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The Canadian government is threatened with legal action by NGOs, while experts recall its obligations under international law.

Silence in Ottawa about arms exports to Israel | Middle East, the eternal conflict

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This photo taken from southern Israel, near the border with the Gaza Strip, shows smoke billowing after an Israeli strike on northern Gaza, November 23, 2023.

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Canada exports military equipment to many countries, notably to Israel, at war for more than a month against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where the authorities report thousands of civilians killed. Has Ottawa suspended these sales since the start of the conflict? The Trudeau government remains evasive on this subject.

For Canada to decide to suspend its arms exports to a given country, it simply needs to a doubt: is there a serious risk that these weapons will be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international law?

If the answer is yes, Global Affairs Canada cannot issue export licenses for arms, munitions, war materiel or armaments, in accordance with its own law – the Export and Trade Permits Act. Importation (LLEI) – and the International Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which Canada acceded to in 2019.

In an email, Jean-Pierre J. Godbout, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, explains that among the other criteria that would result in the refusal of a license application is the serious risk that the weapons or ammunition will be used for:

Canada has one of the strongest export control systems rigorous in the world […]. All license applications for controlled goods or technologies are reviewed on a case-by-case basis through a robust risk assessment.

A quote from Jean-Pierre J. Godbout, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada

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However, when asked whether Canada continues to issue export licenses for goods or military technologies to Israel since the start of the war against Hamas on October 7, Global Affairs Canada refuses to answer. .

We have nothing more to add, wrote Jean-Pierre J. Godbout to Radio-Canada.

The war was sparked on October 7 by Hamas' bloody attack on Israeli soil, carried out from Gaza, where the Palestinian movement seized power in 2007.

According to Israeli authorities, at least 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and around 240 other people were taken hostage to Gaza. In response, Israel promised to annihilate Hamas, relentlessly shelling the Gaza Strip ever since. The Israeli army has also been carrying out a ground offensive there since the end of October.

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Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv to demand the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, on November 21, 2023.

According to the Hamas government, more than 14,000 people have been killed in Israeli bombardments on the Gaza Strip since the start of the war, including more than 5,800 children.

On November 16, a group of United Nations experts said that the serious violations committed by Israel against the Palestinians in the aftermath of October 7, particularly in Gaza, indicate that a genocide is underway.

They denounce Israeli attacks on Gaza hospitals as well as refugee camps and schools. The panel believes that Israel's total siege of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the resulting intentional starvation, amounts to a war crime.

The Israeli mission to the UN in Geneva called the comments deplorable and deeply worrying and blamed Hamas for the war, accusing the Palestinian movement of using civilians as human shields in the Strip. of Gaza.

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Palestinians pray over the bodies of those killed in Israeli bombings before burying them in a mass grave in the town of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, November 22, 2023.

To stay up to date on the latest developments in this conflict, follow our live coverage.

It is in this context that the International Center for Palestinian Justice (ICJP), an independent organization of lawyers, academics and politicians that works to protect the rights of Palestinians, is threatening Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, from prosecution for complicity in war crimes.

The Government of Canada is hereby notified that we intend to take legal action against Canadian officials when there is evidence demonstrating that &x27; they aided, abetted or provided material assistance in the commission of a war crime.

A quote from Excerpt from a letter sent by the CIJP to the Government of Canada

The CIJP is supported by several other local and international organizations, including Palestinians and United Jews, Independent Jewish Voices, the Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Al-Haq Center for Applied International Law.

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Protesters blocked the entry of the INKAS company into Toronto on October 30. The organizers of this rally accuse this company of supplying military equipment to the Israeli army.

It is unacceptable that the Government of Canada continues not only to express its support for Israel's actions in Gaza but also to facilitate arms exports to the Hebrew state, indicates the group in a letter sent to the liberal government a week ago. It is a crime to supply weapons to a state knowing that they will be used to commit war crimes and genocide.

A week earlier, the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) had also warned Canada and other allies of Israel, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, against the continuation of arms transfers to the Israeli army.

At the same time, this NGO also called on other countries and organizations that support Hamas, including Iran, to stop providing weapons to Palestinian armed groups […] as long as they continue to commit crimes of war.

Above all, this is an urgent request to help protect civilians, who are being killed on an unprecedented scale. previous – in the thousands – right now, HRW said in a statement.

It is also a warning to arms suppliers, given the real risk that transferred weapons will be used to commit serious abuses. By providing weapons that are proven to contribute significantly to illegal attacks, allies and donors could find themselves complicit in war crimes.

A quote from From a Human Rights Watch statement


According to Global Affairs Canada's latest report on exports of military goods in 2022, Israel is the country that has obtained the most export licenses used for military goods and technology, excluding the United States. In total, Israel obtained 315 export licenses in 2022, followed by the United Kingdom (290) and Germany (188).

According to the same report, Canada exported more than $21 million in military equipment to Israel in 2022. This amount was $26 million in 2021, placing Israel among the top 10 destinations for Canadian arms exports. Aside from the United States, Saudi Arabia tops the list, with more than $1 billion in military equipment imported from Canada in 2022.

Among the goods and technologies transferred to Israel are mainly electronic equipment designed specifically for military use ($10,465,925.01), aircraft and aeronautical equipment ($4,966,293.58). $) as well as bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles and other explosive devices ($3,174,297.90).

