A 2015 government of Canada photo of a Canadian developed "smart" rifle.
A 2015 government of Canada photo of a Canadian developed "smart" rifle. Credit: Government of Canada

My name is Laurel Thompson, and I recently took part in the demonstrations in front of the

Canadian Association of Defense and Security (CANSEC) trade show at the EY Centre in Ottawa. I was with the group Montreal for a World Beyond War. As I stood by the side of the road and watched you arrive in your cars, I wondered what it must be like to work for a company that makes weapons for war? You must have families to support and mortgages to pay just like everyone else, but how you resolve the many contradictions in your field?

Contradiction #1:Canada is not under any threat so why do we need to “defend our future”?

For example, there was a sign on the side of one of the modular buildings at the trade show that said “Defending Our Future.” I wondered what was meant by “Our Future”? Do they mean our future as Canadians in a prosperous, safe, developed country? Do they mean our future as a species on planet Earth? Or do they mean our future as Westerners in the new cold war against Russia and China? The trade show managers probably meant all of these things, but “defending” them with weapons assumes that someone wants to take “our future” away from us, and I wondered about that? I don’t see anyone invading our shores. The only country that could mount an invasion of Canada is the United States. Even if Russia or China were to enter Canada from the north, they would have a terrific amount of coastline to cover, much of which is melting. The threats to us from another country are almost non-existent, so who exactly are we defending ourselves from?

Contradiction #2: The Canadian arms trade profits from our complicity with immoral geopolitical actors

No one ever wins with war. It exhausts the resources and morale of everyone who takes part in it. The only group that wins with war is the people who manufacture weapons like yourself because the prospect of eventual war leads governments to invest millions on armaments as a deterrence measure. These weapons are very complicated and require considerable training to use, so soldiers take them out of storage containers for practice, but they have never been employed here in Canada because Canada is under no threat. So why do we own them? 

We own them because in addition to having weapons at the ready for a non-existent threat, we sell them to other countries whose government our government supports, like the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The latter has a terrible human rights record but the Liberals do not seem concerned that we might be violating international law by selling them light armoured vehicles (LAV). As for the United States, it refused to sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that regulates trade in conventional weapons because it might put a limit on domestic gun sales. We sell weapons to them too. Canada signed the ATT, but the Canadian arms trade is a $10 billion business, most of which goes to the U.S. Isn’t there a contradiction here? How do we prevent weapons from being used for human-rights abuses if we sell them to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? 

Contradiction #3: The DPSA encourages Canadian weapons companies to feed the U.S. addiction to firearms

The United States is the most heavily armed country in the world. Owing to wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the number of weapons sloshing around the country is enormous and there are roughly 400 million weapons in civilian hands. With the 1033 program, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton gave excess military equipment, including weapons and vehicles, to city police departments.

The 2006 Defense Production Sharing Agreement (DPSA) makes it possible for Canadian firms to perform research and development work that meets the requirements of U.S. armed forces. Canadian taxpayers pay no less than 25 per cent of the cost of projects proposed by the Canadian Department of Defence of Production (CDDP) to the U.S. Pentagon. This is good for the arms trade because the Canadian market is too small to serve the number of companies that want to make money from weapons. We export 50 to 60 per cent of their production, most of it to the U.S. The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) represents more than 900 member companies which employ more than 63,000 Canadians and which generate $10 billion in annual revenues. How did Canada end up with 900 arms manufacturers?  Because with the DPSA and NATO there is money to be made. 

The weapons are not for our own use, yet because Canadian companies like CAE and Blackberry want to make money, we produce them for others. That means that if there were fewer Canadian arms manufacturers, we would export less.

By allowing arms dealers to propose projects to the US Army where the CDDP pays 25 per cent of the cost, the DPSA incentivizes arms manufacturing in Canada. This may mean good jobs for Canadians, but as the country with whom the U.S. does the most business, isn’t Canada then something like a drug dealer? By showering the U.S. with subsidized weapons, “peaceful” Canadians encourage the US to continue being a heavily-armed rogue state.

Contradiction #4: Canada encourages the murder of children just like the NRA

US politicians are compromised because they need money to get elected, and one of the biggest donors is the National Rifle Association (NRA). As a result, gun control advocates are unable to limit the sale of firearms because the NRA donates much more money to political campaigns than they do, and hires hundreds of lobbyists to fend off reform. The reason why the US is so violent, they say, is not because of guns; the problem is mental health. 

Canada has better gun control than the U.S. does, but that is not saying much. Trudeau only prohibited the sale of semi-automatic weapons in 2020. However, we have had just two school shootings compared to their 288. The NRA defends loose restrictions on guns and gun ownership, but this means that NRA members’ own children could be murdered in school. 

Children still die with weapons in Canada, and since the export of weapons is a substantial part of our economy, children die in other countries with weapons that are manufactured here. So what is the difference between the murder of children by the NRA in the US, and the murder of children by Canadian arms manufacturers in, say, Yemen? Canadians have a moral responsibility to Yemeni children as innocent young people who do not deserve to die. By selling the Saudis explosives for airstrikes in their war against the Houthis, isn’t Canada helping the Saudis to be just as irresponsible as the NRA? So far, over 10,000 children have died.

These are some of the structural inconsistencies I see in your work. To be frank, a foreign policy that enables 900 arms manufacturers to prosper in a country that promotes itself as a peacemaker is a crock. 63,000 Canadians make their living by producing machines that kill people and blow up the environment. Given our pretensions, the blatant hypocrisy of it is shameful, yet no political party is calling the government to account, and small civic organizations like Project Plowshares reach only a few politicians. Mainstream media rarely investigate contradictions. 

By writing to you, I do not expect to change much, but I would like to start a dialogue because the situation is untenable and I think there is a way for us to find common ground. You probably do not want to produce killing machines. I want to end war. If I can convince you that the work you are doing is morally unsound, perhaps we can get to the bottom of things, and start creating new job opportunities that are more in line with what we all truly believe. Let’s try to figure out something better than what we’ve got now. 

Sincerely,

Laurel Cleugh Thompson,
Montréal, QC