CANSEC arms show in Ottawa facilitates militarization, deepens risk for human rights defenders in Latin America

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Justin Tang.

Over the past ten years (2010 to 2020), Canada has exported $48.9 million in “military goods” to Colombia and $26.4 million in “military goods” to Mexico. Smaller amounts have also been exported to Honduras and Guatemala during this period.

The report on Canada’s military exports in 2021 is expected in May.

Militarization puts human rights defenders at risk

In 2015, Peace Brigades International issued a joint statement that highlighted: “The increased militarization of public spaces and public security strategies has meant an increase in physical attacks on HRDs [human rights defenders].”

That statement further noted: “By reporting on human rights violations and working to fight impunity, HRDs directly face the causes and consequences of the governmental security strategies and are often attacked, criminalized and defamed by State actors, in particular judicial operators and members of the security forces.”

Last year, PBI commented in a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council: “Instead of seeking solutions [to the murders of human rights defenders], the common response of these states to this situation of violence is the militarization of territories, which translates into an increase in socio-environmental conflict.”

Examples of militarization

A few examples of the militarization that PBI has cited over the years that is facilitated/enabled by arms exports include:

the militarization of public security in Honduras and the normalization of the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), created as a temporary measure, which has been linked with human rights violations and more specifically an increase in sexual abuse.

– the militarized police response to the national strike in Colombia in which security forces see those participating in social protests as an internal enemy and legitimate military targets.

the militarized “war on drugs” in Mexico that has resulted in forced disappearances, including three members of the Alvarado family who were detained by the army and never seen again.

the militarization of the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala where military detachments have been opened purportedly to combat drug trafficking and protect the environment (while an oil extraction contract has been extended and communities are evicted).

CANSEC arms show, June 1-2

Colombia and Mexico have sent delegations to CANSEC, Canada’s largest arms show that takes place in Ottawa on an annual basis.

In May 2014, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a federal government owned Crown corporation, highlighted that it had toured the exhibition floor at CANSEC arms show in Ottawa with a delegation from Colombia and Mexico.

That year, Canada exported $44.8 million in “military goods” to Colombia and $1.2 million in “military goods” to Mexico.

Additionally, the Colombian Ministry of National Defence tweeted in 2017 about Colombia’s Vice-Minister of National Defence, Mariana Martínez Cuéllar, meeting with the Canadian delegation at Expodefensa, the arms show that takes place in Bogota.

That year, Canada exported an additional $114,688,85. in “military goods” to Colombia.

Calls for Canada to end its military exports

Following a meeting with the Canadian Embassy in Colombia this past December, PBI-Colombia tweeted: “Nomadesc requested guarantees that Canada will not assist the Colombian police with equipment.”

A few months earlier during a call with Global Affairs Canada, CREDHOS, another PBI accompanied organization in Colombia, stated: “We are calling on the international community to ensure that logistical or financial support to the police and national army is stopped because right now they are attacking the people and we don’t want that to continue.”

The International Observation Mission for the Guarantees of Social Protest and Against Impunity in Colombia also recommended: “To the United States, and to any country that provides military weapons or riot gear, you are required to suspend sales commercial or donations of such weapons to ESMAD [riot police].”

With the CANSEC arms show scheduled to take place this coming June 1-2 in Ottawa, PBI-Canada will be highlighting these issues of concern.

In June 2017, the Canadian armoured vehicle manufacturer INKAS exhibited at CANSEC. In July 2021, the Colombian National Police used an INKAS Huron armoured carrier to stop delegations travelling to Cali for a National Strike popular assembly.

Esprit de Corps, August 2017.

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