Reducing the size of the Canadian Armed Forces should be a priority for those of us that want a more peaceful world. It should also be a priority for anyone concerned about the environment.
Rarely is the environmental impact of the Canadian military questioned despite the fact that producing tanks or fighter jets consumes significant amounts of energy and causes many waste products. Once built, planes, tanks and naval vessels all guzzle petrol even if they are rarely used outside of practice drills. For this reason, the Department of National Defense (DND) emits more greenhouse gases than any other federal government agency.
Military pollution reaches the highest clouds and bottom of the ocean floor. According to Navy guidelines, Canadian submarines are permitted to dump oily bilge water into the sea. Similarly, naval frigates are allowed to use the ocean as their trash can. In September 2007 the Globe and Mail uncovered changes to Navy policy that allow ships to dump food waste in the Arctic sea. Considering the extent to which militarism contributes to global warming, it is ironic that the change in policy was partly prompted by rising temperatures in the north that make it more difficult to store waste on board ships.
Even after they are no longer operational, naval vessels continue to pollute the ocean. In April 2007 US and Canadian gunboats (as well as fighter jets) disposed of HMCS Huron 100 km off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Officially, the method of disposal was listed as "firing by naval sea sparrow missiles, aircraft machine guns, and naval gunnery (including MK48 torpedoes)." HMCS Huron was sunk 2 km down to the ocean floor. In response Jennifer Lash, from the group Living Oceans, complained that the military was "treating the ocean like a garbage dump… No one even knows what kind of marine life there is down there."
All across the country ecosystems have been damaged by military training. Barely mentioned in the media, in July Defense Minister Peter McKay announced a whopping $300 million in funding to clean up contamination at an airbase in Labrador.
Government files suggest that there are 92 underwater spots in Canada potentially laden with unexploded ordnance. For nearly half a century, the Army pounded Lac Saint-Pierre, near Trois-Rivières Québec, with shells as big as 155 millimeters (the size of a fire log). DND admits that more than 300,000 projectiles have been tested in Lac Saint-Pierre and they maintain a year round ‘caution zone’ at the lake since there are an estimated 5000 live shells on the lake’s bottom.
First Nations have definitely borne a disproportionate share of the military’s ecological footprint. Under the War Measures Act Native land was often seized and then ruined by the military. Brian Lloyd, a former British Army bomb-disposal expert who cleans up Canadian sites, told the New York Times: "In Canada, the military acted like a giant, using Indian land like stepping stones across the country. You find an Indian nation, and you find range contamination."
The Tsuu T’ina Nation, close to Calgary, was littered with weaponry (such as air-to-ground rockets, 60-pound shrapnel-filled howitzer rounds and explosive mortar shells) used during the Boer War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. But the Army made a halfhearted attempt to clean up its mess. At the start of this decade Tsuu T’ina community member Samuel Simon complained: "In 1981, the military had 1,000 soldiers in here for 16 days. They certified the land free and clear of explosives, and then dumped it back on the nation. Since the military declared the land cleared, we have pulled out one million items of ordnance, expended rounds, live rounds."
There has been limited scrutiny of the Canadian military’s ecological footprint. Ironically, Googling the topic mainly turns up articles about the army protecting the environment. Military statements, for example, describe the Navy’s role defending offshore energy platforms from possible attack and resulting ecological damage. It’s not only army officials that rationalize Canadian militarism from an environmental perspective. In September 2006 NDP leader Jack Layton called on the government to shift the military’s focus from Afghanistan to stopping foreign fishing boats "off our coastline who are coming in and destroying the ecosystems."
Expanding the military’s budget, as the Martin and Harper governments have done, increases the odds that Canada will find itself perpetually at war. If this were not bad enough, militarism also harms our environment.
This article originally appeared in Canadian Dimension. Yves Engler is the author of The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and other books. Available here: http://blackbook.foreignpolicy.ca/