Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your invitation.
I will speak in English, but you may ask questions in the official language of your choice.
The aim of our discussion here today, as far as I can tell, is to have a constructive conversation about the robustness of our export control system and whether there's opportunity to provide more certainty in the future with respect to the system we have.
In regard to the conversation from the previous panel, it's also important to understand that the system we have was really built during the Cold War, in which we had a fairly predictable type of conflict. Today, by contrast, we're engaged in anti-terrorism missions, counter-insurgency missions, conflict below the threshold of war, and with countries such as Turkey that are engaged in revisionist and hegemonic foreign policies, and so the system is obviously struggling to cope with this much greater diversity of conflict.
What's at stake is inherently a controversy over defence exports. It's important to understand that defence exports are ultimately an instrument of foreign policy, and that's why the ECL ultimately belongs to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It's also the reason the Minister of Foreign Affairs has considerable discretion to issue, suspend, revoke or reinstate permits. The minister's decision yesterday to revoke permits is quite unusual. Usually you see a suspension, but you don't see them being revoked altogether.
I would say that Canada has a very robust export control system. The system has been improved significantly since 2019 with Canada's accession to the Arms Trade Treaty. It is among the most robust in the world. I'm sure there are things we can do to improve it, but I think we're about as good as you can get. The system works because it's multilateral. We decide with other countries what is to be controlled and how we're going to control it.
The question, then, is whether this was a failure of the export control system. Well, Canada would have never allowed this type of equipment to be exported to the third party in question, that is to say to Azerbaijan. It is thus ultimately a question about end use and the authorization that came with the end use. It would appear that Turkey gave assurances with regard to end use and that the Canadian government, by my reading, was misled by Turkey in this regard.
In the previous panel we had some discussion about what the interdepartmental risk assessment showed. My reading, also based on the comments that both Chris and Bessma made, is that there was a high risk of this technology's being used for purposes that might not align with the assurances given, and that also might not align with Canadian interests over those of NATO and its partners, and we have the evidence already cited from northern Syria and from Iraq. If the ECL worked, then this is ultimately a question about the minister's discretion.
The reason this conversation is so important—yes it's about technology and drones and human rights—is that ultimately, Canadian technology here fundamentally changed the geostrategic status quo, and it changed it in a way that was not in Canada's interest and not aligned with NATO interests. Canada thus inadvertently aided and abetted a change in the geostrategic status quo.
We thus need to ask ourselves harder questions about the export of technology that might have those sorts of implications and that run counter to Canadian and NATO interests. I think the risk assessment should have shown this.
The problem, of course, as the ADM pointed out, is that it's hard to foretell the onset of this type of conflict. It could be weeks, months, or even years away from when the permit is granted. Of course, we know that Turkey was openly egging on Azerbaijan and that there was already extensive military co-operation.
What, then, could have been done to avert this?
One option is post-shipment verification. In my longer submission to this committee I lay out four options of what could have been done. I'm not sure that any of those four options would have made a big difference.
What would have made a difference, however, is if we had embassies in the region. We are selling this technology to a region where we neither have embassies in Yerevan nor Baku. That meant that we had to rely on our embassies in Moscow and Ankara to provide us with the intelligence for the strategic assessment. I would say that if we're going to engage in these types of exports into high-risk areas and regions, we need to make sure that we also have our own representation on the ground.
I would say that it is embarrassing for the Government of Canada that The Globe and Mail sent a journalist to investigate, but we didn't have diplomats on the ground to investigate. That's why we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Here are two points to finish on.
There was concern about the redactions to the documents provided. I think if there are concerns, you can always refer the matter to the NSICOP, which could then look at these documents in greater detail. That said, I do that the documents complied with the need for redactions of third party information.
I would just like to close by reminding ourselves that we live in a very challenging, very competitive and hostile global geostrategic environment in which defence exports matter. They matter in instrumental foreign policy, but they matter also as an instrument in providing for a stable world. They allow us to have influence that otherwise we would not have.
People who claim that somehow defence exports make us less safe and that we shouldn't be engaged in this are just fundamentally wrong. They fundamentally misunderstand the world in which we live, where it is key for Canada to make its contributions of high technology. We also, however, have a responsibility to ensure that they are used responsibly and in line with the assurances that all partner countries give us in this regard.