Tag Archives: Military

Is Canada’s Minister of Defence an Arms Pusher?

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Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan

Would it surprise you to learn that Canada’s minister of defence is an arms pusher?

Last Friday members of Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix interrupted a $135-a-plate luncheon to confront defence minister Harjit Sajjan. At an event sponsored by SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Rio Tinto, etc., we called for cutting military spending, for Canada to withdraw from NATO and an end to weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

While Sajjan’s responsibility for NATO and military spending are straightforward, his role in fueling the Saudi led war in Yemen is less obvious. But, the Department of National Defence (DND) plays a substantial role in Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

As he did the last three years, Sajjan is set to speak at the CANSEC arms bazar in Ottawa later this month. For more than two decades the annual Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) conference has brought together representatives of arms companies, DND, Canadian Forces (CF), various other arms of the federal government and dozens of foreign governments. In 2018 more than 11,000 people attended the two-day conference, including 16 MPs and senators and many generals and admirals.

The corporation supplying Saudi Arabia with more than $10 billion in Light Armoured Vehicles produces the same LAVs for the CF. In a 2012 Canadian Military History article Frank Maas writes, “the CF has continued to purchase LAVs because they have been successful in the field, and they support a domestic producer, General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS-C), that cooperates closely with the military.” GDLS’ London, Ontario, operations exist largely because of interventionist military industrial policy. A 2013 Federal government report on “Leveraging Defence Procurement Through Key Industrial Capabilities” lists GDLS as one of three “Canadian Defence Industry Success Stories.”

Beyond contracts, subsidies and various other forms of support to Canadian weapons makers, DND has long promoted arms exports. Its 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, Defence Attachés 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 … raise awareness in accredited countries of Canadian defence industrial capabilities … provide reports on accredited country defence budget information, items of interest, and trade issues to Canadian industry.”

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. According to a FrontLine Defence story titled “Representing Canada in the UAE IDEX”, representatives of DND helped 50 Canadian arms companies flog their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in February. To help the companies move their wares at the largest arms fair in the Middle East, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX.

International ports visits by naval frigates are sometimes designed to spur 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.”

To get a sense of the interaction between the various components of the military industrial complex, the FrontLine Defence story detailing Canada’s participation in IDEX was written by Brett Boudreau. His byline notes that he “is a retired CAF Colonel, a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and former Director of Marketing and Communications at CADSI.” Boudreau’s trajectory — from the CF, to arms industry spokesperson, to militarist think tank, to writing for a militarist publication — is a stark example of one individual moving through the various components of the military industrial complex. But Boudreau is not unique. It is common for retired CF and DND officials to take up arms industry posts, including senior positions. It wouldn’t be surprising if Sajjan ended up on the board of an arms company after he leaves politics.

Harjit Sajjan heads a ministry intimately tied to a globally oriented corporate weapons industry that profits from war. Is this something Canadians understand and support? Or would the majority of us be upset to learn their Minister of Defence is an arms pusher, promoting sales to anti-democratic, repressive regimes?

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Harper’s Conservatives promote military ties to Israel

While the Harper Conservative government has loudly proclaimed its close ties to Israel, most Canadians would be surprised to learn the Tories have decided to make the two countries blood brothers. In the international affairs equivalent of a Mafia initiation ceremony Canada has sworn undying loyalty and to be a faithful soldier in Israel’s cause.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Consider the following:

• Since Stephen Harper took office the two nations defence ministers and top generals have repeatedly visited each other’s country. These visits have resulted in various accords and “the [two] countries have agreed to exchange secret defense information,” according to a June 2012 CBC summary of government briefing notes.

• The week before last the head of Canadian Forces visited Israel to deepen “cooperation between the two militaries.” Reportedly, Thomas Lawson met his Israeli counterpart, the Defense Minister and various other senior military officers. According to a Jerusalem Post summary, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for Canada and Israel to “further increase their cooperation in the fight against terror in light of the upheaval in the Middle East and Iran’s role in fueling the region’s conflicts.”

