Canada, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, completed a deal to sell 16 combat helicopters to the Philippines during the first week of February. According to the National Post, the $234 million deal includes the sale of Bell 412 helicopters to the Philippines for military use. The transaction has garnered scrutiny from some in the international community, including human rights watchdogs, who are concerned about the ultimate use of the helicopters.
Bell, an American aircraft manufacturer that produces many of its aircraft in Canada, stated in a press release that it was pleased and “honored” to provide aircraft to the Philippine military. The aircraft are to be used for military purposes, presumably national defense.
The aircraft deal with the Philippines is not the first Canadian arms deal to draw scrutiny from human rights activists. According to the National Post, a Canadian manufacturer supplied Saudi Arabia with light-armored vehicles in 2014, purportedly for use in military and defense capacities. Justin Trudeau dismissed the transaction as “jeeps” being sold to a Canadian ally. By 2017, it became apparent that the Saudi government used the armored vehicles not only in typical military maneuvers but also against its own citizens to keep the populace under control. With the recent Canadian deal, many skeptics point to the Saudi incident as a reason to not sell helicopters to the Philippines, a state with its own history of human rights violations under President Rodrigo Duterte.
According to the National Post, Canadian government rules call for the country to halt shipments to foreign states with a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Many of the deal’s detractors believe that the criterion applies to the case of the Philippines, where the government has been combatting communist insurrections since 1969 and currently fights to curtail the influence of Islamic extremists.
In addition, the sale of helicopters raises eyebrows because in the past President Duterte bragged about “throwing a man to his death from a helicopter.” Reuters reports that he also warned government officials that they would face the same fate if he found out any involvement in corruption.
Currently, the sale of Canadian aircraft to the Philippines takes advantage of a loophole in the Canadian export controls of arms. The helicopters are sold with the full intention of being used by the Philippines for military purposes. However, the aircraft themselves technically qualify as civilian, not military, vehicles. Therefore, the Canadian export controls do not apply to the sale and no special authorization is needed.
How Duterte and the Philippine government will use their 16 new Canadian Bell 412 aircraft is yet to be determined. Recently, Duterte has increasingly distanced himself from Canada, the United States, and the rest of the West; relations have significantly cooled.
Despite the slight shift in geopolitics, defense sales continue to be a boon for the Canadian economy and defense industry representatives have praised the Canadian Commercial Commission in its efforts to sell and distribute arms around the world.