Griffin Poetry Prize founder and bankroller Scott Griffin is no longer associated with General Kinetics Engineering Corporation, the manufacturer of shock absorbers for armoured vehicles destined for Saudi Arabia as part of Canada’s $14-billion arms deal with the country, a spokesperson for the Griffin Poetry Prize has confirmed.
A CANADALAND investigation earlier this year by author Michael Lista focused on the ties between Griffin’s General Kinetics, an arms deal and the Griffin poetry prize. The largest arms deal in Canadian history will see $14 billion in armoured vehicles sold to Saudi Arabia, a country with a horrific human rights record. The deal raised complicated ethical questions about Griffin’s role as bankroller of Canada’s most prestigious poetry prize, a prize he founded in his name.
Could Canadian poets and literary types decry the treatment of Saudi poet Raif Badawi – and others – under the Saudi regime, while at the same time accepting money which was ostensibly derived from an arms deal with that same regime? The reaction was mixed.
“The most striking thing about this piece is not the business dealings of Mr. Griffin — how has this never been brought up? — but the blasé attitude of the writers who responded to Lista’s investigation,” wrote Jack Hanson in Partisan magazine.
Nevertheless, Lista’s investigative feature brought out into the open what many of Canada’s literary sect say was a widely known, if not widely talked about, fact about the prize and its founder.
And it appears whatever the attitude of the writers, Griffin may have taken note of the outing of his dueling connections, and taken action to remove himself from any perceived conflict.
As of mid-October, any reference to Griffin’s leadership role with General Kinetics was removed from his bio on the Griffin Poetry Prize website.
His Wikipedia page was updated in late October to say he is “previously chairman, director and majority shareholder of … General Kinetics Engineering Corporation.”
And by mid-November, Griffin was no longer listed as a director on the company’s federal corporate profile report.
Griffin took control of Brampton, Ontario manufacturing company General Kinetics in 1996. Less than five years later he found the Griffin Trust which funds the now $65,000 annual prize.
Ruth Smith, executive director of The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry, confirmed via email Monday that Griffin is no longer the chairman, director, and majority shareholder of General Kinetics. Requests for further comment on why Griffin left General Kinetics went unanswered, with Smith noting that Griffin will be out of the country until mid-December.
Following Lista’s piece, Toronto-based author and poet Robert Priest wrote a letter to Griffin asking him to divest himself of the company, and encouraged others to do the same.
Priest said the underlying issue of Canada selling arms to Saudi Arabia remains a problem. He hopes the literary community will still take up the cause.
“Whatever Mr. Griffin’s sale of the company means to the poetry community, the sad fact is that the company is now owned by someone else and whoever that is will surely continue to supply Saudi Arabia with parts for war machines,” he told CANADALAND. “So I just hope that anyone who was troubled at the thought of complicity in this, whether a poet or otherwise, will write a letter immediately to the new government protesting our nation’s participation in a policy so likely to cause civilian oppression and casualties. It’s an opportune moment while Mr. Trudeau is still an idealist to get the deal canceled outright.”
The shock absorbers manufactured by General Kinetics are part of London, Ontario company General Dynamics Land Systems’ armoured vehicles which will be sold to Saudi Arabia as part of a Harper-government negotiated $14-billion arms deal between Canada and the Kingdom. Various petitions and groups have called for Canada to withdraw from the deal, calling out Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record. After referring to the armoured vehicles as “Jeeps” during the election campaign, the newly elected Trudeau government has said it has no plans to withdraw from the contract but will aim to be “more transparent” in its export dealings in the future.