Gun violence in the United States has spun out of control. Last July we witnessed a man enter an Aurora, Colorado theatre wearing a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet and bullet-proof leggings. He was armed with grenades, a 12-gauge shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun. Seventy people were wounded after he opened fire on the unsuspecting audience and 12 people lost their lives.
More recently, another man entered an elementary school on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut, carrying a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and two hand guns. Twenty children between the ages of five and 10 were killed along with six adults.
This event reignited the ongoing debate over gun control laws in the U.S. and ways to mitigate the atrocious number of victims of firearm homicides. In 2011, there were 11,493 homicides in the U.S. resulting from firearms compared with 598 in Canada. From all counts, Canadians look squeaky clean in terms of its ability to regulate gun violence at home, yet we are far from innocent when it comes to our culpability in weapons production and dissemination on a global scale.
According to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report, Canada was the 12th biggest arms dealer in the world in 2011. The stats used to compile this report do not include deals with the U.S., which accounts for the bulk of Canada’s arms exports. Some experts estimate Canada to be more accurately ranked at sixth place when accounting for weapons sales to the U.S.
On the eve of the Newtown massacre, an amendment was made to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List, which allows Canadian arms manufacturers to sell firearms, weapons devices and components to Colombia, a country plagued by guerilla warfare and the world’s largest cocaine producer. Other countries on the list include Canada’s 27 NATO allies, Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Botswana.
The Foreign Affairs and International Trade website states that weapons and devices may be exported to countries in the AFCCL only under the approval of the Export and Import Permits Act. This means that every international transaction must undergo an approval process. It also means that many weapons, like fully automatic weapons, that are banned in Canada, are being made in Canada to be sold elsewhere.
In 2011, Canada approved $12 billion in weapons exports, including $4 billion worth to Saudi Arabia, which used Canadian-made armoured vehicles to quell civilian protests in the early days of the Arab Spring. General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ontario, supplied the weapons that wounded hundreds and killed at least 30 people during a protest against the Bahrain ruling family in March, 2011.
While Canadians smugly pride themselves on boasting low levels of firearm-induced homicides, homegrown weapons manufacturers are profiting from the deaths of innocent civilians around the world.
Additionally, the Canada Pension Plan relies on investments to some of the world’s top weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, the company responsible for producing most of the world’s military munitions, ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft.
People were horrified by the Newtown and Aurora massacres last year — but many Canadians remain unaware of our involvement in and propagation of these events that increasingly threaten the lives of innocent civilians. Moreover, the tragedies of ordinary lives lost can’t be extricated from the atrocities of war, for they are both at the mercy of a similar evil.
If we are going to see any improvement in the reduction of gun violence in the U.S. and elsewhere, we must recognize and address Canada’s economic entanglement in the weapons manufacturing industry. The life of a U.S. citizen, a Bahraini protester, a Colombian farmer or a child in elementary school should be of greater value than corporate profits.
It is time for Canada to get its priorities straight and become more globally responsible. Let’s stop investing in war and death, and use our intelligence and technology to promote peace and a high quality life for everyone on the planet.