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Ottawa slow-walking Israel's request for permission to import armoured vehicles: sources

Israeli soldiers operate at the Shajaiya district of Gaza City on Dec. 8. Their stated mission is to eradicate Hamas, which killed over 1,000 Israelis on Oct. 7, 2023. Thousands of Palestinians have now been killed during the ensuing military operation. (Reuters - image credit)
Israeli soldiers operate at the Shajaiya district of Gaza City on Dec. 8. Their stated mission is to eradicate Hamas, which killed over 1,000 Israelis on Oct. 7, 2023. Thousands of Palestinians have now been killed during the ensuing military operation. (Reuters - image credit)

The federal government is deliberately slow-walking a request from Israel for permission to import Canadian-made armoured patrol vehicles, two sources tell Radio-Canada.

Shortly after the deadly Oct. 7, 2023 attack by Hamas on Israeli citizens — which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage — the Israeli government sent a request to the office of Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly for clearance to import about thirty armoured patrol vehicles from Ontario manufacturer Roshel.

Ottawa must grant the necessary export licenses before the transaction can be completed — but Israel's request has remained in limbo ever since, as the federal government strives to strike a delicate domestic balance on its position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, sources say.

As reported by the Toronto Star, the federal government also has withheld approval for exports to Israel of non-lethal military goods and technology — such as night vision goggles — because of concerns the equipment could be used in human rights violations.

A source told CBC News those in government reviewing such applications have raised concerns about the possibility of the equipment being misused. The source said the reviewers are struggling to draw firm conclusions due to the constantly changing situation in Gaza.

As a result, no permits to export non-lethal military goods and technology to Israel have been cleared in the past two months, the source said.

The federal government has not yet provided a detailed list of equipment supplied to Israel that was sent before export permits were put in limbo.

The federal government's permit pause carries both legal and political implications.

Since the Oct. 7 attack, Israel's war on Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza's 2.3 million people face starvation.

If the federal government authorizes transactions of military equipment, it risks attracting the wrath of pro-Palestinian groups and being accused of complicity in the operations of the Israeli army in Gaza.

Roshel Inc., the company that makes the armoured vehicles, said it's been waiting for the government to make a decision on the permits for months.

"It is our understanding that these vehicles are not to be used for military purposes, but solely for domestic police operations. This has been communicated to the government of Canada," the company said in an emailed statement.

"Despite this, and multiple requests to the government of Canada, a decision on the permits for these vehicles has not been made for over three months. We have not been provided with any explanation for this delay."

For weeks, the NDP has been calling for a ban on exports of military equipment to Israel. In a statement issued last month, the party said that a ban must be imposed because of the "Netanyahu government's brutal four-month-long assault on the people of Gaza."

"The minister has an obligation under the Arms Trade Treaty not to approve export permits for military goods and technology where there is a substantial risk of human rights abuses," NDP MP Heather McPherson said on Feb. 12.

A coalition of Canadian lawyers and citizens of Palestinian origin also filed an action in Federal Court attempting to force the federal government to suspend all its military exports to Israel.

NDP want all weapons export permits for Israel denied

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called the pause on non-lethal military exports "a moral failure on the part of the Liberal government."

"To pause even non-lethal exports tells Israel — a democratic ally —  they're on their own in the fight for their own survival against a terrorist regime," the group wrote on.social media.

When asked if approving an export visa for the armoured vehicles would violate Canada's legal obligations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to comment.

"Canada has one of the strongest export regimes in the world and I'm not going to comment on a specific case, but we continue to make sure that all decisions are taken in the appropriate way," Trudeau said in Windsor, Ont. on Thursday.

In a statement to Radio-Canada, Global Affairs Canada said it continues to review export licence applications on a case-by-case basis.

On Thursday, McPherson called on the Liberal government to suspend any active weapons export permits for Israel and deny any further requests that come in.

"With over 30,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza, the minister is obliged to refuse export permits for military equipment and technology where there is a substantial risk of human rights violations, like we are seeing with Netanyahu's horrendous bombardments and ground offensive," McPherson said in a media statement.

A spokesperson for Israeli embassy said it will not comment on issues pertaining to internal Canadian procedures.