Canada to Cease Arms Exports to Israel

Holding to a Motion

Following the passage of a motion proposed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada’s House of Commons, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Joly, has committed to ceasing future arms exports to Israel.

The motion is non-binding, and calls upon the government to take a number of different actions. One such portion of the motion, “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas”, is already being listened to by the government, announced Minister Joly.

The cessation is a step up from the temporary slow of application receival for defence exports to Israel that Minister Joly had reportedly enacted on January 8th, after displaying concerns that Canada would be unable to ensure that any exports would not be able to be used in any potential human rights abuses or violations of law.

A photo of damaged and destroyed buildings within Gaza on October 10th, 2023 (Photo from Fatima Shbair/AP).

Global Affairs Canada stated that after this slow, applications were still being received, however were being processed on a case by case basis.

When approving defence exports, as is the responsibility of the Foreign Affairs Minister in Canada, one of the legal qualifiers is whether such exports can be used in human rights abuses. Given the “highly fluid” situation in Gaza, the government is not able to fulfill its legal obligations of establishing potential risks for the exports, prompting the cessation.

The immediate effects of the cessation are not exactly clear. Namely, it is unknown if Canada will still honour already existing contracts that had been approved, including ones signed after Hamas’ initial attack upon Israel on October 7th. While the wording of the resolution, and Minister Joly implies that Canada will cease all future exports, Defence Minister Bill Blair stated that “there are a number of existing contracts that are already in place, but this was a going forward basis, I think that’s how the Minister’s looking at it.”

Opposition Motion

As stated, the motion, tabled by the opposition NDP, called on the government to undertake a number of different actions. The motion which passed is noticeably different from the one initially tabled. The ruling Liberal party managed to enact a number of amendments to the motion, which changed several fundamental aspects.

Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Heather McPherson, the sponsor of the motion ‘Canada’s actions to promote peace in the Middle East’ (Photo from Shaughn Butts/Postmedia).

Regarding arms sales, the motion initially called for Canada to “suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel and increase efforts to stop the illegal trade of arms, including to Hamas.” This was modified to the cessation, rather than a full suspension, and only of arms exports rather than “military goods and technology” as the motion originally called for.

In addition, the original motion called for an immediate recognition of Palestine as a state, something which would represent a sharp deviation from Canada’s current foreign policy. The Liberal’s succeeded in altering the text so that it called for Canada to “work with international partners to actively pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution, and maintain Canada’s position that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security with its neighbours.”

Support for a two state solution is already in line with Canada’s foreign policy. Notably, the change in text calls for Canada’s support in establishing a Palestinian state, not in recognizing one already in existence.

Another key amendment, likely enacted by the Liberal’s in an attempt to satisfy pro-Israel elements, was a completely new line which establishes that “all states, including Israel have a right to defend themselves.” However, the line also adds that “in defending itself, Israel must respect international humanitarian law and the price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians.”

A photo of IDF troops operating within Gaza (Photo from AP).

The passed motion calls for an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages, and for Hamas to “lay down its arms”, the assurance of continued funding to the UNRWA (Canada had suspended funding to the UNRWA in late January, along with a number of other international entities, after Israel alleged that a number of its members were both involved with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, as well as in the October 7th attacks. Recently, this funding was reinstated), to demand unimpeded Humanitarian access to Gaza (Israel has been accused a number of times of impeding access for humanitarian shipments to Gaza. In turn, Israel has denied this and accused Hamas of looting aid shipments), calls for Canada to “ensure Canadians trapped in Gaza can reach safety in Canada and expand access to the temporary resident visa program” (Canada has instituted a cap of 1,000 for temporary resident visa applications for 1,000, the resolution calls to expand this cap), support the ICC and the ICJ (notably in the ICJ there is presently an ongoing case against Israel for alleged violations of the genocide convention), and also reaffirms Canada’s view that Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal, an obstacle to the two state solution, and calls for sanctions against extremist settlers (as well as to maintain sanctions against Hamas leaders).

If Canada institutes sanctions against extremist settlers, they will join the US who has recently imposed a number of such sanctions.

The motion passed 204-117, with the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and Green party voting unanimously in favour. All Liberal MP’s except for three MP’s voted in favour of the motion, and all Conservative MP’s voted unanimously against the motion.

Celebrations and Condemnations

The motion’s passage has been hailed as a victory by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who’s party published online that they had been calling for a ceasefire for the last six months. pro-Palestine groups, as well as the National Council of Canadian Muslims, have spoken in favour of the motion as a step of progress towards ending the war, or at least a slowing down of support for Israel.

In turn, several pro-Israel and Canadian Jewish associations have spoken against the motion.

“While the removal of the very problematic clause calling for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is an important result of the substantial mobilization of the pro-Israel community, the fact that the NDP failed to achieve its core objective is of little comfort. We are angered and deeply disappointed that the Liberal government has chosen to effectively sub-contract Canadian foreign policy to anti-Israel radicals within the NDP and the Bloc QuEbecois” -Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

The motion’s passage has also reportedly troubled the three Liberal MP’s which voted against it, who said they now feel “isolated” within their party. MP Anthony Housefather further went on to say that he was “reflecting” upon his future in the party.

Despite the motion’s passage, it is, of course, non-binding and it is up to the government whether the calls they agreed to will be genuinely adhered to or not.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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