Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Canada To Sell Combat Helicopters to Philippines despite Deadly War on Drugs

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

Canada is selling 16 combat helicopters to the Philippines — a country where President Rodrigo Duterte is facing widespread condemnation for a war on drugs that has left about 12,000 people dead.

A Philippeanse Air Force Bell 412 Helicopter; delivered in 2015. 
The $234 million deal, brokered by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, involves Bell 412 aircraft which are expected to be built at the U.S. company’s plant in Mirabel, Que.

The sale was denounced by human rights activists who warned that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was cozying up to some of the more dubious regimes in the world. They pointed to an ongoing deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a move the Liberals criticized the Conservative government for arranging but went ahead with when Trudeau came to power.

“The Liberal government had pledged to uphold higher standards after the terrible Saudi arms deal but instead it is selling to the worst and most repressive 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?”

Staples pointed out that the deal would not have gone through without the backing of the Canadian government and the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation.

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Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an organization that works to prevent war and armed violence, warned the deal could have serious ramifications. “Given President Duterte’s abysmal human rights record — which Ottawa is no doubt aware of — this raises troubling questions about the risk of the helicopters being equipped with weapons and of their use in human rights violations,” Jaramillo told Postmedia.

He also noted that the sale exposed a major loophole in Canada’s military export controls. “Although the helicopters are being supplied for military use, they are classified by the Canadian government as civilian and thus their export does not require special authorization.”

The NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Hélène Laverdière, called on Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to refuse approval for the export permits needed for the helicopter sale. “How can Trudeau justify this deal with the Philippines when Duterte’s government has plunged the country into a terrible human rights crisis?” Laverdière tweeted.

In a release announcing the deal, Bell Helicopter said it was “honoured” to be supplying the aircraft to the Philippine military.

The Canadian Commercial Corporation also brokered the $15 billion light-armoured vehicles deal with the Saudis — which Trudeau dismissed on the campaign trail as just “jeeps.”

The controversial deal returned to the spotlight last year when it was reported that another type of armoured vehicle from a Canadian firm was being used by the Saudis on their own citizens.

The Saudis have been repeatedly criticized for an appalling human rights record. Government rules call for Canada to curb shipments to countries with a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.”

Duterte has also been condemned by human rights activists for his war on drugs. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated that the “murderous” war had killed 12,000 people.

The Philippine president — who once boasted about throwing a man to his death from a helicopter — has warned government officials they would face the same fate if he learned they were involved in corruption. After the United Nations criticized him for assorted human-rights violations, Duterte last month denounced the organization as serving “no purpose at all.”

The Philippines has also been fighting a Communist insurgency since 1969 in a war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Last year, Duterte faced criticism after cancelling peace talks aimed at ending that conflict. The Philippine military is also involved in a fight against Islamic extremists.

Duterte, who has cracked down on media outlets that have criticized his policies, is a popular leader in the Philippines. His tough stance on the drug war has earned him the praise of U.S. President Donald Trump who has said Duterte was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

In a report last month, Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, said the “epidemic of police shootings” were often summary executions. “The vast majority of victims were young men from the slums of major cities—people who elicited little sympathy among many Filipinos,” he wrote.

Calling for political leaders to have the courage to stand up for human rights he wrote, “Human rights standards provide guidance but become operational only with champions among governments and ordinary people.”

Canada provided four helicopters to the Philippines in 2015, before Duterte’s election.

Canadian Commercial Corporation declined to comment on what approvals were received to allow the contract to proceed and about Canadian government policy on selling to countries involved in an ongoing war. “For reasons of commercial confidentiality we cannot confirm any other details of the contract,” a corporation spokesperson replied in an email. The CCC did confirm that the contract was signed on Dec. 29, 2017.

Global Affairs Canada said in an email Tuesday that the helicopters will be used for “disaster relief, search and rescue, passenger transport, and utility transport.”

However, Philippines Major-General Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, told journalists, “The helicopters will be used for the military’s internal security operations.”
They can be used in a secondary role for search and rescue and disaster relief.

Canadian defence industry representatives have praised the Canadian Commercial Corporation for its efforts in selling military equipment around the world and have pointed out it was now focused on boosting arms sales to the United Arab Emirates.

In a Dec. 18 statement, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan noted that Canada and the United Arab Emirates signed a new defence agreement which not only supports further military cooperation but “also means opening doors for Canadian industry in the region.”

The day after Sajjan’s statement, Norway’s government decided to suspend exports of weapons and ammunition to the UAE because of concerns the equipment could be used in the civil war in Yemen. The UAE is part of a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that is fighting Houthi forces who seized the country’s capital city. The fighting has killed more than 5,000 people and Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilian targets has been condemned by the international community.

Germany has also halted arms shipments to Saudi Arabia because of its involvement in the Yemen war

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