OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says he’s willing to halt military export permits to NATO ally Turkey if an investigation determines Canadian technology is leading to human rights abuses.
Champagne made the pledge in an interview with The Canadian Press as Turkey faces allegations it is involved in this week’s renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
He was responding to calls from arms-control watchdogs, Armenian Canadians and New Democrats to suspend the export of a targeting sensor made by a Burlington, Ont., company that is allegedly being used in Turkish attack drones.
Turkey, a member of NATO with Canada, has said it supports Azerbaijan in renewed fighting with Armenia that broke out Sunday in a disputed region in the South Caucasus separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenia has accused Turkey of redeploying fighters from Syria and F-16 fighter jets to support Azerbaijani forces, but Turkey has denied sending people or arms to the conflict.
Champagne and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, have expressed concern over the wide-scale military action between Armenia and Azerbaijan and are calling on them to peacefully negotiate through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The Canadian disarmament group, Project Ploughshares, has issued a report that alleges Turkey is increasingly using a targeting sensor made by L3Harris WESCAM, a Canadian subsidiary of the American company L3Harris, and that it poses a substantial risk of human rights abuses.
“I’ve immediately directed our officials to investigate the claims,” Champagne said in a Thursday interview with The Canadian Press. “I’m willing to suspend or cancel any permit that is found . . . to have been misused.”
Champagne said he is committed to “upholding the highest standards” when reviewing export permit requests from companies, including Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.
“I’ve been talking with the different interest groups, which have raised these issues, and I take their concerns seriously,” he said.
In September, Project Ploughshares released a report entitled “Killer Optics: Exports of WESCAM sensors to Turkey — a litmus test of Canada’s compliance with the Arms Trade Treaty.”
The group said it collected evidence from public records, media reports, academic sources, credible human-rights monitors and open-source data that “strongly indicates” that the WESCAM sensors, which are mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are being extensively used by Turkey in recent military operations.
It says Turkey has been using the sensors since 2017 while its military has been trying to put down an insurgency in southeast Turkey and while being involved in military operations in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
“Such use raises serious red flags, as it has been alleged that Turkey’s military has committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) and other violations, particularly when conducting airstrikes,” the report says.
“It appears that Turkey has also exported UAVs equipped with WESCAM sensors to armed groups in Libya, a blatant breach of the nearly decade-old UN arms embargo. The dramatic rise in exports of WESCAM systems to Turkey has persisted despite Canada’s 2019 accession to the Arms Trade Treaty.”
The Armenian National Committee of Canada has called on the federal government “to condemn this outright aggression” by Azerbaijan, and to immediately halt arms exports to Turkey
“According to official reports, civilian and military casualties are mounting, and Azerbaijan’s aggression has caused significant destruction of civilian infrastructure, including basic humanitarian supplies, due in part to the use of Canadian enhanced drones,” the committee said in a statement this week.
Jack Harris, the NDP foreign affairs critic, said the government could be complicit in human rights abuses by failing to properly regulate its arms exports to Turkey.
“The Liberal government must look in the mirror to re-evaluate Canada’s arms exports,” Harris said in a statement.
In the interview, Champagne said he takes Canada’s legal obligations seriously when it comes to export permit requests.
He said he is committed to “making sure that they fall within the very robust system we have,“ adding: “Human rights are a core component now.”
Champagne declined to say how long his department’s investigation would take. He said it would consult with NATO and other allies to “get the best possible intelligence.”
“And like I said, if there was any evidence that these permits would have been misused, I’m willing and I will suspend or cancel any permits.”