The F-35 Lightning II planes arrive at Edwards Air Force Base in California in this May 2010 file photo. CNS photo/Tom Reynolds, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Handout via Reuters

Peace activists decry Canada’s F-35 purchase

  • January 19, 2023

Spending $19 billion now and $70 billion over the next 40 years to buy 88 F-35 fighter jets is not wise, moral or even democratic in the eyes of peace activist and Sister of Service Mary-Ellen Francoeur.

The Order in Council authorizing the Department of National Defence to purchase the first 16 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, to be delivered in 2026, leaves Francoeur scratching her head.

“The F-35 is just immoral as a decision right now. Also, just plain not wise,” said Francoeur.” 

It’s not so much fiscal responsibility or Canadian control over its own defence and foreign policy that motivates Francoeur’s opposition to the F-35, or indeed to any fighter jet. She stands firm on Christian conviction.

“How do we say we don’t want to go in this direction anymore? This is not the way. It’s certainly not the way of Jesus,” she said. “We need to learn the way of living together. There will always be conflict, so how can we learn to deal with those conflicts early in the process — not waiting until someone has already thrown a bomb at us.”

Doug Roche doesn’t worry that if Canada buys nuclear capable bombers the next step will be a nuclear-armed nation. But he does worry.

“They are combat planes,” said Roche. “It’s an instrument of warfare that draws Canada deeper into NATO’s militaristic policies.”

The founding chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the United Nations, former senator and Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament was made a Knight Commander in the Order of St. Gregory for his lifetime of dedication to peace. Roche is well aware that there are malign actors and good reasons for defence spending.

“I’m not arguing for no defence,” he said. “I’m arguing for a balanced perspective and a balanced political action to build the conditions for peace in the world.”

How much money gets diverted into the military-industrial complex is not irrelevant in Roche’s eyes.

“The immense amount of money that Canada will spend on the fighter jets is a theft from the poorest people of the world — who also need to share in security, in human security,” he said. “The Ukraine war is an example that we cannot get security out of militaristic policies. We need a combination of diplomacy and social justice at the root of public policy.”

For long-time Catholic peace activist Dwyer Sullivan, who sits on the boards of Conscience Canada and Community Peacemaker Teams, it’s a question of priorities.

“Jesus’ message wasn’t to go buy guns and kill people. It was to look after the homeless and the vulnerable,” he said. “If Christians are going to follow Jesus’ mandate, I don’t foresee Him carrying a long-range assault rifle. I see Him using money to help people.”

The nuclear-capable long ranger fighter-bombers built by Lockheed Martin at a cost of $85 million (U.S.) per plane are not part of a defence policy, Sullivan argues.

“People need to realize that these F-35 jets are offensive weapons, capable of carrying nuclear bombs,” Sullivan said. 

Defence analyst Jim Fergusson calls the fighter jet decision unavoidable.

“This is about the only thing we can buy,” said the deputy director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies. “The (Boeing) Super Hornet is old now. We’re not going to buy that. It’s out of date… The only other option we had was the Saab Gripen, which is not capable to deal with the threat environment.”

As for the cost, there’s no way out, said Fergusson. 

“The argument that it’s too expensive falls on its face, because all modern military equipment is expensive. You can’t get away from it,” he said. “We can’t produce it cheaper. We can’t produce anything about this. So we are dependent on our allies and what they produce — the Americans.”

Fergusson doubts that not buying the planes would result in governments spending $19 billion on housing and social programs.

“They are two different things we are talking about. Government policy issues with regard to social programs, etc. — housing, for example — those are going to run independent of how much we spend or don’t spend on defence items, like the F-35,” he said.

Looking further afield, Sullivan is also highlighting the next $84.5 billion military purchase on the horizon — a naval upgrade aimed at bolstering Canada’s Arctic defence. Over 65 years, 15 new warships will cost Canada $306 billion to own and operate, according to an October report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Roche worries that the drive to integrate Canada’s military capabilities with NATO and Norad has not been balanced by a stronger Canadian voice on collective defence policy — that as we buy American planes we’re buying into American militarism. Canada’s historic option for multilateralism has not fared well in the process leading up to the F-35, in Roche’s view.

He also worries that we may get the war we prepare for.

“The Ukraine war may well be viewed in history as the opening stages of World War III. As long as the two major antagonists — you may say three if you include China — the United States and Russia are not engaged in direct warfare against each other, it’s hard to say that World War III has actually started. But the elements leading up to a World War III are certainly in play.”

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