A lone gunman walks into an elementary school carrying an assault weapon with the intent to shoot and kill as many children as he can, days before the start of the Christmas holidays.
The tragic events of the Newtown, Conn. massacre on Dec. 14 which killed 20 children and six school faculty stunned the world and pushed to the top of the U.S. political agenda the need to review gun and ownership rights. While random and senseless violence committed with assault weapons will not end with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, public opinion is growing for an all-out ban on military-style assault weapons.
While the U.S. mobilizes on the gun issue, Canada, just one day before the Newtown massacre offered gun merchants, “new market opportunities to export banned assault weapons to Colombia, one of the world’s most violent countries,” wrote Mike Blanchfield of the Canadian Press.
Reading Mr.Blanchfield’s article in the Globe and Mail, I was outraged. How could Canada, a country not known for gun violence, export under a recommendation of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines to Colombia?
If Canadians don’t tolerate automatic weapons on their streets, or near their schools, why should Colombians?
It seems the recently signed free trade agreement between the two countries looks beyond mining opportunities to also benefit international weapons manufacturers and open up new market opportunities in a country trying to emerge from a decades-old conflict, which every year claims the lives of tens of thousands of Colombians.
According to the senior reporter, selling assault weapons to Colombia would provide “residents of Canada with the opportunity to explore and compete for contracts in Colombia.” Reading the fine print, it seems that the Canadian government wants its residents to become involved in Colombia’s civil conflict.
Yet, Colombians are shunned by the Canadian government when it comes to restrictive visas and immigration reviews. In the Colombian capital, the Canadian Embassy has a closed-door policy regarding Colombians applying for tourism visas. An exception among other consular representations, the Canadian Embassy refuses to give face-to-face interviews with potential visitors, and Colombians must mail in their passports, often waiting weeks before receiving a standard issue “denial” letter.
As a Canadian living for more than 20 years in Colombia, it baffles me how Canada’s foreign policy with this South American country looks to sell weapons, which could end up on a black market and quickly in the hands of a 12,000 strong guerilla force of the FARC.
Then you have the children recruited into the rank and file of many private security forces and armed gangs which roam the countryside committing massacres; such as one perpetrated last November on a farm near Medellín in the town of Santa Rosa de Osos, when paramilitaries shot 10 tomato farmers who refused to pay an extortion. Does Canada really want blood on its hands by indirectly providing the firepower responsible for killing Colombian workers?
There seems to be a sordid double morality in Canada’s engagement with Colombia. As a first world nation, Canada is known for defending civil liberties around the world, and offers immigrants a unique opportunity to make a home of the vast northern country, offering new residents unprecedented access to free health care and education.
The Globe and Mail article claims that Colombia is “plagued” by “serious human-rights abuses” and “its emergence as a world-leading cocaine producer.” Read these words, and Colombia – one would believe – deserves to stay on a Canadian “black list” of rogue countries.
But nothing could be further from journalistic integrity and real, on the ground, truths. Colombia is hardly an emerging cocaine producer. All drug reports published from international governments, anti-narcotics agencies and divisions, even NGOs, show an important decline in cocaine production and exports from Colombia during the last decade. So we are hardly on the “emergence.”
Yet stereotypes are hard to shake off, even at a time when Canadian mining and exploration companies are eager to tap into the rich natural resources of Colombia. With Colombia on a list of nations where prohibited firearms can now be exported, Canada’s open door gun policy with this country seems to contrast with its closed-door policy on immigration.
Colombians may not be welcome to enter Canada as tourists and pump their hard-earned dollars into the Canadian economy, but Canadian “residents” (not necessarily “citizens”) can go after multi-million dollar weapons contracts, which inevitably push up the death toll with massacres and extrajudicial killings in Colombia. The shooting of young sons and daughters in small towns across Colombia doesn’t generate the same coverage as one mass shooting in North America.
While we share in the grief of Newtown’s parents, as a Canadian, I am ashamed that much of our foreign policy with Colombia is arms based. When a civilized nation takes this type of mercenary approach to a friendly regional ally, there seems little interest from Ottawa in helping a brave Colombia forge ahead with its historic peace.