Written By: Adshake Kunanithy
For many years, Canada was known as the country of politeness. News articles and radios often highlight the billions of dollars invested in foreign aid, donations to countries during pandemic and natural disasters, and their beloved role as peacekeepers in the United Nations. Listening to these achievements, we hold biases and are blinded by the consequences of our “helpful” actions.
In fact, the many years of Canada glorifying their kindness were the same years that they have been trading military weaponry and technology.
Trading Weapons Behind Closed Doors
With the millions and millions of dollars spent on forming trade agreements related to arms and attaining 2289 permits to sell weapons, Canada can export these goods to places like Africa, United States, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
According to Canada’s 2019 Export of Military Goods, Canada exported approximately $3.757 billion worth of military goods and technology such as ground vehicles, firearms, ammunition, equipment, and other components to 82 countries around the world. A huge portion of military exports is generated through the demand of their top customers: Saudi Arabia, representing 76% of the total value of non-US military exports, and Belgium, making up 4% of total non-US military exports (7).
Furthermore, Canada has a major impact on the United States’ arms trade as well. The US currently has the largest share of the arms trade and one of the top exporters in the world. Their success is driven by the Canadian importation of military goods or raw materials like steel and aluminum which can be further manufactured and sent to soldiers in different regions (6).
The reasoning behind the investments made in weapons and the manufacturing of these goods can be puzzling. Multiple sources can suggest the importance of building a military base, protecting countries from conflicts, and increasing national safety and security. However, if you explore the political, social, and environmental situations of these “customers,” you would question the actual use of the weapons and the chaos it creates. One may argue that these trade agreements only serve as a building tool to a strategic partnership (4).
Arms Raised for Peace or For Destruction?
Recently, the arm trade agreements were questioned by Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP party, especially with the increasing tension in Israel and Palestine. For many years, Israel and Palestine have been dealing with a humanitarian crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, the Israeli government has placed severe restrictions on the Palestinians with their armed forces. In 2019 alone, there was live ammunition that caused the death of 34 people and left 1883 injured (10). Recently, there have been many destructions of mosques and broadcasting buildings.
One of the main reasons why governments have the power to destroy many lives is their strict ideologies. However, the fuel to attain these goals and have power runs from the hands that trade arms. Israel imported weapons of over billions of dollars from countries like the United States, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Canada for decades. Canada represents 0.3% of exports between 2009-2021 (1). Since 2015, they have traded $57 billion worth of weapons and 28% of the export are bombing components (11). A notable mention would be their $13.7 million trade of military hardware and technology delivered in 2019 (1).
As mentioned earlier, Israel represents one of the many countries involved in this industry. Another ongoing problem is the trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia, the top importer. In 2014, both governments signed a $15 billion contract to export LAVs, but with the concerns over the death of a journalist in 2018, it has been an issue of concern. The exportation of military equipment leads to another humanitarian conflict, the Yemen War. With political tensions in Yemen, Saudi Arabia decided to intervene with their armed forces to mediate the crisis and increase safety and security measures. Although, when you look at photographs and video evidence, a different story is portrayed: cases of using weapons to attack Yemeni’s citizens (5).
Even though the Canadian government appears hesitant, in 2019, they sold $3 billion of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Some of the equipment includes 30 large-caliber artillery systems and 152 heavy machine guns (2). During the rise of the pandemic, Canada delivered $720 million of weapons (5).
The amount of permits and trade agreements highlight the revenue Canada has gained through the arms industry and their attempt to build relationships with these countries. They have a major influence in the Middle East, parts of Europe and Africa as well, but it is important to recognize that these numbers highlight direct trade alliances. A huge part of Canada’s exportation is selling raw materials or progressed goods which are later manufactured in other countries. Where the materials go, their use and where they are further sent to are somethings Canada struggles to keep track of.
Ethical Behaviour vs. Capitalism
It is important to acknowledge the aftermath of trading weapons especially in countries where there are humanitarian or political crises. No matter how much money Canada donates to countries that are victims of the aftermath, it does erase the bloodstains on their reputation.
The arms trade requires a lot of ethical decision making which is emphasized through the Arms Trade Treaty. A treaty that was in place to “reduce the suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers.” Weapons should not be used to continue war crimes and genocides that have been occurring across the world. Ironically, Canada, which emphasizes equality, signed the treaty while continuing arms trade across the world (12).
To consider the economy from an ethical standpoint, Canada should track their weapons or any trade related to this industry like raw materials and progressed goods. Stronger control would allow them to provide accurate details about the impact of trade in other countries in terms of equality and money. Canada needs to abide by the Arms Trade Treaty as well and focus on assessing areas where they should not trade with certain countries. Parts of Europe were able to achieve this goal while stabilizing their relationship with other countries (13). As a country that prides itself on equality, we should focus more on creating effective measures for even the most lucrative industries.
- Andrews, F. (2021, May 18). Arms Trade: Which countries and companies are selling arms to Israel. Middle East Eye. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-which-countries-companies-arming.
- Cecco, L. (2020, June 9). Canada doubles weapons sales to Saudi Arabia despite moratorium. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/09/canada-doubles-weapons-sales-to-saudi-arabia-despite-moratorium.
- Chavers, M. (9, January 2017). Facebook Plays Whack-a-Group in Illicit Weapons Trade [Photography]. News Ledge. https://www.newsledge.com/facebook-groups-illicit-weapons-trade/
- Cohen, J., & Thrall, A. T. (2020, June 22). Why Does America Sell Weapons To Other Countries? The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/why-does-america-sell-weapons-other-countries-163095.
- Gadzo, M. (2021, January 25). Canada protesters renew push to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Weapons News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/25/protesters-demand-end-to-canadian-arms-exports-to-saudi-arabia.
- Gallagher, K. (2020, September 28). Analyzing Canada’s 2019 Exports of Military Goods report. Project Ploughshares. https://ploughshares.ca/pl_publications/analyzing-canadas-2019-exports-of-military-goods-report/.
- Global Affairs Canada. (2020, September 18). 2019 Exports of Military Goods. Government of Canada. https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/controls-controles/reports-rapports/military-goods-2019-marchandises-militaries.aspx?lang=eng#_Toc38893618.
- Global Affairs Canada. (2020, September 18). 2019 – Exports Permits Utilized and Value of Exports by Region. Government of Canada. [Table 2]. Government of Canada. https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/controls-controles/reports-rapports/military-goods-2019-marchandises-militaries.aspx?lang=eng#_Toc38893618.
- Global Affairs Canada. (2020, September 18). 2019 – Canada’s Top Twelve Non-U.S. Destinations for Military Goods and Technology. Government of Canada. [Table 3]. Government of Canada. https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/controls-controles/reports-rapports/military-goods-2019-marchandises-militaries.aspx?lang=eng#_Toc38893618.
- Human Rights Watch. (2021, May 17). World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Israel and Palestine. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/israel/palestine#.
- Labour Against the Arms Trade. (2021, May 18). It’s time for Canada to end arms sales to Israel. Canadian Dimension. https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/its-time-to-end-canadian-arms-sales-to-israel.
- Martin, C., & Al-Refaei , S. (2021, April 10). Canada joins the Arms Trade Treaty while still selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Oxfam Canada. https://www.oxfam.ca/story/canada-joins-the-arms-trade-treaty-while-still-selling-arms-to-saudi-arabia/.
- United Nations. (2017, October 18). Highlighting Ways to Stop Weapons Flowing into Vulnerable Regions, Delegates in First Committee Call for Stricter Export Controls. United Nations. https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/gadis3584.doc.htm.