Paul Esau


Recent sales of Canadian military equipment to Saudi Arabia have highlighted a contradiction between Canadian military export policy on paper and in practice. This contradiction is rooted in a series of policy decision made between 1946 and 1949, just after the Second World War. During this period Canadian policymakers accepted that military exports were economically and strategically necessary, and become an opportunistic exporter of military equipment to the non-communist world. The military export policies adopted during these years were flexible, pragmatic, and reactive; they incentivised risk-aversion and commercial competitiveness, but not internally consistency. Consequently, the defining principle of Canadian military export policy became flexibility—of preserving the discretion of Canadian officials to evaluate exports on a case-by-case basis not the universal enforcement of export restrictions based on specific criteria. This commitment to flexibility has created contradictions which can be construed as hypocrisy, especially regarding the government’s historical commitment to human rights considerations.