Project Ploughshares Urges Prime Minister to Change Canada’s Military Export Control System

Tasneem Jamal

Letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

March 24, 2005

The Right Hon. Paul Martin
Prime Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to draw your attention to several important changes that are needed to make Canada’s military export control system more effective and to bring it more fully into line with emerging international standards and agreements. Project Ploughshares, the ecumenical peace centre of the Canadian Council of Churches, has been monitoring Canadian military exports for many years, and while we appreciate that Canada maintains a generally restrictive military export control policy, the following identifies a number of ways in which the system should be improved.

1. The management of the military export control system should be returned to the Department of Foreign Affairs, with final responsibility for decisions on export permits lodged with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Arms exports are fundamentally foreign policy transactions that have implications for the national security of recipient countries; for security and stability at the regional level; and for human rights, humanitarian law, development, and disarmament. All of these issues are within the responsibility of Foreign Affairs Canada, and it is FAC, in consultation with other Departments and Agencies, including Defence, Trade, and CIDA, that should have final responsibility for ensuring that Canadian military exports are consistent with Canadian values, objectives, and obligations related to international peace and security, international human rights and humanitarian law, international development, and disarmament.

2. Military exports to the United States should be subject to the same export permit requirements that apply to military exports to any other destination.

As an adherent to the 1993 OSCE “Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers,” through its declared support for the 1998 “European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports,” and through its support for the United Nations Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons, Canada has made commitments to regulate all exports of military commodities according to certain internationally agreed criteria and existing obligations under international law. Nevertheless, at least half of all Canadian military exports leave Canada without such regulation or scrutiny because military sales to the United States currently do not require export
permits.

The exemption of military exports to the US from the export permit requirement that applies to all other countries also undermines Canada’s transparency commitments. The details of Canadian military exports that are reported annually to Parliament are based on reporting and tabulations against export permits, and because exports to the US do not require permits, Government reporting does not include sales to the United States. Furthermore, Canadian reporting to the United Nations Conventional Arms Register frequently excludes exports to the United States for the same reason. Nor is Canada able to fulfill its obligation to report all military exports to the “Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions.”

Both transparency and strict adherence to emerging international military export control standards require that all Canadian military exports to the United States be regulated through the same permit system that governs all other military exports.

3. Export control criteria need to be broadened and more consistently applied.

In addition to prohibiting military exports to states that pose a threat to Canada or are under UN Security Council sanctions, Canada “closely controls” military exports to states with a record of serious human rights violations and to states involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities. These are all important criteria, but Canadian regulations should be expanded to acknowledge emerging international attention to additional criteria.

Therefore, Canadian military export criteria should

a) Prohibit military transfers in violation of UN arms embargoes, regional import moratoria, or conventions prohibiting the transfer of specific weapons;

b) Prohibit the transfer of military commodities to destinations where there is a serious risk that they will be used

in violation of the UN Charter’s prohibitions on the threat or use of force,

in the commission of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,

in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity;

c) Take into account whether such exports are likely to

adversely affect security in the recipient state or region,

provoke or prolong armed conflict,

adversely affect sustainable development;

d) Prohibit military exports to states where there is a serious risk of their diversion and subsequent use in violation of any of the above provisions.

Canada’s implementation of its current commitment to restrict military exports to human rights violators and countries engaged in armed conflict also requires attention. For 2002, the last year for which official figures are available, Canada reports $600-million in military exports to non-US recipients, of which $8-million went to nine countries involved in armed conflicts, and $64-million went to 19 countries identified by Amnesty International as locations of serious governmental human rights violations.

4. Military export control regulations should apply to all equipment destined for military end-users.

The current Canadian military export control system fails to control exports to military end-users on two counts.

In the first instance, certain Canadian-built equipment that is not “specially designed for military use” but is nevertheless sold specifically for military use is not regulated through the military export control system. One example is Canadian-built helicopters, and in the past such helicopters have been sold into military service in Pakistan and Colombia without any requirement for an export permit. Another example is Canadian-built aircraft engines that are sold under a civilian classification but are used in military aircraft by military end-users.

Secondly, many Canadian military components, including engines, go to military manufacturers in the United States and a number of other countries where they are incorporated into military equipment which is in turn sold to third parties. In the case of sales to the United States, no export permit is required, and in other cases the export permit is only to the point of manufacture, not the point of end-use. Especially in instances when the components are major elements, such as engines, fire-control computers, aircraft landing gears, and so on, Canada should be controlling exports to the final military user of those commodities.

5. Transparency requires full disclosure of all Canadian exports to military end-users, with enough detail to assess possible human rights concerns, as well as full disclosure of export permit decisions.

While Canada has over the past decade made major and welcome improvements to its reporting on military exports, there are several ways in which military export transparency can be enhanced in support of arms transfer restraint.

As noted above, at present Canadian military exports to the United States are not disclosed, even though such exports represent as much as half of total military exports. Full reporting is essential and would be facilitated by applying the military export permit system to the United States.

Reporting on exports to military end-users should be of sufficient detail to allow independent assessment of the likelihood of such equipment being used in the violation of human rights.

As a supporter of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, Canada should emulate EU states that report on the total value and number of export permits granted and those refused.

The establishment of “small arms and light weapons” as a category of military commodities would permit specific reporting on this group of weapons that has special implications for human rights, crime, and the management of social/political conflict. Since Canada has established a special framework for controlling the export of automatic firearms, through the “Automatic Firearms Country Control List,” separate reporting on this category would also enhance Canadian transparency and highlight the particular importance of controlling such weapons.

6. Finally, Canada should take a leadership role in promoting effective, legally binding international standards (as outlined in item 3 above) for the control of international military transfers.

Canada is already providing important leadership in advancing a people-centred approach to the control of small arms and light weapons, including the encouragement of an international consensus toward the national control of small arms and light weapons transfers according to common international standards that are consistent with existing responsibilities under international law.

Recently UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called for a “legally-binding international treaty on conventional arms exports,” explaining that while conventional weapons “are plainly less lethal than a nuclear or chemical bomb, [they] account today for far more misery and destruction across the world.” Canada should indicate its full support for this proposal and become actively engaged in the cooperative international work needed to make it a reality.

Canada is in a position to help define and promote effective international standards of restraint and regulation in the international transfer of conventional weapons. We urge your consideration of the above proposals toward that end and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Ernie Regehr, O.C.
Director

cc:
The Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Hon. Jim Peterson, Minister of International Trade

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