A parliamentary committee is preparing to take a hard look at the export controls Canada places on foreign sales of military goods and whether sanctions and embargoes meant to stop arms shipments by Canadians have sufficient teeth.
The scrutiny by the Commons foreign affairs committee comes amid a growing debate over the military and security business that Canadians are doing with Mideast countries – including a $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia – and increasing concern Ottawa is not doing enough to monitor and control this trade.
Controversies that have cropped up over the past year include: whether Canada exercises sufficient scrutiny when deciding whether to allow shipments to countries with terrible human-rights records; whether Ottawa is transparent with Canadians about the arms trade; and why one Canadian-controlled company has been selling armoured vehicles to Libya and Sudan despite arms embargoes against these countries.
The review, expected to begin later this fall, comes as the Liberal government takes steps to join the global Arms Trade Treaty and is readying legislation to ensure Canada's export regime for military goods complies with the UN-backed accord. The foreign affairs committee, chaired by Kenora Liberal MP Robert Nault, will study the bill after it is introduced.
Mr. Nault's committee has been asked to examine the Special Economic Measures Act, which regulates sanctions and embargoes – and hasn't been reviewed since it was introduced in 1992, as well as the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials act, which targets individuals.
"If the system doesn't work and Canadian companies are allowed to skirt Canadian law as we know it [and] the commitments we have made, then obviously our committee will be looking at making recommendations to change that," said the Liberal MP, a former minister during the Jean Chrétien years, said in an interview.
He said he also wants to look at how the rules differentiate between countries with good and bad human-rights records.
One recent arms-export controversy raises questions about how far the Canadian government's reach extends.
The RCMP has been probing Canadian-owned Streit Group for more than three months over its sales of armoured vehicles to Libya despite a ban on military exports to that country – a review that now has been expanded to include shipments to Sudan. Streit's owner Guerman Goutorov, a Canadian citizen, runs his business from the United Arab Emirates and exports from there, not Canada.
In April, The Globe and Mail reported how a UN panel had concluded Streit's 2012 shipment of 131 armoured personnel carriers to Libya violated a Security Council embargo. Earlier this month, The Globe reported how Streit sold 30 vehicles to Sudan in 2012, despite a Canadian ban on military and paramilitary shipments.
Canada's defence industry association said it wants to see violators held to account. "The [Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries] takes the recent accusations of violations of UN sanctions seriously. Violating export-control laws and sanctions is unacceptable. The steps taken by the government are important in order to establish the facts and to hold to account any individual or company that breaks Canada's export-control regulations," association president Christyn Cianfarani said.
Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a Toronto-based international trade lawyer, said Canada's export-control legislation could use a significant overhaul. "I am curious whether implementation of the UN arms trade treaty is really going to lead to a complete rewrite of the Export and Import Permits Act."
She said Ottawa could add clarity to the law. "In my view, a lot of the rules are very broadly and generically stated, where more precision would be very beneficial," the lawyer said, adding it would be useful to have "something that is robust in terms of dos and dont's."
Ms. Todgham Cherniak said the world has changed a lot since export-control legislation was written and Ottawa should add in new measures to deal with "more current concepts and things it wants to control better." These could include: circumvention of export laws; diversion of goods; as well as technological advances from drones to encryption, she said.