Ottawa is refusing to say whether military or security gear from Canada has been exported to Hong Kong since massive anti-government protests began in June, citing the need to protect corporate secrets.
Hong Kong police have come under increasing criticism for what critics decry as unlawful use of force during protests.
Federal government records suggest Canadian companies have a history of selling anti-riot equipment to Hong Kong, a region that is controlled by Mainland China.
Britain announced in June that it was banning the export of tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong, and suspending export licences for crowd-control equipment.
The Canadian government, however, has little to say, including whether it has authorized sales of military goods to Hong Kong in recent months.
“For reasons of commercial confidentiality, the department does not comment on any applications for export permits,” said John Babcock, a spokesman for the department of Global Affairs. He said Canada nevertheless “continues to closely monitor the situation in Hong Kong and remains concerned by violence.”
The Globe and Mail had asked the government whether any export permits for military or security goods had been authorized, but had not asked the department to name exporting companies or even the dollar value of sales.
While Ottawa won’t divulge any information about 2019 exports, it does report past year’s statistics on sales of military and defence equipment abroad.
In 2014, when Hong Kong was trying to quell protests during what was called the “Umbrella Revolution”, Canadian companies were granted export permits for more than $600,000 of military goods, according to a Global Affairs Canada report for that year.
Government records describe the 2014 exports as category 2.7 goods under Canada’s export control list. This category includes chemical warfare agents such as sarin, but also tear gas and other riot-control agents, as well as gas masks and protective gear.
Ken Epps, a long-time researcher for Canada’s Project Ploughshares, an arms-control group that monitors weapons sales, said the 2014 exports may have been some sort of riot-defense gear. He urged Ottawa to disclose any exports approved this year. “At a time when there are growing fears of the reaction of Hong Kong security forces to civilian protesters, Canadians have a right to know whether the government has approved the export of equipment for use by those forces.”
Hong Kong’s 2019 protests began in June over legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Demands have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
Amnesty International has called on all countries to suspend exports of crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong, and has urged an independent investigation of what the human-rights group calls “repeated instances of police using unnecessary and excessive force in violation of international law and standards” in the extradition bill protests.
Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve said he wants further transparency from Ottawa about crowd-control gear exports.
“Our research and documentation has made it very clear those weapons have been misused and abused by the [Hong Kong] police in various instances, where protesters have experienced serious human-rights violations as a result.”
“We look to Canada not to authorize any transfers of crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong and it’s very troubling if the Canadian government will not even confirm if those kind of transfers have been recently authorized,” he said.
“We need transparency, so Canadians know what our government is or is not allowing to be sent from Canada to Hong Kong.”
In past years, Canadian companies have also sold small arms and light weapons to Hong Kong, presumably, Mr. Epps says, to the Hong Kong police, as well as $48-million worth of aircraft in 2015. The government has never confirmed whether these are Bombardier Challenger 605 aircraft delivered to the Hong Kong Flying Service in 2015.
With files from Reuters