In recent decades, Canadians have felt increasingly detached from the misery of war, and consequently, take their human security for granted. As they turn on the news and educate themselves on war-zone conflict, they question the morality of callous governments and war criminals. While such outrage is necessary, it is time that Canadians stop deflecting blame on global actors: instead, they must introspectively investigate the role that the Canadian government, corporations, and investment managers play in the perpetuation of war. The Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) invests hundreds of millions of dollars in the world’s top weapon manufacturers, casting Canadians who pay into the plan as complicit in profiteering from genocide and arming militaries, rebels, and child soldiers. In addition, the Canadian government exports billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia, making Canada a participant in the Saudi-backed Yemen war. Samantha Nutt, the founder of War Child Canada, in her book Damned Nations says, “War profits from our disinterest.” We cannot continue to denounce wars abroad, while ignoring the deep-rooted war patronage networks that the Canadian government and Canadian businesses participate in and profit from.
Canadian Pension Plan (CPP)
The CPP is a taxable benefit that mandates that all Canadians, apart from Quebecers, over the age of 18 (who are employed and have a salary) to contribute a percentage of their earnings. The CPP provides contributors with a partial replacement of their earnings in the event of retirement, disability, or death. These funds are invested by the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Canadians are eligible to receive CPP payments when they turn 60. Canadian pension funds invest in some of the world’s most environmentally unconscious warfare corporations, which often violate labour-rights, in the name of a care-free retirement. In 2012, the CPP portfolio amounted to $675 million worth of stocks in 36 of the world’s largest weapon manufacturers. The CPPIB mandate specifies that they have “one singular objective: to maximize long-term investment returns without undue risk.” They explain that they have an “investment-only mandate, unencumbered by political agendas and insulated from political interference in investment decision-making.” Therefore, the CPPIB focuses on maximizing profit irrespective of the product or service that the corporation they are investing in provides. With this in mind, the CPPIB has a rationale for their hefty investments in the war industry — investments in weapon manufacturers have proven extremely lucrative due to their guaranteed high returns. For example, in 2010, the combined military revenues of the top-100 war industries accounted for $419 billion USD. Frankly speaking, Canadians are able to enjoy the fruits of retirement at the expense of mass murder and destruction around the world. Consequently, there is a precedent set that the business of war supersedes crimes against humanity including, inter alia, mass murder, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. By both contributing to and benefitting from the CPP, Canadians are complicit in strengthening the unjust and destructive system of war.
Backroom Deals With Saudi Arabia
The hypocrisy exhibited by the Canadian government does not end with pension plans. Despite the brutal murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, by Saudi Arabian agents in 2018, and the subsequent condemnation by the Liberal government, Canada has continued to approve permits for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In 2019, Canada’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia more than doubled, and nearly $2.9 billion CAD worth of military equipment was transported. Combat vehicles that Canada sells to Saudi Arabia have been active in the devastating civil war in Yemen. The United Nations Human Rights Panel has recently called out Canada for aiding in fuelling the war in Yemen, urging Prime Minister Trudeau to stop arms trade to Saudi Arabia. As the Saudi government obliterates Houthi villages in Yemen, and blocks access to humanitarian aid for two million Yemeni children, Parliament idly sits by. Yemen’s civil war has been declared the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. When Canada deploys military or peacekeeping missions in response to humanitarian disasters, we are fighting the weapons that we have manufactured with more weapons that we manufacture, perpetuating an undying cycle. From investing in war to aiding production for war equipment, the Canadian government continually demonstrates that they are in the business of profit, rather than the practice of ethical politics.
Is International Law Enough?
Fortunately, there has been a policy proposition to address deficiencies in arm trading. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was signed into force in 2014 as a multilateral treaty to regulate the international trade of conventional weapons. The treaty is a piece of legislation that advocates for common and legally-binding international standards for import, export, and transfer of conventional arms with an aim to promote responsible action and transparency, reduce human suffering, and contribute to international peace. The ATT treaty ends outright defiance to international policies as it ensures that state-parties do not authorize a transfer of arms when there are UN arms embargoes instated, or on the grounds of substantiated speculation that military machines will be used for activities constituting serious violations of international human rights. After much anticipation, Canada signed onto the ATT in 2019. Despite its accession to the treaty, the Canadian government continues to uphold their arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the CPPIB continues to invest in war manufacturers. Trudeau justifies such violation by stating that the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia is consistent with Canada’s foreign and defence export requirements, citing “no conclusive evidence” of misuse of weapons.
Call to Action
There must be a shift beyond looking at profit margins to considering the moral implications associated with war. When countries allow corporate interests to infiltrate the practice of moral politics, it degrades the very fabric of the legitimacy of political institutions and declarations of democracy. We all have a role to play and must lobby the government to demonstrate that we are not indifferent to profiting off of humanitarian disaster and misery. It is time to call out the Canadian government in its hypocrisy to claim Canada as a beacon for human rights, while actively fuelling human rights abuses abroad. Join Oxfam Canada and Amnesty International in their petitions to end the arms deal with Saudi Arabia and put pressure on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, and put a halt to Canada’s complicity in the Yemen war.
Edited by Amelia Coleman and Arimbi Wahono.
Featured image by Amnesty International Canada.