Canada has suspended export permits that allow made-in-Canada target-acquisition gear to be shipped to Turkey, the same equipment that is now at the centre of allegations that Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones to attack Armenia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the measure Monday.
Last week, Canada announced it was investigating allegations that Canadian-made imaging and targeting systems were being used in drones operated on behalf of the Azerbaijan military to attack Armenia in a growing conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
There is concern that exports meant for Turkey only have been diverted to Azerbaijan, a staunch ally of the country.
“Over the last several days, certain allegations have been made regarding Canadian technology being used in the military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Mr. Champagne said in a statement.
“Upon learning of these allegations, I immediately directed Global Affairs Canada to investigate these claims.
“In line with Canada’s robust export control regime and due to the ongoing hostilities, I have suspended the relevant export permits to Turkey, so as to allow time to further assess the situation.”
Arms researchers and Armenian Canadians have said they believe Azerbaijan is using Turkish-made drones that include Wescam gear in military operations against Armenia.
The Globe has not independently confirmed these allegations. However, footage of missile strikes by the Azerbaijani military posted on the internet contain a graphical overlay on the video that bears a very strong resemblance to the proprietary graphical overlays of systems manufactured by L3Harris Wescam.
The company – owned by a U.S. parent, L3Harris Technologies – makes imaging and targeting systems containing laser designators to paint targets for laser-guided bombs launched by drones or fighter aircraft. Wescam technology has been used in drones operated by Turkey’s military, including aircraft made by Turkish firm Baykar. In June and July, widespread media reports indicated Turkey was selling drones to Azerbaijan.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that Canada issued export permits to send such gear to Turkey in May, a country that Ottawa had banned nearly a year ago from receiving new military goods.
A source familiar with the matter said that in May, the department of Global Affairs’ export controls division issued permits enabling Burlington, Ont.-based L3Harris Wescam to ship seven MX-15D imaging and targeting systems to Turkish drone maker Baykar.
Also issued was a permit to export related software and technical documents and training materials. The Globe and Mail is not naming the source because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The permits are effective until June, 2021.
Officials at Wescam and L3Harris Technologies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last October, the federal government halted the approval process for new export permits to ship military goods to Turkey, citing Ankara’s “military incursion into Syria.”
But then in April, it modified this ban and added a loophole. It said it would resume assessing export permit applications again, but prospective exporters should assume requests to ship Group 2 military goods – a sprawling category that includes most goods that are considered weapons – would be rejected.
But, Ottawa added, exceptions would be made for matters relating to “NATO co-operation programs.” Turkey and Canada are both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance.
The Armenian National Committee of Canada, a grassroots organization representing the Armenian diaspora in this country, has said for some time that it believes Canada has granted an exemption that allows Wescam gear to keep being shipped to Turkey.
Executive director Sevag Belian has said he is concerned Turkey may be using its NATO membership to secure the Wescam exports.