Frequently Asked Questions: Arms Embargo on Israel

Last updated: March 21, 2024


Question: Did Parliament vote for an arms embargo on Israel?

Yes, Parliament has voted for a one-way embargo on military exports to Israel. On March 18, 2024, the House of Commons voted to adopt a non-binding NDP Opposition Day motion which called on Canada to “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime.”

The motion was passed with 204 in favour and 117 against. It was moved by the NDP with the support of the Bloc Québécois, Greens, and almost all Liberal MPs, including Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Joly. Only the Conservatives and three other MPs voted against it.

The text of the motion passed by Parliament calls for a stop to both the “authorization” and “transfer” of further exports to Israel. This is very comprehensive language, as it indicates the need for a ban on new export permit approvals as well as the revocation of existing permits that have already been approved. From March 18 forward, any further transfer of military goods to Israel would be in violation of the will of Parliament.

The final motion adopted by Parliament was watered down from the original text moved by the NDP, which initially called on Canada to “suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel.” Whereas the original called for a two-way arms embargo, the final version only addressed exports only. The NDP, Bloc, Greens, and several Liberal MPs had expressed support for the original motion and a full two-way embargo.

Question: Is the government serious about respecting the motion's embargo?

Although it was a non-binding motion, it appears that the Trudeau government intends to implement it, at least in part. The day after the vote, Minister Joly claimed that the ban on arms exports was “a real thing,” and added that the ban would continue “until we can ensure full compliance with our export regime.” Canada had already temporarily ‘paused’ new export approvals since January, but this would formalize this as a matter of policy.

Unfortunately, Minister Joly has also tried to implement the policy in a very limited way, putting in loopholes that significantly reduce its effectiveness.

First, Joly said that export permits approved before January 8 “remain in effect.” Global Affairs Canada defended this position by saying that “given the nature of the supply chain, suspending all open permits would have important implications for both Canada and its allies.”  Yet allowing exports under previously approved permits would be an extreme violation of the motion’s intent. In the three months following Oct. 7, Canada approved a record-breaking volume of arms exports to Israel (see more below). Allowing these permits to stand would dramatically contradict the embargo that the motion sought to put in place. As such, it is important that Canada immediately revoke these permits before the weapons reach Israel.

Second, according to the NDP, when Joly made a deal to get the motion passed, she promised that she would issue a notice to exporters. Nevertheless, it is not yet clear what exactly will be communicated to exporters. To respect the will of Parliament, the Trudeau government should communicate that permits for military goods to Israel will not be approved and that the submission process is now closed. For the time being, Joly’s office has said that “companies can still apply for permits to export military goods, but Ottawa won’t issue decisions for the time being.” This is not good enough.

CJPME is also concerned that Minister Joly may try to limit the embargo to only supposedly “lethal” goods or full-system weapons, rather than the full range of controlled military goods (see below for a debunking of these talking points). Fortunately, initial statements from Global Affairs Canada officials indicate that the ban will correctly apply to “all military goods and technology subject to Canadian permit rules, such as radars or cameras."

Question: Is Canada exporting military goods to Israel?

Yes. Canada approved $28.5M worth of military exports to Israel between October and December 2023. In comparison, Canadian companies exported $21.3M to Israel in military goods in 2022, and $27.8M in 2021. This means that Canada approved more exports of military goods to Israel in just the first three months of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza than in any single year in the last 30 years. Since Trudeau has been in power (2015-2023), Canadian companies have exported an estimated $150 million in military goods to Israel overall. These exports involve private companies profiting by obtaining approval from Global Affairs Canada for export licenses.

On previous occasions, Joly has said that Canada paused miliary exports to Israel after January 8, 2024.  Joly explained that this was because of Canada’s “inability to confirm that human rights are being upheld and, of course, that our export regime requirements would be met.” Following the adoption of the motion by Parliament, one would expect Minister Joly to turn this temporary pause on approvals into a formal ban.

Question: What military goods are exported to Israel?

Unfortunately, the Canadian government does not provide detailed or specific information on what military goods are exported, who is selling them, who is purchasing them, or how they will be used. The government justifies this secrecy by claiming that it must protect the commercial privacy of weapons makers and dealers. It values the privacy of war profiteers over the public’s right to know. On the record, the government only provides vague categories that give a general sense of the type of military exports. This makes it extremely hard for the public to evaluate the true human rights impact of Canada’s exports.

In March, the CBC reported that Canada is considering a request to export thirty armoured patrol vehicles to Israel, but has been dragging its feet on making a decision. Following the passage of Parliament’s motion for an end to further transfers, Canada should officially reject the request.

In recent years, the main categories of Canada’s military exports to Israel have included:
1) bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices (and related components);
2) military aircraft and/or related components,
3) military spacecraft and/or related components.

