Canada

Boys’ games played in secret

Susan Riley July 7 1980
Canada

Boys’ games played in secret

Susan Riley July 7 1980

Boys’ games played in secret

Canada

Susan Riley

While the brightly colored sticksoldiers of the Governor General’s Foot Guards paraded their scarlet tunics and furry hats before appreciative tourists on Parliament Hill last week, some real-life warriors were holding their own manoeuvres less than a block away—and all in utmost secrecy. The American Defence Preparedz ness Association—an alliance (they don’t like the word “lobby”) of military, industry and government officials— chose Ottawa as the site for this year’s conference on “Trends in Large-Calibre Gun Systems.” And although the federal government claimed it was not the official host, it could hardly have been more accommodating.

First, the meeting was held in the government’s own Conference Centre— largely because it is easier to provide security there than at a hotel. All 325 delegates from 10 countries had to have clearance of “secret or higher,” according to the conference program, and anyone who strayed into the building by accident was soon dodging a minefield of armed guards. Meanwhile, inside, delegates listened to Canadian officials and others lecture on such topics as Ad-

vanced Howitzer Technology and the Human Engineering Laboratory Battalion Artillery Test.

Not that the fireworks were restricted to inside the conference centre. Just down the street, in the Commons, New Democrat External Affairs critic Pauline Jewett rose to denounce Canada’s involvement—and, particularly, the participation of a Canadian-based multinational, Space Research Corp. In June, the munitions firm, majorityowned by Montreal engineer Gerald Bull, was convicted in the United States of selling arms to South Africa. In Montreal, Judge Rheal Brunet is inves-

tigating a series of similar Canadian charges against Span Research Corp. (Quebec). An RCMP investigation of Space Research, completed some months ago, has still not been made public, said Jewett. In fact, Jewett also told Parliament that the Canadian government is actually being encouraged by some of its officials to buy Space Research rather than lay charges against it, to keep the financially troubled company afloat. The rationale, according to one Industry, Trade and

Commerce spokesman, is that Space Research is a world leader in the manufacture of long-range artillery systems and that Canada would lose a valuable entrée into the booming international weapons market if the company goes under. There is also the matter of more than 300 Quebeckers employed by Space Research, mostly at the company’s factory on the Quebec-Vermont border, 120 km from Montreal. But for Jewett there is a more important issue at stake: “Is this an area where we really want Canada to be a world leader—the creation of new instruments of destruction?” Besides, she says, if Canada does buy the company—through its Crown corporation, Canadian Arsenals Ltd.—it could become a business partner with South Africa’s state-owned ARMSCOR, which already holds a 20-per-cent interest in the Canadian company. That arrangement would be at odds with the policy outlined by External Affairs Minister Mark MacGuigan at a parliamentary committee meeting last week: “Canada has been very much at arm’s length from South Africa in the figurative as well as literal sense,” he said. “We not only do not supply arms to South Africa, but we do not provide any official kind of government assistance for trade.”

So, while a small band of demonstrators from church and labor groups made plans to picket the armaments conference to protest the South African link, ministers continued to sidestep the issue in the Commons, claiming it will be debated privately by cabinet within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Pauline Jewett got an unexpected phone call. It was a government official inviting her to drop in at the conference. When she arrived early Wednesday morning, she was met by nervous government officials who escorted her to one morning lecture but refused to issue her a carte blanche to wander at will. Her verdict on the basis of one morning inside: “Jargony as hell. Boys’ games.”