As activists protest CANSEC, Canada reports on billions of dollars in “military goods” sold to governments considered repressive
Photo: Ottawa Police shove an activist protesting the CANSEC arms show. The UK Supreme Court has ruled there should be a certain degree of tolerance to the disruption of traffic in a case related to a blockade of the DSEI arms show in London.
On May 31, as more than 100 people protested outside the annual CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) reported: “For the 2022 calendar year, the value of Canadian exports of controlled military goods and technology to non-U.S. destinations amounted to approximately $2.122 billion.”
The total amount to U.S. destinations is believed to be at least $1 billion, which if counted could push the actual total to about $3.1 billion in 2022.
The GAC report does note: “Saudi Arabia was the largest non-U.S. export destination, receiving approximately $1.151 billion in Canadian military exports (accounting for approximately 54% of the total value of non-U.S. military exports).”
A review of Canada’s reports on its export of military goods over the past five years shows: 2022 ($2.122 billion), 2021 ($2.731 billion), 2020 ($1.966 billion), 2019 ($3.757 billion), 2018 ($2.069 billion) for a total of $12.645 billion to non-US countries.
Again, if the $1 billion in exports to the U.S. were added for each of those years, the overall five-year total would be closer to $17.64 billion.
Canadian military goods sold to repressive regimes
In June 2021, The Guardian reported: “Two-thirds of countries classified as ‘not free’ because of their dire record on human rights and civil liberties have received weapons licensed by the UK government over the past decade, new analysis reveals. Between 2011-2020, the UK licensed £16.8bn of arms to countries criticised by [the Washington, DC-based] Freedom House, a US government-funded human rights group.”
If we look at the list of countries that Freedom House considers either “not free” or only “partly free”, Canada’s military exports for 2022 totals $1.26 billion to 16 “not free” countries and $146 million to 18 “partly free countries” (for an overall total of $1.41 billion).
Additionally, that same article in The Guardian also reported: “Analysis by the London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found that £11.8bn of arms had been authorised by the UK government during the same period [2011-2020] to the Foreign Office’s own list of ‘human rights priority countries’.”
If we look at the November 2021 list of the countries where the United Kingdom is “particularly concerned about human rights issues” and compare that to Canada’s military exports in 2022 alone, we find that Canada exported in $1.17 billion arms to 6 of those countries.
An analysis that includes the United States and other countries as being involved in wars that have been deemed illegal (such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003-2011 and Afghanistan in 2001-2021) would also see longer-term totals dramatically increase.
Activists threatened with arrest
At the protest against CANSEC this past week, the Ottawa Police Service repeatedly threatened activists with arrest for disrupting traffic.
They also told activists that they did not have the right to a rotating picket against the arms show, asserting that is a Charter right only given to labour unions.
And they threatened to seize as evidence banners that had been placed on the fence that was put up around the EY Centre where the weapons show took place.
Notably, in June 2021, The Guardian reported: “Four demonstrators who formed a blockade outside a London arms fair have had their convictions quashed by the supreme court, in what has been hailed as an affirmation of the right to protest.”
Justices Lord Hamblen and Lord Stephens stated: “There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly.”
The ruling added: “The appellants were not a group of people who randomly chose to attend this event hoping to cause trouble. We consider that the peaceful intentions of the appellants were appropriate matters to be considered in an evaluation of proportionality.”
That ruling by the UK Supreme Court can be read in full here.
In June 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also upheld the right to blockade. Their report cautioned: “The Commission considers that the absolute prohibition of any blockade … could constitute a restriction disproportionate to freedom of expression, demonstration and assembly.”
CANSEC in 2024
Plans are already underway to protest the CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa in May-June 2024. Stay tuned for more in the coming months.
PBI-Canada was present at the protest outside the CANSEC weapons show this year and continues to call on Canada to stop arming repression.
For a deeper analysis of the 2022 report on Canada’s export of military goods, please listen to this 30-minute interview with Kelsey Gallagher from Project Ploughshares.
For coverage of the protest on Democracy Now!, click here.