The Canadian arms embargo on Israel that was not

The Canadian government’s pledge not to sell weapons to Israel doesn’t apply to permits worth millions already approved.

Andrew Mitrovica

Al Jazeera columnist

Published On 24 Mar 202424 Mar 2024Protesters hold an effigy of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a rally to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 9, 2024 [Ismail Shakil/Reuters]

Alex Cosh is an editor with the status-quo-allergic independent Canadian news upstart, The Maple.

Cosh is a young reporter with an old-style muckraker’s temperament. His bunkum antennae are tuned to detect and expose the state-sanctioned flimflam that much of Canada’s establishment media hand-deliver like obedient couriers.

So, while the big, corporate mastheads fell promptly and predictably in line behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fulsome support for Israel’s plans to erase Gaza, Cosh has put his experience and dexterous skills to work, revealing Canada’s complicity in that ugly enterprise.

This has translated into a stream of stories detailing how military “aid” flows from Canada to Israel through private companies; what type of military “goods” are exported to Israel, often via the United States; and how Canada’s arms trade with Israel has grown exponentially over the past decade and is now worth tens of millions of dollars per year.

Cosh has also dissected the rhetorical shenanigans of senior government officials meant not only to deflect questions concerning the nature and extent of Canada’s military exports to Israel, but to deny and sow confusion about whether any permits had been approved since early October that may have helped render Gaza a barren, apocalyptic landscape.

Pressed by a coalition of arms-monitoring and peace groups, scores of enlightened Canadians, Cosh and other reporters, Trudeau and company belatedly and grudgingly admitted in late January that Canada had indeed authorised military exports to Israel after October 7.

Official Ottawa tried to blunt the stunning volte-face by suggesting that the permits were limited to “non-lethal equipment” – a meaningless bureaucratic concoction that has no legal and hence binding definition.

In February, Cosh challenged that exculpatory construct. He obtained export data showing that the Trudeau government had approved at least 28.5 million Canadian dollars ($21m) in new permits for military exports to Israel during the opening months of its killing rage in Gaza.

That figure beat the previous record of 26 million Canadian dollars ($19m) worth of weapons and equipment sold in 2021.

Some of the permits allowed for the sale of products from a category that includes “bombs, torpedoes, rockets, other explosive devices and charges and related equipment and accessories”.

By what cockeyed measure do any of those “goods” constitute “non-lethal equipment”?

Cosh’s sleuthing discovered that the permits had been issued quickly, with one processed within four days. The dates on which some of the permits were certified indicate, as well, that Trudeau’s apparatchiks gave the green light to new military exports as late as December 6 after warnings had been issued by genocide scholars and United Nations special rapporteurs that genocide in Gaza was imminent.

But the documents Cosh obtained failed to answer a critical question: How long were the permits valid for? This left open the possibility that some of the “goods” were still being shipped to Israel or will be in the future.

Cosh’s scoop reverberated in the House of Commons, with New Democrats and Green Party members pressing Foreign Minister Melanie Joly for answers about the scope, scale, and timing of Canada’s military exports to Israel.

Then, the leaks began – designed, I suspect, to staunch the disagreeable political fallout and burnish a damaged minister’s doddering image.

The first backroom plant was published on March 14. It quoted anonymous sources who claimed that Joly had stopped approving new permits for exports of “non-lethal” military goods on January 8 because of the “extremely fluid” situation in Gaza.

Describing genocide as an “extremely fluid” situation is an obscene first, even for career bureaucrats expert in nonsensical doublespeak.

On the same day, CBC/Radio-Canada reported that the federal government was “slow-walking” an application to permit a Canadian manufacturer to sell armoured patrol vehicles to Israel.

The implicit message: Joly was on the job.

Members of the pretend socialist party of Canada, the New Democrats, were not convinced. On March 18, they put forward a nonbinding motion in Parliament calling on Canada to “suspend all trade in military goods with Israel”.

Although nonbinding, had the motion been adopted, it would have amounted to a wholesale, two-way arms embargo.

Not surprisingly, that motion was gutted, with Trudeau’s Liberals only agreeing to “cease the further authorisation and transfer of arms exports to Israel”.

The emasculated, nonbinding motion passed with the government’s backing.

Cue the confusion, backlash and hysteria.

Foreign Minister Joly reached back to a 1970s tagline for a Coca-Cola ad and told the Toronto Star that the motion is the “real thing” – whatever that means.

Lackadaisical editors unfamiliar with the motion’s fine print, penned headlines announcing that Canada had imposed an arms embargo on Israel.

A few easily impressed “progressive” US Democrats shouted: Hurray! Meanwhile, a legion of easily upset Israeli politicians and editorial writers dismissed the motion as a performative stunt by a B-movie country with little, if any, influence to deter Israel from pursuing “total victory” in Gaza and beyond – whatever that means.

Oh, wait. The arms embargo might not be an embargo at all.

On March 20, Cosh wrote a long story pointing out that the military export permits authorised before January 8 will be allowed to proceed. The Trudeau government’s existing policy of pausing approvals of new applications for export permits – but not necessarily rejecting them – remains intact.

This was the government’s policy before the New Democrat’s disembowelled motion won the day in Parliament. The rub: Canadian military goods will carry on flowing to Israel.

New Democrats MP Heather McPherson confirmed the thrust of Cosh’s discerning analysis, telling The Maple that existing permits will not be subject to any changes; that could mean military exports worth tens of millions could be delivered to Israel.

To add lunacy to a failed arms “freeze”, Trudeau et al have not ruled out buying Israeli military hardware, including those flagged by human rights groups as being “tested on” Palestinian civilians.

In December, the Canadian military made public its eagerness to spend 43 million Canadian dollars ($31.6m) on an Israeli-made missile the occupation forces have strafed Gaza with yesterday and today.

Canada, the true north strong and free – and still complicit.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.