Majority Of Canada’s Non-U.S. Military Exports Go To Anti-Democratic Regimes

By Alex Cosh, The Maple, June 6, 2023

While the Trudeau government spent much of last year touting the idea that it was working to defend democracy, a majority of military exports to non-U.S. countries filled the armouries of anti-democratic regimes, according to an analysis by The Maple of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) data.

According to GAC’s recently published “2022 Exports of Military Goods” report, Canadian arms manufacturers exported a total of $2.1 billion in goods to non-U.S. countries last year. Of those, the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia alone accounted for $1.15 billion in goods, more than 54 per cent of the total.

The Maple found that nearly 58 per cent of the total value of all Canadian military exports to non-U.S. countries went to anti-democratic Gulf monarchies, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Kuwait. Each of these countries has also been accused by international monitors of committing serious human rights violations.

For example, the Saudi monarchy has in recent months carried out “callous” executions that followed “unfair” trials, according to Amnesty International, alongside a long list of other serious abuses. The UAE heavily curtails dissenting speech and engages in arbitrary detention, in addition to censoring critical media.

The monarchies of Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman engage in similar acts of repression.

Arming Apartheid

Canadian military exports to the state of Israel in 2022 were valued at more than $21 million.

According to reports published by multiple international human rights organizations in the past two years, Israel maintains a constitutionally entrenched system of apartheid that strips Palestinians of basic rights, and which critics argue disqualifies Israel’s supporters’ claims of the country having the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.

The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is strongly rejected by the Israeli government, pro-Israel groups and allied governments (including the Trudeau government), despite years of evidence documented by Palestinians and international human rights monitors.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israeli forces killed 146 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank last year, making it the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2004.

A total of 315 permits were granted to and utilized by Canadian military suppliers exporting to Israel last year, the highest number among all non-U.S. countries.

Despite Saudi Arabia continuing to account for a majority of Canadian military exports in 2022, such exports fell by approximately 34 per cent when compared with 2021. Exports to Israel fell by approximately 18 per cent.

Exports to Qatar, however, massively increased from just over $19,000 in 2021 to $49 million in 2022. The UAE, meanwhile, saw a more than sevenfold increase in military goods from Canada, with imports jumping from just over $3 million in 2021 to $25.6 million in 2022. Exports to Oman increased fivefold.

The exports to anti-democratic countries run counter to GAC’s stated mandate to “advance democracy” around the world. The ministry’s website claims: “Canada is advancing an inclusive approach to democracy. We want people to participate in decision-making processes and institutions that impact all areas of their lives.”

Meanwhile, GAC’s 2022 military export report states: “The Government of Canada has taken action to strengthen Canada's export controls, which are among the most rigorous in the world and are in line with those of our principal allies and partners in the main export control regimes.”

The report states that since 2019, the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA) obliges the minister of foreign affairs to:

“[...] deny exports and brokering permit applications for military goods and technology if there is a substantial risk that the items would undermine peace and security, or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, acts constituting an offence under international conventions relating to terrorism or organized crime, serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.”

But critics have long questioned the effectiveness of these regulations, particularly since the federal government continued to allow exports of military goods to Saudi Arabia — notwithstanding a brief pause on new permits that was temporarily enacted in the fall of 2018 — despite the Saudi dictatorship’s dire human rights record and brutal military campaign in neighbouring Yemen.

In 2021, Canadian arms monitors found "persuasive evidence" that Canadian-made weapons were being used to carry out that campaign.

Historical Highs

Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with the arms monitoring group Project Ploughshares, told The Maple that the total value of non-U.S. exports for 2022 represents part of a multi-year trend of elevated sales, driven largely by Saudi exports in recent years. Similar spikes in non-U.S. arms exports were seen towards the end of the Cold War and during the “War on Terror” that followed the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“The value of non-U.S. exports have really seemed to go to less-than-democratic countries, to put it diplomatically,” said Gallagher. “The Saudi deal is so large that it really skews the data sets. If you take out the Saudi values, which do equate to more than half, you still see large values going out to less-than-democratic states.”

Gallagher noted that exports to India were also relatively high, with $54.8 million in Canadian military goods shipped to that country. India’s current government under Narendra Modi has been criticized for “viciously” cracking down on political opponents and religious minorities.

The vast majority of export permit rejections last year were due to conflicts with “Canada’s foreign policy and defence interests” — in the case of applications for permission to export to China — and due to sanctions on Russia as a result of its invasion and occupation of Ukraine. A total of 15 export permits were rejected in 2022, and 466 were under review as of last December.

Gallagher said that permit denials can be viewed as a “proxy indicator for the health of an export control regime.” According to a footnote in the export report, "there were no denials specifically related to Canada's [Arms Trade Treaty] obligations," a likely indication that human rights weren’t a direct consideration in cases where permits were rejected.

“Whereas we would want to see permits being denied for human rights considerations, the language used here … does suggest that these were more in the wheelhouse of Canada's foreign policy and defence interests, and not as much related to human rights,” Gallagher explained.

However, he added, “this is where we need specificity in the report to make sense of it.” As well, Gallagher said, the lack of data on exports to the U.S. continues to be the “main barrier to transparency” in understanding Canada’s arms trade, despite some transparency improvements in the 2022 report.

“The story of Canada's arms trade cannot be told unless we have this information,” he noted.

The 2022 report states that Canadian companies exported $47.5 million in military goods to Ukraine. However, the report notes that the federal government has provided significantly more military aid to the embattled country through direct weapons transfers.

What Was Sent?

The vast majority of exports to Saudi Arabia fell under an export category that includes “ground vehicles and components.” Most of these exports were likely part of a highly controversial $14-billion light-armoured vehicle (LAV) deal between General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada (GDLS) and the Saudi monarchy. The deal was first brokered under prime minister Stephen Harper in 2014, but given the final green light by the Trudeau government.

GAC’s export report states that, “Most of Canada’s military exports by value consisted of ground vehicles and their components at $1.30 billion, accounting for 60% of all controlled military exports in 2022.”

Canada recently “restored” its diplomatic ties with the Saudis following a nearly five-year spat between the two countries. As revealed by The Breach in March, GAC documents showed that the Trudeau government’s primary motives for arming the Saudi dictatorship centre around concerns for access to cheap Saudi oil, Canadian corporate interests in the region and military posturing against geopolitical adversaries, like Iran.

Similarly, arms monitoring experts have suggested that geopolitical leverage could be a key consideration in GAC’s apparent push to export more Canadian military goods to Qatar.

The largest categories of items sent to Qatar in 2022 were for “specialized equipment for military training or for simulating military scenarios” and “software.”

As previously reported by The Maple, International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was briefed during a visit to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year that Defence Minister Anita Anand had discussed the possibility of Qatari personnel joining the Canadian Armed Forces’ “developmental courses” as well as Canada providing “collective or individual LAV-specific training” in an October 2022 meeting with her Qatari counterpart.

Sajjan was also instructed to lobby for a potential LAV deal between GDLS and the Qatari monarchy, but the minister told a parliamentary committee in April that he ignored those instructions. Qatar was added to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List (AFCCL) last August, indicating that a large deal was in the works.

It is not clear if the 2022 exports to Qatar were connected to any of these programs. Gallagher noted that the Canadian company CAE makes flight simulators for fighter aircraft and has increasingly looked to expand its role in the Middle Eastern market in recent years.

The bulk of exports to the UAE included “ammunition and fuze setting devices,” “imaging or countermeasure equipment,” training equipment, other “unspecified” electronic gear and “fire control, surveillance and warning equipment.”

Among a wide range of other pieces of military equipment, Israel imported more than $3 million in "Bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges and related equipment and accessories."


Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.


Posted June 6, 2023