Keep in mind that when talking about components, we mean smaller pieces that are added to a larger weapons system (for example, a tail wing or piece of landing gear that is later added to a fighter jet, or a sensor that is added onto a missile or drone). Government sources have suggested that Canada has not exported full weapons systems since October 7, 2023, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that Canadian components of larger weapons systems are being exported, thus implicating them in the killing of Palestinians.

In addition to the above, Canada exports weapons to Israel via the United States, and due to loopholes, this trade is completely unreported and thus unregulated under Canadian export law for military equipment. For example, Canada produces different components that become part of all F-35 fighter jets, such as parts of the landing gear, pieces of the engine, and segments of the wings. This means that the Israeli F-35s which are involved in bombing civilians in the Gaza Strip are all equipped with Canadian parts. However, because these parts are first sent to the United States, where they are added to the F-35 before being shipped to Israel, these exports are not included in Canada’s overall military export numbers. It also means that these exports are not subjected to a human rights risk assessment. The problem of Canada’s arms exports to Israel is therefore much bigger than it first appears based on available data and reporting from Global Affairs Canada. We know it is happening because Canadian companies boast in their press release about having contracts to produce F35 parts.

Question: Why does the Canadian government (or my MP) claim that “we do not export arms to Israel”? Is Canada only sending “non-lethal” equipment?

When politicians claim that Canada “does not export arms to Israel,” or claim that Canada’s exports are “non-lethal,” they are defining “arms” and lethality in a very narrow way which ignores the role of weapons components and other military goods.

For example, Global Affairs Canada recently claimed that Canada has not recently exported any “major conventional arms or light weapons to Israel,” and that current exports are only for “non-lethal equipment.” However, this framing is misleading and does not mean that there is no human rights risk. Canada doesn’t need to export a tank to Israel to be complicit in human rights abuses.

Focusing only on major weapons is an attempt to deflect from Canada’s skyrocketing military exports overall, with hundreds of permits approved each year. It is ridiculous to assume that weapons components (rather than systems) are necessarily less “lethal” from a human rights perspective. Electronic equipment or sensors added to a fighter jet or a missile are still integral to Israel’s military operations against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. You need all the parts for the full weapon to kill people. Can you imagine an F35 able to bomb Gaza with no landing gear or tail wings?

Canada imposed an arms embargo on Turkey in 2020 because Canadian-made optical systems were integrated into drones sold to Azerbaijan and subsequently implicated in human rights abuses. Canada wasn’t exporting full drones, only a component “non-lethal” piece, and yet Canada still found that there was enough of a risk to human rights to justify an embargo. Canada isn’t applying this same standard to Israel and the government is likely misdirecting Canadians to cover it up.

Question: Why does my MP claim that “Canada does not arm Israel”, or “Canada does not supply military equipment to Israel”?

When politicians claim that “Canada does not arm Israel,” they may be trying to make a distinction between Canada and the United States. Unlike the US, which directly transfers billions of dollars in weapons to Israel every year in the form of military aid, the Canadian government does not directly provide weapons to the Israeli government. However, Canada plays a central role in Canada’s arms trade with Israel by 1) approving export and import permits for military-use commerce, and 2) facilitating the private trade of military goods and technology from Canadian weapons producers to Israeli buyers, including the unregulated transfer of weapons via the United States. While the Canadian government is not gifting arms to Israel, its approval and facilitation of exports are integral to the Canada-Israel arms trade. It is also likely that many of the weapons being sent by the US may contain Canadian components because North America has an integrated military-industrial complex.

Question: Is Canada breaking its legal obligations by exporting weapons to Israel?

Yes, Canada is plainly violating its responsibilities under both international and domestic law:

  • Under the Arms Trade Treaty, Canada should reject weapons export permits if there is a potential that they could be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international law. Given Israel’s military occupation and its system of apartheid over the Palestinian people, there is a clear risk that Canadian weapons could be implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Under domestic legislation, Canada is obliged to reject weapons export permits if there is a “substantial risk” that the permit would undermine peace and security or if it could be used to commit or facilitate “serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children.” Given that 70% of the Palestinians killed in Israel’s current war on Gaza are women and children, there is an undeniable risk that Canadian weapons are implicated in such crimes.
  • Under the Genocide Convention, Canada is obliged to “prevent and punish” the crime of genocide. With the International Court of Justice ruling that there is a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza and ordering Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide, Canada’s continued transfer of military goods may be in breach of its obligations under the convention and the ICJ’s recent provisional measures.

Question: Does Canada have the power to stop military exports to Israel?

Yes, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has the authority to stop all arms exports from Canada to Israel with the stroke of a pen. She gets her power from the Export and Import Permit Act.

Question: Have any political parties called for an arms embargo?

Yes, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party of Canada have already called for an arms embargo on Israel, and the Bloc Québécois is reportedly considering an embargo as a possible way to put pressure on Israel and stop the massacre of civilians.

CJPME action items and resources to push for an arms embargo: