Turkey pressed Canada to approve export of air-strike gear later used in Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict

Ottawa issued export permits for made-in-Canada target-acquisition gear to be shipped to Turkey last year, despite an arms embargo, after assurances from Turkish officials that the equipment would only be used to protect civilians under attack in Syria, newly unveiled documents show, The Globe and Mail reports.

Federal government documents released to the foreign affairs committee show that Turkey had pressed Ottawa to allow the shipment on the grounds that it was necessary to safeguard civilians in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib.

A May 6, 2020, memo by Marta Morgan, deputy minister of foreign affairs, recommends to then-foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne that he permit the export of the Wescam gear to the Turks. In the memo, Ms. Morgan said this represents an “exceptional circumstances” case.

Turkey is an ally of Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance, but in October, 2019, Ottawa halted the approval process for new export permits to ship military goods to Turkey, citing Ankara’s “military incursion into Syria.” It followed Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria in an assault on Kurdish forces.

And in April, 2020, the federal government released a public caution that prospective exporters should assume requests to ship Group 2 military goods would be rejected. Group 2 is a sprawling category that includes most goods that are considered weapons.

However, Global Affairs pressed Mr. Champagne to allow an exception on humanitarian grounds.

“Based on assurances provided to you by the Turkish foreign minister, [Canadian] officials have assessed that they are intended for use to help protect civilians in Idlib,” the foreign affairs deputy minister wrote.

Asked for comment, the Turkish embassy in Ottawa defended its conduct.

“We will not rush to comment on the documents that were released … they will be analyzed in due course,” the Turkish diplomatic mission said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.

The embassy said Canada should stop blocking exports to an ally. “We strongly believe that the restrictions on export permits of controlled goods and technology to NATO ally Turkey are unjustified and misguided. Turkey meticulously upholds human rights and NATO standards.”

Drones played a major role in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh fighting and the parliamentary committee has been probing the means by which restricted Canadian imaging technology made by L3Harris Wescam turned up in drones being operated by Azerbaijan. The gear from Wescam, based in Burlington, Ont., had been authorized for export to Turkey only.

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