The federal government issued export permits this May for made-in-Canada target acquisition gear to be shipped to Turkey, a country that Ottawa had banned nearly a year ago from receiving new military goods.
The same equipment is now at the centre of allegations that Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones to attack Armenia.
A source familiar with the matter said that in May the department of Global Affairs' export controls division issued permits enabling Burlington-Ont.-based L3Harris Wescam to ship seven MX-15D imaging and targeting systems to Turkish drone maker Baykar. Also issued was a permit to export related software and technical documents and training materials. The Globe and Mail is not naming the source because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The permits are effective until June, 2021.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, in a statement to The Globe, said he reserves the right to suspend or cancel export permits if necessary.
“As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I can and will cancel or suspend any Canadian permit that would be found to have been misused,” he said.
Mr. Champagne said he believes Canada has one of the world’s strongest export-controls system and that he is "committed to respecting the highest standards in the review of export permits sought by Canadian companies.”
Earlier this week, the federal government announced it was investigating allegations that Canadian-made imaging and targeting systems were being used in drones operated on behalf of the Azerbaijan military to attack Armenia in a growing conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. There is concern that exports meant for Turkey only have been diverted to Azerbaijan, a staunch ally of Turkey.
The federal government Thursday declined to comment on any details of export permits issued for Turkey.
“Global Affairs ... does not comment on individual permits or permit applications,” Michel Cimpaye, a spokesman for the department of Global Affairs said.
Arms researchers and Armenian Canadians said they believe Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones that include Wescam gear in military operations against Armenia.
The Globe has not independently confirmed these allegations. However, footage of missile strikes by the Azerbaijani military posted on the internet contain a graphical overlay on the video that bears a very strong resemblance to the proprietary graphical overlays of systems manufactured by L3Harris Wescam.
The company – owned by a U.S. parent, L3Harris Technologies – makes imaging and targeting systems containing laser designators to paint targets for laser-guided bombs launched by drones or fighter aircraft. Wescam technology has been used in drones operated by Turkey’s military, including aircraft made by Turkish firm Baykar. In June and July, widespread media reports indicated Turkey was selling drones to Azerbaijan.
Officials at Wescam and L3Harris Technologies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last October, the federal government halted the approval process for new export permits to ship military goods to Turkey, citing Ankara’s “military incursion into Syria.”
But then in April, it modified this ban and added a loophole. It said it would resume assessing export permit applications again, but prospective exporters should assume requests to ship Group 2 military goods – a sprawling category that includes most goods that are considered weapons – would be rejected.
But, Ottawa added, exceptions would be made for matters relating to “NATO co-operation programs.” Turkey and Canada are both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance.
The Armenian National Committee of Canada, a grassroots organization representing the Armenian diaspora in this country, has said for some time that it believes Canada has granted an exemption that allows Wescam gear to keep being shipped to Turkey.
Executive director Sevag Belian said federal lobbying records show activity by Wescam-related companies this year.
The lobbyists' registry in Ottawa shows a representative of L3Harris Technologies communicated with a staffer in the office of Mr. Champagne in February on topics that included “international trade.” And, as first reported by Radio Canada International, a representative for Baykar also communicated with a senior official in the Privy Council Office in February on “international trade.”
Mr. Belian has said he is concerned Turkey may be using its NATO membership to secure the Wescam exports.
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