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A sapper works next to an unexploded BM-30 Smerch rocket allegedly fired by Armenian forces in the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 5, 2020.STRINGER/Reuters

Turkey is accusing Canada of practising a “double standard” in freezing exports of military-grade target-acquisition gear to the Turks but continuing to ship defence equipment to Saudi Arabia

Ankara was responding to Ottawa’s announcement that it was suspending permits enabling the export of made-in-Canada targeting and imaging systems at the centre of allegations that Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones to attack Armenia.

The statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday did not identify Saudi Arabia by name but it is the lead country behind a military intervention in Yemen; Canada is supplying billions of dollars of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Riyadh under a contract brokered by a federal Crown corporation and worth $14-billion. Canadian-made LAVs have been repeatedly spotted in skirmishes with Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“Canada’s statement regarding the suspension of the export licenses of some military products to Turkey is an indication of its double-standard approach,” the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement provided to The Globe and Mail by the Turkish embassy in Canada.

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“Canada sees no objection in exporting weapons to countries that are militarily involved in the crisis in Yemen, where one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies of this century is taking place.”

The permits suspended by Canada this week are for target-acquisition devices earmarked for Turkey. Observers have expressed concern that they have been been diverted to Azerbaijan, a staunch ally of Ankara’s.

As The Globe reported last week, the department of Global Affairs' export controls division in May issued permits enabling Burlington, Ont.-based L3Harris Wescam to ship seven MX-15D imaging and targeting systems to Turkish drone maker Baykar. The devices are valued at more than $1-million each.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday also accused Canada of failing in its duty to a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance.

It questioned why the federal government is suspending permits enabling this military goods shipment to Turkey but continues to allow the export of arms to Saudi Arabia even after a United Nations panel of experts last month named Canada as one of the countries helping fuel the war in Yemen.

“Canada is blocking the export of defence products to a NATO ally, while trying to portray these [Saudi] arms sales, which have even been criticized in reports prepared by UN experts, as a contribution to regional security. There can be no explanation for such a position.”

Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with the arms-control group Project Ploughshares, said he agrees with Turkey. “Canada’s applying a double standard, appearing to only follow its arms-control obligations when it is expedient. Yemen remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with Saudi-bound Canadian weapons fuelling the hostilities. These exports should also be halted, as we and others have said for years.”

Spokespeople for the federal government could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Ottawa initially slapped an embargo on new export permits for arms to Turkey in October, 2019, after a military incursion by Ankara into northern Syria. The approval of export permits this May for the targeting device appears to be an exception to this embargo.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it’s been unhappy with Canada’s restrictions for some time.

“Canada has been impeding export licences of military materials for Turkey … and has displayed an unco-operative attitude incompatible with the spirit of alliance,” the ministry said in the statement. It added that Turkey “has a comprehensive export-control regime and rigorously implements its obligations” under these rules.

“Our expectation from Canada is to refrain from double standards and to act without being influenced and getting trapped by the narrow political interests of anti-Turkey circles in the country.”

Suspending arms export permits – as Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne did this week – is very rare for the federal government. In recent years, Ottawa has enacted moratoriums on approval of new export permits – for destinations such as Saudi Arabia – but it has not frozen already-issued permits.

Mr. Champagne’s announcement came six days after Ottawa announced it was investigating allegations that Canadian-made imaging and targeting systems were being used in drones operated on behalf of the Azerbaijani military to attack Armenia in the growing conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Arms researchers and Armenian Canadians have said they believe Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones that include Wescam gear in military operations against Armenia. Footage of missile strikes by the Azerbaijani military posted on the internet contain a graphical overlay on the video that bears a strong resemblance to the proprietary graphical overlays of systems manufactured by L3Harris Wescam.

Ottawa is required under Canadian law and under the international Arms Trade Treaty to prevent, detect and stop the diversion of military goods to users other than intended customers. It’s also compelled to stop exports of such restricted goods that are shown to be used to harm civilians.

Wescam – owned by 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. The company’s 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.

Separately, Mr. Champagne and his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling for an end to hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia, saying they are “particularly concerned by reports of the shelling of civilian areas.”

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