Inside Politics

Canada's arms sales to the Middle East

Canadian companies exported $21.3-million in arms to the Middle East from 2006 to the end of 2010. That figure comprises just 1.6 per cent of Canada's total arms sales for those years, but it shows that Canada is a minor player in the worldwide arms trade to the region.

Small as they may be compared to the total, what's interesting about those numbers is this question, Are countries such as Libya using these weapons against their own people?

Put another way, are Canadian companies indirectly complicit in Moammar Gadhafi's assault on his own people, an assault that now has him up for war crimes charges?

Of course, there is no way of knowing if any of the weapons being used by Gadhafi supporters came from Canada. To date, there are no YouTube moments featuring supporters carrying firearms with the words "Canada" emblazoned in large enough letters for the world to see.

But compared to other countries in the Middle East, we don't sell much in the way of arms to Libya, as you can see in the image below.


Analysis by David McKie Source: Industry Canada

We sold a handful of goods to Libya in 2006 and 2009.

Of greater interest, may be Saudi Arabia, which tops the list at just over $9-million:

nations.jpg Analysis by David McKie Source: Industry Canada

And I'll show you one more breakdown, this time by commodity type:

munitions.jpgAnalysis by David McKie Source: Industry Canada

The categories are general, but provide enough details about the kinds of arms we're selling to militaries and police forces, just to name a handful of the clients in the Middle East and elsewhere who buy our arms.


For the most part, these statistics are readily available.

Statistics Canada and Industry Canada provide general trade numbers that can be broken down by commodity type and then downloaded in a database format. Statistics Canada obtains the numbers from the Canada Border Services Agency that tracks all goods leaving and coming into the country. StatsCan provides general breakdowns for these numbers, as does Industry Canada.

To get an idea of what was happening in the Middle East, I asked Statistics Canada to provide breakdowns for the countries in the Middle East including Libya, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. And then I had the agency conduct a further breakdown of those arms sales by year, which gave me the totals you see in the images above.

What became clear was that although we sell arms to these countries, the amounts are relatively small. A spokesperson for Statistics Canada put it to me this way:

"(The arms sales numbers) could be strawberries for all we care. We're not part of any judgment whether this is good or bad, or useful or not. It's just a number as far we're concerned. And that number is nowhere near the magnitude of most of our other stuff. We think of motor vehicles and automotive parts and trucks. They are in the billions every month."

Indeed, we may sell more cars, trucks, minerals and natural gas, but it's always interesting to break down the trade numbers by the type of goods, because they provide prospective when countries such as ours begin talking about embargoes and potential aid, two of many so-called options on the table. What we sell to countries tells us a little bit about their importance to us.

And, so, yes, we do sell arms to the Middle East and elsewhere, though the United States remains our largest customer by a ridiculously large margin. Still, if even one Canadian arm is being used in violent campaigns against people who demand nothing more than access to the things in life we take for granted, such as the right to decent jobs, food, housing and democratic governments, then that one rifle or projectile becomes one arm too many.

If you have views about our arms trade that you'd like to share, you know how to reach me, at

Tags: behind the numbers, libya, middle east

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