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Pro-Palestinian groups urge Canada to cancel purchase of Israeli drone

Canadian NGO says Ottawa's recent purchase of civilian version of military drone implicitly rewards Israel
Canada first announced its purchase of the Israeli-made drones last December.
Canada first announced its purchase of Israeli-made drone last December (AFP)

Pro-Palestinian groups are urging the Canadian government to cancel a $36m purchase of an Israeli-made civilian maritime surveillance drone amid concerns over the drone maker's record on human rights.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) said Ottawa's recent purchase of the Hermes 900 StarLiner unmanned aircraft system "bolsters the profits of an Israeli weapons company which builds drones to monitor and target Palestinian civilians under occupation".

"CJPME continues to call for the Canadian government to cancel its purchase of the Israeli-built Hermes 900 StarLiner drone," Thomas Woodley, president of CJPME, told Middle East Eye.

The call follows an online campaign launched last month by CJPME urging Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to cancel the purchase.

Woodley noted that Alghabra had not spoken publicly on the issue since the start of the petition, which has so far garnered more than 4,000 signatures.

"As such, both Alghabra and the transport ministry spokespeople have ignored the important ethical questions that CJPME has raised," he said.

'Such purchases implicitly reward Israel'

Canada first announced the drone purchase last December, saying it would be used in the country's Arctic region to detect oil spills, survey ice and marine habitats, and monitor activity in the ocean.

"This contract for the acquisition of one remotely piloted aircraft system was awarded in December through an open, transparent, independent and competitive procurement process," Allison St-Jean, press secretary for Canada's transport ministry, told MEE.

A government spokesperson previously told Radio Canada International that the process involved industry consultations, but did not mention whether human rights were a part of the decision.

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"The selection of the UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] was made following a competitive procurement process by Public Services and Procurement Canada, on behalf of Transport Canada, to support maritime environmental protection missions in the Arctic and along the Canadian Eastern and Western coasts, as part of the Canadian National Aerial Surveillance Program," Yasmin Ratansi, an MP representing the Toronto area of Don Valley East, told MEE.

"Canada is not, however, using these drones for any military application."

Woodley said that while CJPME was not opposed to Canada's purchase of a drone for surveilling the Arctic north, the NGO "believes that such purchases implicitly reward Israel for its oppression of Palestinians".

The US-based Labor for Palestine movement told MEE that it "emphatically condemns" the purchase of the drone which is manufactured by Elbit Systems.

'Complicit in war crimes'

One of Israel's largest arms manufacturers, Elbit Systems has repeatedly been denounced by human rights groups over the use of its weapons in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Its drones were reportedly used in air attacks on Gaza between December 2008 to January 2009 that killed dozens of civilians. The company's drones were also employed during the 51-day attack on Gaza in 2014, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.

In 2012, an independent UN human rights expert called on the world body to take action against a number of businesses, including Elbit Systems, for reportedly profiting off of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Software made by one of the company's subsidiaries was also used to target a US-based journalist in 2016 and 2017, according to Citizen Lab.

"Elbit is a major criminal enterprise that arms the Israeli military with over 80% of its drone fleet, including the Hermes 450 and 900, which was used extensively in Israel's 2014 bombardment of Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians," Labor for Palestine said.

"It is imperative to shut down Elbit for its complicity in war crimes against the Palestinian people."

Elbit Systems did not respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication.