Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Displaced Palestinians fleeing Khan Younis due to the Israeli ground operation sit on a vehicle as they move towards Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 31.MOHAMMED SALEM/Reuters

A coalition of Canadians and Palestinians is urging Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to cut off military exports to Israel, warning it may bring a legal challenge if Ottawa fails to act.

The group, which includes Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights and Al-Haq – Law in the Services of Man, an independent Ramallah-based NGO, argues that Ottawa’s Export and Import Permits Act prevents the federal government from issuing permits to export military goods and related technology to Israel owing to the “substantial risk” these could be used to commit serious violations of international law and serious acts of violence against women and children.

The “substantial risk” test was added to Canadian law in 2018 by then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland.

Israel was attacked by Hamas militants from Gaza on Oct. 7 in an assault that left some 1,200 dead and about 250 taken hostage. It responded with a bombing campaign and siege in Gaza that has killed 26,900 Palestinians, many of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

The International Court of Justice, in a historic ruling last Friday, ordered Israel to take emergency steps to prevent genocide in Gaza and allow humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

The South African government, which made the application to the ICJ, says the emergency orders by the world court have created a legal obligation on all “third parties” – such as Canada and the United States – to halt any military exports to Israel.

“The finding makes it clear that it is plausible that genocide is taking place against the Palestinian people in Gaza,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told a press conference on Wednesday.

“Third states must, therefore, also act independently and immediately to prevent genocide by Israel and to ensure that they are not themselves in violation of the Genocide Convention by aiding or assisting in the commission of genocide,” she said.

“This necessarily imposes an obligation on all states to cease funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions, which are plausibly genocidal.”

The Canadian government said on Wednesday, in response to a question from The Globe and Mail, that it has not restricted military exports to Israel since Oct. 7.

Global Affairs spokesman Jean-Pierre J. Godbout said Ottawa has continued to approve export permits but added they were only for “non-lethal” equipment. He did not elaborate on the precise details of the exports.

Kelsey Gallagher, researcher at weapons trade monitor Project Ploughshares, based in Waterloo, Ont., said there is no agreed-upon definition of the term “non-lethal equipment” in conventions on arms control to which Canada is a party. He said Global Affairs appears to be using it as a euphemism to play down the fact that whatever is being exported still constitutes military goods, which are regulated by law.

Online news outlet The Maple first reported that the government was continuing to approve exports of what it calls “non-lethal” equipment to Israel after Oct. 7.

Project Ploughshares says by its count Canadian companies exported more than $21-million in defence equipment to Israeli customers in 2022, the latest year on record.

The coalition asking Ms. Joly to end Israel-bound exports said in a statement it awaits a response from Ottawa “confirming that it has stopped this illegal activity within 14 days, failing which the coalition will consider its legal options.”

Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Ottawa-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the coalition’s “demands are an attempt to hijack Canada’s legal system to push a nefarious agenda.” He said attempts “like these have failed many times in the past, and this time will be no different.”

Asked about the request to end military exports to Israel, Global Affairs’ Mr. Godbout said Ottawa would never allow exports if they violated Canadian law or the global Arms Trade Treaty.

“Permits for the export of controlled goods and technology from Canada will not be issued if there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights law, to undermine peace and security, to facilitate international organized crime or terrorism, to commit a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or to commit serious acts of violence against women and children,” he said.

Canada doesn’t normally release many details on defence exports to Israel or other countries.

Since 2015, however, the largest annual categories of shipments to Israel fall into three categories: bombs, torpedoes, missiles and other explosive devices; aircraft, drones, aero engines, aircraft equipment for military use and electronic equipment; spacecraft and components.

Israel’s arsenal includes F-35 fighters and Canada has contributed components to every F-35, according to the Canadian government.

A 2020-2021 study by the House of Commons foreign affairs committee obtained records that shed some light on other goods Canadian companies were seeking permission to export to Israel, including transport vehicles, circuit boards for Israel’s fleet of F-15 and V-22 aircraft, and components for radios.

The Canadian-made components that go into each F-35 don’t show up in Ottawa’s records of military exports because they are shipped to the U.S., where the aircrafts’ manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is based, and Global Affairs does not publish the full value of annual military exports to the U.S.

In October 2021, Israel’s ministry of defence declared Al-Haq and five other civil society groups as “terror organizations,” saying they “serve as a cover for the promotion and financing” of activity by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This designation was criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as an attack on Palestinian civil society groups. The Popular Front is designated as a terrorist group by the Canadian government.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe