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Antiwar protesters call for inquiry into Canadian arms trade amid Israel-Hamas war

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Antiwar protesters moved from Parliament Hill to Ottawa Police Headquarters Wednesday afternoon to protest arrests following a day of demonstrations in Ottawa, including outside a major military industry trade show and on Parliament Hill.

Protesters gather outside Ottawa Police headquarters on Elgin Street. May 29, 2024. (CTV News Ottawa)

Sarah Abdul-Karim, of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said the protest outside police headquarters came after a demonstrator was arrested on Wellington Street as police officers removed protesters from the street, which she described as "brutal" and involving the use of batons. 

"We're out here today demanding their release," she said. "We know that the police actively suppress our protests, consistently."

Earlier, a post on X, formerly Twitter, said a "police operation" was underway to remove protesters from the road. Police have not provided any other information since then.

In an update, police say they responded to multiple demonstrations on Wednesday, "including on Uplands Drive, Elgin Street, and Wellington Street."

The update notes that police made eight arrests Wednesday morning at Uplands Drive -- five men and three women. Three of them remained in custody and are scheduled to appear in court Thursday. 

Protest calls for inquiry into arms trade

World Beyond War Canada (WBW) organized the Wednesday morning protest outside the EY Centre, which is hosting the annual CANSEC conference, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) annual trade show. While CANSEC has faced protests before, this demonstration comes amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and just days after an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah set fire to a camp housing displaced Palestinians, killing at least 45 people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a "tragic mistake."

"The protest was planned to condemn war profiteering in solidarity with Palestinians and people in conflict zones all around the world who have been killed, displaced, and maimed by the weapons being peddled and sold at CANSEC," a news release from WBW said. "The arms manufacturers exhibiting at CANSEC have raked in record profits from the military violence that has brought misery to millions this year – from Palestine to Sudan, from the Congo to Ukraine, from Afghanistan and West Papua to Ethiopia."

During the demonstration, some protesters splashed red paint on the road and laid across it, blocking traffic. A large police presence was in place at the EY Centre Wednesday morning and police said eight people were arrested. Police said Wednesday evening that three people will appear in court on Thursday.

"This is an on-going demonstration, at the conclusion of the event an update with charges laid will be provided," Ottawa police said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

CADSI said the protest did not delay any of its programming Tuesday. Close to 7,000 delegates attended the event.

"We absolutely respect the right to peaceful protest on public property. We worked closely with Ottawa police in the lead-up to CANSEC, recognizing that this right must be upheld while also ensuring everyone’s safety," said CADSI President and CEO Christyn Cianfarani.

Protesters gather outside the CANSEC trade show in Ottawa. May 29, 2024. (Natalie van Rooy/CTV News Ottawa)

Protesters later demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy and then on Parliament Hill to call for an inquiry into the arms trade in Canada.

"A lot of people are upset because there's an ongoing genocide in Gaza right now. People deserve to know how our tax money, our money as taxpayers is going towards supporting the arms industry in Canada," said Adrian She, of the League of Peoples' Struggle in Canada. "We need the inquiry to be independent; that is, at arm's length. This has been done before for things like royal commissions. It has to be in-depth."

Protesters say Canada continues to do business with Israeli arms companies, and accused several large companies of being complicit in the ongoing violence in Gaza, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, and Raytheon Technologies.

"We refuse to stand silent while corporations profiting from our people's genocide are hosted year after year at CANSEC and while our government continues to maintain contracts with these corporations," said Abdul-Karim.

The demonstration blocked streets on Parliament Hill for several hours before police announced an operation to remove protesters from the road.

Later, the protesters gathered outside Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street. 

Protesters gather outside Ottawa Police Service headquarters on Elgin Street. May 29, 2024. (City of Ottawa Traffic Camera)

In March, MPs voted in favour of a non-binding motion that called on the government to "cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel". Earlier this year, government officials said Canada had paused non-lethal military exports to Israel, though export permits approved before Jan. 8 remain in effect.

Defence Minister Bill Blair announced $11 billion for military aircraft training at the CANSEC show Wednesday, as Canada faces questions from U.S. senators about falling short of the NATO target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Natalie van Rooy, Shaun Vardon, and The Canadian Press

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