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- “Hey, have you heard of the Canadian double -”
- “Of course, the Double Double from Tim Horton’s is Canada’s pride and joy, along with maple syrup and poutine!”
- “No, no. Not coffee. I was actually referring to the Canadian government’s double standard pertaining to military exports to Turkey versus military exports to Saudi Arabia.”
- “Oh, my bad. Haven’t heard of it. Could you care to explain?”
Canada, a country known for many of its middle-ground, neutral foreign policies as well as peacekeeping missions, is playing a surprisingly important role in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over disputed territories. On October 5th 2020, the Canadian federal government suspended exports of Canada-made military technology to Turkey after discoveries of the equipment being used by Azerbaijan’s army in the recent ‘re-ignition’ of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict surfaced.
A video of airstrikes released by Baku indicates that drones deployed against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, operated by Azerbaijan’s military, had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc. Experts consulted by Radio Canada International said the videos show Turkish-produced drones equipped with Canadian sensors and laser targeting systems.
Apart from the video, there is sufficient evidence to support the validity of the decision to temporarily suspend export of Canadian arms to Turkey. Firstly, Turkey has supplied drones to Azerbaijan in the past and historically sides with Azerbaijan; Turkey and Azerbaijan have close political relations, and the lives of the citizens of the two countries are intertwined by a similar language, shared religion and culture. The area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and it has a deep-rooted connection to Turkey. According to the Turkish government, it “stands firmly beside its close ally in the conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region”.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne stated that the allegations of drone technology exported to Turkey and employed by Azeri forces are being investigated. Champagne declared that he is ready to halt exports of Canadian military drone technology to Turkey if the investigation determines that these exports have been used in Nagorno-Karabakh towards human rights abuse. The suspension is a careful and well-thought out move to protect those that are possibly being harmed by Canadian technology on the Armenian side of the clashes.
If this is merely a preventative, methodical measure, where is the double standard?
The following day, Turkey’s foreign ministry expressed that the decision to cease exporting sophisticated drone technology to Turkey shows contrasting principles in regards to Canada’s military exports: “Turkey expects Canada to follow a policy free of double standards and to act without being influenced from those opposed to Turkey,” the ministry said in a statement, while asserting that “[t]here is no explanation of blocking defence equipment exports to a NATO ally while … Canada does not see any harm in exporting arms to countries that have military involvement in the crisis in Yemen.”.
In that statement, the Turkish foreign ministry cleverly uncovered Canada’s “responsible and angelic facade” and revealed the dualism of the Canadian government to the rest of the world. In the words “…from those opposed to Turkey,” Turkey is clearly hinting that Canada’s decision was influenced by the Armenian government and the Armenian population. Turkey and Armenia failed to establish diplomatic relations after a history of hostile interactions including the Armenian genocide and the Turkish-Armenian war of 1920. Recently, Armenian-Canadians have been protesting Canada’s unintentional involvement in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and condemning the use of Canadian drone technology in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The double standard consists of Canada suspending military exports to Turkey but continuing to send military equipment to Saudi Arabia – a country responsible for the intervention in Yemen’s civil war as well as the restrictions on aid and essential goods. Its airstrikes and blockades towards Yemen resulted in thousands of civilians killed and wounded, with a famine and spread of disease threatening to take the lives of many more. Canada chose to ignore this severe violation of human rights and sold close to 3 billion Canadian dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia solely in 2019.
Although Canada has often criticized the Saudi government’s actions in Yemen, Canada acted hypocritically by only briefly freezing the contract to allow a review and modification; exports were resumed after establishing a moratorium. This moratorium prevents new permits from being issued, meaning that existing permits / contracts are unaffected. The reasoning behind this decision is quite egoistic: Simply put, the “improvements” made to the contract would secure thousands of jobs for Canadians in south-western Ontario. Canada has openly turned a blind eye for its own profit. Prioritising employment and economic prosperity in Canada over combating the suffering of Yemen’s population (while also freezing significantly less valuable military exports to Turkey until further notice) contradicts Canada’s stance on eradicating human rights abuses. The overarching concern: How is this ‘selective hearing’ deemed acceptable by the international community? Why is Turkey the only nation calling out the Canadian federal government’s negligence and double standard?
Meanwhile, protesters gather in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Calgary to condemn the use of Canada-made drones by Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The goal is to seek repercussions for Turkey’s violation of international and human rights laws. Canadians from all diasporas need to follow suit and urge the federal government to seek legal action against Saudi Arabia’s military initiatives and call out the federal government for its double standard.
Perhaps Turkey’s accusation of Canada being one-sided and not as unbiased as Canada portrays itself to be will shed light on the realities of Canada’s altruistic reputation. This could potentially lead to a movement in demanding consistency in Canada’s foreign affairs and military exports.