Published on
The Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)

Man Takes Stand In Canada: Beckley Native Questions Sale of Half of Company to US Arms Maker

Alison Knezevich

A man from Beckley has made headlines in Canada for quitting his job.For three years, Paul Cottle worked as an engineer at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, an information solutions company in British Columbia.0213 03

In January, the CEO gathered all employees and told them half the company would be sold to Alliant Techsystems, a Minnesota-based arms manufacturer known as ATK.

"I knew [ATK] was nothing I wanted to be involved with," the 31-year-old said. "Leaving my job ... was an absolute certainty that I knew right away."

So he quit right then.

ATK describes itself as "an advanced weapon and space systems company." It is the world's leading supplier of solid rocket motors and the largest U.S. manufacturer of ammunition.

It also makes cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells and landmines.

"I'm not anti-war. I'm not against engineers in my position working for the military or working for an arms company," Cottle said, pointing out that he was hired at MDA to work on a Canadian military project. "What I am against is working for a company that makes weapons that have been shown to be as to harmful to civilians as to soldiers."

He never expected to get so much attention for quitting his job, he said. A reporter in Halifax found out about his decision. That reporter told someone at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Since then, he's done about a dozen interviews with Canadian reporters.

"I was especially surprised about how much the media attention was focused on me personally, as opposed to the sale of the company," said the Woodrow Wilson High School graduate.

Now, Cottle and some others in Canada are trying to spread public awareness about the $1.325 billion sale. They want officials to block the transaction, which still must be approved by both Canadian and American regulators.

ATK wants to buy MDA's information systems and geospatial services divisions, Cottle said. The company would then get control of the Radarsat-2, considered the most advanced commercial radar satellite in the world.

In December, the satellite was launched for the Canadian Space Agency. It is used for both military and civilian purposes and was funded by almost $500 million in Canadian tax dollars, Cottle said.

Cottle and other opponents believe ATK's acquisition would be a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the development, production and use of landmines. The United States has not signed the treaty.

Allowing the deal to go down "would not be in the best interest of Canada," he said.

Cottle is still an American citizen. Three years ago, he moved to British Columbia.

"One of the reasons I came to Canada is so that my tax dollars wouldn't be spent on companies like ATK," he said. "The main reason I came to Canada is because I really, really like it here in Vancouver."

He left West Virginia in the 1990s when he went away to college at Cornell University in New York. He visits West Virginia about once a year, he said.

His father, Jack Cottle, lives Beckley. He is a retired illustrator for the National Mine Academy.

"I'm proud of him," Jack Cottle said of his son. "It's very ethical of him to do. He's very strong morally."

And his son always stood up for what he believed in - ever since he was a Boy Scout, Jack Cottle said.

"He had more merit badges than anybody, and he was on the verge of being an Eagle Scout," he said. "And he told them he didn't believe in God and they kicked him off."

Paul Cottle recalled that incident with a laugh. He was 15 or 16, he said.

When he filled out his application to become an Eagle Scout, he wrote "atheist" when the form asked his religion. Later, he got a letter from the national council telling him he was no longer a Boy Scout.

Representatives of the Boy Scouts National Council met with him and said he could still be a Boy Scout if he would say his religion was "none" rather than "atheist." He refused.

"I'm not really a person I'd say is outspoken," he said. "I do have things that I believe in very strongly and don't compromise on."

Cottle thinks that stopping the acquisition is a long shot, but he's trying anyway.

"I don't think it's impossible," he said. "But it's not very likely."

Recently, some Canadian political figures have publicly questioned the ATK-MDA deal, he said.

Also, "one other guy in my company has quit," he said. "Other people are doing more subtle things."

For example, some people have begun selling black T-shirts with white peace symbols that they wear to work on Wednesdays. Some have circulated petitions.

ATK spokesman Brian Cullin said the company is "very proud of our national security role."

"We do not believe we make any system that's indiscriminate." Cullin said.

He added: "Any of the systems that we deploy overseas are Ottawa Convention [Mine Ban Treaty]-compliant."

As for Cottle, it only took about three weeks to find another job. He now works as an engineer for a medical imaging company - and he even got a raise.

© 2008 The Charleston Gazette

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