Is Canada exporting already-authorized military goods to Israel to uphold “the supply chain” over human rights conventions?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.

Is Canada choosing to export “military goods” to Israel approved prior to January 8, 2024, based on commercial “implications” while disregarding human rights commitments in the Genocide Convention and the Arms Trade Treaty?

On March 19, the House of Commons passed a motion — in a 204 to 118 vote — stating Canada will “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas.”

The Trudeau government weakened the original wording of the motion that had called on Canada to “suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas.”

The Globe and Mail has reported: “By mid-day on March 18, one source said, more than 70 Liberal MPs had told the whip’s office that they would vote with the original version of the motion. Several sources said the government expected that number to keep rising to between 80 and 90. Others believed it could climb even higher, opening the possibility that the motion would pass.” This prompted the government to “scramble to convince New Democrats to accept amendments and avoid exposing deep divisions in the governing party.”

According to NDP Member of Parliament Heather McPherson, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly approached her before the vote and pushed for the softer language on arms exports because: “They didn’t want the liability of cancelling arms contracts.”

The following day, the Canadian Press reported this statement from Global Affairs Canada: “Since Jan. 8, the government has not approved new arms export permits to Israel and this will continue until we can ensure full compliance with our export regime. …Given the nature of the supply chain, suspending all open permits would have important implications for both Canada and its allies.”

As such, export permits issued before January 8 are still in effect.

This is significant because The Maple has reported: “The Trudeau government authorized at least $28.5 million of new permits for military exports to Israel during the first two months of the state’s brutal war on Gaza… The information provided by GAC does not indicate the time period for which the newly authorized permits are valid for, meaning not all the goods may have been exported in 2023.”

The case of LAV exports to Saudi Arabia

Back in April 2016, then-Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, defending the controversial decision to export Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, told the House of Commons: “It was to honour the signature of a contract.”

He then added: “I have the power to allow the export permit or revoke them according to the behaviour of the country regarding human rights on the use of the equipment. The equipment has not been misused since 1993.”

Then in February 2018, speaking on the same issue of LAV exports to Saudi Arabia in the context of C-47, legislation that would bring Canada in accord with the Arms Trade Treaty, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland highlighted: “Canada will honour, to the greatest extent possible, pre-existing contracts.”

The Canadian Press added: “Freeland said Canada’s word as a ‘trusted partner’ in international negotiations has to be protected.”

At that time, then Amnesty International Secretary-General Alex Neve rightly commented: “Honouring contracts is no defence to or justification for action that may lead to serious human rights violations.”

Brief suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

In August 2018, in response to a Foreign Affairs Department tweet expressing concern about human rights in Saudi Arabia, their government responded by implementing a freeze on “all new trade and investment transactions”.

Then in November 2018, Canada announced it would review all Saudi arms sales and freeze new export permits.

But by September 2019, a Global Affairs Canada briefing note to Freeland stated it had found no credible evidence linking Canadian exports of military equipment to human rights violations by Saudi Arabia.

And the ban on new export permits was lifted by April 2020.

In March 2023, The Breach reported on the likely reasons Canada upheld its contract to sell LAVs to Saudi Arabia: “Cheap reliable oil, new markets for Canadian corporations, and a heavily-armed proxy for Western countries. According to a document obtained by The Breach, these are among the reasons Justin Trudeau’s government continues to send massive amounts of weapons to Saudi Arabia.”

The Arms Trade Treaty

It is also notable Dion and Freeland made their arguments before Canada formally became a State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on September 17, 2019.

Now, Kelsey Gallagher of Project Ploughshares comments: “Under Article 7(7) of the ATT, States Parties are encouraged to reassess previously approved arms exports when new information emerges after the initial authorization of an export permit.”

That new information could include the January 26th ruling by the International Court of Justice that found it plausible that Israel’s actions amount to genocide.

It could also include the statement on March 26 by UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese who found: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide…has been met.”

Albanese further specified: “Israel has committed three acts of genocide with the requisite intent: causing seriously serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent birth within the group.”

As such, according to Albanese, Israel meets three of the five criteria for committing a genocide defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (that Canada ratified in 1952).

A question

As such, the question appears to be: Is Canada, in choosing to export already approved military goods to Israel, valuing “the nature of the supply chain”, and validating past justifications about “the signature of a contract” and its role as a “trusted partner” in international negotiations, above its human rights obligations?

World Beyond War Canada tweet.

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