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Baird in Ukraine as NDP questions $80,000 arms sales during Yanukovych regime

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OTTAWA - As Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited Kyiv on Friday, the federal New Democrats wanted to know why Canada exported more than $80,000 worth weapons to Ukraine during the rule of Viktor Yanukovich.

A Foreign Affairs Department report on the lawful export of Canadian military goods shows that shipments to Ukraine jumped to $82,000 in 2011 from $50,000 in 2010.

In 2011 — the year after Yanukovych was elected — Canada approved the shipment of $56,700 worth of "Smooth-bore weapons with a calibre of less than 20 mm, other arms and automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 mm or less and accessories" to Ukraine.

The same year, Canada also exported more than $25,000 worth of "Smooth-bore weapons with a calibre of 20 mm or more, other weapons or armament with a calibre greater than 12.7 mm, projectors and accessories."

Yanukovych is wanted on suspicion of mass murder after more than 80 people were killed last week in clashes between protesters and police, including sniper attacks.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Friday the report raises serious questions about how the federal government decides which countries should receive Canadian-made weapons.

"We certainly need greater transparency and better reporting. We also need to work with the international community by signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty, as all our NATO allies have," Dewar said.

"This government has had a track record of obstructing international efforts on arms control rather than strengthening them."

Baird has said that Canada will not sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty until it makes sure it does not violate the rights of lawful recreational firearms owners in Canada.

Baird met with the new Ukrainian prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, on Friday and paid respects to those who lost their lives in the recent protests.

A senior government official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the exports went to "private entities and not to military and police."

An official in Baird's office in Ottawa later pointed to a section of the report that said: "Most firearms exports from Canada are intended for sporting or other recreational use and not for military use."

The report also noted how the government takes steps "to ensure items are not diverted into the illegal arms trade or used to fuel local violence."

"Canadian diplomatic missions and other sources may also provide information about destination countries' firearms control laws."

Walter Dorn, chair of international affairs studies at the Canadian Forces College, has said Canada does what it can to prevent its arms from being diverted into the wrong hands. He says the government insists that its customers sign end-user certificates, but the documents have been abused in the past, especially by some African countries.

Meanwhile, Baird toured the central square, called the Maidan, where thousands of people staged protests over the last few months.

"Today on the Maidan, the entire Canadian delegation paid our respects to the fallen. Their sacrifice in defence of democracy and freedom has brought change to this great country," he said on the conference call.

"They will not be forgotten. Their sacrifices have put Ukraine squarely on a path which leads to stability, prosperity and a political and business culture that is free from corruption."

Baird was leading a delegation of Conservative MPs and Ukrainian-Canadian community leaders on the visit.

Speaking with reporters in Kyiv early Friday, Baird said he wanted to show Canada's support for the new government, "to support them on the transition to democracy, to elections, to support them in their economic needs."

"That's why we're here to do a lot of listening and to make it clear that Canada wants to play a part in their building a future," he said.

Baird has welcomed the appointment of the new government, although Ottawa says sanctions against Yanukovych's former regime are on hold.

However, a travel ban remains in place that prevents those with ties to Yanukovych from travelling to Canada.

The federal government says it wants to await the green light from the new Ukrainian leaders before deciding on sanctions.

Canadian opposition members weren't invited to travel with the Canadian delegation to Ukraine.

Jason MacDonald, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, has said the Liberals and the NDP hadn't earned a spot on the trip.

He pointed to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's flippant joke about Ukraine last week, and said the NDP "wouldn't pick a side."

Follow @mblanchfield on Twitter

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version mistakenly said arms had been sold to the Yanukovych regime.

History

Updated on Friday, February 28, 2014 at 10:14 PM CST: Adds photo.

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