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Canadian Weapons Companies Increased Sales to Human Rights Abusers in 2013

Ottawa is exporting less military aid overall but upping shipments to India, Egypt, and Tunisia, as well as other non-NATO allies with questionable moral records.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

An interactive map showing the countries Canada does arms-trading business with.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

Ottawa wasn't happy with now ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, but the Canadian government didn't have much of a problem when Canadian companies increased weapons shipments to his government by 182,819 percent from 2012 to 2013.

It's all part of how Canada's military exports have reoriented in recent years, as more and more Canada-made weaponry heads out into the world and into the hands of some fairly unfriendly characters. When those less-than-stable regimes eventually crumble, like Morsi's did, figuring out where those Canadian-made armaments end up is a real crapshoot.


Government figures released last month, which cover 2012 and 2013, show that Canadian companies have been upping weapons shipments to its NATO allies—like England, Italy, and Germany—but also to less stable nations with questionable moral records.

Aside from Morsi, the Saudis, the democracy-quashing Bahrainis, and the communist regime in China all bought significant amounts of military goods from Canuck suppliers.

Canada, overall, had its best-ever arms-exporting year in 2012, bringing in more than $1 billion. Canada's total exports slid a bit in 2013, to a still-high $680 million. That figure puts Canada near the list of top ten arms exporters worldwide.

The figures don't include Canada's sales to the United States, as the Yanks aren't subject to the same export controls and the data, therefore, isn't captured. The government estimates that exports to the States "account for over half of Canada's exports of military goods and technology each year."

Generally, Canada can still brag that it mostly ships its goods to peace-loving modern nations. If you break down Canada's clients by HDI—the Human Development Index or, basically, a way of ranking states based on a variety of factors that includes their human rights record—you'll see that 95 percent of Canada's sales go to countries ranked "very high" or "high." In 2012, it was 98 percent.

On the other hand, shipments to less developed countries have skyrocketed. Sales to those states with a "low" HDI ranking quintupled over the year prior, totaling over $12 million.


Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, China, and Colombia are all big recipients of Canada-made armaments.

But it's not just tanks and machine guns that Canada is hawking to armies all over the world—it's high-tech military gear. Sales of weapons sights, bombing equipment, and targeting software tripled since the previous year. Chemical agents—especially those used for crowd control—and military technology also became hot-ticket items over the course of 2013.

Not all of the weaponry exported by Canada is destined for militaries or security services. Included in this data are some export-restricted goods that may end up in private or corporate hands, especially rifles and guns. But the data is generally about military goods, and not just a sum total of every peashooter and rocket launcher sold to the average global citizen.

The exports naturally come from private Canadian companies, but the government in Ottawa reviews each of these sales and nixes any that it feels aren't in line with its export policies.

"A key consideration in the review of each application is the end use of the export. Careful attention is paid to mandatory end-use documentation in an effort to ensure that the export is intended for a legitimate end user and will not be diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies, or other countries or people," a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told VICE.


Worth noting in the data is that, because procurement tends to involve multi-year contracts, annual numbers could be either inflated, if the contract cost is factored into a single year, or misleadingly low, if one contract is spread over a series of years.

The classifications for the exports are, at best, vague. The export details are broken down into categories such as "electronic equipment, military spacecraft, and components not controlled elsewhere" and "energetic materials and related substances." Often, it's nearly impossible to tell exactly what the exports actually consist of, when cryptic number designations like 2-11 and 2-12 are applied to weapons classifications.

Also, the government only publishes this data every two years. So you'll have to stay tuned until 2016 to see just how much Canadian military exports are ramping up—but given that Ottawa is trying to knock down barriers to ship arms to a half dozen other nations, expect the numbers to be pretty high.

A Pratt & Whitney jet engine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Middle East
Everyone's favorite Wahhabi dictators came out on top of Canada's export list again.

The Saudis scooped up a good $153 million in Canadian military goods in 2013—which is a marked decline from 2012, when they peeled off more than $422 million in bills to improve their absurdly well-financed military.

