The Canadian government is busy promoting Canada's defence industry in Kuwait even as a United Nations report accuses a Saudi-led coalition, which includes Kuwait, of "widespread and systematic" bombing of civilians in Yemen.
Ottawa's efforts to secure military contracts for Canada's defence industry are coming under increasing scrutiny as controversy grows over the federal government's commanding role in a $15-billion sale of weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country notorious for human-rights abuses.
Kuwait is among a group of Arab states conducting air strikes in Yemen and has supported this effort with its air force, which includes fighter jets and KC-130J tanker aircraft that can supply warplanes with fuel while in the air.
Montreal-based CAE recently built a flight simulator for the Kuwait Air Force that trains military pilots on the KC-130J tanker aircraft. It was contracted to supply the simulator to the air force's Al Mubarak air base near Kuwait International Airport.
Canadian officials paid a visit to the simulator last week, talking up the Canada-Kuwait business deal on the same day the UN report on Yemen air strikes made international headlines.
The delegation included a top executive from the Canadian Commercial Corp., Ottawa's defence and security export sales outfit, as well as Martine Moreau, Canada's ambassador to Kuwait.
"Great visit to @CAE_Defence's impressive new KC-130J flight sim[ulator] & facility with @CanadaKuwait CDN Ambassador Moreau," Cameron Mackenzie, vice-president of business development and sales at Canadian Commercial Corp., wrote on Twitter this past Wednesday.
A leaked UN panel report last week attributed 60 per cent, or 2,682, civilian deaths and injuries in the Yemen conflict to air-launched explosive weapons and said the Saudi-led coalition's actions are a "grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution" and violate international law.
Saudis and their Arab allies launched a military intervention in Yemen last year in support of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi who was under threat from Houthi forces aligned with Iran.
Kuwait, a Persian Gulf state of 3.4 million, is heavily dependent on oil exports. According to Amnesty International, even peaceful criticism of Islam and the emir, the ruling head of state, remains criminalized. The rights watchdog says human-rights activists and political reformers are among those targeted for arrest, detention and prosecution. Authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned critics who express dissent through social media and they have curtailed the right to public assembly, Amnesty says.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion's department did not immediately respond when asked Friday to explain why the government is promoting military sales in Kuwait while the Mideast country is part of a Saudi-led coalition that is carrying out air attacks in Yemen.
Targets in Yemen, the UN report found, have included refugee camps; weddings; civilian vehicles, such as buses; homes; medical facilities; schools; mosques; factories and civilian infrastructure.
Canadian military sales to regions such as the Mideast have risen significantly in the past decade as the former Harper government worked to build up this country's role as an international arms dealer. Pentagon budget cuts drove the Canadian Commercial Corp. to look further abroad for arms buyers. In 2009 it created a new line of business, Global Defence and Security Sales, to seek new customers. This move into "non-traditional defence and security markets will require an increased vigilance for responsible and ethical business conduct," the agency says in its latest published corporate plan.
Critics say Ottawa's policing of arms exports is in dire need of an overhaul.
"The credibility of Canadian export controls is severely strained. It is high time the government address persistent, legitimate questions about the process by which military export authorizations are granted," said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, based in Waterloo, Ont.
He said the UN report "left little doubt about the systematic targeting of civilians and the violation of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition that Kuwait is a part of. Canada should proceed with utmost care when pursuing or entering into military exports deals" with these countries.
Mr. Jaramillo said the Canadian government is in a conflict of interest when it comes to military exports. "There is a clear tension in Ottawa between the sometimes conflicting objectives of facilitating trade deals for private Canadian companies and ensuring that Canadian-made goods do not contribute to the violation of human rights or serve to exacerbate conflict situations."
Asked whether CAE would cease doing business with Kuwait in light of the UN panel report, a CAE spokesman said the company is complying with all Canadian government rules on exports.
Pascale Alpha, director of global communications at CAE, said the simulator deal with Kuwait was arranged through the U.S. military.
"We follow Canada's export regulations as well as NATO regulations, and the export regulations of the countries we operate in. In this case, our contract was to supply a simulator to the U.S. Navy. Through Foreign Military Sales, the U.S. Navy supplies the aircraft and training equipment to foreign nations, including the Kuwaiti air force," Mr. Alpha said.