAP).

Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s MTAP, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CF.” At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Canada initiated post-independence military training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western democratic nations … [It] would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

As part of Canada’s post British rule aid efforts, Canadian troops trained armed forces in various African countries in the 1960s. In Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania, Canada endeavoured “to fill in the vacuum left by the withdrawal of British officers and training facilities,” notes Professor Robert Matthews. Military historian Sean Maloney further explains: “These teams consisted of regular army officers who, at the ‘operational level,’ trained military personnel of these new Commonwealth countries to increase their professionalism. The strategic function, particularly of the 83-man team in Tanzania, was to maintain a Western presence to counter Soviet and Chinese bloc political and military influence.”

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist president. After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian High Commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program. Writing to the undersecretary of external affairs, C.E. McGaughey noted, “all the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.” (Canadian major Bob Edwards, who was a training advisor to the commander of a Ghanaian infantry brigade, discovered preparations for the coup the day before its execution, but said nothing.)

After Ghana won its independence the CF organized and oversaw a Junior Staff Officers course and took up a number of top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, High Commissioner McGaughey wrote the undersecretary of external affairs in 1965 that “since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

When today’s internal documents are made available, they will likely show that Canadian military training initiatives continue to influence the continent’s politics in ways that run counter to most Africans’ interests.

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Tax dollars promote Canadian arms exports

Is it appropriate for the Canadian government to promote arms exports? And why, with its love of scandal does the dominant media not question this use of taxpayers’ dollars?

In recent days there’s been significant attention devoted to Canadian arms exports. A report by the UN’s Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, which criticized Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, was widely covered. There has also been coverage of Streit Group’s sale of crowd control vehicles to Belarus and Ontario-based L3Harris WESCAM’s sale of sensors and laser targeting technology to the Turkish military, which have apparently been used in a number of conflicts including the ongoing war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The recent attention is welcome but there needs to be a broader discussion of Canadian arms exports. According to government statistics, there was $3.8 billion in “Non-U.S. Exports of Military Goods and Technology” in 2019. A similar amount of Canadian weaponry was probably delivered to the Pentagon, but the government doesn’t compile data on US exports (under the Defence Production Sharing Agreement the North American arms industry is highly integrated.) The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey consistently ranks Canada among the top 15 exporters of pistols, rifles and light machine guns. Canada’s share of global arms exports is several times greater than this country’s proportion of the world’s population.

Beyond a discussion of the size of Canadian arms exports, there is a need to assess the government’s role in promoting international sales. The Department of National Defence’s website highlights different forms of support to arms exporters. “Learn how the Department of National Defence can assist in connecting Canadian industry to foreign markets”, explains one section. Another notes, “Learn how the Department of National Defence keeps Canadian companies informed of business opportunities at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”

Based in 30 diplomatic posts around the world (with cross-accreditation to many neighbouring countries), Canadian Defence Attachés promote military exports. According to DND’s website, these colonels who are supported by sergeants and sometimes a second officer, assist “Canadian defence manufacturers in understanding and accessing foreign defence markets … facilitate Canadian industry access to relevant officials within the Ministries of Defence of accredited countries … support Canadian industry at key defence industry events in accredited countries … provide reports on accredited country defence budget information, items of interest, and trade issues to Canadian industry.”

Arms manufacturers have participated in trade missions with the minister of trade or prime minister. Diplomats in the field have also helped weapons companies connect with foreign governments and the Trade Commissioner Service supports the weapons industry. In 2010 a Trade Commissioner was embedded within the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries. CADSI missions receive financial support from the Global Opportunities for Associations program and Western Economic Diversification Canada awarded CADSI funds in 2015 to enable Western Canadian companies to participate in international arms events and delegations. Officials from DND, Global Affairs Canada and the Trade Commissioner Service have participated in recent CADSI trade missions to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE, etc. Representatives of DND often talk up Canadian military equipment as part of delegations to international arms fairs such as the UK’s Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition.

An objective of Royal Canadian Navy visits to international ports has been to spur commercial relations, especially arms sales. Lieutenant Bruce Fenton writes, “Canadian warships can serve as venues for trade initiatives, as examples of Canadian technology, and as visible symbols of Canadian interest in a country or region. In countries where relationships are built over time, as is the case with many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, a visit by a Canadian warship can be an important part of a dialogue that can lead to commercial opportunities for Canadian industry.”

When ships were sent to enforce sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s, they also showcased Canadian vessels to the Kuwaiti navy. According to a 1995 DND report, HMCS Calgary was employed “as a platform for SJSL [Saint John’s Shipbuilding Limited] Kuwait Offshore Missile Vessel proposals and for Ambassador [to Kuwait J. Christopher] Pool to promote Canadian industry and technology.” In the mid 1990s RCN visits to the Middle East were credited with generating tens of millions of dollars in contracts for CAE Electronics and Computing Devices Canada.

Naval frigates have been sent to the UAE during the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the largest arms fair in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2013, noted Lieutenant Jonathan Douglas, “[HMCS] Toronto played host to Emirati dignitaries and representatives of the roughly 30 Canadian defence firms attending IDEX, providing a forum for networking against the backdrop of a floating symbol of Canadian naval power.” Six years later, researcher Anthony Fenton tweeted, “Canadian Commander of Bahrain-based naval task force visits UAE arms bazaar where over 50 CDN companies are flogging their wares.”

To help the arms companies, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX 2019. The arms companies also received support from “15 trade commissioners and representatives from the Government of Ontario, National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation.”

A crown corporation, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) facilitates global arms sales. Initially called War Supplies Limited, CCC draws Canadian arms suppliers and foreign buyers together and is the middleperson on sales, meaning the contracts are secured by the government of Canada. CCC signs thousands of contracts yearly with the US Department of Defense and other militaries. The CCC brokered the highly controversial $14 billion light armoured vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia.

CCC openly capitalizes on warfare. During the war in Afghanistan CCC president Marc Whittingham wrote in the Hill Times, “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission.” During the 1991 Gulf war CCC set up a 24-hour telephone hotline to ensure that weapons “requests from allies wouldn’t get snarled in red tape.”

Describing the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries as one of four “key industry association partners”, CCC participated in CADSI trade missions in recent years to Kuwait, England, UAE and elsewhere. In his 2017 book Security Aid: Canada and the Development Regime of Security Jeffrey Monaghan writes, “CCC representatives have accompanied the Minister of International Trade to Libya, Peru, Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, and other locations to export Canadian security and military materials.”

How much money does the Canadian government spend every year on promoting arms sales? Would a majority of Canadians support this use of their tax dollars? Why does the arms industry need government subsidies? Why do right wing ‘taxpayer groups’ never criticize this as ‘government waste’ or ‘choosing winners’ in the economy? These are some of the questions that require answers.

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