Most of that is tanks. The Canadian wing of American arms manufacturer General Dynamics got a $13 billion contract to assemble light armored vehicles for the royal family's desert kingdom.


Some of that money is going to Waterloo-based Aeryon Labs, which has developed a mini surveillance drone that the Saudi military has taken a liking to.

Afghanistan also found $8 million in the couch cushions to buy parts for its air force. From the vague categorizations given in the government report, it appears Canada is selling Kabul imaging and surveillance technology for its aircrafts. Afghanistan could use some good equipment—America just scrapped a $486 million fleet of disused cargo planes.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan also joined the United Arab Emirates and Turkey in contracting out for jet parts to Pratt & Whitney, which mostly deals in aircraft engines.

Then there's Egypt, where Canada shipped more than $7 million in arms in 2013. Much of that appears to have been radar and infrared equipment. In years past, Canada has hawked millions in airplane gear to its military.

Given that Ottawa does have a considerable amount of say over who gets sold what, it's rather surprising anyone was vending to Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood government was often derided by the Canadian government.

Meanwhile, Ottawa also approved nearly $5 million in exports to Israel—most of that is bombs and missiles. Quebec-based Alphacasting is supposedly the go-to Israeli exporter in that field.

Finally, there's the $3 million in military ground vehicles Canada exported to Libya in 2013. While exports had been forbidden in the autumn years of Muammar Gaddafi's insane regime, Canada opened the floodgates after he was ousted thanks to a NATO-backed military campaign.


Now, of course, rebels have basically toppled that government Canada supported. Making it worse, ex-Gaddafi and maybe-CIA-connected Libyan army commander Khalifa Haftar, probably in control of some Canadian goods, launched his own campaign against the Islamist rebels and decided the government was illegitimate. A new parliament has now endorsed him, and he may well be en route to becoming Libya's new leader.

IAV Stryker land combat vehicle produced by General Dynamics. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

North America
The data released last month doesn't touch the multibillion-dollar arms trade between Canada and the United States—that's covered elsewhere. The new data does note, however, that Ottawa's exports to Mexico City, already insignificant, have slipped further.

Canada's sales to Mexico in 2013, totaling around $900,000, mostly consisted of surveillance equipment and military ground vehicles. That's down a bit from the year prior but generally up when compared with the last few years.

The Mexican army, of course, is in the midst of a bloody war with the drug cartels that effectively run huge swaths of the country. The police, on the other hand, have been implicated in a mass killing of student protesters.

The Caribbean nations, meanwhile, only picked up a few hundred thousand dollars worth of Canadian equipment.

A CF-18 Hornet in Cold Lake, Alberta. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

South America
While Canada has never shipped much in the way of military goods to South America, four countries are on their way to becoming crucial clients of the Canadian defense industry.


Colombia is at the back of the pack, having picked up nearly $800,000 worth of goods last year, while the Dutch Antilles spent $1.5 million. Both nations were behind Chile, which spent $3.5 million. The Colombians mostly purchased aircraft and parts, while the latter two purchased only surveillance and imaging equipment.

Then there's South America's economic powerhouse: Brazil.

While Canada usually ships a good chunk of arms to Brazil, things have declined in recent years. The data shows that sales to the country amounted to about $275,000—usually it's between somewhere in the one-or-two-million range.

That may change. Canada is contemplating putting Brazil (as well as India, Kuwait, Peru, and South Korea) on an arms-export short list to facilitate the movement of weapons. Colombia is already on that list.

M777 Howitzer field artillery gun. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, thanks to NATO, Canada's military hardware is in ample supply in Europe.

We're talking $85 million to Austria, $11 million to Belgium, $5 million to Denmark, $1 million to Finland, $46 million to Germany, $14 million to the Swiss, $50 million to Italy, $12 million to Luxembourg, $28 million to France, $14 million to the Netherlands, $5 million to Norway, $6 million to Spain, $9 million to Sweden, and more than $100 million to the United Kingdom.

For those European countries that aren't NATO members—namely, the post-Soviet countries—there's the Wassenaar Arrangement, which facilitates weapons trades between liberal non-NATO countries on the continent.


