To get into Canada’s weapons fair, you’ll have to walk through an anti-war protest

Under the watchful eye of local police, more than 100 anti-war protesters obstructed access to Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair Wednesday to condemn war profiteering.

Demonstrators chanting and brandishing banners and signs periodically blocked the vehicle and pedestrian entrances of Ottawa’s EY Center as attendees streamed into the parking lot to register for the annual global defense and security trade show CANSEC.

At 7 am on June 1, 2022, over 100 people showed up to protest Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair. They periodically marched across the entrances to the exhibition center to block attendees on their way to watch Defense Minister Anita Anand’s keynote speech at 8 a m. Photo by Natasha Bulowski/Canada’s National Observer
person dressed as grim reaper waves with a crowd in the background
A demonstrator waves to greet people attending the annual CANSEC arms fair dressed as the grim reaper to protest war profiteering. Photo by Natasha Bulowski/Canada’s National Observer

One protester, dressed in the grim reaper’s signature robe and scythe, stood at the vehicle entrance, waving at drivers as they tried to get through the crowd of anti-war campaigners. An expected 12,000 people and 55 international delegations will attend the two-day event, organized by the Canadian Association of Defense and Security Industries. CANSEC showcases leading-edge technology and services for land-based, naval and aerospace military units to international delegates and top government and military officials.

Early on June 1, over 100 anti-war campaigners gathered outside Ottawa’s EY Center to protest the opening of Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair to condemn war profiteering. In this video, one group of protesters can be seen obstructing access to the venue by slowly marching across one of the vehicle entrances. Video by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

But before attendees could marvel at the weaponry on display inside, they had to pass the protest. Although police worked to keep demonstrators out of the parking lot, a few managed to sneak past and lie down to block cars from entering the lot.

They were promptly carried or dragged away by police.

A protester is being forcibly removed by a policeman
A protester is removed from the area after sneaking past the police line to block traffic at an anti-war demonstration outside CANSEC, Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair on June 1, 2022. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

The protests did not stop the show inside the exhibition centre, where military leaders, government officials, diplomats and politicians mingled amid the latest and greatest military technology. Displays featuring massive armored vehicles, guns, protective gear and night-vision technology stretched as far as the eye could see. After a keynote speech by federal Defense Minister Anita Anand, attendees wandered through more than 300 exhibition booths, browsing the merchandise, asking questions and networking.

Under the watchful eye of local police, more than 100 anti-war protesters obstructed access to Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair Wednesday to condemn war profiteering. #CANSEC

A line of military helmets sit in a row, with a woman browsing in the background
An attendee browses an exhibit at CANSEC, Canada’s largest weapons and defense fair on June 1, 2022. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

For General Motors Defensethe trade show is an opportunity to figure out what the Canadian clientele wants, so the company can build equipment to match requirements that will exist in future programs, Angela Ambrose, vice-president of government relations and communications for the company, told Canada’s National Observer.

While sales “can certainly happen at a trade show,” Ambrose says networking with potential customers and competitors is the main priority, which lays the groundwork for future sales.

Military officials, government bureaucrats, diplomats and general attendees can get a feel for weapons, but while some posed happily with their gun of choice, others were camera-shy.

Not all attendees will want their faces or products photographed “due to the sensitive and competitive nature of the industry and/or security considerations,” the event’s mean guidelines state, adding: “Before recording or photographing any person, booth or product, media should ensure they have consent.”

Those manning the booths kept an eye on photographers, sometimes interjecting to dissuade them from taking photos containing people’s faces.

a gun is in the forground, as three people hold and discuss a different gun in the backdrop
At the annual CANSEC defense fair in Ottawa, attendees examine and ask questions about weapons and other military technology. Photo by Natasha Bulowski/Canada’s National Observer

At the outdoor exhibit, attendees inspected, photographed and posed in armored vehicles and helicopters. Canada’s National Observer was told not to publish photographs of a massive military vehicle flown into the trade show from the US

three men stand outside a helicopter, talking to each other
Helicopters and other large military vehicles are on display in an open-air exhibition at CANSEC, on June 1 and 2. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

Nicole Sudiacal, one of the protesters, said the arms, guns and tanks being showcased at CANSEC “have been directly involved and complicit in wars against the people all over the world, from Palestine to the Philippines, to places in Africa and South Asia. ” Armies, militaries and governments are “profiting off of the deaths of millions and billions of people around the world,” most of whom are Indigenous communities, peasants and working-class people, the 27-year-old told Canada’s National Observer.

A msked protestor holds a sign and chants
Nicole Sudiacal, 27, holds a banner and marches across the entrance to the CANSEC defense fair to obstruct traffic during an anti-war demonstration on June 1, 2022. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

“These are the people who are selling their guns to fight against resistance across the world, who are fighting against climate [action] … they are directly complicit, so we’re here to stop them from profiting off of war.”

A news release from World Beyond War states that Canada is the second-biggest weapons supplier to the Middle East and has become one of the world’s top arms dealers.

Lockheed Martin is among the wealthy corporations at the trade show and “has seen their stocks soar nearly 25 per cent since the start of the new year,” the news release says.

Bessa Whitmore, 82, is part of the Raging Grannies and have been attending this annual protest for years.

An elderly woman in a blue raincoat stands, holding a sign that condemns the annual CANSEC weapons and defense fair in Ottawa.
82-year-old Bessa Whitmore protested CANSEC along with over 100 anti-war campaigners on June 1, 2022. Photo by Natasha Bulowski / Canada’s National Observer

“The police are much more aggressive than they used to be,” said Whitmore. “They used to let us walk here and block the traffic and annoy them, but now they’re being very aggressive.”

As cars slowly moved with help from the police, Whitmore and other protesters stood in the rain, yelling at the attendees and disrupting to the best of their ability.

She is sad to see cars lined up to “buy weapons that are going to kill people somewhere else.”

“Until it comes here, we won’t react… we’re making a lot of money selling killing machines to other people.”

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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