• In 2008 Canada and Israel signed a wide-ranging public security agreement and for the first time in its history in 2011 Israel named a defense attaché to Ottawa. Until at least the end of 2010 the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv served as Israel’s Contact Point Embassy to NATO, the military alliance of Western nations. The embassy served as the liaison between Israel and NATO, assisting with visits of NATO officials to Israel. According to internal government documents examined by The Dominion, Ottawa worked to strengthen Israel’s partnership with the military alliance, helping its “pursuit of a Status of Forces Agreement, getting access to the NATO Maintenance Supply Agency, [redacted].”

• In February 2010 deputy foreign minister Peter Kent implied that Canada already considered Israel a member of NATO, which operates according to the principle that an attack on any member is considered an attack against all members. Reflecting the alliance’s purported principle, Kent said “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada” and in July 2011 defence minister Peter MacKay reiterated this position privately. According to briefing notes uncovered by CBC he told Israel’s top military commander, Gabi Ashkenazi that “a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada.”

• At the same time as official military relations have intensified there has been an increase in weapons sharing and relations between Israeli and Canadian arms manufacturers. At a November 2011 press conference with his Israeli counterpart defense minister MacKay described the two countries’ “growing relations in the defense sector.” Among the more significant examples, the Canadian military bought the Israeli-made Heron drone for use in Afghanistan and Israel’s Elisra Electronics Systems is working on upgrading a dozen Halifax-class warships.

• Despite the Israeli Defense Force’s many human rights violations, many Canadian companies sell weapons directly to Israel. According to a 2009 Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade report, more than 140 Canadian weapons makers export products to Israel. Last year British Columbia-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates won a $90+ million contract to supply Israel Aerospace Industries with satellite technology. The December 2011 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs detailed some Canadian military exports to Israel. “Ottawa’s Allen Vanguard Corporation provides ‘counterterrorist’ equipment and training. iMPath Networks of Ottawa and Halifax design solutions for real-time video surveillance and intrusion detection technology. Mecachrome Technologies, based in Montréal and Toronto, provides components for military aircraft. And MPB Technologies of Pointe Claire, Edmonton, Airdrie and Calgary manufacturers, among other things, communications equipment and robotics for [Israeli] military use. … British Columbia-based 360 Surveillance sells technology for Israel’s apartheid wall and checkpoints.”

• Taxpayers often underwrite ties between Canadian and Israeli military companies. The multimillion dollar Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation funds research projects (including many in the “security” field) between the two countries’ corporations. (For details see Kole Kilibarda’s Canadian and Israeli Defense -Industrial and Homeland Security Ties: An Analysis).

To the extent that the dominant media questions the Harper government’s pro-Israel policies they focus on public pronouncements, UN votes and other diplomatic moves such as foreign minister John Baird’s recent meeting with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem (a rare occurrence designed to further legitimize Israel’s illegal control over that part of the city). But, deepening Canadian security ties with Israel may be more significant than the Conservatives anti-Palestinian public statements and UN votes.

For instance, what role do growing ties between the two countries’ military leadership play in the Conservatives extremely hostile position towards Iran? Or, is there a connection between the Canada Israel public security agreement and the RCMP’s highly suspect recent claim that two operatives with “direction and guidance” from “al-Qaeda elements in Iran” planned to blow up a major Canadian bridge? Finally, what role do growing military ties play in spurring the Conservatives’ anti-Palestinian diplomatic moves?

Though little discussed, the military is an important element of the Conservatives ‘Israel no matter what’ policy. In addition to the Jewish establishment, Christian Zionism and the role Israel plays as a Western outpost in the Middle East, the Conservatives militaristic tendencies lead them to support that country. Harper’s government, for instance, is close to the Canadian military companies that sell to Israel and do business with that country’s top-flight weapons industry. Additionally, Canadian military leaders appreciate the tactical information and expertise Israel’s well-practiced military shares.

Like a wanna-be gangster looking up to a Mafia boss, the Harperites are impressed by the large role Israel’s military plays in the country’s affairs.

Ordinary Canadians should be concerned. Very concerned.

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