Protesters gathered in Ottawa Friday to condemn the use of Canadian-made drone technology allegedly supplied by Turkey to Azerbaijan forces to attack Armenia, after federal officials declined to answer how military sales to Turkey slipped through an arms embargo.
Approximately 3,000 demonstrators in support of the United Armenian Councils of Ontario and Quebec gathered on Parliament Hill Friday, calling on the federal government to sanction Turkey for violating Canadian and international arms control laws.
The heightened protests come after Armenian defence officials claimed a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone was shot down by its air defence units during fighting in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday evening.
Armenian officials say the combat drone was equipped with the MX-15D, a state-of-the-art camera and target acquisition system produced by L3 Harris WESCAM in Burlington, Ont., designed to guide airstrikes.
Turkey, a member of NATO with Canada, has expressed its support for Azerbaijan in renewed fighting with Armenia which began on Sept. 27.
In October 2019, Global Affairs Canada said it was suspending approvals of new export permits for military goods to Turkey “in response to Turkey’s military incursion into Syria.” However, according to The Globe and Mail, Ottawa granted two more export permits to Turkish drone maker Baykar in May.
On Oct. 5, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced that he had suspended export permits to Turkey in line with Canada’s export control regime, noting that the ministry is investigating claims that the Canadian technology is being used in the conflict.
Champagne met with Armenian-Canadians to discuss the conflict Thursday, including the minister’s decision to suspend relevant export permits to Turkey amid the allegations.
“A number of issues were discussed including the Minister’s recent European trip where Nagorno-Karabakh was a key focus of his meetings with OSCE and NATO allies,” Syrine Khoury, Minister Champagne’s press secretary, told CTVNews.ca in an emailed statement Friday.
“The Minister’s decision to suspend relevant export permits to Turkey while an investigation takes place into their use was discussed as was the work Canada is doing with its allies to deescalate this conflict and achieve a resolution through the Minsk Group process.”
But officials have yet to comment on why Ottawa granted export permits to Turkey despite the arms embargo.
On Thursday, Shalini Anand, acting director-general for the government’s export controls operations division, appeared before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to discuss the matter.
When asked by Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong why the federal government allowed more of the devices to be shipped to Turkey in May, Anand declined comment, citing the need to protect the “commercial confidentiality” of companies obtaining export permits.
Renewed fighting in the region is centred around Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.
The fighting marks the worst escalation in the conflict since the war’s end.
Despite a second attempt at a ceasefire Sunday, Armenia and Azerbaijan both traded accusations of violating the truce. According to authorities from both sides, scores of civilians have been killed or injured in attacks in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan.
In a report released Friday, Human Rights Watch said it has documented four incidents in which Azerbaijan has used widely banned cluster munitions in residential areas in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The continued use of cluster munitions – particularly in populated areas – shows flagrant disregard for the safety of civilians,” Stephen Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition, said in a press release.
“Cluster munitions should never be used by anyone under any circumstances, much less in cities, due to the foreseeable and unacceptable harm to civilians.”
Human Rights Watch is investigating whether all sides of the conflict adhere to international humanitarian law. However, the organization notes that despite repeated requests to the Azerbaijani government, they do not have access to conduct on-site investigations.