Organizing Against Canadian Militarism

What's Going On?

Despite what many Canadians may think (or want!) Canada is no peacekeeper. Instead, Canada is taking on a growing role as colonizer, warmonger, global arms dealer, and weapons manufacturer.

Here are some quick facts about the current state of Canadian militarism.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Canada is the 17th largest exporter of military goods in the world, and is the second biggest weapons supplier to the Middle East region. Most Canadian arms are exported to Saudi Arabia and other countries engaged in violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, even though these customers were repeatedly implicated in serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Since the beginning of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in early 2015, Canada has exported approximately $7.8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, primarily armored vehicles produced by CANSEC exhibitor GDLS. Now in its seventh year, the war in Yemen has killed over 400,000 people, and created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Exhaustive analysis by Canadian civil society organizations has credibly shown these transfers constitute a breach of Canada’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which regulates the trade and transfer of weapons, given well-documented instances of Saudi abuses against its own citizens and the people of Yemen.

In 2021, Canada exported more than $26 million in military goods to Israel, an increase of 33% over the previous year. This included at least $6 million in explosives.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation, a government agency that facilitates deals between Canadian arms exporters and foreign governments brokered a $234 million deal  in 2022 to sell 16 Bell 412 helicopters to the military of the Philippines. Ever since his election in 2016, the regime of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has been marked by a reign of terror that has killed thousands under the guise of an anti-drug campaign, including journalists, labor leaders, and human rights activists.

Canada is a country whose foundations and present are built on colonial war that has always served primarily one purpose–to remove Indigenous people from their land for resource extraction. This legacy is playing out right now via militarized violence that continues colonization across Canada and particularly the ways that those taking a stand at the climate frontlines, especially Indigenous peoples, are regularly attacked and surveilled by the Canadian military. Wet’suwet’en leaders, for instance, understand the militarized state violence they are facing on their territory as part of an ongoing colonial war and genocidal project that Canada has perpetrated for over 150 years. Part of this legacy also looks like military bases on stolen land, many of which continue to contaminate and harm Indigenous communities and territories.

It has also never been more clear the way that militarized police forces enact terrible violence from coast to coast, especially against racialized communities. The militarization of police can look like military equipment donated from the military, but also military-style equipment purchased (often through police foundations), military training for and by police (including through international partnerships and exchanges, such as in Palestine and Colombia), and increased adoption of military tactics.

Its outrageous carbon emissions are by far the largest source of all government emissions, but are exempted from all of Canada’s national greenhouse gas reduction targets. Not to mention the devastating extraction of materials for war machines (from uranium to metals to rare earth elements) and toxic mine waste produced, the terrible destruction of ecological systems caused by the past few decades of Canada’s war initiatives, and the environmental impact of bases.

A report released in October 2021 demonstrated that Canada spends 15 times more on the militarization of its borders than on the climate financing intended to help mitigate climate change and the forced displacement of people. In other words, Canada, one of the countries most responsible for the climate crisis, spends vastly more on arming its borders to keep migrants out than on tackling the crisis that is forcing people to flee from their homes in the first place. All this while weapons exports cross borders effortlessly and secretly, and the Canadian state justifies its current plans to buy 88 new bomber jets and its first unmanned armed drones because of the threats that the climate emergency and climate refugees will cause.

Broadly speaking, the climate crisis is in large part caused by and being used as an excuse for increasing warmaking and militarism. Not only is foreign military intervention in a civil war over 100 times more likely where there is oil or gas, but war and war preparations are leading consumers of oil and gas (the U.S. military alone is the #1 institutional consumer of oil on the planet). Not only is militarized violence needed to steal the fossil fuels from Indigenous lands, but that fuel is in turn highly likely to be put to use in the commission of wider violence, while simultaneously helping to render the earth’s climate unfit for human life.

The Canadian Forces have the largest public relations machine in the country, with over 600 full time PR staff. A leak revealed last year that a Canadian military intelligence unit illegally data-mined social media accounts of Ontarians during the pandemic. Canadian Forces intelligence officers also monitored and compiled data on the Black Lives Matter movement in Ontario (as part of the military’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic). Another leak showed that the Canadian military had spent more than $1 million on controversial propaganda training linked to Cambridge Analytica, the same company at the centre of the scandal where personal data of more than 30 million Facebook users was illegally obtained and later provided to Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for their political campaigns. The Canadian Forces is also developing its skills in “influence operations,” propaganda and data mining for campaigns that can be directed at either overseas populations or at Canadians

Canada ranks 16th highest for military spending globally with a defence budget in 2022 that is about 7.3% of the overall Federal Budget. NATO’s latest defence expenditures report shows Canada is sixth-highest among all NATO allies, at $35 billion for military spending in 2022 — a 75 per cent increase since 2014.

While many in Canada continue to cling to the idea of the country as a major global peacekeeper, this isn’t supported by the facts on the ground. Canadian peacekeeping contributions to the United Nations are less than one percent of the total—a contribution that is surpassed by, for instance,  both Russia and China. UN statistics from January 2022 show that Canada ranks 70 out of 122 member states that contribute to UN peacekeeping operations.

During the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have promised to recommit Canada to “peacekeeping” and to make this country a “compassionate and constructive voice in the world,” but since then the government has instead committed to expanding Canada’s use of force abroad. Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged may have pledged to build a military capable of boosting “combat” and “peacekeeping” forces alike, but a look at its actual investments and plans shows a true commitment to the former.

To this end, the 2022 budget proposed to bolster the Canadian army’s “hard power” and “readiness to fight.”

What We're Doing About It

World BEYOND War Canada is engaged in educational and activist work to demilitarize Canada and Canadian culture, while working with World BEYOND War members around the world to do the same globally. Through the efforts of our Canadian staff, chapters, allies, affiliates, and coalitions we’ve held conferences and forums, passed local resolutions, blocked weapons shipments with our bodies, divested funds from war profiteering, and shaped national debates.

Our work in Canada has been extensively covered by local, national, and international media outlets. These include TV interviews (Democracy Now, CBC, CTV news), print coverage (CBC, CTV, Global, Haaretz, Al Jazeera, London Free Press, Journal de Montréal, Common Dreams, Now Toronto, Canadian Dimension, Media Co-Op) and radio and podcast appearances (Global morning show, CBC Radio, Darts and Letters, Talking Radical, WBAI, Free City Radio). 

Here are some of the campaigns and major projects we’re working on right now:

Solidarity with frontline struggles facing militarized violence
This can look like us spending weeks at the Wet’suwet’en frontlines where Indigenous leaders are defending their territory while confronting militarized colonial violence, and organizing direct actions, protests and advocacy in solidarity. Or us covering the steps of the Israeli consulate in Toronto with a “river of blood” to highlight Canadian complicity in the violence being carried out through ongoing bombings in Gaza. We’ve blocked access to North America’s biggest weapons fair and carried out high profile direct actions in solidarity with Palestinian, Yemeni, and other communities facing the violence of war.

Our Work in Summary

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Canada’s Proxy War

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