Since the start of 2021, CJPME along with 12,000 Canadians have campaigned against Canada’s purchase of a $36m drone from Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit Systems. CJPME and its allies believe that this purchase is highly unethical and immoral.
Neither the Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, nor an elected representative of the government has responded to any of CJPME’s calls or emails, nor have they made a single public statement about the Israeli drone contract. Instead, CJPME has learned that the Minister has been privately responding to some people with disinformation, intending to discredit our campaign.
Below is a response to the government’s evasion and misinformation on the purchase.
Myth: There is nothing wrong with Canada buying a drone from Israel
Fact: Buying a drone from an Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems is unethical, and improperly rewards the Israeli government and its military-industrial complex for their oppression of Palestinians.
The Hermes 900 StarLiner drone that Canada is purchasing is a “civilian” version of a military drone model used repeatedly to attack and oppress Palestinians. Elbit supplies 85% of drones used by the Israeli military to monitor and attack Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Hermes 900 was first tested during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014, when Israeli drone strikes alone killed 840 Palestinians, including 164 children. Famously, it was a missile launched by a Hermes 450 drone which murdered four Palestinian children playing soccer on a beach that year. During the bombing, Elbit’s profits skyrocketed.
Appealing for respect for their human rights, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel using arguments rooted in international law. In the same vein, dozens of UN resolutions censure Israel for its oppression of the Palestinians; the International Court of Justice condemned Israel’s matrix of control over the lives of Palestinians; and mainstream Israeli and international human rights organizations have asserted that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court decided to investigate Israeli attacks in Gaza in 2014.
Some investors have distanced themselves from Elbit Systems for ethical reasons. In 2009, Norway’s government pension fund divested from Elbit Systems due to its role in supplying technology for Israel’s apartheid wall, which was found illegal by the International Court of Justice. In 2018, HSBC divested all its holdings from Elbit Systems due to its production of cluster bombs. Sadly, Canada ignores these considerations, and pursues a drone purchase which makes it economically attractive for Israel to perpetuate its oppression of Palestinians. (Click here for CJPME’s full Backgrounder on the deal, with sources).
Myth: The contract for the drone was awarded via a transparent, above-board process
Fact: We can only know if the government’s procurement process was “open, transparent, independent and competitive,” if the government provides the necessary proof.
Seven months ago, CJPME submitted an “Access to Information” request to the government, but is still waiting for the results. The government has also refused to say whether potential concerns about Elbit’s human rights record were specifically examined during the procurement process.
In both the SNC Lavalin scandal, and the We Charity scandal, the government initially claimed that the actions of the government were proper and above-board. Further probing, however, made clear that the government had acted highly inappropriately. As shown in other procurement scandals, government officials can be influenced to favour one vendor over another, or to write the contract specifications to eliminate or compromise the bids of certain vendors.
The transparency of the government’s actions cannot be based on the assertions of a compromised administration, but instead must be proven via the release all communications and documentation surrounding the procurement process.
Myth: The Transport Minister has no influence over the contract.
Fact: Ministers have incredible power over the machinations of their ministries, and if necessary, the government can legislate additional powers.
A Treasury Board document describing ministerial power in Canada lays out a broad list of the ways in which ministers manage and direct their ministries, including, “following up with departmental officials […] on specific issues identified by citizens.” Our Elbit drone campaign seems like a case in point.
The Minister may claim that the Export and Import Permits Act does not authorize him to intervene. Nevertheless, the government amended this Act in 2018, and could do so again as necessary to give the Minister the required authority. In fact, in 2018, CJPME and other Canadian human rights organizations exhorted the government to take this step, to impose greater accountability on exactly these types of transactions with foreign military agents. Unfortunately, at the time, the government refused to do so, perhaps with the intent of denying accountability on such unethical purchases.
Myth: The Transport Minister has a slide which disproves CJPME’s concerns about Canada’s drone purchase.
Fact: CJPME obtained a copy of the Minister’s slide (see graphic below), and it addresses none of the above concerns. Instead, it seems intended to mislead the public as to Canadians’ legitimate concerns about the drone purchase.
First, the Minister counters a “myth” that “Canada is selling military drones to Elbit.” However, that’s the opposite of what CJPME and others have been pointing out! On the contrary, Canada is purchasing a ‘civilian’ modification of an Israeli military drone which has been repeatedly used against Palestinians. Using it for environmental purposes does not change this fact.
Second, the Minister counters a “myth” that the “contract with Elbit was politically motivated.” Nobody has made this allegation. Regardless, it is shocking that human rights concerns seem to have been ignored as a factor in the procurement process that awarded the contract to Elbit. Also, until the government releases all communications and documentation around the process, there is no way of verifying that political motivations did not play a role.
Third, the Minister says it is a “myth” that he can cancel the contract. He further says that “political interference is impossible.” As described above, this claim does not hold up to scrutiny. The Minister and his government need simply have the “will” to review the drone purchase, but choose instead to avoid any accountability.
After many months, the government has failed to address any of the legitimate concerns of CJPME and others. Instead, the government has circulated irrelevant commentary in private, misrepresenting the claims made by the Stop Elbit Drone campaign.
It is unfortunate that the government has not been willing to face the public on this matter, and even worse that it is privately spreading disinformation about Canadians’ concerns. CJPME will continue to push for the cancellation of this drone, such that Canada does not normalize or legitimize Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinians.
If you have not already sent an email to the minister and other political leaders you may do so by clicking here. Even if you have already emailed the minister, you may do so again. The government will only be accountable if we insist on accountability!