Local activist group tries to block military funds to Canadian universities
Along with directions to the nearest watering hole and the cheapest eats in and around campus, new and returning Concordia students are learning about the Canadian military’s role in funding their university during this fall’s orientation festivities.
Members of a Montreal-based activist group called Operation Objection have spent the summer following the money trail from the coffers of the Canadian Forces, to Canadian universities, all the way to the battlefield.
They’ve begun distributing flyers detailing their findings to students province-wide and are hoping their movement gains momentum nationwide.
The group formed last year and was active in trying to end military recruiting on Quebec campuses.
Their goal for this year is to educate students and lobby student unions to adopt policies condemning military funding. And hopefully, getting governing boards of universities to do the same.
University research funded in part by the military in science and engineering helps produce weaponry, said Cleve Higgins, a McGill student and spokesperson for Operation Objection. He added that the money aimed at Political Science and History departments produces political analysis that beat the drums of war, influencing public opinion towards a more militant foreign policy.
“Is [the military’s] presence a neutral one? Can that be seen as impartial if they’re receiving funding [from the military]?” asked Higgins. “We don’t know because the contracts aren’t public […] it raises questions that are problematic about the role of universities influencing foreign affairs issues.”
A list of contracts awarded by the Canadian government, including the Department of National Defence, can be found on the government’s website and goes back as far as 2005.
Concordia University is listed as having received $248,192 in five contracts since Aug. 26, 2005 from the military. But the site does not provide details as to what the money is for.
Operation Objection’s research cites a Concordia professor in the Engineering department who received funding for research on guidance control for unmanned aerial vehicles from the military in 2007.
Due to the holiday weekend, Concordia’s administration was unable to be reached for comment, and calls to the student union were not returned.
“We have never once […] never once in all the time that I have been involved in any strategic studies program […] never once has anyone phoned me up from Ottawa and told me what to do,” said Marc Milner, director for the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick.
The Gregg Centre focuses on teaching modern military history, Milner said. He added that professors in the department are “very active publishing scholars.”
The Gregg Centre receives 25 per cent of its yearly funding, equaling $120,000, from the military. It is the maximum amount that universities can apply for, said Milner.
Milner said $120,000 might be a lot for his centre, but it represents only a fraction of budgets for larger war study centres across the country.
He explained that the funding from the Canadian Forces comes from the Security and Defence Forum, which was created in the late 1960s after Reserve Officer Training Corps were closed at Canadian universities. ROTCs were established as a means to mass mobilize groups of young men and women in the event of an anticipated third world war between NATO and the Soviet Union.
The growth of nuclear arsenals and the adoption of the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction ended the need to mass mobilize, considering everyone would be dead after the powers released their missiles, Milner said, and the university training centres were closed. If universities wanted to keep some funding they could apply to the SDF from then on, he continued.
“The objective of [the SDF] is simply to get a rainbow of opinion across the country […] outside of the Ottawa beltway,” Milner explained. “Most of the people I was involved with through the SDF were very vociferous against the Canadian deployment of troops to Afghanistan.
“From our perspective, we think it’s a good thing that the Department of National Defence is actually looking for opinion outside of Ottawa,” he added.
But for Higgins and the rest of Operation Objection, universities should not be dependent in any part to a branch of the government responsible for occupations of foreign countries.
“We oppose what military research implies,” Higgins said. “The way that we’re responding is by confronting it where it’s associated with us.”