VICTORIA, British Columbia ― Canada is reviewing the sale of 16 helicopters to the Philippine Air Force after concerns were raised about human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian country.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she will not hesitate to stop the delivery of the aircraft if the review determines issues with the sale.
Bell Helicopter announced Tuesday that it received an order for 16 of its 412EPI helicopters. The $234 million deal was brokered by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Canadian government agency.
But news of the contract, announced at the Singapore Air Show, sparked concern among human rights organizations in Canada who pointed to numerous alleged violations in the Philippines by government security forces.
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“Such transfers should not be authorized unless a thorough human rights risk assessment demonstrates that the Philippine Armed Forces will use the equipment lawfully and that any suspected misuse is effectively, independently and impartially investigated,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Brianne Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, said Tuesday the aircraft were for the purposes of disaster relief, search and rescue, and passenger transport.
But the Canadian government backtracked Wednesday after a Filipino general told the Reuters news agency that the helicopters are for military missions.
“The helicopters will be used for the military’s internal security operations,” Philippines Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, said in Manila.
Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada approved the sale of the helicopters based on the understanding they were being used for search-and-rescue and disaster relief missions.
“When we saw that declaration (by Padilla) we immediately launched a review with the relevant authorities,” Champagne told Canadian journalists. “And we will obviously review the facts and take the right decision.”
It’s unclear how long the review will take. The helicopters are to be built at Bell’s facility in Mirabel, Quebec.
Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippines’ secretary of national defense, told journalists in Manila on Thursday that the helicopters would be used only to transport troops and supplies. He pledged they would not be used in attacking insurgents.
But Lorenzana said if Canada doesn’t go through with the sale, his government will purchase transport helicopters from another country.
David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.