Overall, Canada consistently ships anywhere between $200 and $400 million in military goods to Europe in any given year.

One notable absence in the list of big Canadian buyers is Ukraine. Given that the data stops before 2013—and Viktor Yanukovych, Putin's deposed ally that didn't step down from the presidency until February 2014—it's not surprising it doesn't show an uptick in weapons flow to the country. Expect that to change when 2014's numbers come out, given Canada's Operation REASSURANCE is boosting Ukraine's military in the face of Russian aggression.

That said, the same trade data shows Canada still furnished Ukraine with nearly $300,000 in rifles and automatic weapons. Those weapons, hopefully, didn't go to Yanukovych's trigger-happy police state, but there's no indication one way or the other.

The other interesting Canadian client was Russia. Canada shipped some $400,000 in rifles to Russia in 2013. While Canada has slapped round-after-round of sanctions on Putin's regime, Ottawa still has yet to impose an arms embargo.

Europe has imposed a formal embargo, going so far as to ice a massive French contract for amphibious assault vehicles.

A spokesperson for the government, however, says Canada is not helping out the Russian military in any way.

"Canada has no bilateral military exports to the Russian Federation. Any export permit applications destined for Russia are suspended and under review," the spokesperson told VICE. "Nothing will be approved which could benefit the Russian military in any form."


Most of the military hardware designated chemicals and crowd-control sprays sold by Canada, went to pretty liberal European states—Austria, France, Germany, and the like.

Aeryon Labs' Scout micro drone. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

South Africa and Nigeria are two of the only nations in Africa that are boasting Canada-made armaments. The former rang up nearly $4.5 million in 2013, while the latter bought more than $3.5 million.

It's no big surprise that South Africa is scooping up Canadian arms—$45 million worth from 2010 to 2013—as the country has spent more than a decade trying to upgrade its military to a real fighting force, all the while facing the strain of repeated deployments to various regional conflicts.

Most of South Africa's purchases were for ground vehicles and airplane parts.

Nigeria, on the other hand, is Africa's largest economy, its most populous nation, its largest oil producer, and one of its go-to sources for military personnel and hardware for peacekeeping missions. Its president, however, has been accused of botching a response to the child-kidnapping Boko Haram rebels. The fast-moving, well-financed Salafist militia has captured various towns in the North, and managed to take over a Nigerian military base.

Here's hoping that, while perusing through that base, those terrorists don't come across any of the military vehicles that Canada sold to the Nigerian army in 2013—$4.5 million worth in the last two years alone.


If Muhammadu Buhari wins Nigeria's next election in February, he'll likely make good use of those arms. Buhari was the country's military dictator for a few years in the 80s, and is largely basing his campaign on the idea that current president Goodluck Jonathan is doing a poor job of stomping out the Islamist insurgency.

Pratt & Whitney Falcon 2000S. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

You know what they say: Keep your friends close, and sell your enemies $990,000 in military training hardware.

Well, that's the adage that Ottawa goes by when dealing with China, apparently.

While Canada had barely sold any sort of military hardware to the world's largest military, things changed in 2013 as Canada—right after chastising the communists for being a target of their cyber warfareinked a military-partnership agreement.

So things will probably ramp up to that end in 2014. Right now, it's just the million dollars for military training and simulation, and $300,000 in rifles.

The region's altruistic do-gooder, South Korea, also shops in Canada. The less hermit-y of the two Koreas purchased $13 million worth of jets, spacecraft, and ships—or, at least, parts for them. That makes the Republic of Korea the tenth largest importer of Canada arms.

Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan all spend upward of a million dollars a year on Canadian military goods.

Another one in the "oops" category is Thailand—an otherwise stable nation that got thrown into turmoil in 2013 as protesters shut down the capital, and got sprayed with bullets for their trouble. Now, the military is in charge, and they've got millions of dollars in Canadian weapons at their disposal.

Exports to Thailand topped $10 million in 2013, mostly in military aircraft. In years prior, Canada did send over hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of "chemical or biological toxic agents, riot control agents, radioactive materials, and related equipment, components, materials."

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