Military and technology exports defy Canadian and international law, says coalition
Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR) is part of a coalition calling on Global Affairs Canada to immediately halt military and technology exports to Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.
The coalition said that under the current circumstances, issuing export permits for military goods and technology to Israel violates both Canadian and international law. On Jan. 28, it gave the federal government fourteen days to confirm it had ceased any such exports, after which the coalition said it would “consider its legal options.” The coalition consists of CLAIHR, a West Bank-based NGO, and two individuals.
“We're simply asking Global Affairs Canada and the federal government to uphold their own laws,” says Henry Off, CLAIHR board member.
Under ss. 7.3-7.4 of the Export and Imports Permits Act, when deciding whether to issue a permit on “arms, ammunition, implements or munitions of war,” the Minister must consider whether their export would “contribute to peace and security or undermine it” and whether they could be “used to commit or facilitate” a “serious violation” of either international humanitarian law or international human rights law, “an act constituting an offence under international conventions or protocols relating to terrorism,” and “serious acts of violence against women and children.”
The coalition argues that exporting military-related goods to Israel would run afoul of the statute, due to the “substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious violations of international law and serious acts of violence against women and children.” On Jan. 19, UN Women released a report finding that of the 24,620 Palestinians killed in Gaza at that point, 16,000 were women or children.
Global Affairs Canada declined Canadian Lawyer’s request for an interview. In a statement sent via email, spokesperson Jean-Pierre Godbout said Global Affairs cannot comment on individual permits or permit applications. But he said Canada had not received any requests from and issued no permits to Israel for “full weapon systems for major conventional arms or light weapons” in over 30 years. He said that all the permits Global Affairs granted since Oct. 7, 2023 – when Hamas members crossed the Gaza border and attacked Israel killing 1,200 people – have been for the export of “non-lethal equipment.”
Godbout said Global Affairs reviews all permit applications “on a case-by-case basis under Canada’s risk assessment framework,” which includes the Arms Trade Treaty criteria in the Export and Import Permits Act. “Export-controlled items” include telecommunications, decontamination, cryptographic, imaging, and protective equipment, as well as simulators, electronic components, firearms, and ammunition.
“Permits for the export of controlled goods and technology from Canada will not be issued if there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international human rights law, to undermine peace and security, to facilitate international organized crime or terrorism, to commit a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or to commit serious acts of violence against women and children,” said Godbout. “There have been no changes to this longstanding policy.”
Though Global Affairs says it has not permitted the export of any “full weapons systems,” and all the exports have been for “non-lethal equipment,” Off says the vast majority of what Canada has historically exported to Israel has been components and small parts, including electronic equipment used for F15 and F35 fighter jets.
In 2022, Canada exported $21.3 million worth of military goods to Israel, according to Global Affairs Canada’s “Report on the Export of Military Goods.”
The coalition consists of CLAIHR; Al-Haq, a human rights NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank; Ayman Oweida, a Palestinian-Canadian living in Quebec; and a confidential Palestinian asylum seeker from Gaza.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch also sent an open letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly raising “profound concerns about the legal and humanitarian implications of Canada’s transfer of weapon systems to the government of Israel.” The letter was signed by 45 civil society organizations. Like CLAIHR, Human Rights Watch is warning that there is a “clear and substantial risk” that the government of Israel is using Canadian exports in the commission of “serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”