Canada has exported $19.86 million in “military goods” to Colombia and Mexico over the past five years

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: In 2015-16, Montreal-based Bell Helicopter sold 15 407GXP helicopters to the Mexican Air Force. They are stationed in Zapopan, Jalisco. In 2020, Canada exported $12,295,751.38 of category 2-10 aircraft-related “military goods” to Mexico.

Over the last five years (2018 to 2022), Canada has exported at least $19.86 million in military goods to Colombia and Mexico.

These are countries where Peace Brigades International accompanies at-risk human rights defenders, many of whom experience repression at the hands of state security forces, namely the police and army.

The exports appear to have included: small calibre weapons, ammunition, ground vehicles, aircraft, electronic equipment, imaging equipment, equipment for the production of munitions, software, and technology.

In 2022:

Colombia – $21,111.10 (2-21, 2-22)*

Mexico – $625,160.28 (2-10, 2-11, 2-15, 2-18, 2-21, 2-22)

Total: $646,271.38

In 2021:

Colombia – $88,403.11 (2-6, 2-21, 2-22)

Mexico – $1,084,963.51 (2-10, 2-15, 2-22)

Total: $1,173,366.62

In 2020:

Colombia – $460,338.87 (2-6, 2-21, 2-22)

Mexico – $13,103,875.79 (2-3, 2-10, 2-15, 2-22)

Total: $13,564,214.66

In 2019:

Mexico – $1,517,790.57 (2-1, 2-10, 2-11, 2-15, 2-22)

Total: $1,517,790.57

And in 2018:

Colombia – $310,576.25 (2-5, 2-11, 2-15)

Mexico – $2,657,463.84 (2-10, 2-15, 2-18, 2-22)

Total: $2,968,040.09

Arms sales to Guatemala and Honduras

If we go back five more years – to 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2012-2013 – we find more sales to Colombia and Mexico, as well as Honduras ($4,548.00 of 2-11 in 2016) and Guatemala ($6,000.00 of 2-1 in 2015 and $8,731.00 of 2-13 in 2013).

And if we go back another five years – to 2011-2010, 2009-2007 – we also find more sales of “military goods” to Colombia and Mexico, as well as to Guatemala ($89,708.00 of 2-1 in 2007, $75,310.00 of 2-1 in 2008).

As noted in the chart below, the $171,018.00 in sales to Guatemala in 2015, 2008 and 2007 were small calibre weapons, including automatic weapons.

Militarization of territory in Mexico

In June 2018, PBI-United Kingdom commented in The Guardian:

Your article about Mexico’s security crisis in the run-up to the July elections obscures the fact that strategies purported to tackle criminal violence are often themselves responsible for human rights violations.

Last December Mexico enacted the interior security law, normalising the intervention of armed forces in public security activities and linked to a growing trend in Mexico towards the use of excessive force in situations of social protest. Peace Brigades International (PBI) has provided protection to at-risk human rights defenders in the country since 2000, an experience that has shown us that in the federal states where a security strategy based on militarisation has been implemented, attacks against activists have increased significantly.

The violence linked to the elections is particularly affecting human rights defenders and journalists. While electoral debate focuses on criminal violence and militarised responses, it is concerning that civil society initiatives to tackle human rights issues – such as Chihuahua’s early warning system and contingency plan to address the structural causes of violence against defenders – are being put on hold for electoral reasons. Encouragement of such civil society processes should be the first step in strengthening the rule of law in the country.

It was in this context of militarization and human rights violations that Canada exported to Mexico $4.157 million of military goods in 2018-2019.

Our concerns

PBI-Canada continues to be concerned about the lack of transparency in what is specifically exported, what companies are involved in these exports, the lack of accountability/follow-up by Canadian officials on how these “military goods” may be used against organizations, defenders and communities.

In June 2021, Global Affairs Canada stated: “Canada is monitoring developments in Colombia and will take appropriate action if credible evidence of the inappropriate use of any controlled Canadian product or technology is identified, including to perpetrate or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law.”

And yet Global Affairs Canada does not appear to proactively initiate independent and credible investigations, publicly report on concerns it might have, or publicly comment on the dissonance between human rights violations documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups and the continued sale of military goods to countries implicated in these violations.

Journalist David Pugliese has reported in the National Post: “The Ottawa-based CCC [Canadian Commercial Corporation, a federal Crown corporation], which helps Canadian exporters get contracts with foreign governments acknowledges it conducts no follow-up to ensure exported Canadian-built equipment isn’t being used to abuse human rights.”

We are also concerned by the role that the CANSEC arms show in Ottawa plays in the facilitation of these exports/sales.

Photo: Canada will also be present at DSEI, the world’s largest arms show that attracts 40+ international delegations, this coming September 12-15 in London, UK.

And we remain concerned that beyond the figures reported by Global Affairs Canada, that some of the $1 billion in military goods exported by Canada to the United States every year may be re-exported as “security assistance” by the U.S. to Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico where it may be used against organizations, defenders and communities.

While transparency has somewhat improved in recent years, Project Ploughshares has previously highlighted this concern in Transfer of Military Equipment to Colombia Exposes Loopholes in Export Controls (March 2001).

Their briefing highlighted the sale of 40 surplus Bell CH-135 Huey II military helicopters to Colombia via the United States between September 1998 and February 2000 did not require a Canadian permit because they were refurbished in the U.S. before being sent to Colombia.

They add: “This loophole is a major one, since significant levels of Canadian military exports are of components and subsystems used in the importing country for the manufacture of weapons systems which are in turn sold to third countries.”

Video: On May 2, 2021, Colombian security forces used helicopters to assault a peaceful protest in the Siloé neighbourhood of the city of Cali. We remain concerned that Canada sold forty CH-135 helicopters (between 1998 and 2000), twelve 212 (between 1994 and 1996) and four 407 helicopters (in 2013-14) to the Colombian police and military.

Bell CH-135 (CUH-1N) helicopter. Photo by Santiago Rivas.

We continue to follow this situation and to ask for both greater transparency/accountability with respect to Canada’s arming of security forces that violate human rights and repress organizations, defenders and communities.

*Global Affairs Canada categories of “military goods”:

2-1: Smooth-bore weapons with a calibre of less than 20 mm, other arms and automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 mm or less and accessories.

2-3: Ammunition and fuse-setting devices, and specially designed components.

2-6: Ground vehicles and components.

2-10: Aircraft, lighter-than-air vehicles, unmanned airborne vehicles, aero-engines and aircraft equipment, related equipment and components, specially designed or modified for military use.

2-11: Electronic equipment, military spacecraft and components not controlled elsewhere.

2-13: Armoured or protective equipment and constructions and components.

2-15: Imaging or countermeasure equipment, specially designed for military use, and specially designed components and accessories.

2-18: Equipment for the production of products referred to in the Munitions List.

2-21: Software.

2-22: Technology.


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