In early February the shocking news came to light that a Canadian government agency, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, had brokered a deal to sell 16 Canadian-made Bell Helicopters to the Philippine military. The uproar was immediate, with condemnations from a broad array of human rights groups and questions raised in Parliament.
“The Liberal government had pledged to uphold higher standards after the terrible Saudi arms deal but instead it is selling to …[a] regime in Asia where the president brags about personally shooting drug users and throwing people out of helicopters,” said Steve Staples, vice president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa.
“How long will it be until the (Philippine) military is using the helicopters during executions?”
Once the government’s rationale — that the helicopters were only going to be used for search and rescue — was contradicted by none other than the Philippine President himself, the government no longer tried to defend the indefensible but announced an immediate review of the deal. Then President Duterte himself pulled the plug because he bristled at any notion of restrictions on his country’s use of this equipment.
Now we learn that the deal may be back on again, with direct talks taking place between Bell Helicopter and the Philippines government. They are clearly hoping to take advantage of one of two gigantic loopholes in Canada’s export control system, which will not fixed by Bill C-47, Canada’s draft legislation to enable our accession to the landmark Arms Trade Treaty. These loopholes are:
- The helicopters are shipped to Bell Helicopter Textron headquarters in Texas before they are sent to the Philippines; OR
- The helicopters are classed as civilian and any weapons are added after shipment.
In either case, the requirement for a Canadian export permit — and therefore of a thorough human rights vetting — would be avoided.
Let’s be clear. This is the same deal we thought was dead shortly after it came to light in February. President Duterte is still being investigated by the International Criminal Court for potential war crimes. The end use of the goods is still the Philippine military whose President has vowed to use them in counterinsurgency operations rife with extreme human rights abuses. RI President Peggy Mason cites one particularly horrifying example:
This is the President who urged his military to shoot women rebels in the genitals to render them ‘useless’.
The Trudeau government must stop this atrocious deal by any means necessary.
And then they must close the glaring loopholes in the legislation, Bill C-47, now before Parliament to regulate “dual use” equipment along with all other arms exports to the United States.
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Photo credit: Marcelino Pascua/PCOO