Canada is obliged, by its own laws and the international treaties it has signed, to refuse the transfer of weapons to countries where there is a serious risk that these [equipment] will be used to commit serious crimes, indicates at Radio-Canada Farida Deif, director of HRW in Canada.

According to Ms. Deif, HRW has already documented serious abuses that have been committed by both Israel than by Palestinian armed groups since October 7.

The risks that war crimes have been committed are very real, assured Farida Deif. If Canada continues to knowingly contribute to these attacks by providing weapons to Israel, it may be considered complicit in war crimes.

There will be legal consequences, she adds again.

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Israeli soldiers inspect shells not far from the border with Lebanon.

The NGO Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which published a report in April 2022 on Canadian arms transfers to Israel, denounces the lack of transparency of the Canadian government in this matter.

Canada is not taking this issue seriously enough, lamented Michael Bueckert, vice-president of CJPME, in an interview with Radio-Canada. Ottawa must be more transparent in specifying the types of military equipment and materials it exports.

According to him, certain equipment, particularly technological, has a dual use, both commercial and military, and it is therefore difficult to know whether they are used for military purposes or not if they are not mentioned in the reports. official.

The other risk, again according to Mr. Bueckert, is that Canadian weapons are sold to a third country, for example the United States, which, in turn, could transfer them to another country in a situation of war and where there is a risk that these weapons will be used to commit violations of international law.

Same observation from Kelsey Gallagher, researcher at Project Plowshares, a Canadian non-governmental organization that focuses on disarmament issues.

We don't know what types of equipment Canada exports, because Global Affairs Canada reports Canadian military exports under broad categories.

A quote from Kelsey Gallagher, researcher at Project Plowshares< /blockquote>Open in full screen mode

An RCMP officer is pushing back protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza at a hotel where the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to participate in a Liberal Party fundraising event in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.

We are particularly concerned about the transfer of bombs and rockets […] because we see that Israel is not respecting international humanitarian law with the continuation of its airstrikes on Gaza, Mr. Gallagher told Radio-Canada. It is therefore obvious that the continued export of explosive equipment to Israel is very worrying.

In April 2021, Canada canceled arms sales to NATO ally Turkey after an investigation concluded that Canadian technology used in drones had been used by Azerbaijan against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Two months later, a parliamentary committee looked into exports of x27;arms of Canada and published a report entitled Assessing risks, preventing diversion and increasing transparency.

In this 50-page document, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development makes eight recommendations to the government, including that of conducting an investigation in all cases where the civil society and independent experts raise credible concerns about the misuse of Canadian technology under the arms export controls regime.

If an investigation were to reveal the existence of a serious risk that such an export license would not comply with Canadian and international obligations, that […] the license is suspended or cancelled, or both.

A quote from From a Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

The parliamentary committee also calls on the government to create an effective and feasible system of post-shipment verifications that could apply to exported military goods and technologies.

The New Democratic critic for foreign affairs, Heather McPherson, who is a member of this committee, recently questioned a representative of Global Affairs Canada on this subject.

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Heather McPherson, NDP MP.

Are you checking to see if any of these military equipment or technologies sold to Israel are being used in the war in Gaza? the MP asked Ann Flanagan Whalen, director of the North Africa, Israel and West Bank/Gaza department at Global Affairs Canada, on October 23.

Licenses for controlled goods are not issued if we believe there is a risk that they will be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international law. So far, this has not been an issue in this conflict. I can say that with some certainty, replied Ms. Whalen.

All federal opposition parties, other than the New Democratic Party (NDP ), refused to clarify to Radio-Canada their position on Canadian arms transfers to Israel.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh had already called on the Liberal government to suspend arms sales to Israel in May 2021, when armed clashes pitted the Jewish state against Hamas.

At the beginning of November, Mr. Singh and his deputies signed a letter urging the government to demand an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages and to stop arms sales to Israel [while working] with partners to put an end to illegal arms transfers to Hamas. They also called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

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Palestinian children fill containers of water between buildings destroyed by Israeli shelling in the central Gaza Strip, November 14, 2023.

Consulted by Radio-Canada, two experts in international law affirm that Canada can indeed be the subject of trial if it knowingly exports weapons to a country where there is a risk of war crimes.

It is certain that Canada, as a state, has an obligation to prevent the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocides , says Frédéric Mégret, professor of international law at McGill University. That is clear, but what is quite complex is to prove that these crimes were committed and that responsibility is attributable to Canada.

According to him, the NGOs for the defense of human rights which threaten to sue the Canadian government, or even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, [play] their role of reminding leaders of their responsibilities […], but they cannot not pursue criminal charges in Canada. They can complain and encourage the Crown to do so.

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Prime Minister Trudeau appealed for the protection of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

For his part, Philippe Larochelle, a lawyer specializing in international criminal law, believes that these prosecutions, even if they have a low chance of success, can still have a very significant political impact.

This type of appeal is not only feasible, but it is desirable, he believes. Even if the case is not won in advance, these crucial questions must be debated before a judge, given the unacceptable inaction of our authorities.

If war crimes or, worse, genocide are potentially being committed and Canada knowingly remains inactive […], it will be important to determine who is responsible for this state of affairs at some point.

With information from Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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