Proposed Canadarm Sale Draws Critics

Opposition argues sale threatens to put Canada in breach of the 1997 international landmines treaty and could make Canadian technology a contributor to an arms race in space.

OTTAWA (CP) β€” A chorus of critics is calling for a comprehensive review of the proposed sale of two jewels of Canadian space engineering to a huge American arms-maker.
Alliant Techsystems of Minneapolis, or ATK β€” which makes cluster bombs, mines and munitions as well as rocket components β€” wants to buy the Canadarm and Radarsat satellite business from Vancouver-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.
The $1.325-billion sale faces a mandatory review by Industry Canada under the Investment Canada Act.
But critics say the review must examine more than simply the economics of the transaction.
Peace activists and opposition parties argue the sale threatens to put Canada in breach of the 1997 international landmines treaty it helped write. They also claim the sale could make Canadian technology a contributor to an arms race in space.
''This technology could potentially be part of the weaponization of space,'' said NDP industry critic Peggy Nash. ''There are serious concerns about where this technology is going.''
Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, pointed to the Canadian government's past $430-million investment in the Radarsat project.
''While the manufacture (of mines) would not necessarily be in Canada, we would still be in the position of subsidizing β€” through grants and other (technology) subsidies β€” a company that's engaged in that business. That's something we have to think through very carefully.''
ATK is one of two American companies that's been given large U.S. military contracts to produce a new generation of mining systems.
ATK's Spider system, touted as treaty compliant because it can be deactivated and self-destructed, still raises alarms as an ''indiscriminate'' anti-personnel mine, said Paul Hannan, the director of Mines Action Canada.
''We do have significant concerns about the implications of the acquisition,'' Hannan said Thursday from Gex, France, where he's attending a retreat of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
''Since Canada spearheaded the whole movement to ban that weapon and was the first country to sign and ratify the treaty, I think it's important that all companies that operate in Canada understand that under this treaty β€” and under Canadian domestic legislation β€” it's a criminal offence to assist or to use or produce anti-personnel landmines,'' said Hannan.
ATK issued a statement Thursday strongly disputing the critics' assessment.
''It is very important to note that by policy and by law, ATK will only provide NATO countries and other allies with Ottawa Convention-compliant systems subject to U.S. government approval.''
In a separate e-mail, ATK spokesman Brian Cullin noted the MDA employees would ''continue to work in the areas on which they built their industry reputation in space programs.''
And Cullin also noted the Canadian government ''will continue to have the access it desires to the data from Radarsat 2'' and that ''the intellectual property of Canadarm is owned by the Canadian government, is proud property of the Canadian nation, and will remain that way.''
Nevertheless, the optics of selling Canada's feel-good space technology β€” the Canadian flag will remain on the Canadarm as it flies above the International Space Station β€” to an American weapons maker has a lot of critics boiling.
One U.S.-born engineer with MDA quit the company after the sale was announced, telling the CBC he has ethical concerns about his potential new employer.
In a statement Thursday, MDA said it has ''conducted extensive internal communication sessions attended by most of the approximately 1,900 employees who work for the businesses affected by the transaction, and they have asked lots of questions about the transaction rationale, how it may affect them, and about ATK.''
Only one employee resigned, said the company.
''We view the sale to be in the best interest of our employees,'' said the MDA release.
A spokeswoman for Industry Minister Jim Prentice said Thursday that talk of reviewing Canada's international treaty obligations in light of the sale is premature.
''That's the first time it's been brought up,'' said Deirdre McCracken. ''We only heard about the proposed sale last Tuesday.''
She said any review would be ''rigorous and the purpose of the review is to ensure there's a net benefit to Canada.''
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