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Keep the military out of universities, urge Montreal activists

National Defence funding does not dictate research, insists war studies director

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Activist Cleve Higgins, U3 Sociology and International Development Studies, views military funding on Canadian campuses as a threat to academic freedom. Along with his activist group, Operation Objection, he’s determined to fight against it.

The Montreal-based group spent the summer tracing the money trail from the coffers of the Canadian Forces, to Canadian universities, all the way to the battlefield.

“Is [the military’s] presence a neutral one? Can that be seen as impartial if they’re receiving funding [from the military]?” asked Higgins. “It raises questions that are problematic about the role of universities influencing foreign affairs issues.”

The group distributed flyers detailing their research to Quebec students during university orientation sessions, and hoped their movement gains momentum nationwide.

Operation Objective formed last year and was active in trying to end military recruitment on Quebec campuses. This year they aim to educate students and lobby student unions to adopt policies condemning military funding.

According to Higgins, military-funded research in science and engineering helps produce weaponry. He feared money aimed at political science and history departments produces political analysis that beats the drums of war, influencing public opinion towards a more militant foreign policy.

Marc Milner, director of the Gregg Centre of the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, disagreed.

“Never once in all the time that I have been involved in any strategic studies program…has anyone phoned me up from Ottawa and told me what to do,” said Milner.

Milner indicated that the Gregg Centre, which focuses on teaching modern military history, receives 25 per cent of its yearly funding, which equaled to $120,000, from the military – the maximum amount a program can apply for.

While this may seem like a lot, Milner noted it represents only a fraction of budgets for larger war studies centres across the country.

He explained that funding from the Canadian Forces comes from the Security and Defence Forum (SDF), which was created in the late 1960s after the Reserve Officer Training Corps – recruiting programs for mobilizing groups of young men and women in anticipation of a third world war between NATO and the Soviet Union – disappeared from Canadian universities.

Milner attributed the growth of nuclear arsenals and the adoption of mutually assured destruction theory as causes for closing the training centres. From then on, universities were required to apply to the SDF for funding.

“The objective of the [SDF] is simply to get a rainbow of opinions across the country…outside of the Ottawa beltway,” Milner said. “Most of the people I was involved with through the SDF were very vociferous against the Canadian deployment of troops to Afghanistan.”

“From our perspective, we think it’s a good thing that the Department of National Defence is actually looking for opinions outside of Ottawa,” he added.

A full list of contracts awarded by the Canadian government, including the Department of National Defence (DND), can be found on the government’s web site and goes back as far as 2005, though the listings lack in-depth detailing.

Operation Objection reported Dalhousie University in Halifax as the highest university recipient of DND funding since 2006.

The Canadian government listed Dalhousie as having received over $5-million from 39 contracts since October 2005.

Courtney Larkin, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, said the issue of military funding had never surfaced on campus during her years in student politics.

“We have a very diverse population here,” said Larkin. “There may be students with that concern, but at this point, it has not been brought to my attention.”

But according to Higgins and the rest of Operation Objection, universities should not be in any way dependent on the branch of the government responsible for occupations of foreign countries.

“We oppose what military research implies,” Higgins said. “The way that we’re responding is by confronting it where it’s associated with us.”

Calls to the Department of National Defence were not returned as of press time.