Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.
Guerman Goutorov could spend a decade in jail. His privately held company, Streit Group, is alleged to have violated United Nations arms embargoes in Libya and Sudan – violations that, if proven, would constitute crimes under Canadian law.
Mr. Goutorov is a former Russian police officer who immigrated to Canada around the time the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1992, he started a small business in the garage of his Toronto home, retrofitting off-the-shelf cars and trucks with bulletproof glass and armoured plating. Today, Streit Group has plants in Canada, India, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. It sells thousands of retrofitted vehicles each year, ranging from bulletproofed limousines to six-wheeled trucks able to withstand land mines.
Although Streit Group is divided into subsidiaries, Mr. Goutorov retains control of all of them, including the parent company based in Innisfil, Ont. A self-made mogul with his own superyacht, he now lives in the UAE but has – significantly – retained his Canadian citizenship.
Few actors in the international arms trade have completely clean hands. In 2015, the U.S. government imposed a $3.5-million (U.S.) fine against Streit Group to settle charges – including charges laid against Mr. Goutorov personally – concerning the illegal export of armoured vehicles made in its U.S. plant. The latest allegations, however, are more serious, because they concern UN Security Council resolutions, which are binding on all countries.
In 2011, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya in response to dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal suppression of protests associated with the “Arab Spring.” The Security Council later modified the embargo so that arms transfers to the new Libyan government could take place, if advance notification was provided to a UN sanctions committee. As always occurs after the adoption of UN sanctions, the Canadian government made the embargo part of Canadian law through a regulation adopted under the United Nations Act.
The UN Security Council established a panel of experts to monitor the arms embargo. In March, 2016, the panel reported that armoured personnel carriers manufactured by Streit Group in the UAE had been transferred to the Libyan government without any notification to the sanctions committee. This, it concluded, had violated the embargo.
Sudan has been subject to a similar UN arms embargo since 2004. The embargo requires all countries to “take the necessary measures to prevent the sale or supply … by their nationals … of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories.” The embargo was implemented in Canadian law, and both it and the Canadian regulation remain in force today.
The Sudan arms embargo is aimed at stopping mass atrocities in the Darfur region of that country. The seriousness of the situation is underlined by the fact Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide.
Earlier this month, The Globe and Mail obtained copies of export permits issued by the UAE indicating that Streit Group exported 30 armoured trucks to Sudan in 2012. The trucks, “equipped with gun mounts and gun ports,” have reportedly been used by Sudanese forces in Darfur.
Streit Group has also been in the news for exporting vehicles to conflict-ridden South Sudan. But while the latter exports may be morally suspect, the legal situation is different, in that no UN arms embargo has been imposed on South Sudan.
The export of armoured vehicles to Libya and Sudan is also legally distinct from the $15-billion (Canadian) export of similar vehicles, made by General Dynamics in London, Ont., to Saudi Arabia. There is no UN arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. There is an arms embargo on Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is fighting in support of the government-in-exile, but that embargo applies only to rebel forces.
In contrast, the embargoes on Libya and Sudan are clear-cut and so, too, are the Canadian regulations that implement them. Any Canadian citizen who contravenes the regulations, whether at home or abroad, is subject on conviction “to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years.”
Canada’s new government has made a great deal of its support for the United Nations, including a planned deployment of peacekeepers. As it happens, peacekeeping and arms embargoes often operate in tandem. Both measures are aimed at containing and suppressing conflict. A government cannot claim to support one while failing to enforce the other.
Canada’s business community also benefits from the enforcement of UN sanctions, including arms embargoes. The reputation of our exports is derived, in large part, from their origin in a developed country with high standards, an advanced legal system and reliable enforcement mechanisms.
Canadian companies benefit from trade and investment agreements as well as dispute resolution mechanisms and the enforcement, through Canadian courts, of foreign judgments and arbitration decisions. They benefit from a reputation for transparency and fair dealing, derived in part from laws against corruption that prohibit the paying of bribes both at home and abroad. The same logic applies to the enforcement of UN sanctions.
Streit Group’s alleged violations of arms embargoes in Libya and Sudan test the Canadian government’s commitment to the UN, the rule of law and good business practices. The RCMP must investigate and, if the allegations hold up, charges must be laid. Sanctions busters are bad for Canada – and for Canadian business.Report Typo/Error
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