Monday, May 16, 2011

Canada's massive military budget is off the table in federal election

|Among many substantive issues not discussed during campaign 2011 is the $23 billion Canada now spends on war, a massive investment that all three major federal parties will maintain if elected.
Add in the ongoing costs of the Afghanistan war plus undisclosed funding for Canada's bombardment of Libya (well over 200 aerial bombing runs and aerial "sorties" to date), and the $23 billion figure may run higher.
To put this in perspective, slightly more than $63 million a day is spent on Canada's war machine. That's the daily equivalent of 420 affordable housing units or 3,000 four-year full-tuition grants for university students. Over the course of a month, that's 13,000 affordable housing units and 90,000 students going to university without massive debt load.
It is in this context that politicians preaching fiscal restraint and support for burdened families continue proffering blind allegiance to a well-funded institution whose leadership, past and present, has always been clear: in the words of former General Rick Hillier, their role is to kill people.
While many young people join the military because they believe they're contributing to society (in addition to those who simply need the income or an education), there are other ways for them to live out those aspirations without having to pick up a gun and face the choice of killing or being killed.
But those other choices are not part of the dominant parties' platforms. (By contrast, the Green Party would reduce war spending to the then historically high 2005 levels, the Bloc has criticized high war spending but is not specific in its plans, and the Communist Party would reduce military spending by 75 per cent).
In the case of the NDP, it's likely that many supporters are unaware of their party's willingness to choose guns over butter. After all, the NDP is traditionally seen as the place where anti-war activists park their vote, and the strongest anti-war statements usually come from its MPs, who often speak at peace rallies. But most NDP MPs have long accepted the framework of ever increasing amounts of war funding.

The NDP endorsed a 2002 Parliamentary Committee's call for increasing military spending a full 50 per cent (which would mean $28 billion per year by the end of 2010, and we're almost there). That was the same year NDP MPs began joining their colleagues in a unique indoctrination program called the Canadian Forces Parliamentary Program, which "embeds" MPs in war training exercises where, according to a report in Canadian Parliamentary Review, they "learn how the equipment works, they train with the troops, and they deploy with their units on operations. Parliamentarians are integrated into the unit by wearing the same uniform, living on bases, eating in messes, using CF facilities and equipment."
In May 2005, the NDP supported the Paul Martin 2005 Liberal budget. Hailed as Canada's "First NDP budget," it sported the largest military spending increase in 20 years, making Canada's war budget higher than at any time since the end of World War II.
When the infamous NDP-Liberal-Bloc coalition came together in December 2008, the issue of withdrawal from Afghanistan was suddenly "off the table." And as NATO generals recently called for increased bombing of Libya despite rising civilian casualties, there was silence from the campaign trail.
Shortly after my concerns were posted on Jack Layton's Facebook page, I received a phone call from the NDP's Ottawa-based "war room," a thoroughly insulting moniker to anyone who has actually experienced the horror of war as civilian or soldier (why not a "torture room" or a "pillage room" to make further light of those subjects?). A campaign worker, to his credit, wanted to dialogue, but noted that if Jack Layton were to discuss military cuts, he would be hurt in mainstream media coverage and by the perceptions of "average Canadians."
While this line did not surprise me -- it is used by every political party facing the choice of taking a principled stand or following backroom advisers wholly insulated from the electorate -- it certainly is not in sync with this spring's Leger Marketing report that revealed almost 60 per cent of those polled declared "Canada should take a peace dividend and cut back on military spending to focus on other more pressing social issues at home." Despite a decade of endless military propaganda, "Red Friday" support the troops rallies, yellow ribbons, and a seriously weak Canadian peace movement, such numbers are remarkable.
Those numbers have not changed substantively in over a decade: a 2000 Maclean's poll found 75 per cent of Canadians chose housing over updating the military, with only 19 per cent favouring the latter. This followed the military's mythic "decade of darkness," the Chretien years of massive social program cuts that barely touched military spending, which never dipped below $10 billion. Indeed, the mid-1990s saw reports on military warehouses overflowing with weaponry, and between 1980 and 2000, Canada invested over a quarter of a trillion dollars in war.
As Canadian bombers prepared to unleash their fury on Yugoslavia in 1999, the Globe and Mail reported that "The Canadian Forces can hurl more raw firepower at a potential enemy today than they could during the Persian Gulf War... Since the gulf war, all three services have increased their 'combat capability' (the wherewithal to inflict heavy damage on the enemy), said Major-General Kenneth Pennie, director-general of strategic planning for the Canadian Forces. The equipment includes new frigates for the navy, armoured vehicles for the army and high-tech 'smart' bombs for the air force. Given the improved accuracy, Gen. Pennie said, 'we find that some conventional weapons can be more useful than nuclear weapons.'"
At that time, homelessness had recently been declared a national emergency, and while then Liberal war minister Art Eggleton was asked how Canada could afford the bombing of Yugoslavia, he replied "It's obviously something that the government of Canada will cover." Yet a week later, the Toronto Star reported "(Federal minister responsible for homelessness) Bradshaw's spokesperson said yesterday there are no plans to put more money into affordable housing."
This is a problem with historic roots: there's always money for war, regardless of how bare the cupboard might be. The refusal to challenge a Canadian institution and ask fundamental questions about why it is needed, and how it fails to contribute to a civil society, is frustrating to say the least.
And so, despite the perception of the NDP as a natural choice for voters concerned about peace, the NDP simply proposes moving the chess pieces around without asking why we're still playing the same old deadly game. Indeed, we are reassured that the NDP opposes the F-35 fighter jets. Fair enough. But that money would instead be spent on the navy's warships, the same ones on which numerous NDP MPs have found themselves embedded over the past decade.
While this sounds like a benign alternative, it ignores the fact that Canadian warships have contributed more misery than the Canadian bombings missions of the past 25 years. Indeed, during the 1990s, Canada's navy spent over $1 billion in the enforcement of devastating sanctions that killed over 1.5 million Iraqi people. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq that myth-makers have tried to convince us Canada was not involved in, the Canadian Navy played a key role in escorting the U.S. warships launching cruise missiles and bombing runs. There are few clearer examples of aiding and abetting the murder of Iraqis than this.
Canadian warships are also dangerous. The HMCS Fredericton, for example, the "Stalker of the Seas," boasts weapons which fire 4,500 rounds of ammunition a minute, Harpoon missiles that can "deliver" a 227 kg warhead to a range in excess of 130 km and a Bofors gun, "capable of firing 2.4 kg shells at a rate of 220 rounds/min at a range of more than 17 km." Not most people's idea of peaceful conflict resolution.
But pointing out such things fails to burst the NDP's bubble. They would put the military to work on "peacekeeping" and humanitarian relief, helping after disasters, and flood cleanup. But those are all civilian functions that one need not have training in the art of killing to perform.
"We need to support our military," my local NDP candidate pleads, a phrase used ad nauseum that reduces one of Canada's best-funded federal programs to the status of a fragile flower whose petals could fall off at any moment. Can we not look forward to the day when "need to support" is used in support of daycare, women's programs, education, an end to poverty?
While space does not allow an exploration of the myth of Canada's potential for peacekeeping -- something which was always a cleverly disguised bit of cover for the west's Cold War aims -- it is important to point out as well that the NDP's proposal to use the military to do the work that used to be handled in conflict zones by NGOs makes the latter's work all the more difficult, since it blurs the distinction between armed parties and civil society, putting NGO workers at risk.
After pointing out all these reasons why I could not support the NDP, my friend at the NDP war room pleaded with me for my support. How can I vote for bloodshed and misery, I asked, whether it is delivered from the skies, from a warship, or through the hunger that millions will suffer to pay for all this?
Ultimately, it comes down to a choice: will we continue to choose the path of the gun, so successful that over 100 million lives were lost as a result during the 20th century (which excludes the millions who died because all the funds they needed to sustain life were sent to the war departments of the world)? Or will we seek another way? So far, those with any hope of forming the next government have made their unfortunate choices clear.
Matthew Behrens is an Ontario social justice advocate and freelance writer.

A Quarter Century of Protesting Canada’s Weapons Fairs: Come to CANSEC protests June 1 in Ottawa.

(An exploration of some of the history leading to the nonviolent direct actions planned June 1 in Ottawa)

On June 1, groups of people who have in past years stood in protest outside the gates of Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park, home to Canada’s largest weapons bazaar, will attempt to go inside, carrying with them the Nuremberg Principles. The nonviolent direct action, organized by the likes of Homes not Bombs, the Raging Grannies, the Radical Relics, and the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, is working under the banner of Spring Nuremberg Action Group (SNAG).

SNAG’s proposition is simple: the Nuremberg Principles, which arose as a means of trying to develop an international legal order that would prevent the kinds of crimes that occurred during the Second World War, should be applied today as a means of shutting down Canada’s war industries, which are aiding and abetting crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. Canada’s own Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program states: “A person is considered complicit if, while aware of the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the person contributes directly or indirectly to their occurrence.”

It’s not a new idea. At the end of May, 1989, Canada’s largest weapons fair, ARMX89, was confronted by the most dangerous threat faced by the merchants of death: democracy. Democracy came in the form of a large rally of some 3,000 people who came to Lansdowne Park, followed the next morning by a blockade of all entrances that saw almost 200 people arrested and thrown into detention. It was a welcome harvest of resistance that had grown from the seeds planted by a small group of candle-holding vigillers who had previously gathered in 1987.

While many of us sat chained together both at the Ottawa police station and then at the detention centre, weapons dealers from apartheid South Africa, torture regimes in Latin America, and dictatorships from around the globe, including China, were present. (Indeed, equipment similar to that used in the Tiananman Square massacre was on display at ARMX89). The basis for the nonviolent civil disobedience was clear: such weapons bazaars clearly violated Canada’s war crimes act, and Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark would be subpoenaed to testify at our trial.

Needless to say, the threat of us turning our trial into a legal referendum on the weapons trade was too much too handle, and charges were dropped against all of us within two weeks. Ottawa City Council passed a resolution banning such weapons shows on municipal property, and ARMX went looking for a new home for 1991. It thought it found one in Carp, a small community outside of Ottawa, but when members of the now defunct Alliance for Nonviolent Action and the still thriving Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade publicly stated that the 5 police cells in Carp would in no way be a match for the even greater numbers of nonviolent resisters who would come to shut down the show, ARMX 91 was cancelled.

The show came back in 1993, retitled “Peacekeeping 93”, but again large numbers, unimpressed with the Orwellian name change, came and resisted. Eventually, the show was condemned to a Washington, DC hotel, kicked out of the country. Since that time, a few small groups have carried on with the anti-war work that is necessary to create a peaceful society, their numbers occasionally enlarged in reaction to international events such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Among those groups, Homes not Bombs has continually organized rallies and nonviolent direct actions at Canada’s leading weapons manufacturers, and the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade has faithfully documented the criminal behaviour of such corporations for over two decades both on its website and its excellent newsletter, Press for Conversion.

But the weapons industry, like any plague, never rests, and slowly started coming back in the form of CANSEC, which for a number of years has been a showcase not only for weapons dealers promoting horrific means of killing people, but also high-tech surveillance and control systems designed to be used against demonstrators seeking democracy, refugees seeking sanctuary, and peoples seeking their national liberation. Since 2003, demonstrations organized by a variety of groups have occurred at CANSEC.

This year, for the first time in a long while, though, there will be an attempt to confront CANSEC with nonviolent resistance in the form of an attempt to enter the grounds and determine whether or not those inside will publicly sign their adherence to the Nuremberg principles, which prohibit the preparation and organization for wars of aggression.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other wars of aggression that have been waged this past decade by the U.S., Britain, and Canada with the technology of Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, Northrup Grumman, and so many others, can safely deduce that Nuremberg’s legacy has been ignored (perhaps in large measure because, viewed in perspective, Nuremberg was a form of victors’ justice, not applied to the crimes committed by Allied forces. This despite the statement from US Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Justice Robert Jackson, who stated “while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment."

(Notably, former US Secretary of War Robert McNamara fessed up to Allied criminality in the film Fog of War, in which he stated “[General Curtis] LeMay said if we’d lost the war, we’d all have been tried as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing [ie, firebombing Japanese cities] would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”)

Since their proclamation in the late 1940s, so-called Western Nations have violated the Nuremberg Principles with the saturation bombings of countries around the globe, the development and implementation of torture states, and the genocidal use of economic sanctions against the people of Iraq, among many others crimes.

