export-controls 21 June 2018

Canada considers changing export laws to promote human rights

Canada’s Senate Committee on Human Rights has published a report on how human rights can be promoted in its export sector, recommending that the Export and Imports Permits Act 1947 be updated. It also advises that the focus of any new controls should be on end uses and end-users.

The report was commissioned after it emerged that the Canadian government had granted export permits for the sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Footage was then disseminated allegedly showing Saudi security forces using Canadian vehicles against their own citizens.

The committee considered how Canada could use its economic leverage to create a better environment for human rights worldwide. At present, the Export and Import Permits Act gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs (currently Chrystia Freeland) discretion to weigh the risk of potential human rights violations against foreign policy, defence and economic interests. The report concludes that the Canadian government’s ‘actions on exports are not always consistent with its stated support for human rights’. It also expresses concern that the current export regime does not fully cover new or emerging technology such as surveillance tools that can be used to control or monitor internet access, and restrict free speech and the flow of ideas. Evidence was heard that a Canadian company aided by a Crown corporation (a state-owned enterprise) exported technology to Bahrain, which was used to ‘to filter content including critical political speech, news websites, human rights content, websites of oppositional political groups, and Shia-related content.’

The report recommends that Crown corporations should take ‘additional steps’ to make sure business practice complies with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.


For a copy of the report see: