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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes customs police as he arrives to witness the destruction of a fleet of 20 used luxury cars and SUVs as part of the 116th anniversary celebration of the Bureau of Customs in Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.Bullit Marquez/The Associated Press

It's not known exactly what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said to Rodrigo Duterte in the wings of an international summit in Manila last November.

What we do know is the Philippine president took his Canadian visitor's comments – about the rampant human-rights violations and mass extrajudicial killings associated with Mr. Duterte's ruthless crackdown on drugs – as a personal affront, because he said as much afterward.

It was one of Mr. Trudeau's better moments as PM. Three months later, his government is facilitating the sale of Canadian-built combat helicopters to Mr. Duterte's regime.

It is hard to understand the Trudeau government's thinking. It was badly burned by its decision to allow the sale of Canadian-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, in spite of concerns that a country with a terrible human-rights record might turn those weapons on its own people.

Those worries turned out to be well-founded, and Ottawa says it is reviewing an incident in which Canadian military vehicles appear to have been used against Saudi citizens. And yet now it is selling arms to Mr. Duterte?

It boggles the mind. We're talking about a would-be strongman who oversees death squads that Human Rights Watch says have murdered as many as 12,000 people, including children.

Mr. Duterte's loyalists have imprisoned his political opponents, executed journalists, and harassed and threatened workers from international humanitarian organizations.

And yet Mr. Duterte can apparently count on the Canadian government to help deliver 16 combat helicopters worth some $300-million, a contract that stands to benefit several companies in Quebec, the Prime Minister's home province.

The Philippines promised the aircraft would be used for disaster relief and rescue operations, but that was always hard to believe – even before officials there conceded the machines could be used for "internal security operations."

Ottawa announced Wednesday that, in light of that revelation, it will conduct a review of the sale.

We can save them the time and trouble. Scuttle the deal – Canada doesn't need Mr. Duterte's business.

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