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Unwarranted Influence: Canada's Military-Industrial Complex and the Environment, 1940-1980

Sat, March 28, 8:30 to 10:00am, Delta Ottawa City Centre, Floor: 1, Ballroom B

Session Submission Type: Complete Panel


The “military-industrial complex” is defined as an informal alliance between a nation’s military and defence industries. The term gained popularity following President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address in January 1961 in which he warned Americans about the powerful “conjunction of an immense military establishment and large arms industry” and its potential for acquiring “unwarranted influence” in the councils of government.

Academics quickly heeded the warning by investigating the political, economic, and social repercussions. More recently, scholars such as Edmund Russell, Jacob Hamblin, David Zierler, and Whitney Lackenbauer have revealed the startling environmental legacies, but more research is needed in this critical area.

Using a range of newly declassified archival materials, this panel explores the environmental history and public health impact of the military-industrial complex, by focusing on people and places not commonly connected to it. Collectively, the panelists demonstrate that, between the 1940s and 1980s, Canada developed a military-industrial complex that generated significant pollution and profound consequences for nearby communities. This prompted a variety of responses from affected populations and mobilized social movements seeking greater transparency, regulations, and reparative actions.

Alex Souchen’s paper uses the decontamination of munitions factories after the Second World War to demonstrate how contemporary interpretations of toxicity limited remediation efforts and left behind polluted landscapes filled with explosive materials. Meredith Denning’s paper traces the transboundary monitoring regime that emerged in response to residents’ complaints about wartime pollution and the evolving structure of Canadian-American relations. Matthew Wiseman’s paper explores the boundaries of national security, public knowledge, and environmental activism by recounting the history of weapons testing at the Suffield experimental range in Southern Alberta in the 1960s. Robynne Mellor’s paper examines the public health controversy and environmental activism surrounding the uranium refining facility at Port Hope and the significant contamination generated by its radioactive tailings in the 1970s.

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