Fed­eral gov­ern­ment mum on arms ex­ports to Ukraine

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - NATIONAL - LEE BERTHIAUME

OTTAWA — Six months af­ter the fed­eral gov­ern­ment opened the door to the ex­port of Cana­di­an­made weapons to Ukraine, which is locked in a war with sep­a­ratist rebels, it re­mains a mys­tery as to whether any have ac­tu­ally arrived.

Foreign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land an­nounced in De­cem­ber that the gov­ern­ment was adding Ukraine to the Au­to­matic Firearms Coun­try Con­trol List, which is a list of coun­tries el­i­gi­ble for arms ex­ports.

As a re­sult, Cana­dian com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als can now ap­ply to Free­land for per­mis­sion to ex­port pro­hib­ited weapons and other pre­vi­ously banned equip­ment to Ukraine.

But Global Af­fairs Canada has re­fused to say whether any re­quests for a per­mit to ex­port arms to Ukraine have been re­ceived, let alone ap­proved.

“Each per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion will be as­sessed on a case-by-case ba­sis to en­sure its con­sis­tency with Canada’s in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions and foreign pol­icy and defence pri­or­i­ties,” Global Af­fairs Canada spokesman John Bab­cock said in an email.

“For rea­sons of com­mer­cial con­fi­den­tial­ity, the depart­ment does not com­ment on any ap­pli­ca­tions for ex­port per­mits.”

Free­land’s de­ci­sion to add Ukraine to the firearms con­trol list was greeted with ap­plause from Kyiv, which has long lob­bied for more mil­i­tary as­sis­tance from Canada and the West as gov­ern­ment troops fight Rus­sian-backed separatists.

But it stoked anger from Rus­sia as well as con­cern from arms-con­trol and hu­man-rights groups, who say rights vi­o­la­tions have been per­pe­trated by both sides in the con­flict in east­ern Ukraine.

More than 10,000 peo­ple, many of them civil­ians, have been killed in the fight­ing in the re­gion known as the Don­bass, while an­other 20,000 have been wounded and hun­dreds of thou­sands have been

forced from their homes.

Op­po­nents of Cana­dian arms ex­ports have wor­ried about these weapons adding to the car­nage.

“Canada’s sup­port for Ukraine’s sovereignty, se­cu­rity, and pros­per­ity has noth­ing to do with the risk that Cana­dian-made au­to­matic firearms ex­ported there might be mis­used,” said Ce­sar Jaramillo, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Project Ploughshares.

At the same time, Jaramillo was both puz­zled and con­cerned by the gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to say whether any per­mits had been re­ceived or ap­proved, given that the Lib­er­als have com­mit­ted to an­nual re­ports on arms ex­ports.

“The AFCCL, which was con­ceived as a way to re­strict the flow of cer­tain pro­hib­ited arms and com­po­nents to a se­lect few trusted re­cip­i­ents, has be­come less and less re­stric­tive,” Jaramillo added.

“An overly broad in­ter­pre­ta­tion of com­mer­cial con­fi­den­tial­ity can un­der­mine the gov­ern­ment’s stated com­mit­ment to trans­parency around the arms trade.”

Ukraine is the 40th coun­try on the list, which is dom­i­nated by NATO al­lies but also in­cludes Aus­tralia, Botswana, Chile, Colom­bia, Fin­land, Is­rael, Kuwait,

New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Swe­den and Saudi Ara­bia.

An in­ter­nal re­port ob­tained through ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion shows that the gov­ern­ment ap­proved the ex­port of more than $717 mil­lion worth of mil­i­tary equip­ment in 2016, though that fig­ure does not in­clude ex­ports to the U.S.

Yet the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has found it­self un­der fire in re­cent years for ap­prov­ing the sale of arms to sev­eral coun­tries with ques­tion­able hu­man rights records.

Those sales in­clude a mul­ti­year, $15-bil­lion con­tract for the pro­vi­sion of ar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia. The in­ter­nal re­port said that coun­try was the top nonU.S. des­ti­na­tion for Cana­dian arms in 2016, with ex­ports worth $142 mil­lion.

The gov­ern­ment also faced pointed ques­tions ear­lier this year about its plan to sell mil­i­tary he­li­copters to the Philip­pines de­spite Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau crit­i­ciz­ing its hu­man-rights record only a few months ear­lier.

The deal was even­tu­ally scrapped by Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte af­ter a pub­lic out­cry prompted the Trudeau gov­ern­ment to re­con­sider the sale.

JOHN WOODS/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Foreign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land speaks in Winnipeg on April 4. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment isn’t say­ing whether it has au­tho­rized the ex­port of any Cana­dian-made weapons to Ukraine, where gov­ern­ment troops and Rus­sian­backed separatists are fight­ing.

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