Canadian Military Exports: No Change in Volume or Practice

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor June 2001 Volume 22 Issue 2

Both the volume of military exports and Canadian export control practice changed little between 1998 and 1999. Canada still does not fully comply with its existing arms export standards and some equipment sold for military end-use is still neither reviewed nor reported.

Canadian military exports exceeded $1.3-billion in 1999, duplicating the value, adjusted for inflation, of foreign military sales in 1998. Regionally, differences between 1999 and 1998 totals varied, with little change in arms sales to North America (largely to the US), Latin America, and Africa, an increase in sales to the Middle East, and more significant changes elsewhere. Between 1998 and 1999 Canadian shipments of military goods to Asia dropped more than $100-million, declined more than $55-million to Oceania (essentially to Australia), but to Europe more than doubled – from $150-million to $309-million.

Canada closed the first post-Cold War decade with arms exports 15 percent higher than when it began. As shown by Table 1, totals of military goods declined during the early part of the decade to a 1993 low before a general growth in the latter part of the decade, ending with two successive years of greatest sales. The fall and rise of Canadian military exports during this period were mostly the result of exports to the US, which fell and rose in a parallel manner. In contrast, Canadian military exports to the Third World climbed during the early 1990s to reach a peak of more than $350 million (in 1999 dollars) in 1994 before a general downward decline to about $100 million in 1999 (see Figure 1). Most of the rise and fall in Third World sales can be attributed to Canadian arms sales to the Middle East – in particular, exports of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia – which also reached a peak in 1994 and fell off thereafter.

Across the decade, the US continued to be by far the largest recipient of Canadian military goods, with a total of more than $7-billion in exports making up almost two-thirds of all military exports during the period. In all years US sales exceeded exports to all other countries combined, and only in 1994 did non-US sales rival shipments to the dominant US market (see Figure 2). Outside the US, Europe maintained its traditional position as largest regional recipient of Canadian military goods, although the Middle East was the largest non-US regional recipient during the five years 1992-1996. (Indeed, except for the large jump in military sales of 1999, European sales during most of the 1990s lagged behind Canadian sales to the Middle East.) The joint total of exports to Europe and the Middle East represented about one-quarter of all Canadian foreign military sales, while joint total sales to Asia and Oceania made up one-twelfth. Africa and Latin America each received less than one per cent of total Canadian arms during the 1990s.

Meeting standards

In its annual report on military exports, the Canadian government refers to the “close control” of Canadian military goods to countries in four categories of concern. These are countries which pose a threat to Canada, are involved in or under threat of hostilities, are under UN Security Council sanctions, or have governments with a record of serious human rights violations – unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk the goods will be used against civilian populations. Canada also “subscribes to the principles and criteria” (IANSA 1998) of the European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports which obligates member states to take into account inter alia recipient respect for international law, human rights, and constrained levels of military expenditure. Yet the record of 1999 Canadian arms sales demonstrates that Canada again fails to meet proclaimed arms transfer standards.

Table 2 is intended to measure reported 1999 military exports against Canadian export control guidelines and indicators in keeping with the EU Code. Columns two and three (Armed conflict and Rights abuse) are derived from standing export control guidelines concerning countries involved in hostilities or whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations. Column two indicates countries involved in armed conflict in 1999 as defined by Project Ploughshares’ Armed Conflicts Report 2000. Column three indicates states cited for serious human rights violations in 1999 by the respected international human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The government report reveals that in 1999 Canada shipped military products valued at more than $100,000 to six countries hosting one or more armed conflicts and where the government was responsible for serious human rights violations. Another four recipients of Canadian military goods in 1999 were headed by governments with poor human rights records.

The militarization indicator of the fourth column in Table 2 follows criteria developed in a December 1999 report by the UNESCO Chair on Peace and Human Rights of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and four Spanish NGOs – Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Intermón, and Médecins Sans Frontiéres. Along with criteria related to other export control areas, the four criteria used to measure arms recipient militarization levels were intended to assist the Spanish government to evaluate arms exports in light of its obligations stemming from the EU Code of Conduct. The criteria listed recipient countries where

  • the government failed to report to the UN Register of Conventional Arms in 1998;
  • military expenditure exceeded four per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
  • military personnel represent more than 1.5 per cent of the population, and;
  • arms imports exceed three per cent of GDP.

Using these criteria, the report created a list of 42 countries considered highly militarized with criteria at “dangerous levels, typical of war economies.” In such countries the level of armament represents a regional security threat or military expenditures are an excessive diversion from government spending on social needs. Canada exported military goods exceeding $100,000 to eight of these countries in 1999.

