Community up in arms over weapons show at Lansdowne

A controversial arms trade show is coming to Lansdowne Park because of a legal technicality that overturns a 20-year city ban on such events.

A 1989 council decision forbids the use of city property for arms trade shows because of the controversy around the exhibition and international sale of offensive weapons.

But Lansdowne Park was transferred from the old City of Ottawa to former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1999, one year before amalgamation, because the city could not afford the property. Under the new ownership, previous city policies were dropped and a new ban on arms shows was not put in place, says city solicitor, Rick O’Connor.

“The ban was not included,” says O’Connor. “[The city] could have said that, but they did not do so in the transfer agreement.”

The trade show called CANSEC coming to the stadium May 26-28 is hosted by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, a non-profit business association.

Residents opposed to the show met earlier this week to discuss strategies to convince the city to reinstate the ban.

“My job is to help you win your objective which is to convince council that it makes so much sense to ensure that no arms trade bazaar is shown on public property owned by the city of Ottawa,” says Cullen.

He outlined ways for people to help get the message across to city council.

 “Government is supposed to reflect the needs and wishes of its community and it will not do that if it doesn’t know or understand or see what it needs to do,” he says. “So, that’s our job.”

Although he called it “a vote we’ve already won,” Cullen says debate around the issue must “start from the basics,” because people can’t dwell on the past.

The contracted event will be the first arms trade show held at a city venue since the ban ended the last show called ARMX at Lansdowne after 1989.

The association has sought Lansdowne  as an alternate venue for the trade show traditionally held at the Ottawa Congress Centre, which is owned by the Ontario government but is currently under construction. The ban still applies to all other city facilities.

Members of both the Glebe Community Association and the Ottawa Presbytery of the United Church of Canada oppose this exception.

“If you have a policy of limiting arms sales facilities then it should also apply to Lansdowne Park,” says Bob Brocklebank, president of the GCA. “It’s just strange that the show is being held because of a technicality.”

There is no proof in the transfer document that justifies dropping former city decisions, says Richard Sanders, co-ordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

“They haven’t actually pointed to any line in the agreement saying this is the proof,” says Sanders.

Tim Page, president of CADSI, confirmed a contract exists with Lansdowne.

“It’s a private trade show, open only to our members,” says Page.

But CANSEC will not be all about weapons, says Patrick Desrosiers, the city’s event services coordinator for Lansdowne Park.

“This is not just an arms show,” says Desrosiers. “It’s about security and a lot of other things.”

Past CANSEC trade shows held at the OCC showcased security and defence products and services that focus on Canadian military requirements.

Critics argue CANSEC does not serve a security purpose.