The timing could not have been better for arms manufacturers to gather in Ottawa last week: U.S. troops were tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein in the middle of Baghdad, U.S. lawmakers were approving President Bush's request for $80 billion in new military spending, and Canada's military had just been handed its largest spending increase in more than a decade. So it was an upbeat crowd who gathered at the Ottawa Congress Centre last week for CANSEC 2003, an event billed as "Canada's foremost defence and security exhibition."
CANSEC is organized annually by the Canadian Defence Industries Association (CDIA), a lobby group that represents 300 member corporations. This year's trade show attracted more than 150 corporations and a record 3,600 delegates, including reps from the Department of National Defence, CSIS, the RCMP and Canada Customs.
Visitors in military uniforms and business suits presented an array of weaponry, from machine guns to air-launched missiles. An Israeli arms dealer was busy showing buyers how to aim and fire his newest anti-tank rocket launcher. Down the aisle, others took turns in a U.S.-built attack helicopter simulator, the sound of explosions ringing out as they scored "hits" against computerized opponents.
CANSEC's distinctly military focus draws exhibits from U.S. defence heavyweights. Among the Canadian heavies eager to ink contracts were CAE, Magellan and MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.
The war against Iraq has given the arms industry unprecedented promotional opportunities for its high-tech weapons courtesy of around-the-clock coverage by CNN. United Defense, builder of the light tanks shown racing across the desert toward Baghdad, erected a large display here to showcase its heavy armour.
Defence companies are also using concerns about security and homeland defence to sell new products. CANSEC showed that defence companies are moving from building things that fly really fast and explode to systems that gather vast amounts of information. In the language of the Pentagon, this is the age of C4SRI: command, control, communications, computers, surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence.
Canadian company MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates was recently handed a contract by the government of British Columbia to administer its voluminous databases of information on citizens, despite objections from civil liberties advocates.
According to the CDIA, Canada's defence industry has increased by 47 per cent since 1998 and is now valued at $7.5 billion.
Boeing has the biggest plans for the Canadian Forces. The U.S. defence giant is competing for the $3.1-billion contract to replace the Sea Kings, and is also promoting its huge C-17 transport aircraft for the air force, Harpoon II and SLAM-ER missiles for the navy and next-generation information systems for the army.
Canada's defence industry is deeply integrated into the U.S. industry. Most of Canada's largest companies are already owned by U.S. parents, and Canadian-owned companies often build close relationships stateside.
At CANSEC, CAE would not discuss details about its recently announced partnership with Boeing to provide modelling and simulation services for the controversial U.S. National Missile Defence shield.
A Boeing official confirmed that the CAE deal was part of a Pentagon strategy to integrate foreign industries into the system. The Canadian government has still not announced whether it will support the missile shield.
The growth of Canada's arms industry and its deep integration into the U.S. military-industrial complex is an issue of increasing concern for Canadians, many of whom are opposed to the war on terrorism. At CANSEC, about 100 demonstrators blocked an entrance to the building, resulting in four arrests.Steven Staples is a defence analyst with the Polaris Institute, a public interest research group based in Ottawa.