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Canada must end military exports to Israel

By Above Ground, the Regroupement pour la responsabilité sociale des entreprises (RRSE) and the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière (CISO)

As the war in Gaza approaches its fifth month and global outcry over the devastating toll on civilians increases, many countries are being challenged over their military exports to Israel. Canada, which supported the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in December, is among them.

Gaza City bombing aftermath
The aftermath of bombing in Gaza City on October 9. Photo by Naaman Omar / APA Images, CC BY-SA 3.0

We join the growing chorus of voices calling on Ottawa to report the full extent of Canadian contributions to Israel’s military arsenal and to halt any further exports.1 This should be an urgent priority given the scale of the humanitarian emergency in Gaza and serious questions being raised as to whether Israel is committing war crimes.2 Experts describe Israel’s military campaign as one of the most deadly and destructive in recent history, with over 1% of Gaza’s population killed and the entire population of 2.2 million people at “imminent risk” of famine, according to the UN. UN experts have described the situation as “a genocide in the making,” and the International Court of Justice has ruled a genocide case against Israel can go ahead. It has also ordered immediate action by Israel to prevent genocidal acts and ensure that sufficient aid can reach the devastated population.  

Groups like Project Ploughshares and World Beyond War have called attention to significant Canadian business ties to the Israeli military. In 2022, the value of “military goods and technology” exported directly to Israel by Canadian companies totalled $21.3 million. In addition, many companies in Canada have supplied components to U.S.-based manufacturers that end up in military equipment destined for Israel. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets, of which Israel has acquired dozens, contain components made by Canadian companies. 

Companies seeking to export military goods and technology must apply for a permit from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), with exceptions for many goods exported to the U.S. The department reports annually the number of permits issued. In 2022, for example, 199 permits for military goods and technology destined for Israel were issued and 315 were utilized.3 It does not routinely report, however, which companies applied for or received these permits. In a rare exception, in 2021 GAC provided to Parliament a partially redacted list of companies whose permit applications for military exports to Israel had been under review in 2018.4 From this, Project Ploughshares identified some companies – including INKAS, Viasystems Toronto, Inc. and CMC Electronics Inc. – that have sought to export military goods to Israel. 

Viasystems Toronto and CMC Electronics applied to export parts to Elbit Systems Ltd., an Israel-based company whose alleged production of controversial weapons, including cluster munitions, has landed it on the investment blacklist of two large investment funds. Notably, Scotiabank is the third-biggest shareholder in Elbit.

As a signatory of the UN Arms Trade Treaty and according to Canadian law, Canada must deny military export permits when there is “substantial risk” that the exported items could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The foreign affairs minister also has the authority to amend, suspend or cancel permits. Accordingly, the government should urgently review all permits for military exports to Israel and suspend the issuance of new permits. 

There is recent precedent for such decisions: In 2018, Canada suspended the issuance of new export permits for military goods and technology to Saudi Arabia while it reviewed whether there was “a substantial risk” those goods would be used to “commit or facilitate” violations of international humanitarian law. It has similarly cancelled permits for certain military exports to Türkiye and Russia.

Alongside Canada’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, we must also note its endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These affirm that corporations must exercise due diligence on human rights throughout their full value chain. This would include taking care to avoid facilitating rights violations through their investments or products they supply. Merely encouraging companies to meet this standard is not enough. Canada should legally require it, as many other countries are now doing.

As a party to the genocide convention, Canada also has an obligation to prevent a genocide. Among other urgently needed actions, Ottawa should immediately halt all direct military exports to Israel. Ottawa should also take measures to ensure Canadian companies aren’t supplying parts for military equipment destined for Israel. Finally, it must create legal mechanisms by which Canadian companies whose business facilitates human right violations, in Gaza or anywhere else, can be held to account.

1. Such calls have been made by legislators in Parliament, Amnesty International, Project Ploughshares and World Beyond War, among others.

2. See allegations of war crimes in reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and in a letter from more than 200 lawyers and legal scholars to Canada’s prime minister.

3. Utilized permits may include permits issued the same year and in previous years.

4. This list was part of a package of documents provided to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for its 2021 study on the granting of arms export permits to Türkiye.

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