Photo credit: Screenshot of Twitter video/Justin Trudeau.
By Alex Cosh, The Maple, January 25, 2024
Peace activists and humanitarian organizations are accusing the Trudeau government of sowing confusion in its responses to questions about whether or not it has allowed Canadian companies to continue exporting military goods to Israel since October 7.
During a December 6 Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs And International Development, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) Assistant Deputy Minister Alexandre Lévêque said that to his knowledge, there had been no arms export and brokering permits issued for Israel since October 7, and that no Canadian military goods or technology, “including components,” are being used by Israel in its brutal war on Gaza.
However, in a statement sent to The Maple on December 19, GAC spokesperson Jean-Pierre J. Godbout would only say that Canada has not authorized new permits for the sale of “full weapon systems” to Israel since its war on Gaza began.
“Global Affairs Canada has not issued any permit for full weapon systems listed by the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to Israel since October 7, 2023,” the statement read, adding that export permit applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The vast majority of Canada’s military exports to Israel are not full weapon systems, and typically involve the sale of components. GAC’s statement therefore offers little indication that much has changed in Canadian military exports to Israel.
GAC ignored more than a dozen follow-up requests from The Maple asking if it had authorized any new permits for military components, received any applications for exports of full weapon systems, or revoked any existing permits for the export of any military goods to Israel since October 7.
The Maple also contacted Lévêque directly for clarification on the apparent discrepancy between his comments and GAC’s statement. The request was redirected to Godbout, who provided no response.
For Rachel Small, an organizer with World Beyond War Canada (WBW), GAC’s unclear messaging is likely intentional.
“Global Affairs Canada right now is certainly doing its best to avoid speaking about the Canada-Israel arms trade,” Small told The Maple. “The Canadian government is doing its best to appease people across the country who are demanding accountability, while refusing to reveal any actual information about the export of weapons.”
Small noted that the confusion has been compounded by some Liberal MPs who are reportedly telling their constituents that Canada is not arming Israel, possibly due to a misunderstanding 0f the difference between direct transfers from the Canadian military and exports by private companies to the Israeli military.
“It’s unclear to me if they’re seeking to deliberately mislead the public or whether there’s rampant misinformation within the Liberal Party itself,” she explained.
“Either way, this is not how a responsible state that claims to have strong protections in place for the export of arms and claims to believe in public transparency should be behaving.”
Lauren Ravon, executive director of Oxfam Canada, which recently joined other humanitarian groups in calling for an embargo on military exports to Israel, told The Maple that her organization has similarly struggled to get clear answers from the Trudeau government.
“The response to the questions we’ve asked has been inconclusive,” said Ravon. “That’s why at this point, Oxfam and many of our allies in Canada have opted to go out and call publicly for a suspension of arms exports.”
A $21 Million Industry
In 2022, Canadian suppliers sold a total of $21 million in military goods to Israel, $10.4 million of which was categorized under “electronic equipment.”
Additionally, $4.9 million worth of exports were categorized as goods relating to aircraft, and $3.1 million worth of exports fell under a category that includes “Bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges and related equipment and accessories.”
However, those export categories are broad, and provide little information about the exact kinds of products that Canadian manufacturers have sold to Israel. In order to identify specific exports, arms monitoring groups and journalists typically rely on press releases from the suppliers themselves, who are rarely forthcoming about their dealings with Israel given the country’s well-documented brutality against Palestinians.
Small noted that there were 315 active permits for military sales to Israel listed in GAC’s most recent report on non-U.S. exports, meaning that the Trudeau government would likely have needed to actively suspend or cancel at least some of those permits to prevent the continued flow of Canadian military goods to Israel after October 7.
The Trudeau government has given no indication that this has happened.
WBW is calling on the Canadian government to impose a two-way arms embargo on Israel and close loopholes that allow military goods to flow to Israel via the United States. WBW tracks companies with a presence in Canada that it says are involved in arming the Israeli military, and has organized protests and blockades at facilities belonging to some of those companies.
As well, the arms monitoring group Project Ploughshares recently published a report warning that some Canadian-made components, including those found in F-35 fighter jets, are first shipped to the United States and then ultimately supplied to the Israeli military. Israel has used F-35s in its bombing of Gaza.
