The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights
Canada must defend human rights abroad with more robust export control policy
June 7, 2018
Ottawa – Canada’s export laws make it easy for the federal government to prioritize economic gains and foreign policy interests over human rights, the Senate Committee on Human Rights said Thursday.
In its report, Promoting Human Rights: Canada’s Approach to its Export Sector, the committee examined how Canada can use its economic levers to enhance respect for human rights, particularly with regard to Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act.
First enacted in 1947, the act is Canada’s primary tool for managing the import and export of goods and technologies. It also gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs broad discretion to weigh the potential for human rights violations against other foreign policy, defence and commercial considerations.
Even though Canada advocates for the promotion and protection of human rights, the committee found that the government too often appears willing to compromise these values in order to advance economic and other foreign policy interests.
New and emerging technologies are posing their own problems as some countries are using technology — including software exported from Canada — to control and monitor Internet access, speech and the flow of ideas. Witnesses described how repressive governments have made use of these technologies to violate human rights.
Canadian companies should not profit from human rights abuses. Greater weight needs to be given to the promotion and protection of human rights in Canada’s export regime. The committee believes export permits should be an integral part of the strategy to promote and protect human rights abroad.
- The committee began its study following Global Affairs Canada’s decision to grant export permits for the sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Shortly after Global Affairs officials appeared before the committee, reports emerged of a video allegedly showing Saudi security forces using these Canadian vehicles against its own citizens.
- A Canadian company received support from a Crown corporation to export technology to Bahrain. The technology was then used to filter political speech, news websites and opposition group websites.
- The committee recommends Crown corporations take additional steps to ensure their business practices comply with existing human rights principles.
- The committee recommends that the government update the Export and Import Permits Act and other regimes to prevent Canadian technology exports from being made available to destinations in which there is a substantial risk it will be used in the commission or facilitation of human rights violations. The focus of these controls should be on end uses and end users.
“Canada’s commitment to the pursuit of human rights means little if there is no action to back it up. It is time to strengthen the Export and Import Permits Act.”
- Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, Chair of the committee.
“The government has a responsibility to control the export of Canadian goods and technologies that could be used to violate human rights. It is not living up to expectations.”
- Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Deputy Chair of the committee.
“I was dismayed to learn how little weight is often given to human rights concerns in the approval of export permits. Canada must do better.”
- Senator Jane Cordy, Deputy Chair of the committee.
- Read the report, Promoting Human Rights: Canada’s Approach to its Export Sector.
- Follow the committee on social media using the hashtag #RIDR.
- Sign up for the Senate’s eNewsletter.
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