The fifth column is a measure of the transparency of arms trade reports by recipient countries. The sole international mechanism for reporting official arms trade data is the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, which annually compiles a report of weapons imports and exports based on voluntary information supplied by states. Canada proclaims strong support for the Register and for transparency in arms trade data, yet it has not made its own arms exports conditional on participation in the UN Register. Ten recipients of $100,000 or more in Canadian military goods did not report their 1999 arms trade transactions to the UN Register.

The results of Table 2 suggest a serious effort by Canada to meet its proclaimed arms transfer standards would necessitate a further restriction of military exports. Although recent Canadian export control practices have improved (see Ploughshares Monitor, March 2000, p. 6), in 1999 Canada continued to export military goods to countries which did not meet Canadian or EU transfer criteria. At a minimum, six recipients of Canadian arms in 1999, subject to three or more of the warning indicators of Table 2, would require severe restrictions on, or denial of, Canadian military exports (Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey). A stricter interpretation, involving countries subject to two or more of the indicators, would result in arms export restrictions to four more countries (Kuwait, South Africa, Taiwan, and Venezuela).

Trade omissions

The annual report on the export of military goods from Canada details the shipment of goods specifically designed or adapted for military use and controlled under Group 2 of the Export Control List (ECL) as defined by Canada’s Export and Imports Permit Act. Group 2 exports, like other ECL-defined group exports, require permits. The exception is Group 2 shipments to the US which are exempted from permit requirements under Canada-US Defence Production Sharing Arrangements. As a result, Canadian military sales to the US, or about two-thirds of total Canadian military export trade, are omitted from the annual report (see Table 1).

Group 2 items of the ECL correspond to the conventional weapons of the International Munitions List agreed to by members of the Wassenaar Arrangement, a group of mostly Western arms supplier states. The munitions list is defined by the technical specifications of products considered military, and it is independent of the end-user. Some Group 2 items are exported to non-military users, such as police forces or, as in the case of some firearms, for private use in sports or hunting.

At the same time, some Canadian equipment exported for military end-use is not included in the Group 2 list and sales details are omitted from the annual report. Canadian-built aircraft, for example, are regularly sold for foreign military use in such roles as transport, electronic surveillance, or maritime patrol. Because the aircraft have civilian certification, however, they do not meet the specifications of Group 2 and the aircraft exports are excluded from the government’s report. Table 3 lists reported examples of 1999 shipments of Canadian equipment for military end-use not included in the military exports report. Based on these examples alone, it is apparent that substantial unregulated trade in Canadian equipment for military end-use exists. If this trade were included, the total for Canadian annual arms sales would increase significantly.

The 1999 report states that “Canada has worked actively to promote greater transparency in the trade in conventional weapons,” noting that the Department of Foreign Affairs “has published an annual report on the Export of Military Goods from Canada each year since 1990.” The addition of detail in recent reports has improved Canadian transparency to a degree exceeded by few other countries. However, the benchmark for international arms trade transparency is low, and the Canadian report should do more than set a standard for countries that report little to nothing on arms exports.

To provide the level of transparency needed to facilitate independent assessment of the risk of use of specific equipment against, for example, civilian populations, the Department of Foreign Affairs would need to provide more detailed information than the generalized categories of the current report. While descriptions such as “firearms,” “rocket launcher parts,” or “aircraft and parts” improve on earlier very broad categories, there remains insufficient detail to determine the likely or potential use of Canadian equipment. It is possible to provide equipment and even supplier names without jeopardizing the commercial arrangements that have become the standard reason for denying greater trade transparency.

The detail of Table 4 government concern about the need for commercial confidentiality. The table is derived from public information released by Canadian companies matched against the details of the annual report. While, in the absence of greater transparency in the report, complete accuracy about equipment cannot be claimed, we can have confidence in most of the table’s information. As much as half of the equipment detail of the 1999 report is in the public domain. The report must now provide the level of transparency necessary to make the remainder known.

1. Details of 1999 Canadian military exports to all countries except the US were released in January by the Canadian government in its Export of Military Goods from Canada – Annual Report. Although not included in the government report, Canadian military exports to the US may be estimated from Pentagon contract figures provided by the Canadian Commercial Corporation.


Amnesty International 2000, Amnesty International Annual Report 2000, London.

Export and Import Controls Bureau 2000, Export of Military Goods from Canada – Annual Report 1999, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, December.

Human Rights Watch 1999, Human Rights Watch World Report 2000, Washington, December.

IANSA 1998, “Canada-EU Statement on Small Arms and Anti-Personnel Mines,” 17 December.

Project Ploughshares 2000, Armed Conflicts Report 2000, Waterloo, August.

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona 1999, “Criteria to Authorize or Refuse Arms Exports, 1999 Report,” Barcelona, December.

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