Gaps and Omissions: Canada’s arms exports 2007–2009

Kenneth Epps Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2011 Volume 32 Issue 2

The latest official report on the export of military goods from Canada (DFAIT 2011) reveals “business as usual” in the authorization, shipment, and tracking of Canadian weapons supplies to other states. During the three-year reporting period 2007–2009 Canada shipped the bulk of arms exports to NATO members or other allied countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Yet shipments also continued to countries hosting armed conflicts and governments where there were substantial risks that military goods would be used against civilian populations. These included weapons exports to several of Middle Eastern and North African states experiencing recent political upheaval.1

Significantly, the report omits most Canadian arms exports. The United States, Canada’s largest arms customer, is excluded from the report. Other relevant military export data is also absent. These basic reporting failures illustrate the mismatch between existing Canadian arms transparency standards and the anticipated standards of an international Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada supports.

Reported and omitted data

Published in March 2011 by the Export Controls Division of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), the report reveals that, worldwide, Canada exported military goods valued at $326-million in 2007, $558-million in 2008, and $542-million in 2009, for a three-year total exceeding $1.4-billion. The latest annual figures are consistent with earlier reported values which, while experiencing fluctuation, have averaged $529-million since the first annual report for 1990. Figure 1 illustrates the annual Canadian arms export figures reported by DFAIT since 1978.2 In constant dollars the totals have ranged from a low of $223-million in 1990 to a high of $831-million in 2003.

DFAIT publications on military exports fail to report data on weapons shipments to the U.S. As a result, the largest recipient of Canadian weapons is missing from the 2007–2009 report. Under the U.S.-Canada Defence Production Sharing Agreement, which has been in place for more than half a century, Canadian weapons shipments to the U.S. are exempt from the export permit process and DFAIT relies on export permits to create its arms trade data. Yet, as the latest DFAIT report acknowledges, Canadian arms sales to the U.S. exceed combined sales to all other states. Indeed, recent estimates of Canadian military exports to the U.S. are more than four times reported global shipment values.3 With the bulk of Canada’s arms exports omitted, DFAIT reports present a grossly truncated picture of Canadian participation in the international arms trade.

According to the report, Canada exported military goods to 108 states and territories in the three-year period, with a majority of shipments concentrated on a few recipients. The largest 10 importing states received goods worth $957,735,368 or about two-thirds (67.15 per cent) the value of total reported shipments (see Table 1). These states included five European NATO members (UK, Norway, Germany, France, Belgium), two additional allied states (Australia, New Zealand), and three states from the global South (Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, South Korea). More than half of documented sales (52 per cent) went to NATO member states (DFAIT 2011, p. 6). 

Canada has long supplied military equipment to Middle Eastern and North African states, with shipment volumes demonstrating significant peaks and troughs approximately every decade. Figure 2 illustrates Canadian arms supplies to the region since 1978. Peaks occurred in 1982, 1995, and 2004. The first peak was due to shipments of Buffalo transport aircraft to Egyptian security forces, while the subsequent peaks arose from armoured vehicle transfers to Saudi Arabia.

As the second (red) graph line in Figure 2 indicates, Canadian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa have been shaped since 1987 by deliveries to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a dominant importer of Canadian arms not only in the region, but globally. Adjusted for inflation, the value of reported Canadian weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia for the past 20 years is almost $2.4-billion, averaging nearly $120-million per year. This total surpasses even the value for goods shipped to the UK over the same period, set at $1.8-billion.

The latest shipment values to the Middle East and North Africa reported by DFAIT are given in Table 2. During the reporting period Saudi Arabia again was the largest regional recipient of Canadian military goods, followed (in order) by Oman, Algeria, Egypt, and Israel.

Although omitted U.S. data is the most significant information gap, it is not the only one. Canada’s Export Control List (ECL) is derived from the list of goods controlled under the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. The Wassenaar Arrangement is a multilateral agreement of 40 major arms suppliers, including NATO member states and Russia, to control exports of specified military goods. Canada classifies military goods as ECL Group 2, and the DFAIT report documents the shipment of Group 2 items to foreign buyers. Wassenaar also calls for export control of dual-use goods, that is, certain goods with both civilian and military uses, classified by Canada as ECL Group 1. Although several Wassenaar member states report their exports of controlled dual-use goods, Canada does not report shipments of ECL Group 1 items. 