At the December 6 committee, Lévêque said he “would not be able to answer” questions about Canadian components being used in Israeli F-35s.
Canada is a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which is enshrined in the Export and Import Permits Act (EIPA). Under the EIPA, “the Minister of Foreign Affairs must deny exports and brokering permit applications for military goods and technology if there is a substantial risk that the items would undermine peace and security, or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws.”
Article Two of the ATT states that the treaty covers all conventional arms that fall under the categories of tanks, combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, helicopters, warships, missiles and small arms. Article Four states that each party must also establish a “control system to regulate the export of parts and components where the export is in a form that provides the capability to assemble […] conventional arms.”
The federal government’s willingness to properly enforce its ATT obligations has been repeatedly called into question by human rights monitoring groups, particularly given the government’s refusal to revoke a $14-billion light-armoured vehicle deal with Saudi Arabia during the country’s brutal war on Yemen and dire domestic human rights record.
Yesterday, Oxfam Canada issued a joint statement with 15 other humanitarian organizations calling on Canada and all other states to “immediately halt the direct or indirect transfer of weapons, parts, and ammunition to Israel and Palestinian armed groups.”
Ravon explained that while it is not unusual for Oxfam to take a stance on world events that cause humanitarian crises, the situation in Gaza is unique because Oxfam has been unable to mount a response on the ground due to the lack of humanitarian access.
“This has pushed us to be even more vocal on the advocacy front,” she explained. “We literally have tons of supplies at the border, we have raised funds from the Canadian public and from people around the world to mount a large-scale response in Gaza, focusing on things like water, and sanitation — and we’re not able to.”
Oxfam was among the organizations that campaigned for Canada to become an ATT signatory, and previously called on Canada to suspend military sales to Saudi Arabia.
“If there are exports of arms directly to Israel, or parts that are manufactured in Canada, exported to the United States to then build armaments that go to Israel, then Canada could be in violation of the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty, but also could be deemed an accomplice to violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes,” said Ravon.
Canadian arms embargoes on Israel are not unprecedented. In 1987, the Brian Mulroney government banned military exports following the outbreak of the First Intifada.
Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, recently said that his country had halted all arms exports to Israel since October 7.
A Case For Genocide
The Trudeau government’s refusal to provide basic information about its authorization of military exports to Israel comes amid South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
South Africa accuses Israel of engaging in acts that are “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group,” and calls on the ICJ to issue a provisional order that Israel immediately halt its bombing campaign in Gaza while the court deliberates the case. The ICJ said this week that it will issue a decision on the request for a provisional ceasefire order on Friday.
Israel rejects the allegations against it.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau government has been accused of offering incoherent responses to South Africa’s case, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself stating that while Canada does not necessarily support the premise of the case, it will respect the court’s findings.
Small said that regardless of the ICJ’s ruling, she believes the Trudeau government is well aware that it is failing to comply with its own obligations under the ATT.
“They are absolutely clear that they’re in no way fulfilling Canada’s legal obligations under this, and are avoiding scrutiny,” she explained. “[ATT] would absolutely require Canada to cut off shipping weapons to a state that’s at risk of committing serious war crimes.”
“There’s no question that Israel has moved far past the line of being at risk of committing serious war crimes.”
Israel’s attack on Gaza has so far killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, including at least 10,000 children. Israel has also decimated Gaza’s health infrastructure, destroyed more than 70 per cent of all residences, displaced more than 90 per cent of the population and killed more than 100 journalists. Evidence of Israeli forces gunning down Palestinian civilians waving white flags has been commonplace.
Israel’s attack followed an assault led by Hamas on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 700 civilians in Israel, along with hundreds of military and security personnel. The attack came in the context of Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza, during which conditions in the besieged strip were described as “unliveable” by the United Nations before Israel’s latest attack.
Israel also maintains a constitutionally entrenched system of apartheid over Palestinians living in all territories controlled by Israel, according to leading international human rights organizations.
Until Canada stops arming Israel, Small said, WBW and other allied groups will continue to apply pressure.
“There will be lots of direct actions coming up very soon at a whole bunch of companies.”
Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.