Last week’s announcement that Canadian company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) was selling its space business to US firm Alliant Techsystems (ATK) has not gone over well in Canada. A former president of the Canadian Space Agency, Marc Garneau, decried the sale and blamed it in part on a lack of a national space policy that could have funneled more contracts and money to MDA. A day after the sale was announced, the Canadian government announced that CSA president Laurent Boisvert had stepped down, a move that some linked to the MDA sale (although Boisvert actually announced his plans to retire before Christmas, and left on January 1; it took over a week before a formal announcement was made.)
Now, a new, diverse group of people are protesting the sale on other grounds: it violates an anti-landmine treaty. The Canadian Auto Workers, a union that represents some MDA employees, and former Canadian foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, are demanding the Canadian government block the sale because ATK manufactures landmines as part of its armaments business. Canada is a signatory to the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel mines (the US is not). Axworthy and the CAW argue that since the treaty bans the transfer of public funds to companies that produce landmines; MDA’s assets, of course, includes spacecraft and equipment paid for by the Canadian government. Joining the protest is an American-born engineer who quit MDA the day after the sale was announced because of ethical concerns. MDA said that only one employee has quit the company since the sale, and ATK officials said their landmines, sold only to NATO countries and other allies, have features that make them compliant with the convention.