The report contains other data gaps. Table 3 identifies selected deliveries of Canadian goods to non-U.S. military end-users, reported by industry and other sources, which are not mentioned in the DFAIT report. These deliveries generally fall into three categories:

  • Transfers of military goods reported by other sources in a year when a  “zero” entry appears in the relevant goods category in the DFAIT report (for example, 2007 deliveries of bomb disposal robots to Brazilian security forces);
  • Military transfers not reported because they were routed through the U.S. (for example, the 2009 delivery of Bell 412EP helicopters to Chile); or
  • Dual-use goods for military end-users that are classed by DFAIT as civilian (for example, aircraft engines for military trainer and patrol aircraft).
    From existing open sources it is not possible to accurately calculate the full volume of such exports. Estimates based on the reported examples suggest an annual minimum value of $125-million. If these exports were included, the value of reported sales would increase by at least 25 per cent.

Less than close control

The 2007–09 report documents Canadian authorization and shipment of significant volumes of military goods to countries that are nominally “closely controlled” under Canadian export control guidelines. The guidelines call for close control of arms shipments to states “involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities” (DFAIT 2011, p. 2). Table 4 identifies nine recipients of Canadian military exports valued in excess of $1-million during the three-year period 2007–2009 that experienced armed conflict, as reported in Project Ploughshares’ Armed Conflicts Report.4 Five additional states hosting armed conflicts—Afghanistan, Iraq, Philippines, Russia, and Sri Lanka—received Canadian military goods of less value.

Canada’s export control guidelines additionally call for close control of arms shipments to states “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of human rights of their citizens.” All 13 states listed in Table 4 were cited for systematic and serious human rights violations. Other governments cited for serious violations of human rights, including China, Guatemala, and Libya, received arms shipments of less value from Canada.

The Canadian authorization of arms exports involves consultations among DFAIT experts and “case by case” assessments of the risks associated with particular export requests. In cases where governments have records of serious human rights violations, authorization is provided only if “it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population” (DFAIT 2011, p. 2).

Occasionally, the government assessment of the risks associated with weapons shipments can be independently reviewed and challenged using information external to that provided by the report. For example, from industry and other sources we can confirm that most reported shipments to Saudi Arabia consist of armoured vehicles built by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada for the Saudi Arabian National Guard. As demonstrated by the Saudi decision in March to move some of these vehicles (with other military equipment) to Bahrain to assist the government in its violent response to political demonstrations, there is a clear risk that the armoured vehicles will be used against civilian populations. Indeed, in this case it is apparent that the DFAIT risk assessment process has been inadequate or ignored. Factors apart from export guidelines, not least the cumulative multi-billion-dollar value of these shipments to Saudi Arabia, have prompted export authorization.

In most cases, however, the level of reported detail precludes an independent assessment of risks. For example, reported military exports to Saudi Arabia during the period include more than $4 million in goods grouped under ECL item 2-1, the ECL item which corresponds most closely to the UN small arms category. However, the report provides no information on the number or nature of the 2-1 goods—whether they include any automatic firearms, for example. It is impossible, therefore, to determine the risks of their use by Saudi armed forces.

Inadequate reporting standards

As noted earlier, the published data does not present the full picture of Canada’s military transfers and their contribution to the global trade in conventional arms. As well, transparency standards, including the timely release of trade data, have declined since the first reports. For more than a decade following the 1991 report, DFAIT provided annual documentation of the export of military goods. In 2007, for the first time, the DFAIT report was significantly delayed; to compensate, it combined data for the three-year period 2003–2005. This process was repeated for the 2007–2009 report published in March. While earlier editions provided data 12 to 18 months after the calendar year in which shipments occurred, the data bundling of recent reports has significantly delayed the release of some information. In the latest report, for example, the reported details of 2007 Canadian arms shipments are over three years old. In contrast, several supplier states report arms sales within 12 months—some within three months—of delivery (SIPRI 2011, Table 5, p. 7).

The 2007–2009 report also extends the recently introduced practice of publishing inaccurate trade figures. Since 2003 the most detailed table in all DFAIT reports (Table 5 in the latest report) has contained repeated shipment values across two or more categories of goods. As one example, the value of each of three categories of military goods shipped in 2007 to Ecuador (electronics, imaging equipment, and technology) is reported in Table 5 as $2,775,775, with a fourth category value of $441,750. Yet the figure given for the total value of all 2007 shipments to Ecuador is given as $3,217,525 in Table 2 of the report.  It is apparent that the total shipment value is the sum of $2,775,775 and $441,750. The repeated values cannot be accurate. Each must be an unknown smaller part of $2,775,775. Although the report acknowledges that the tables “contain some double-counting” (DFAIT 2011, p.4), it makes no attempt to explain how the repeated figures are useful.

Current double-counting practices are in contrast to those used in annual reports prior to 2003. These provided accurate category shipment values that, when added together, equaled the total value of shipments to each state. Double-counting calls into question the utility of reported aggregated values and precludes substantive analysis of Canadian trade by weapons category.

During the period 1995–2002 DFAIT reports provided brief descriptions of the military goods shipped to each country and reported all shipments as “weapon systems and munitions,”  “support systems,” or “parts.” This more descriptive information has been omitted from all reports since 2003.

Since 2006 Canada has annually provided data on the export and import of small arms and light weapons (SALW) to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. Such reports include the numbers of weapons transferred under each of the SALW subcategories defined by a UN expert group. Despite the common origin (DFAIT) of the data for the UN Register and the 2007–2009 report, a basic comparison of the two sets of data—compiled in Table 5—demonstrates major differences and calls into question the accuracy of DFAIT data.

The example of Australia, a significant Canadian arms trading partner, serves to illustrate the point. According to Table 5 of the 2007–2009 report (DFAIT 2011), Australia received ECL category 2-1 small arms valued at more than $13-million. Yet, for the same three-year period, DFAIT data supplied to the UN Register does not include a single transfer of small arms to Australia. The notes accompanying Table 5 discuss the many discrepancies between the data provided to the UN Register and the data reported as exports of military goods.

Resolving policy contradictions

The report on the export of military goods from Canada for 2007–2009 reflects a dichotomy in Canadian policy. In multilateral settings Canada advocates stronger arms trade controls. Canada supports the negotiation of an effective international Arms Trade Treaty and improved national standards to control global arms transfers. But at home Canada has made no visible recent effort to improve its own national export control standards and, in the area of reporting at least, has considerably weakened standards to which it once adhered.

There are measures that Canada can take to square existing and anticipated foreign policy commitments on transparency with domestic practice. These require improvements to standards of reporting on Canadian military exports. In particular:

  • To close the most glaring gap in authorization of, and reporting on, Canadian arms transfers, Canada should initiate discussions with the U.S. aimed at licensing and recording all military trade between the two countries.
  • Military export controls and reporting should apply to all major equipment destined for military end-users. Canada should report not only exports of controlled dual-use goods, but also other equipment shipments to foreign military services.
  • Reporting transparency should be timely and sufficiently detailed to allow assessment of possible human rights and other concerns related to international obligations.


1. Project Ploughshares has commented on government documentation of the export of military goods since before the first formal DFAIT report was released in 1991. The analysis includes On the Record: An audit of Canada’s report on military exports 2003–05.
2. Although government reports began with 1990, the figures from 1978 to 1989 were provided in response to an Access to Information request by Project Ploughshares.

3. See “Creating arms transparency,” The Ploughshares Monitor, Spring 2011, pp. 18-19.

4. See Plougshares Armed Conflicts Report. Armed conflict is defined as “a political conflict in which armed combat involves the armed forces of at least one state (or one or more armed factions seeking to gain control of all or part of the state), and in which at least 1,000 people have been killed by the fighting during the course of the conflict.”


Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. 2011. Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada 2007-2009.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 2011. National reports on arms exports, March.

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