Most Canadians like to think of their country as basically a kind and gentle place, certainly with pockets of violence, but essentially favouring peacekeeping and negotiation over war.
Yet, as participants at the Making a Killing workshop at the Millennium Library learned, Canada is complicit in the arms trade through one of its most widely used programs for financial stability, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
On May 8, 2017, a small group of participants gathered in the Carol Shields Auditorium at the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg to hear Richard Sanders of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade speak about an important issue for everyone concerned about ethical investments.
His message might have been a surprise to many peace-loving Canadians; without even knowing it, through a fund that people see as a public good, people are contributing to conflicts in countries around the world.
Most people in this country probably assume the Canada Pension is self-sustaining, based on contributions that all workers except the self-employed are obliged to contribute from their paycheques.
Yet since 1997, CPP money has been invested, not necessarily where Canadians would choose to place their money were they consulted, but rather in whatever is the most profitable, even if that means choosing harmful sectors of the economy.
Some of the industries the CPP supports include sweatshops and the tobacco industry, as the speaker noted, but the arms industry was of particular interest to him and the focus of his slideshow and talk. As the many statistics and financial charts showed, Canadians are investing heavily in the arms trade; everyone who contributes to the CPP, as every Canadian worker is expected to do, is helping to support companies that make modern wars possible.
From building F-35 fighter jets to manufacturing the massive bombs dropped on Afghanistan and Syria, Canadian companies have been deeply involved in many wars, even when Canadian troops have not officially participated. Using slides to illustrate his talk, Sanders highlighted some of the major companies involved in the arms trade, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, among others.
Altogether, the Canada Pension Plan has more than $3.5 billion invested in mining, tobacco, weapons, and oil companies, according to the speaker. Some of the world’s biggest war profiteers are among the companies holding CPP money, including Raytheon, a company whose stock value rose sharply at the outbreak of the Syrian war.
Using these and other statistics, Richard Sanders showed how extensively Canadians are involved in supporting the arms trade, with or without their knowledge. While some audience members, and possibly many other Canadians, might disagree with the speaker’s strong anti-war stance, they could likely see the irony of a government officially advocating peacekeeping while at the same time compelling people to contribute to the war machine.
The Canada Pension Plan’s ties to war might be a surprise to most people, but at least the Making a Killing workshop helped to spread the facts to at least a few participants. As more people learn how much their retirement could cost people in war zones, they might be inspired to become advocates for an ethical pension plan.