When I yanked the beige census form from my overstuffed mailbox last week, two thoughts crossed my mind: damn you, flyer deliverers who ignore my homemade “no junk mail” sign; and poor Munir Sheikh.
When Lynn Marie Murphy opened her census form, she thought of bombs and fighter planes. She knew something I didn’t know — that the federal government has paid Lockheed Martin about $81 million for “optic recognition” software to process the mailed-in census forms.
That’s right, Lockheed Martin — the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, which is building Canada those F-35 fighter jets at a price tag still unknown.
I did some research and discovered Murphy was right.
Since the late 1990s, the weapons manufacturer has branched out into information technology systems, landing its first contract for the U.S. Census in 2000. It seems an odd fit for a company that builds “tactical battlefield missiles,” spy satellites and warships. But, according to the company’s 2010 annual report, information systems now make up 22 per cent of its $46 billion net sales.
The United Kingdom followed its American ally’s path and contracted Lockheed Martin for its census in 2001, and in 2004, Canada jumped on board, too. We paid Lockheed Martin $61 million for its software to scan — and therefore, automate — our 2006 census forms, and then more recently, another $19.7 million for updates for the 2011 census. (In the government’s defence, Lockheed Martin was the only company to bid on both contracts, according to Statistics Canada’s census manager Marc Hamel.)
That means when you fill out your census form and mail it in, you are unintentionally supporting a war machine.
This disturbs me.
Two clear protest movements have been built over this since 2006.
The first calls for guerrilla tactics — using Roman numerals or filling out the census form with your weaker hand, so Lockheed Martin’s scanning system can’t decipher your answers and Statistics Canada is forced to process your form the old-fashioned way, with human eyes.
“That way you are nullifying the cost savings Lockheed Martin creates,” explains Don Rogers, a former Kingston councillor who created the protest website Count Me Out (www.countmeout.ca). His initial concerns that Lockheed Martin would have access to Canadian’s private information have been assuaged by Statistics Canada, which insists only its employees run the system. But the underlining moral issue still remains. “Those four Canadian soldiers killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan? They were fired from a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter.”
The second movement is civil disobedience. While the Conservative government has made the long-form census voluntary, the short form is still mandatory. Right on the envelope it states: “Complete the census — it’s the law.”
Since 2006, at least three Canadians have been tried for refusing to comply. All three were found guilty, but only one was fined in the end, and only $300 at that.
Sandra Finley was the last. She was once the leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan, and ran — unsuccessfully — as a candidate in Saskatoon last week. Although she was found guilty, the judge let her off the hook — ruling that she needn’t pay a fine, go to jail or have a criminal record. But she is still appealing on moral grounds.
She considers Lockheed Martin’s business not just immoral, but illegal under both Canadian and international humanitarian law. Case in point: Canada signed the international convention on cluster munitions, banning the use of the scattering bombs. Lockheed Martin profits off cluster bombs by manufacturing the steering mechanisms for the bombs.
“Lockheed Martin is the No. 1 beneficiary of dropping bombs on Iraq, an illegal war of aggression made possible through deliberate lies,” she writes on her website. “It’s not right that our tax dollars enrich them.”
The Canadian census contract is pocket change for Lockheed Martin. It’s scraps for the Canadian government, too. There are bigger targets if we want to protest our taxes padding the coffers of the American military machine — like those fighter jets, which the parliamentary budget officer estimates will cost us $29 billion.
But there is something insidious here. You expect the government to buy weapons from a weapons manufacturer. You don’t expect it to shop for office equipment there. It warns of a creeping militarization of our country.
I asked the woman who alerted me to this what she planned to do.
“I really would like to complete the census, as I think the information collected is important, but I’m not willing to participate in it on these terms,” said Murphy, a 41-year-old teacher.
She called Statistics Canada and lodged a complaint. And she’s refusing to complete her form.
“This is a company that is about violence and death and destruction and all kinds of cultural imperialism and I, in good conscience, can’t be part of that.”
I have another week to complete my census. I plan to go the guerrilla route, answering numeric questions with math equations.
What will you do about it?
Catherine Porter’s column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org