OTTAWA – International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is ordering a review of the planned sale of 16 helicopters to the Philippine military amid concerns about the country’s human rights record.
Government officials initially defended the deal, which is being facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corp., saying the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions and disaster relief.
But Champagne says he ordered a review following comments from a senior member of the Philippine military that the Montreal-made aircraft would be used for internal security operations.
“I have received no export application permit for this contract,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland on Wednesday. “The Prime Minister and I have been very clear about the Duterte regime’s human rights violations and extrajudicial killings including while in the Philippines. I will conduct an extremely rigorous human rights analysis of any potential export permit application related to this contract. I have the power to deny a permit if I feel that it poses a risk to human rights and I am prepared to do so.”
Human rights and arms-control groups have accused the Philippine armed forces of extrajudicial killings and other atrocities in their fight against Islamic militants and communist rebels.
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“Given the serious violations committed by government forces, including torture, in the context of the recent Marawi conflict, as well as the ongoing communist insurgency in the country, in which violations by paramilitary groups, aligned with the military, have been well-documented, Canada should exercise extreme caution in approving the supply of equipment to the Philippines that could be used for military ends,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada in an emailed statement.
He added that such transfers should not be authorized unless a thorough human rights risk assessment demonstrates that the Philippine military will use the helicopters lawfully, and he urged the government to release information detailing that such an assessment has been conducted and safeguards are in place.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also raised concerns about extrajudicial killings while visiting the country in November, specifically those related to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent crackdown on illegal drugs.
The Liberal government has previously been criticized for approving arms exports to countries with questionable human-rights records, most notably the massive deal for light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.