Content Warning: Mentions of war, colonial violence, and trauma.
On Oct. 22, two CF-18 jets sped over McGill’s Percival Molson Memorial Stadium at 4:04 and 4:08 p.m. to mark the start of the Montreal Alouettes’ football game against the Toronto Argonauts. While McGill, the teams involved, and the press all attempted to warn the public in advance, many were still alarmed and frightened by the blistering noise. Flyovers are environmentally damaging and expensive displays of militarism that are potentially traumatizing, and we need to scrap them for good.
It is no coincidence that flyovers often happen in tandem with sports games—there is a long history of sports being militarized. The Alouettes are even named after a squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), a fact used to help justify the recent flyover.
Creating a celebratory spectacle out of fighter jets normalizes war and militarism, which is incredibly dangerous. The CF-18, manufactured by Boeing and adapted from the U.S. Navy F/A-18 aircraft, is heavily armoured and equipped to carry guns, rockets, and bombs. This is a war machine, most recently used to carry out strikes in Libya, Iraq, and Syria, killing and wounding civilians. It is deeply troubling that flying an aircraft with such a legacy of destruction over a football game is not only normalized, but is lauded as a spectacle of patriotism and militarism.
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have a dark legacy that should not be celebrated: The institution was in large part created to perpetrate a legacy of colonial genocide against Indigenous peoples, and continues to do so today. In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau increased defence spending and resources in ‘Canada’s’ Arctic under the pretense of Russian aggression, a move that threatens the sovereignty, well-being, and livelihood of Indigenous peoples living in the region.
In addition to perpetuating colonialism domestically, a culture of militarism upholds neoliberal and imperialist practices of military intervention abroad. These oft-patronizing and paternalistic interventions almost always fail, leading to greater suffering and instability. Glorifying the military through flyovers ignores and tacitly condones all of these egregious practices.
Further, for many, flyovers are not just a momentary, shocking loud noise. Rather, the roaring jets can evoke past experiences in conflict zones, potentially triggering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for refugees and veterans alike. According to the Canadian government, 10 per cent of war zone veterans have PTSD, with many more reporting related symptoms. It is ironic and distasteful that flyovers purport to honour veterans’ service while potentially retraumatizing them.
The overarching environmental impacts of the military-industrial complex that flyovers advertise are also enormous. A CF-18 consumes hundreds of litres of fuel every hour. In 2011, RCAF jets burned through 8.5 million litres of fuel during a six-month period as part of “Operation MOBILE” in Libya. The relationship between the climate crisis and security is often neglected, while in reality, they should be recognized as interlocking problems that must be addressed simultaneously. Notably, while promises of environmental action are on the tip of many politicians’ tongues, most have steered clear of addressing the planetary harm stemming from the defence apparatus. This represents a wider trend: The pervasive fear of speaking out against militarism in a post-9/11 world dominated by powerful defence contractors and pro-war rhetoric.
Finally, there are many important needs that taxpayer money should and could be funnelled into, and flyovers are not one of them. In 2015, the RCAF spent $2 million on flyovers. Education, fair wages, racial justice, housing, healthcare, climate action, and so many other necessities should take priority. To dismantle the pervasive culture of militarism, protect those who have experienced trauma, and reduce carbon emissions, flyovers must be grounded once and for all.