The RCMP has been probing a Canadian-owned company for more than three months over its sales of armoured vehicles to war-torn Libya despite a ban on military exports to that country – a review that now has been expanded to include shipments to Sudan.
Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion’s office told The Globe and Mail this week that Ottawa first referred the matter to the Mounties in May on the heels of a United Nations panel investigation that Streit Group had violated a UN embargo against military exports to Libya.
The Globe reported earlier this week that Streit has also sold 30 vehicles to Sudan, despite a Canadian ban on military and paramilitary shipments to the country.
Mr. Dion’s office said the RCMP is reviewing the Sudan sale, as well.
The RCMP has not launched an official investigation, but has been reviewing the matter to determine whether one is necessary.
Both the Sudan case and the UN panel’s reporting on what it calls an “illicit transfer” of armoured personnel carriers to Libya come amid a growing debate in Canada over the military and defence goods that Canadians sell to Mideast countries – including a $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia – and increasing concern that Ottawa is not doing enough to monitor, control and shine a light on this flourishing business.
Streit is owned by Guerman Goutorov, a Canadian citizen who lives in the United Arab Emirates. His Canadian-based company is Streit Manufacturing in Innisfil, Ont.
In both cases, the armoured vehicles were produced in the UAE, not Canada, and shipped from this Mideast country to their final destination.
The Trudeau government has said it is in no way responsible for arms shipments between two foreign countries – even if there is connection to Canada.
The limited responsibility Ottawa assumes for overseas military and security sales differs from a far more interventionist approach it takes in other foreign activities of Canadian businesspeople. Several years ago, Ottawa introduced corporate ethics rules, enforced with the threat of withdrawal of trade-promotion services, that govern the conduct of Canadian mining and energy operations in foreign countries. Canada also claims jurisdiction over the conduct of Canadians abroad when it comes to bribery of foreign officials; federal legislation carries a threat of fines and imprisonment.
The RCMP will have to wrestle with whether sanction measures that prevent Canadians from selling to embargoed states also apply when those carrying a Canadian passport conduct their business abroad.
A March, 2016, UN panel report said a shipment of armoured personnel carriers to Libya from Streit’s Mideast facilities several years ago violated an international arms embargo – an incident that raised questions about how extensively Ottawa should be policing the defence and military trade conducted by its citizens abroad.
The report, which flagged a transfer of armoured vehicles produced by Streit Group, a company first established in Ontario in the 1990s, was drawn up by experts monitoring global compliance with the UN Security Council arms embargo against Libya in place since 2011.
As for Sudan, Canada’s department of Global Affairs said this week the RCMP is “aware of the allegations” in the case of Streit’s exports to this African country.
“Global Affairs Canada does not publicly comment on possible breaches of sanctions regulations,” said Jessica Séguin, a spokeswoman for the department. Nevertheless, she said, Ottawa “remains deeply concerned by the number and severity of human-rights abuses committed in Sudan.”
Amnesty International has called for an investigation of whether Streit Group violated the Canadian sanctions on Sudan when it exported 30 armoured vehicles to the authoritarian country, where President Omar al-Bashir has been accused of genocide and other war crimes in Darfur.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the Typhoon armoured vehicles were exported to Sudan by Streit Security Vehicles, which is part of the Streit Group, owned by Mr. Goutorov.
Because of Sudan’s violent crackdown in Darfur, Canada has imposed sanctions that prohibit Canadian citizens from selling “arms and related material” to anyone in Sudan. Its definition of this material includes “military and paramilitary equipment.”
The Canadian rules, introduced in 2004 after the UN approved similar sanctions, apply not only to citizens in Canada but also to Canadians overseas.
“No person in Canada and no Canadian outside Canada shall knowingly export, sell, supply or ship arms and related material, wherever situated, to any person in Sudan,” the regulations say. The only exceptions are for peacekeeping and humanitarian use.
A spokesman for Streit Group has declined to comment on the Sudan sale. But when asked about a similar sale in South Sudan, the company insisted its vehicles are not military vehicles and are not exported with any form of weaponry.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that Streit Security Vehicles exported 30 armoured Typhoon vehicles to Sudan in 2012 from its factory in the UAE. The “end user” is listed as the “Sudan Police.”
Independent researchers interviewed by The Globe and Mail say the Streit armoured vehicles have been used by Sudanese security forces in Darfur and South Kordofan, two regions where Sudan has been heavily involved in fighting against rebel groups. They say the vehicles are equipped with gun mounts and gun ports, making them ready for weapons to be attached.
Meanwhile, a prominent U.S.-based advocacy group has joined the call for a full investigation into Streit’s exports to Sudan.
“There is no excuse for responsible companies to provide armoured vehicles to the Government of Sudan, particularly if these vehicles are then used in Darfur and South Kordofan, where the Bashir regime continues to commit severe human-rights violations and to indiscriminately target civilians,” said John Hursh, policy analyst at the Enough Project, a high-profile Washington-based activist group that specializes in Sudan.
In Libya’s case, that country has been engulfed in civil war since dictator Moammar Gadhafi lost power in 2011. The top U.S. general in Africa recently described it as a “failed state.”
In 2012, when this Streit shipment to Libya took place, transfers of armoured personnel carriers there required advance approval from the UN sanctions committee overseeing the embargo. But, the UN report says, the United Nations wasn’t notified about this 2012 delivery before it occurred – meaning “the transfer occurred in violation of the arms embargo.”
The UN panel said the end user for this 2012 shipment was listed as the “Libyan Ministry of the Interior.” But the transfer occurred amid the ongoing political upheaval in Libya, as factions jostle for control of the government and a black market for diverted weapons flourishes.
Canadian diplomats in the UAE have publicly supported Streit as a Canadian company. Claudio Ramirez, a Canadian government official formerly posted to Abu Dhabi, made a point of announcing on Twitter in 2015 when “Canada’s Streit Group” expanded a UAE factory. Canada’s former ambassador to the UAE, Arif Lalani, used the social-media platform in 2013 to speak supportively of this “Canadian company” whose armoured vehicles he said once protected him.
Streit told the UN experts in the Libya case that it “strenuously reject[s] any suggestion that Streit Group could knowingly or otherwise break national or international law.”
In 2015, Streit incurred millions of dollars in penalties from the U.S. government for exporting armoured vehicles without obtaining proper approvals.
STEVEN CHASE AND GEOFFREY YORK
OTTAWA and JOHANNESBURG — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Sep. 08, 2016 6:00AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Sep. 08, 2016 5:37AM EDT
Footage appears to show Saudi authorities using light armoured vehicles against civilians (The Globe and Mail)