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Canada Is Helping a Private Arms Company Sell Light Armored Vehicles in the Middle East

An exclusive VICE News investigation shows that Canada’s program to export Light Armored Vehicles didn’t stop at a $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia — they’ve been looking for other buyers, including Kuwait.
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Canada isn't just sanctioning weapons and equipment sales to the Middle East, it's now flying them over for private arms manufacturers to sell.

VICE News has obtained new documents under the Access to Information Act showing that the Canadian government is working to facilitate a potentially massive contract between private military manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLSC) and the Government of Kuwait.


The agreement was being negotiated two years before the Government of Canada signed-off on a similar $15-billion deal to sell Canada's patented Light Armored Vehicle III Upgrade Vehicle — usually referred to simply as the LAV III — to Saudi Arabia.

According to the documents, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade asked for "provision of services to General Dynamics Land Systems Canada" at the behest of the private company, from the Department of National Defense in 2012.

Canadian government policies allows it to help the country's burgeoning defense industry, including offering government staff and resources to help the company's work.

"The Minister of International Trade has sent the Minister of National Defense a letter requesting his consideration of DND providing a public service to General Dynamics Land-Systems Canada to support this document," said the request.

In this case, Canada offered to deliver the vehicles using its own military aircraft for a "test trial" of the LAV by the Kuwaiti military.

DND can confirm that the delivery took place, but said the costs weren't saddled by the taxpayer.

"The costs of the support provided was re-funded to DND under a Provision of Service Agreement, which is the standard agreement that is used whenever DND agrees to provide a service to a non-Defense or non-Government of Canada entity," said a spokesperson for DND.

DND refused comment when asked whether or not the Canadian government similarly helped GDLSC ship LAVs to the Saudis for a trial before purchase.


While Americans may have come to expect their military to provide assistance to defense companies, such support is not commonly known in Canada, which is why it's notable that the Canadian Armed Forces is transporting equipment for a private company.

When the deal for LAVs with Saudi Arabia took place, public concerns were raised about that state's human rights record and whether or not the regime would use the vehicles for crowd control or putting down uprisings.

In the case of the potential Kuwaiti deal, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) already happened to be sending a C-17 strategic transport plane to Afghanistan for a training mission in August 2012 and offered to deliver the LAVs.

"It has been confirmed," reads a briefing note, "that partial use of this sustainment flight for the movement of [REDACTED] in support of General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada's request will have a manageable impact."

In preparation to ferry the vehicles to Kuwait, the Canadian government consulted commanders in various wings of the Canadian military, as well as their legal counsel.

The Department of National Defense (DND) confirmed to VICE News that the assistance mission did take place. A draft plan covering the flight logistics and what sort of personnel would be required to orchestrate the hand-off was included in the documents. But large swaths of information are redacted, including several key recommendations from the memo.


Related: As Arms Sales to the Middle East Increase, Exporters Compete to Make a Killing

Despite the fact that DND anticipated "potential for public query on this support to industry," the details of this deal have never been made public before now.

The government, however, always maintains that it scrutinizes any weapons deal before it gets done, ensuring that no rogue regimes get Canadian-made military tools.

"Canada closely controls the export of military goods and technology to countries that pose a threat to Canada and its allies," including those that are looking to launch a war or under sanction by the United Nations, reads government export control regulations.

The regulations also forbid sales to governments which "have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens." But that comes with a caveat if, "it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population."

Both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have spotty human rights records. In March, Kuwaiti special forces broke up a pro-democracy demonstration and arrested five people on the grounds of participating in an illegal demonstration.

"Two vehicles containing water cannon tanks and others containing scores of Special Forces armed with batons arrived," a Human Rights Watch report reads. "The police shouted at the demonstrators to leave the square, and within minutes moved in to disperse them, as the protesters were trying to check with police whether the dispersal order was official."


The government says it also consults human rights groups before approving any of these sales.

Ashley Lemire, a National Defense spokesperson, confirmed that the department "provided assistance to facilitate the demonstration of the LAV III Upgrade vehicle to the Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense from late-August to mid-September 2012."

According to Lemire, the demonstration "was undertaken in the context of a test trial" for the Kuwaiti military that was looking into purchasing the LAVs for its Wheeled Armored Fighting Vehicles acquisition program.

"DND provides support to the Minister of International Trade and Canadian export marketing efforts on a limited, case-by-case basis when there are unique capabilities or services that only the Department of National Defense or Canadian Armed Forces can provide," Lemire told VICE News.

For years, Ottawa has been eyeing changes to weapons export rules that would make shipments to Kuwait easier. Likewise, according to the documents, economic development was clearly a key consideration in the plan to sell LAVs to the Middle Eastern state.

The documents cite the Defense Sales Support Program (DSSP), which provides "support and assistance to Canadian companies over the past quarter century" as justification for helping the private arms manufacturer. A DND spokesperson has said the DSSP has since been scrapped and inquiries by VICE News show no evidence of the program's existence on any government website.


That doesn't mean the department has stopped lending a hand to the defense industry's export ambitions. There is a senior official within the Department of National Defense who is responsible for the international trade of military hardware. A government body called the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), meanwhile, covers much of the marketing side of things.

"We specialize in international contracting for complex procurements, offering your government an expedited procurement process on a government-to-government basis," the corporation's website reads.

When it came to GDLSC, the government recognized the capital interest in supporting a Canadian subsidiary of the major arms manufacturer primarily based in the US.

"[General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada] is a key export-oriented employer located in London, Ontario, and the continued success of [General Dynamics] and other Canadian companies in markets abroad will serve Canadians' best interest," said a letter addressed to then minister of National Defense Peter McKay, going on to explain the company has "made some progress in the highly competitive Middle East market."

The request to DND from DFAIT does note that in the past "DND has provided assistance to Canadian defense industry in the form of equipment and personnel in order to support marketing and export opportunities."

In recent years the Middle East arms market has become a lucrative place to hawk your wares if you're a major global arms manufacturer. After the military pullout in Iraq, the US rushed to sanction arms deals to the largely Shia government regime eager to stabilize its control over the country, and resistant Sunnis, by force.

But the advance of the so-called Islamic State over large swaths of Iraq and Syria has shown those same American weapons falling into the hands of the militants an international coalition is currently bombing.

Follow Ben Makuch and Justin Ling on Twitter: @BMakuch and @justin_ling

Watch the VICE News Documentary, "Rearming Iraq: The New Arms Race." 

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