Canada says will clamp down on arms exports amid rights concerns

FILE PHOTO: Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gestures during a joint news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Mexico City, Mexico February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada plans to clamp down on arms exports to ensure the armaments it sells abroad are not used to commit human rights abuses, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Freeland told legislators that Canada would not allow the export of a weapon “if there were a substantial risk that it could be used to commit human rights violations.”

She made her remarks a day after Ottawa said it was reviewing the sale of 16 helicopters to the Philippines amid concerns the aircraft could be used to fight rebels.

Current regulations mean governments need only carry out a study of the general risks that might be involved in a sale.

“This is a significant decision. It will mean changes in how Canada regulates selling weapons ... I want us to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” said Freeland.

A Canadian government source estimated that the clamp down could shave three percent off annual sales. Foreign ministry figures for 2016 show Canada exported military goods and technology worth C$718 million ($570.20 million).

According to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Canada placed 15th on the list of arms exporters in the period from 2012-2016, accounting for 0.9 percent of global sales. The United States was first with 33 percent and Russia second with 23 percent.

In 2016, Canada’s Liberal government was criticized for deciding to honor a contract to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns about human rights.

Freeland told legislators that a probe by foreign ministry officials had found no conclusive evidence that Canadian-made vehicles were used in human rights violations.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler