Calgary: Arms Business Growing Force

Bill Kaufmann
Calgary Sun
26th June 2009

Nobody wants one less thing to celebrate this Canada Day.

But following in the faltering footsteps of our southern neighbour, it's clear we've become a more militarized country, whether it's in the steady diet of propaganda for the Afghan occupation, increased "defence" spending or greater deference to all things martial.

Calgarians needn't look far for another indication -- a growing armaments industry in their own city.

This week, the Calgary branch of U.S. defence giant Raytheon was revelling in a $155-million contract to refurbish the Phalanx weapons system for use on Canadian warships.

That would be fine if the equipment was being used soley to defend the country in missions like coastal patrols. But Canada's increasingly taken on an auxilliary role for U.S. military adventurism around the globe.

Raytheon's Calgary workers also produce optics for a light armoured vehicle deployed in Afghanistan.

It's a weapon used to support a warlord-ridden Afghan government whose brutality and corruption is oxygen for the Taliban insurgency, perpetuating a cycle of conflict and profits for weapons merchants.

Raytheon vice-president Ron Guidinger, a ex-CF-18 pilot, says critics of the industry should take up their beefs with government foreign policy makers.

"We are the means by which they do it," says Guidinger, adding the firm would consider work connected to the Iraq occupation if "it's in the company interest."

Raytheon's northeast Calgary neighbour, General Dynamics Canada, is helping build the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) for the U.S. Marines.

With its amphibious assault capability, this armoured personnel carrier is clearly an offensive weapon designed for regime changing and the securing of natural resources we've recently seen.

A glance at the company's website reveals GD's Canadian arm has supplied fire control systems for a host of heavy weapons employed in Iraq, such as the M1A1 Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle.

Government documents list U.S. and Canadian defence contracts going to smaller Calgary firms for a variety of equipment fuelling and fuelled by conflict. Local industry players say the sector here has ballooned since its birth in 1991 and the future looks bright.

A company in the city's northeast that's produced body and vehicle armour for military purposes is listed on an Industry Canada website as "actively pursuing" sales in Iran and Israel where such plating could be used in suppressing subjugated populations.

Canadian military exports to countries other than the U.S. are subject to federal approval, but critics contend some of the hardware can be moved to restricted states through middle nations.

Israel, despite its gruesome human rights record and illegal occupation, has received Canadian arms and a little-discussed security deal inked with that nation last year raises concerns of a busier weapons pipeline.

But a Canadian arms industry watchdog insists the main issue remains our country's enabling the world's biggest exporter of weapons and war -- the U.S.

"That we are selling them into unsavoury hands elsewhere is a distraction," says Richard Sanders of the group Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT).

"Three quarters of the weapons we sell go to the U.S. and they are the ones really waging wars and killing people." And 90% of the defence components leaving Canada are bound for countries at war, he says.

COAT just finished protesting a massive arms industry bazaar in Ottawa. It's possible given Calgary's gathering prominence in the industry "other, smaller shows could come there," says Sanders.

Chirps a Raytheon employee: "Calgary's not just oil and gas anymore."

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