While previous German executives of a number of companies at CANSEC (Krupp, Flick) were in the dock at the Nuremberg Trials, others have contributed to crimes that have not, unfortunately, been officially condemned because they have been committed by the winning sides in fights that are usually lopsided to begin with. Most of the CANSEC exhibitors, like the rest of the world, had full knowledge about the questionable pretexts used by the Bush administration in the 2003 act of aggressive war and subsequent horrors committed against the people of Iraq (as well as the devastating sanctions that claimed the lives of over 1 million people). The millions murdered in Southeast Asia, in Korea, throughout Latin America, and so many other parts of the globe in the name of fighting communism and fighting terrorism also fit into this picture.

When a group of Homes not Bombs and Catholic Worker resisters attempted to get members of the Canadian military to sign on to the Nuremberg Principles in 2003, during Canada’s participation in the war against Iraq (yes, Canada WAS a part of that!), we ended up in the jug. The group, Spring Nuremberg Action Group, had tried to throw a snag into military operations, and for the better part of a day CFB Downsview was on lockdown, hiding out from the forces of democracy.

In 2011, SNAG has been resurrected and will be the organizing principle behind nonviolent actions June 1 at CANSEC. It’s an opportunity to connect what is built and sold in Canada with the crimes we see daily across the globe.

It is safe to assume, for example, that the regimes massacring the citizens seeking democracy in the Middle East will be at CANSEC. It is a show open to all diplomats in Ottawa, as well as all NATO militaries.

In 1989, then Toronto city councillor Jack Layton got on one of the school buses taking demonstrators to Ottawa, leading songs as he played guitar there and back. Some 22 years later, he is now the official opposition leader, complementing a governing party that makes for a House of Commons in which no sincere anti-war sentiments will be expressed for four years (unless, of course, we can get them to changer their dangerous direction)

With opposition and government in agreement—war is the best way to solve society’s problems, and that is why Canada will continue to spend $23 billion annually on its military, the largest use of federal discretionary funding– it obviously falls to the citizens of this nation to take things into our own hands. Nonviolent action is a form of direct democracy: when leaders not only fail to act, but by their silence are complicit in these crimes, it is our obligation, under the Nuremberg Principles, to not look the other way, to inquire, to speak out, to protest, and to resist.

Justice Robert Jackson, who was chief prosecutor for the US at Nuremberg, said that “one who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of states." In his opening comments, he also noted “The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”

While the deliberate nuclear bombing of two civilian Japanese cities, as well as the firebombing of cities that were designed to create massive firestorms, murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians, were surely war crimes committed by Allied powers, those crimes did not end in 1945. In fact, they continue to the present day, whether the targeting of dikes in Vietnam by US bombers and the dropping of tonnes of napalm on a poor peasant society, the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Iraq (including the power grid, knowing this would increase mortality because it would shut down water cleaning facilities), the use of depleted uranium-coated weapons, and a host of other crimes. That list grows longer when considering the ill-treatment of war’s victims, whether those taken into prison and tortured, refugees who are blocked at every point from seeking asylum, and those who are literally starved to death while the world spends trillions on the types of killing machines that will be displayed at CANSEC.

This is the conversation we hope to have with those at CANSEC on June 1. It will be but one step in the ongoing struggle to ensure that the needs of people everywhere – clean water, food, housing, daycare, education, health care, safety from violence, etc. – are met, rather than flushed down the rathole of military spending, a cruel and calculated crime which robs the hungry and the poor at the outset and then murders them from the air and on the ground when they rise up to say they will no longer tolerate such inequality.

To join us in Ottawa for the direct action, for the rally and ongoing vigils, and for further information, contact

For further information, visit and also visit

If you would like to make a contribution to the costs borne by those organizing to close CANSEC, cheques can be made out to Homes not Bombs, marked CANSEC in the memo portion of the cheque, and mailed to PO Box 2020, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0. Those funds will help defray the costs of out of town travelers coming to Ottawa, bail and related legal costs, and the organization of events for 2012.

(report from Matthew Behrens of Homes not Bombs,