A parliamentary committee is set to begin probing Canada’s approvals of arms exports in a study that will include the greenlight Ottawa gave to shipments of Canadian-made air strike targeting gear, allegedly used by Azerbaijan to attack Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
This development could bring more political pressure to bear on the Canadian government, which has suspended, but not cancelled, the exports in question.
The House of Commons foreign-affairs committee, which is dominated by the governing Liberals, this week adopted a motion for the study. It was put forward by NDP MP Jack Harris on the “granting of arms export permits and the imposition of export freezes” with “particular attention to any permits granted” after Canada imposed a moratorium on approving more exports to Turkey in October, 2019.
As The Globe and Mail first reported earlier this month, Canada issued export permits in May for the delivery of seven MX-15D air strike targeting systems, made by Burlington, Ont.-based L3Harris Wescam, to Turkish drone-maker Baykar.
The authorization was granted despite the fact that Ottawa had placed a moratorium on approval of new export permits to Turkey the previous fall after an incursion by Turkish forces into northern Syria that was widely condemned by allies, including Canada
“The government can’t impose an arms embargo and then proceed to send weapons and materials to that same country,” Mr. Harris, the New Democratic foreign-affairs critic, said Friday.
Baykar drones equipped with this restricted Canadian technology, and operated by Azerbaijan, have turned up in the battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, even though Ottawa only authorized the export of the Wescam gear to Turkey.
On Thursday, The Globe independently confirmed that Armenia is now in possession of a Baykar drone that includes the hi-tech Wescam targeting and imaging system. The Globe sent a photographer to an Armenian military compound to take photos of the pieces of the downed drone in order to obtain first-hand evidence of what exactly the Armenians had obtained.
A leading arms researcher on exports of this targeting gear, Kelsey Gallagher, later said the equipment that the Armenians possess in the photos is in fact an MX-15D imaging and targeting device made by L3Harris Wescam.
A month ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced it would investigate allegations that Azerbaijanis were using Canadian air strike targeting gear in their drones to attack Armenians. One week later, Ottawa suspended multiple permits that authorized Wescam exports to Turkey as well as reimportation and re-export for repair.
Asked about The Globe’s photos Friday, Mr. Trudeau said the government’s investigation of the exports is still going on. “We will continue to do the work necessary … but we’re taking this very seriously.” The Prime Minister appeared to reference the terms under which the Wescam exports were sent to Turkey.
“We need to make sure the rule and that agreements that were in place on the contract for use are being respected,” he said.
The NDP’s Mr. Harris said he wants to find out exactly what happened to this Wescam air strike targeting equipment.
“People are rightly concerned that our government is fuelling an armed conflict amid allegations of human-rights abuses in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” Mr. Harris said.
MPs on the foreign-affairs committee were stymied in their efforts to get answers last week. At the time, the acting director-general of Ottawa’s export-controls division repeatedly declined to answer questions on why Ottawa granted export permits in May, allowing imaging and targeting equipment to be shipped to Turkey, despite a broad arms embargo against sending military goods to that country.
Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong asked the Liberal government Friday in Question Period whether Mr. Trudeau had agreed in an April 23 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow the export of further air strike targeting gear to Turkey despite the embargo.
Robert Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said Canada makes its own decisions.
The Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC) welcomed the foreign-affairs committee probe. “The government must come clean and give answers as to why these exemptions were made in the first place and then move to enforce a permanent ban on the sales of all arms exports to Turkey," ANCC executive director Sevag Belian said.
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