Vancouver Sun

Heli­copter deal with Philip­pines re­viewed

Con­cerns mount over coun­try’s mil­i­tary abuses

- Lee BerTHi­aume Canada News · Politics · Helicopters · Aviation · Philippines · Ottawa · Armed Forces of the Philippines · Armed Forces of the Philippines · Montreal · Justin Trudeau · Rodrigo Duterte · Canadian House of Commons · Saudi Arabia · Chrystia Freeland

OT­TAWA • The Trudeau gov­ern­ment is tak­ing a sec­ond look at plans to sell 16 Cana­dian-made he­li­copters to the Philip­pine mil­i­tary as con­cerns con­tinue to mount about how the air­craft will be used.

The gov­ern­ment ini­tially de­fended the $300-mil­lion deal, which is be­ing fa­cil­i­tated by the Cana­dian Com­mer­cial Corp., say­ing the Mon­treal-built Bell he­li­copters would be used for search-and-res­cue mis­sions and dis­as­ter re­lief.

But In­ter­na­tional Trade Min­is­ter Francois-Philippe Cham­pagne an­nounced Wed­nes­day that he had or­dered a re­view af­ter a se­nior mem­ber of the Philip­pine mil­i­tary said the air­craft would also be used in “in­ter­nal se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.”

Hu­man-rights and arm­scon­trol groups have ac­cused the armed forces in the Philip­pines of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, tor­ture and other atroc­i­ties while fight­ing Is­lamic mil­i­tants in the south of the coun­try, and com­mu­nist rebels in other ar­eas.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau also raised con­cerns about ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings while vis­it­ing the coun­try in Novem­ber, specif­i­cally those re­lated to Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s vi­o­lent crack­down on il­le­gal drugs.

Cham­pagne said the deal, which was qui­etly fi­nal­ized in De­cem­ber, was con­ducted through a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween Canada and the Philip­pines signed by the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in 2012.

“At the time, the un­der­stand­ing sug­gested that these he­li­copters were for search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tions,” he said dur­ing a hastily called news con­fer­ence out­side the House of Com­mons.

“The mo­ment that I saw a state­ment by a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial in the Philip­pines which in­di­cated oth­er­wise, I im­me­di­ately asked the Cana­dian Com­mer­cial Corp. for a re­view.”

Cham­pagne added that nei­ther he nor any other min­is­ters were asked to au­tho­rize the con­tract.

The com­pany has so far re­mained tight-lipped about the deal, in­clud­ing whether it con­ducted any hu­man­rights as­sess­ments be­fore com­plet­ing the con­tract.

But it’s not the first time the Crown cor­po­ra­tion, whose role in­cludes sell­ing mil­i­tary goods to other coun­tries on be­half of the gov­ern­ment, has fa­cil­i­tated the sale of arms to a coun­try with a ques­tion­able hu­man­rights record.

Most no­tably, the com­pany was at the cen­tre of the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar deal in­volv­ing the sale of lightar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia, which was fi­nal­ized by the Harper gov­ern­ment and since sup­ported by the Lib­er­als.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Canada called on the gov­ern­ment Wed­nes­day to re­veal whether a hu­man­rights as­sess­ment was con­ducted for the Philip­pines deal, and what safe­guards are in place to en­sure the he­li­copters are used prop­erly.

“There should also be mea­sures in place to mit­i­gate risks, in­clud­ing strict end-user cer­tifi­cate con­di­tions and post-de­liv­ery checks to en­sure the equip­ment is be­ing used for the agreed pur­pose and in line with in­ter­na­tional law,” said Amnesty Canada sec­re­tary gen­eral Alex Neve.

Canada pre­vi­ously sold eight Bell he­li­copters to the Philip­pine armed forces in 2015.

The In­ter­na­tional Coali­tion for Hu­man Rights in the Philip­pines wrote to For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land last year ask­ing whether those he­li­copters had been used to com­mit hu­man-right abuses. It did not re­ceive a re­ply.

THERE SHOULD ALSO BE MEA­SURES IN PLACE TO MIT­I­GATE RISKS.

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