Canada rated just better than Iran in terms of arms control
As it turns out, Canada's burgeoning arms industry has become one of its best-kept secrets.
An increase in weapons exports over the past ten years leaves Canada as the world's sixth-largest exporter of military hardware, representing an increase of $374 million annually between 1997 and 2004 alone.
Perhaps the natural impulse is to view this information as good news for Canada's defense contractors, and it is. But, as with most issues, there is actually more to be considered here.
A CBC investigation has discovered that it's very hard to determine to whom these weapons were actually exported. Over at least the past four years, no detailed report regarding these exports has been released -- not even to Parliament.
According to a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, "technical glitches" in an online reporting system are to blame for the lack of transparency. Four years of them (at least).
If one were to think that claim stretches the margins of credulity, they probably wouldn't be alone.
Small Arms Survey, a Geneva, Switzerland-based group, recently rated Canada's transparency regarding arms sales a mere 11 out of a possible 20. Iran has a rating of 10.5.
When one considers that Iran was recently busted trying to smuggle F-14 components through Canadian territory, this rating is a very ominous matter indeed.
Revelations such as this would be alarming under any circumstances. When one considers, however, that Canada is currently at a state of war, it becomes even more worrisome. After all, Taliban forces in Afghanistan are clearly being equipped by someone. While the majority of the actual weapons themselves are known to have been left behind by the Soviet Union following their disastrous Afghan quagmire, the ammunition itself is an entirely different matter. After more than 25 years of fighting, one could expect that Soviet-era ammunition stockpiles would effectively be depleted.
When one considers that ammunition, in particular, is one of the hardest defense articles to track (and for obvious reasons), this particular issue represents an intolerable shaking of Canadian faith in Canada's ability to regulate its own arms industry.
We can probably rest assured that Canadian firms are not selling to the Taliban. That being said, the Canadian public apparently can't determine who Canadian arms contractors have been selling to, or ascertain the fate of those weapons once they reach their destination.
In particular, weapons exports to the United States aren't tracked at all, due to secrecy guarantees dating back to the 1940s.
When one considers that the US' annual surplus auctions are among the poorest controlled arms sales methods in the world today, this is cause for alarm as well.
The time has long passed for Canada to step up to the plate and start regulating weapons sales properly. Particularly when Canadian soldiers are risking their lives in a foreign war zone (as well as on a number of peacekeeping missions), it is the responsibility of the Canadian government to ensure that weapons and ammunition sold by Canadian firms don't find their way into the wrong hands, and the public has the right to be assured that the government is doing this.
Proper transparency regarding Canada's arms industry is the best way to start.
After all, as in most things, when you're doing only marginally better than Iran, something is clearly wrong.