Yemeni rebels’ Winnipeg-made rifles legally sold to Saudi Arabia, federal government says

Data shows Manitoba exported $4.2 million worth of rifles and shotguns to Saudi Arabia in 2011

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OTTAWA — Winnipeg-made sniper rifles that ended up in the hands of Yemeni rebels had the proper permits for export when the Winnipeg company sold them to Saudi Arabia five years ago, the Free Press has confirmed.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/08/2016 (2366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Winnipeg-made sniper rifles that ended up in the hands of Yemeni rebels had the proper permits for export when the Winnipeg company sold them to Saudi Arabia five years ago, the Free Press has confirmed.

Last February, photos surfaced that appeared to show LRT-3 and Timberwolf sniper rifles made by Winnipeg’s PGW Defence Technology Inc., in the possession of Houthi fighters in Yemen’s civil war. The Houthi rebels have been under a United Nations arms embargo since April, 2015. At least 6,500 people, half of them civilians, have been killed in the war in the last two years.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland ordered an investigation last winter. Consultations with the company and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh showed the guns in question were exported to Saudi Arabia for use by the Saudi military in 2011 on an export permit issued to PGW in 2010, Freeland’s spokeswoman told the Free Press.

TWITTER Houthi forces in Yemen pose with guns, including high-precision arms made by Winnipeg-based PGW Defence Technology Inc.

The embassy reported the guns, along with other military equipment, had fallen into the hands of the Yemeni rebels during fighting with Saudi border patrols along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border.

Canadian trade data online shows Manitoba exported $4.2 million worth of rifles and shotguns to Saudi Arabia in 2011. Since 2006, including the first six months of this year, nearly $20 million worth of rifles and shotguns have been exported from Manitoba to Saudi Arabia. It accounts for almost half the total number of the guns exported from Canada to any other nation in the last decade.

The trade data report does not specify which company exported the guns. The government also did not provide the Free Press with any more information about the weapons, including how many were sold and how many were stolen.

PGW president Ross Spagrud declined a request for comment. However a source close to the company said losing weapons in the midst of war is not unusual and has happened to the Canadian military, as well. He said anyone using these rifles requires intense training.

They “are essentially paperweights” in the hands of someone who hasn’t been trained to use them, the source said.

Freeland’s spokeswoman told the Free Press in an emailed statement the government “takes seriously any reports of misuse or diversion” of arms exported from Canada. The export of weapons is strictly regulated and sales are allowed only with permission and to pre-approved countries.

Saudia Arabia is one of the approved countries, despite a questionable human-rights record that has many critics opposed to its inclusion on the list.

In June, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced Canada’s plans to sign on to the global Arms Trade Treaty by June 2017, and a process of consultation to beef up Canada’s policies and legislation to meet the treaty’s requirements. The legislation is expected this fall. Canada is the only G7 nation not to have signed the treaty yet.

‘(The federal government) takes seriously any reports of misuse or diversion’– spokeswoman for International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland

The treaty requires member states to have proper systems in place to review and control the export of arms, including transparency, to help combat the illicit trade in weapons.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said incidents such as the loss of the Winnipeg-made guns are, unfortunately, the “spoils of war.” He said while there is a need to push for better human rights in Saudi Arabia, “they are a solid ally for us in the Middle East.”

However, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said the Liberals haven’t made good on promises to be more transparent about arms exports and, in fact, recent reports suggested the government had watered down arms export policy, rather than tighten it.

Laverdière said all Canadians would be concerned about Canadian-made weapons being used improperly. She recently tried to get the government to agree to create a special parliamentary committee to monitor arms exports, but her idea was defeated.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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