Will Ottawa City Council welcome the CANSEC arms show this coming June 1-2?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo by Ben Welland.

In April 1989, Ottawa City Council voted to stop the ARMX arms show taking place at Lansdowne Park and other City owned properties. By June 2009, Councillors Eli El-Chantiry and Rick Chiarelli led a successful effort to overturn that prohibition.

Since then, Mayor Jim Watson has extended a “warm welcome” to the CANSEC arms show that now takes place annually at the EY Centre.

With a municipal election taking place on October 24 this year, we look back at the history of ARMX/CANSEC in the City of Ottawa.

The ARMX arms show first took place in Ottawa in 1985. It was held at the Uplands Air Force Base and organized by the Department of National Defence. Then in May 1989, the arms show, that had grown from 161 to 464 exhibitors and from an attendance of 5,000 to 15,000 military and civilian visitors, encountered its first public opposition.

On Saturday May 20, 1989, a “Public Inquiry into ARMX: Its Effects on Peace and Human Rights” was held. That event featured speakers from Project Ploughshares, Oxfam Canada, Lawyers for Social Responsibility, as well as a witness from El Salvador.

Then on Monday May 22, 1989, more than 2,000 people marched from Confederation Park up Bank Street to protest the arms fair at Lansdowne Park.

The following day, Tuesday May 23, the Alliance for Non-Violence Action organized a mass protest in which 160 people were arrested.

Significantly, the month prior to this, Ottawa City Council passed this resolution stating: “Whereas exports of Canadian military equipment and components end up in countries which persistently violate human rights … therefore be it resolved that Lansdowne Park and other city facilities not be leased to future ARMX exhibitions.”

ARMX did not return to Ottawa until March 1993 when it took place at the Ottawa Congress Centre under the rebranded name Peacekeeping ’93.

This was challenged by the DisARMX Coalition that organized a peace exhibition, a candlelight vigil and a march that began at the Ottawa-Carleton Centre, moved along Lisgar Street to Elgin, passed the Tribute to Human Rights and the War Memorial (where a wreath was laid), then on to the Ottawa Congress Centre on Colonel By Drive.

ARMX didn’t happen again until May 2009 when it appeared as the first CANSEC arms show, again held at Lansdowne Park.

At that time, Councillor Clive Doucet said that it was “a blight on our history” to allow weapons fairs in our cities.

And Councillor Alex Cullen stated that he wanted the City to maintain its ban on arms shows to “promote peace and respect for human rights, and seek to avoid associating with activities that promote and profit from the business of war.”

In October 2008, the Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee received an information report from staff that noted the prohibition adopted in 1989 by the old City of Ottawa was no longer applicable due to the sale of Lansdowne Park to the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1999.

And, as noted above, in June 2009, this motion from Councillors El-Chantiry and Chiarelli effectively overturned the City’s ban on future arms shows at municipal properties.

Since then, CANSEC has been an annual arms show, interrupted only by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

On January 14, the organizer of CANSEC, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), announced that it would be proceeding with the arms show this year. On that day, there were 5,479 known active cases of COVID in the city, a number that CBC reports may actually be three to 10 times higher.

This is happening despite the call from Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, who has stated: “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives. To warring parties, I say: Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

At the local level, with nominations opening on May 2, we ask candidates to reaffirm the City Council resolution from 1989 and to do their part to end the folly of war.

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