Taking a Stand Against CANSEC

In a recent column in the Ottawa Citizen, Janice Kennedy calls on the City of Ottawa to take a principled stand and honour the commitment it made twenty years ago to prohibit defence industry trade shows on municipal property.

Despite continued opposition from community groups and peace activists, the City is going ahead with the CANSEC 2009 defence and security trade show, to be held at the publicly-owned Lansdowne Park. A legal loophole created by Lansdowne’s brief stint in the hands of regional government pre-amalgamation is what has made this possible. Standing strongly behind the decision to take advantage of this loophole is Ottawa mayor Larry O’Brien, whose former company, Calian Technologies (of which he remains a shareholding director), is set to exhibit at the show.

Kennedy underlines the size and scope of the defence industry in Canada as reason for citizens to take a principled stand, citing numbers from the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (the presenting organization of CANSEC). The organization “represents 700 Canadian-based member companies generating $10 billion annually in military and security sales — half of which is exported,” selling “an additional $20 billion of their world class technology-based product and service solutions to commercial customers at home and abroad.”

In the face of these sobering facts, Kennedy also highlights the impact gestures for peace can have, such as the banning of arms trade shows within municipalities, or the declaration of nuclear-free zones by cities and states.

While banning such trade shows on municipal property will not end war, making the symbolic gesture is an important step on the long journey towards a more peaceful world.

Read the full article below.

From the Ottawa Citizen

Breaking the faith
By Janice Kennedy, Ottawa Citizen, May 1, 2009

Trucks will roll into Lansdowne Park in three weeks, ready to unload their cargoes of shiny new products for the big trade show. The products, innovative marvels of fine engineering, will be displayed, demonstrated and (their manufacturers hope) bought.

Then, at an unknown point down the road in a place comfortably distant from Ottawa, some of these gadgets, gizmos and gleaming implements will be used to do precisely what they were designed to do. Some shiny new bit of high-tech efficiency, exhibited so effectively over two peaceful weekdays in May on a site by the quiet Rideau River to buyers strolling the aisles, morning coffees in hand ­ this shiny new purchase will help to shred flesh, blow off human limbs, wipe out innocent lives, create indescribable depths of grief and add to the world’s sum total of hatred.

CANSEC 2009, put on by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), is the country’s largest trade show for items manufactured for “defence” and “security.” (The words have such a comforting motherhood-and-apple-pie blandness to them, don’t they? Nothing about them even hints at their potential to devastate innocent civilian lives.)

Most Ottawans with any kind of municipal memory are surprised that the trade show is being held at all on city property, since a ban has been in effect ­ or so we thought ­ since 1989, when city council voted 13-1 to prohibit defence industry trade shows on city grounds.

The decision was made just four years after the mayoralty of the late Marion Dewar, the generous and peace-affirming activist who must have left traces of her moral courage behind, floating about through council chambers.

But through the most legalistic of legal loopholes ­ Lansdowne Park was briefly in regional governmental hands before returning to the amalgamated city fold ­ the 1989 ban is deemed not to have survived the temporary ownership change. And so, game on.

Mayor Larry O’Brien (still a shareholding director with his old company, Calian Technologies, which is exhibiting at CANSEC) has declared that the original ban was not as comprehensive as some people thought.

Outraged peace activists and religious groups have been campaigning energetically against the show, but their petitions and demonstrations will likely meet with the same success people of good will everywhere usually achieve in the face of big swagger and big bucks. That is to say, nada.

The outrage has to be more widespread. Maybe it would be, if the average citizen knew that CADSI, according to its own website, represents 700 Canadian-based member companies generating $10 billion annually in military and security sales ­ half of which is exported. Or that “they also sell an additional $20 billion of their world class technology-based product and service solutions to commercial customers at home and abroad.”

Really? What customers? Abroad where?

Sure, shows like this also feature products and technologies that do not maim and kill. They promote things that also help save lives in chaotic situations, both abroad and at home. No question.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that a “defence and security” trade show is mainly about safety, security and emergency management for civilians, as the mayor has suggested. Let’s not be so delusional as to think that the primary purpose of the show is about instruments of peace. No, CANSEC is all about war.

A recent letter to the editor, responding to outrage over the arms show’s appearance on city of Ottawa property, pointed to the economic benefits of such shows and observed that the city should not be bound by the “agenda” of “special interest groups.”

(So where do I sign up for membership in this special interest group?)

In the name of peace, countless communities and individuals around the world have done really tough things. In the United States, Catholic priests such as Louis Vitale and John Dear have gone to prison for peacefully protesting their country’s march to war and, more recently, its willingness to torture.

Twenty-two years ago, New Zealand risked the wrath of the mighty U.S. by enshrining in national law its self-designation as a nuclear-free zone, which it remains to this day. More than a symbolic gesture, the New Zealand initiative not only made a powerful statement, but also interfered with American military plans to find a safe N.Z. harbour for nuclear-capable destroyers in the south Pacific ­ putting a dent in U.S.-N.Z. relations.

Around the world, municipalities from Vancouver to New York to Manchester have declared themselves nuclear-free zones. True, these actually are symbolic gestures ­ but there’s nothing wrong with symbolism. Imagine the impact if more and more communities across the globe made, and meant, such symbolic gestures.

Other places have participated in the surge toward peace by banning trade shows dedicated to arms and other martial instruments. One city took that initiative in April 1989 with a majority decision its decision-makers believed would last more than 20 years.

No one is naïve enough to think that banning CANSEC in Ottawa would put an end to war. That isn’t the point. But we do what we can, all of us, taking whatever small steps are possible for the longer journey, symbolic or otherwise.

We take a stand. We make a statement. And then, despite the self-serving energies of the loophole-lovers and the backsliders among us, we stick to principle.

Even if it’s 20 years old.

Janice Kennedy’s column appears here on Sundays.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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