Canada's Peacekeeping Myth
By Richard Sanders
The belief that Canada is a major force for global peace forms the basis
of a powerful myth that is integral to our culture. This myth shapes the
image that we have constructed of ourselves and moulds the way that others
see us. Like all myths, it has very little basis in reality.
The symbolic gestures and diplomatic postures that our government parades
in public, compose a carefully calculated mask to hide their
behind-the-scenes actions. Our government makes proud statements about
restrictive arms trade guidelines while encouraging and assisting military
producers to make deals that undermine international peace and security.
During this, the UN Year for a Culture of Peace, Canadian peace activists
will continue to challenge our national "peacemaker" myth by helping
face the truth about this country's real role as a "war maker."
this, it is important to expose Canada's active participation in:
* the international arms trade,
* undeclared wars against Iraq, Somalia and Yugoslavia, in the 1990s,
* the provision of weapons testing ranges (air, land and sea) for use by
* a military alliance that threatens to use nuclear weapons, i.e., NATO,
* the proliferation of uranium and nuclear power plants.
International Arms Trade
Canada was the world's ninth largest arms exporter in 1997.1 We ranked
even higher, however, in terms of our military exports to the "Third
World." In that category, we ranked seventh. Data on Canada's
exports are contained in reports published by the Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), called Export of Military Goods
from Canada. These reports are significantly flawed. They omit all
on military exports to the U.S., which is by far, our largest buyer. The
magnitude of this flaw is evidenced by DFAIT's estimate that 80% of
Canadian military exports in 1997 went to the U.S.
As anyone who has written to protest Canada's military exports will know,
DFAIT is proud of its 'guidelines' governing military exports. These
guidelines state, in part, that: "Canada closely controls the
military goods and technology to countries that are involved in or under
imminent threat of hostilities... and whose governments have a persistent
record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless
it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods
might be used against the civilian population."
These guidelines are worse than toothless, they are essentially
meaningless. They do not state that Canadian companies cannot sell
military equipment to governments engaged in war, or that might be used
against civilians. They merely state that such sales will be
controlled." In the bureaucratic, through-the-looking-glass world
government bureaucracies, "closely controlled" can actually refer to
concerted efforts to assist corporations in their relentless drive to
increase military exports (as long as that increase is "closely
DFAIT's most recently published policy document on aerospace and defence
sector exports, states that: "China, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan
the Philippines offer potential for Canadian defence products....
Australia offers important opportunities for defence...in addition to good
prospects for the development of strategic alliances aimed at penetrating
markets in Southeast Asia.... Countries such as Chile, Argentina, Mexico
and Peru represent emerging markets that require strategic positioning by
Canada and Canadian A&D [i.e., "aerospace and defence" (sic)]
especially in terms of follow-up to the success of Canadian participation
at FIDAE '96 [Latin America's largest arms bazaar!]. The Middle East
remains an important market, particularly for defence-security firms....
The region accounts for more than 40% of all defence-product transfers and
is expected to absorb over $150 billion by the year 2000. Saudi Arabia
expected to purchase $32 billion worth of military equipment and other
targets include the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait."6
Aiding and Abetting Wars
During the 1990s, Canada exported military equipment to several
governments engaged in war. Chief among these was, of course, the U.S.
that has always been Canada's largest purchaser of military equipment.
Even during the worst excesses of the 1960s - during the Vietnam War, when
three million people were killed in Southeast Asia - Canadian industries
were assisted by our government in ensuring a steady supply of military
hardware to fuel the U.S. war machine.
The fact that the U.S. has engaged in more interventions and invasions
than any other country this century has never stopped the Canadian
government from actively promoting military exports to our friendly
neighbour to the south. Neither have Canada's military exports been
stopped because the U.S. has armed, financed, trained and equipped dozens
of covert wars, organized death squads, backed military coups against
elected governments, undermined and rigged elections, assassinated foreign
leaders and propped up ruthless dictators who offer bargain basement,
union-free factories and all-round cheap access to natural resources.7
In 1991, the U.S. led the devastating war against Iraq, and with the
support of Canada and the UN, has lead the economic blockade which has
killed almost two million people! Canada also supplied military hardware
to many of the other "coalition forces" which participated in that
1998, the U.S. overtly bombed Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan.
One might reasonably expect that the U.S. government's standing as the
world's rogue superpower and its unbridled thirst for starting wars and
backing military dictatorships, should mean that it would be subject to
more arms export restrictions than other, less violent governments.
Unfortunately, as usual, the opposite is true. Our government has never
placed any restrictions on military exports to the U.S. In fact, there
only one country for which Canadian companies have never been required to
obtain military export permits from our government. That country is, of
course, the U.S.
In the 1990s, DFAIT permitted military exports to at least 17 governments
that engaged in wars during the late 1990s.8 These mostly internal wars,
which SIPRI and the Center for Defense Information called "major armed
conflicts," were in: Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India,
Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka,
Turkey, the United Kingdom, Yugoslavia and Zaire. Canada's declared
military exports to these warring nations, during the 1990s, totalled just
over $300 million.
One need only examine the evidence amassed here to see that Canadian
corporations and the government are still very much complicit in crimes
against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Some of the
governments purchasing Canadian military hardware are notorious for
violating human rights. Many so-called "security" forces armed
are well known to routinely engage in torture and extrajudicial executions.
In 1998, the following countries purchased Canadian military hardware,
even though torture by their military and/or police was reported that year
by Amnesty International to be "widespread," "endemic,"
"officially sanctioned," "frequent" or
"commonplace": Argentina, Brazil,
China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Turkey and Venezuela.
Between 1990 and 1998, the Canadian government permitted the military
exports to numerous undemocratic and repressive regimes. For instance,
Canada has sold arms to:
* Brunei, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman: Countries which have never had any
* Bahrain: Its only legislature has been dissolved by decree since 1975;
* Kuwait: Women still do not have the right to vote or stand for election;
* Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritania, Morocco, Lebanon, Pakistan,
Singapore, St. Vincent, Togo and Turkey: Women held less than 5% of the
seats in parliament in 1999;
* Bahrain, China, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE: Unions, strikes
and collective bargaining are strictly outlawed; and
* India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mozambique, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia,
Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and UAE: Central governments spent more on
their militaries than on health and education combined.
Canada is selling military hardware to foreign police and military
institutions that are well known to be regularly and systematically abusing
human rights. The regimes that our government continues to prop up are
guilty of the most extreme forms of civil rights violations: secret
arrests, unfair trials, cruel treatment of prisoners, torture,
disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Economic and social rights
education, health, housing and employment are ignored or undermined by many
recipients of Canadian military exports. Canada is selling tools of war
and repression to many regimes spending vast amounts on security structures
to quell demonstrations and strikes by those striving for a better life.
For several years, the UN has declared Canada to be the best place in the
world to live. Does this privileged rank depend upon exploiting our
position in an unjust global economic order? When purchasing inexpensive
products from farms, mines and factories around the world, we might ask
ourselves: Why are these products so cheap? Do the workers receive fair
wages? Are their living and working conditions safe and healthy?
Dismantling the myth of "Canada the Peacemaker," is one step toward
building a culture of peace in which citizens refuse to support
corporations and governments that are profiting from war and repression.
Richard Sanders is co-ordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)
541 McLeod St., Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 5R2
Tel.: 613-231-3076 Fax:
Web site: www.ncf.ca/coat
BACK TO PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
Home | How
You Can Make a Difference | Problem Identification
Proposals/Solutions | Information
Resources | Who's Who | Upcoming
© 1998. Permission to reprint is granted provided
acknowledgment is made to:
The Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace
Last update: 16 Oct 2000