Canada to allow new arms sales

David Webster

The federal government’s on-again, off-again commitment to controlling the international arms trade has declined to almost nothing with the introduction of new legislation aimed at easing the export of Canadian weapons.

Light armoured vehicles (tanks) and automatic weapons are among the goods that will be easier for Canadian companies to sell abroad without special permission under the terms of International Trade Minister Michael Wilson’s proposed new Export-Import Act. Target markets are thought to include the Middle East.

Wilson insists increased arms sales will not undercut Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s efforts to host an international summit on the arms trade. “Mr. Mulroney and (former External Affairs Minister Joe) Clark both specifically mentioned weapons of mass destruction. These are not weapons of mass destruction. These are weapons which are used for conventional defence.”

The changes seem designed to facilitate low-key weapons sales to make up for the likely loss of the high profile ARMX ‘91 arms show. Recent signs are that ARMX ‘91, already postponed from May to September, will be postponed again until May 1992 or cancelled entirely.

ARMX ‘89 at Ottawa’s Lansdowne park showcased Canadian arms production and attracted thousands of visitors from the Canadian Armed Forces and dozens of foreign embassies. None of the construction that would be needed for an event of the same scale has begun in Carp, Ont., site of ARMX ‘91. And ARMX sponsors Baxter Publishing make no mention of the weapons show in the latest issue of their magazine, Canadian Defence Quarterly.

ARMX has become symbolic of Canada’s role in the arms trade as a whole. Favoured customers like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia have sent representatives to the show in past years and subsequently purchased military equipment from Canadian companies. Peace movement opposition, and public outrage at Ottawa’s willingness to sell weapons to human rights violators, have crystalized around ARMX.

Signals over ARMX ‘91 are mixed. Baxter Publishing says ARMX will not be held this September; Ottawa insists the show will go on as planned. But it seems that the battle over ARMX that has been raging in military circles for several months is now drawing to a close.

The April 17 issue of The Wednesday Report, billed an “Canada’s Aerospace & Defence Weekly”, makes the case clear. “If ARMX should by any chance flounder,” the magazine comments in its lead article, “even for reasons unrelated to the coming peacenik offensive, it will be claimed as a victory and greatly boost (the peace movement’s) morale, finances and following. From the highest to the lowest, we should make sure they do not win this round. ARMX should go forward, whatever the cost, irrespective of whatever amount of profiteering the organizers may be accused of doing.”

ARMX, certainly, has foundered. Whether the Canadian arms trade itself is in similar straits is still an open question.

From the ACTivist, June 1991, Vol. 7, Issue 6



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