“Do you know why they’re protesting?!” yells a business man in a perfectly ironed suit. His screaming is just barely audible over the chanting and yelling of the demonstrators and police.

“They are protesting CANSEC!” I explain.

“What’s CANSEC?” he asks, as I prepare for my now memorized rebuttal: “CANSEC is Canada’s largest arms fair. This is the tenth year of it taking place but because it was banned from all City of Ottawa property in 1991, it now takes place at the Ottawa Congress Centre, which is technically provincial property.”

“Arms fair?” comes the now predictable surprise, “There’s an arms fair taking place here? In Ottawa? In Canada?”

“Yes, Canadian corporations produce much of the ammunition, weaponry, and support technology for the U.S. military and the Canadian Forcesâe¦”

Before I can continue to explain the major procurement contracts outlined by Canadian Military Magazine âe” related to the war on Afghanistan, security for the 2010 Olympics, and Northwest Passage defence âe” an angry police officer shoves me.

Half a dozen riot cops appear out of nowhere. They line the streets of Ottawa’s business section. Protecting them is a line of well-equipped city police, and surrounding them on all sides are astonished looking business people. The Black Bloc is in on one side, the police on the other.

What has now become three days of actions and protests was sure to have made it clear to the nearly 7000 delegates attending this year’s CANSEC that they are not welcome. Before the official trade show even began, fire alarms were pulled forcing the attendees of the black-tie kickoff to rush outdoors while police searched the building.

Wednesday, April 9 began with a “March of the War Victims” through downtown Ottawa. While General Gene Renuart, Commander of NORAD, addressed the delegates at a luncheon, activists took a tour of the major headquarters of some of the corporations presenting at the fair.

The evening of April 9 delivered yet another disruption to a black-tie dinner whose purpose was “to optimize [the delegates’] interactions with current and potential contacts, clients and stakeholders,” according to the schedule.

No War/Paix, along with the PGA-Bloc Ottawa, using a portable audio system, delivered the sounds of war at volumes that could not have been ignored by attendees of the event. A banner dropped off the nearby National Arts Centre advocated shutting down the arms fair, but was quickly removed by police. Intermingled between recorded sounds of bombs exploding and machine guns firing were live hip-hop and slam poetry performances, and âe” oh yes, you guess it! âe” John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine.”

The second day of events saw a different approach. As the Black Bloc took to the streets, the police presence became overwhelming: there were innumerable police cars, officers in riot gear carrying automatic rifles, and even the explosives unit.

Chanting “Shut down CANSEC, shut down the War Machine,” the militant march led to the Congress Centre, where a brief but failed attempt to penetrate the police barricades took place. The march then attempted to disrupt the address of William Cohen, CEO of the Cohen Group and former United States Secretary of Defence, at the adjacent Westin hotel. After an overwhelming police presence outnumbered the protesters roughly three to one, the march continued on its way.

Throughout the day, windows of the Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre were smashed twice, along with those of a local City of Ottawa Police Department. A high school student was arrested and three protesters received minor injuries. And a great deal of bystanders found out that Ottawa hosts an annual arms fair.

In spite of the brief feeling of satisfaction at having explained to an otherwise unaware person why it is that the crowd is protesting, an uneasy question hovers over my head: why is Canada’s involvement in the lucrative arms trade not common knowledge?

The list of corporations bidding on current major Crown projects includes the usual suspects: Lockheed Martin, SNC-Lavalin, General Dynamics Land Systems, Raytheon, and Boeing. But this year, the war business is not just for the obscure military contractors. The involvement of such civilian-use corporations as 3M Canada and Telus makes it clear the profitable business of war is now a gates-wide-open free-for-all.

For example, according to CANSEC: “TELUS was recently selected to provide and manage Global Defence Network Services for the department of National Defence for both domestic and international locations. TELUS will provide managed telecommunications services including voice, data, video and IP solutions to the department.”

In fact, if you were a bidding corporation attending CANSEC this year, the government has made it worth your while. Not only will you receive a major contract with the Crown but, if your bid exceeds $100 million, the government will graciously throw in bonuses, otherwise known as Industrial and Regional Benefits.

Not surprisingly, the only country represented was the United States of America, whose embassy was conveniently stationed between Hardigg Canada and Cobham, a military plastics company and an electronic tracking company, respectively.

The April 9 protests ended with solidarity, as the march headed to the headquarters of the Ottawa Police Services to wait for the arrestee to be released. Six hours later a demonstrator, known only as “Alex,” was released after signing a long list of bail conditions.

One condition was not being able to associate with more than three people outdoors. This bail condition prevented him from joining the friends and supporters who had waited for his release.

Thinking back to my conversation with the incredulous businessman, I remember trying not to throw too much information at him. While yelling out the names of some of the corporate attendees at the conference, I saw in his eyes what I saw in the eyes of dozens of bystanders who asked similar questions throughout the day – confusion, rage, and disbelief.

“This is disgusting,” he tells me. “I can’t believe it! They must be stopped.” I nod along as we both turn to the Parliament buildings behind us. In the shadow of the March 13 decision to extend the war in Afghanistan to 2011, we are both overtaken by a sense of urgency.