Trudeau government was lobbied to create exemption for drone tech exports to Turkey - Ricochet

Canada suspended arms export permits for controlled weapons to Turkey in October 2019 following Turkey’s invasion of parts of northern Syria. So how did Canadian parts come to be used in drones fighting for Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia in October 2020? 

Canadian news site Ricochet recently investigated the lobbying trail which ties Turkish drone company Baykar to a decision to create an exemption in Canada’s arms embargo to Turkey. This exemption was created in April, “the same month Trudeau reportedly discussed the issue in a phone call with Turkey’s president,” according to Ricochet. A month later, Canadian firm L3Harris Wescam started exporting surveillance and targeting systems used in Baykar’s drones.

Shortly after the export of the drone tech from Canada, Azerbaijan announced it planned to buy Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drones. In October, during fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that they had recovered L3Harris Wescam systems from a downed Bayraktar drone. A report claimed that the parts were manufactured in June 2020.

Ricochet looked at federal lobbying records which showed that Baykar hired lobbyist Ken Mackay who met with senior Canadian civil servant Philip Jennings regarding “policies related to Canada’s export of military goods to Turkey.” According to Ricochet, Jennings reports directly to Canada’s most senior civil servant and attends cabinet meetings. The Canadian government’s Privy Council Office confirmed that Baykar had requested a meeting with them.

Mackay is well connected to the arms industry and has been a frequent donor to Canada’s governing Liberal Party. Ricochet said that “these donations have even been raised in Parliament in the past, with an MP calling him “a lobbyist who has donated thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party” with “a phenomenal record” of obtaining grants for his clients in the defence and tech sector.”

When questioned about why an exemption was made to the arms embargo, “the government has avoided explaining how the exemption came about”. Canada’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee recently passed an opposition motion calling on the government “to produce all documents, briefing notes, memorandums and emails between [the Department of Foreign Affairs] and the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ Office, the Privy Council Office, and the Prime Minister’s Office” related to the export of Canadian drone tech.

According to Ricochet, “The deadline for delivering these documents unredacted to Parliament is the end of the year. However, it is unclear if they will be publicly released”, and therefore whether Canadians will learn if the government behaved in a way consistent with the Liberal Party’s stated commitment to global human rights.