November 2000: Arming A Genocidal Force

Canadian military exports to Indonesia, 1979-1999
November 1, 2000

As the Indonesian army and its militias set fire to Dili and killed thousands of East Timorese in September 1999, the Canadian government refused to stop the export of military goods to Indonesia. This at a time when even the United States, Jakarta's main backer, had suspended military sales to Indonesia, as had the European Union and Australia.

According to documents obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) through the Access to Information Act, six military export permits for the Indonesian Air Force and Ministry of Defence, worth a total of $119.3 million, were granted by the Canadian government during 1998-1999 to unidentified companies. The permits were for aircraft engines, navigation systems and training simulators or parts.

As the Indonesian military's militias laid waste to East Timor, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy refused to revoke these permits. In one case, the equipment was ready for immediate shipment.

For Kerry Pither of the East Timor Alert Network, Ottawa's policy signified "34 years of Canadian groveling to the Indonesian military regime."

The Canadian government has authorized military exports to Indonesia on a massive scale. The value of export permits DFAIT has issued for 1991-1999 total $545.8 million. The government's claim that these exports are "non-offensive" - "with no reasonable risk of being used against the civilian population" - is unconvincing. Any military export can be used offensively, especially by a genocidal army that killed one million Indonesian civilians in 1965, 200,000 East Timorese (one-third of the population) after its 1975 invasion of East Timor, and thousands more in 1999.

In fact, these export permits violate Canada's own Import/Export Act which bans the sale of Canadian military goods to "countries engaged in hostilities" or to "countries whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of human rights."

According to Project Ploughshares, such permits are also inconsistent with the "human security agenda" Canadian foreign policy now endorses.

In 1995 alone, the Chretien government issued $362.4 million worth of military export permits for Indonesia. These included permits for component parts for British Rapier missiles, communications technology to be provided by Canadian Marconi (now BAE Systems Canada), and component parts for use in weapon systems to be rerouted to Indonesia through the U.S.

Ottawa does not regularly screen indirect military exports. Also, military export permits are not required for the sale of goods to the Indonesian military which Ottawa has classified as "civilian." These include helicopter engines.

According to DFAIT, the total value of Canadian military exports to Indonesia (actual sales) during 1979-1997 was $8.9 million. Project Ploughshares, however, reports the figure of $22.5 million for the period 1981-1996.

The discrepancy is explained by differing definitions of what constitutes a military export.

For Ploughshares, any item going to the military is a military export, while DFAIT does not count those goods that have dual (civilian and military) use and are not specifically made for the military even though they are being sent to the armed forces.

Ploughshares' list of Canadian military exports to Indonesia for 1981-1996 includes ammunition (Valcartier Industries), parachutes (Irvin Industries), military vehicles (Levy Auto Parts Co.), helicopter engines (Pratt and Whitney, worth $20 million in 1985 and 1986), a navigation system for the Indonesian air force (Leigh Instruments Ltd.), a radar system for the Indonesian navy (Litton Systems Canada) and EOD Body Armour Type V.

According to Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's vice-president, "weapons made in Canada have almost certainly been used in the war" against his country.

Valcartier bullets were reportedly used by the Indonesian Army in its invasion of East Timor in 1975. The company made a second sale in 1981 when the Indonesian military's Operation Fence of Logs took place in East Timor. This involved the Indonesian army's use of East Timorese civilians (eight to 50 years old) as human shields between itself and Fretilin guerrillas. Hundreds of civilians were reportedly killed.

In April 1998, the Indonesian press reported a US$75 million sale by Bombardier Inc. to the Indonesian military. The deal was for ten Canadair CL-215 and CL-215T aircraft. These are amphibious planes designed for firefighting. The Canadairs were to replace the Indonesian Air Force's Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibious aircraft which had been converted from firefighters into planes used for patrol and surveillance, search and rescue, and transport.

The federal government's Export Development Corporation (EDC) offered Jakarta negotiable long-term credit to buy the ten Canadian-built planes.

Similarly, Pratt and Whitney Canada's helicopter engine sales to Indonesia have been greatly encouraged by the Canadian government. Wile the 1985 sale was financed by the EDC, the one in 1986 was made public during the visit of James Kelleher, Minister for International Trade, to Jakarta in February 1986. Kelleher called the engine contract "a good example of the inroads Canadian companies are making in sales of high tech goods to Indonesia."

Since 1996, Ottawa's export strategy for East Asia has focused on increasing the sale of Canadian military goods through the hosting of foreign military missions to Canada, official participation in air shows and an Asian tour by Canadian navy frigates which included stops in Indonesia.

Military export permits that were issued during 1988-1997 include the following equipment categories:

  • Electronic equipment for military use such as communications equipment and radar systems.
    Specialized equipment for military training or for simulating military scenarios, such as computerized trainers, aircraft and vehicle simulators, components and accessories.
  • Imaging or imaging counter-measure equipment including photographic, thermal imaging equipment and specially-designed components.
  • Unmanned airborne vehicles.
  • Fire control radars, range finding sensors, ballistic computers and related alerting and warning equipment specially designed for military use, as well as parts and components.

Particularly alarming is the permit granted for imaging equipment. According to professor Randy Schwartz, a U.S. expert on imaging, this highly sophisticated technology is "worse than bullets" because "it shows the Indonesian army where to shoot the bullets."

Imaging includes detailed satellite photographs, those taken from unmanned airborne vehicles and from reconnaissance aircraft. When combined with maps, the photographs can help pinpoint the location of guerrillas in the jungle.

"These types of equipment can broadly be characterized as means for gathering information about the current or anticipated field of battle, and for conveying this information rapidly through the military ranks in preparation for combat," Schwartz says. "Such equipment has proven to be indispensable to modern counter-insurgency warfare in particular, which is characterized by unconventional forms of combat (urban uprisings, jungle guerrilla warfare, etc.) in which challenges from the enemy might arise suddenly and without prediction, and in which the enemy himself might be relatively `hidden.' Weapons wielded by a repressive army like that of Indonesia are relatively harmless until its soldiers know where to aim; the types of equipment listed above make visible what would otherwise be hidden, thereby creating potential targets."

By issuing such permits, the Canadian government is offering the murderous Indonesian army the means to find its enemies who will then of course be killed.

Thermal imaging, which involves the use of infrared cameras that detect heat, has been used in jungle counter-insurgency since the Vietnam War. With U.S. help, the Thai air force used infrared imaging equipment in aerial surveillance during 1969-1970 to locate and capture communist guerrillas in the jungle.

Indonesia's use of thermal imaging has been even deadlier.

According to Schwartz, "In the late 1970s, as it fought to consolidate its military occupation of East Timor, the regime used U.S.-supplied OV-10 Bronco aircraft to carry out massive counter-insurgency bombing runs over the interior highlands, destroying cropland and forcing 300,000 people to flee to squalid refugee camps nearer the coast. Significantly, the Rockwell Broncos were each equipped with infrared detectors as aids in targeting their 3,600 pounds of ordnance, grenade launchers, rockets, machine guns and napalm."

Canadian companies and the federal government have supplied Jakarta with imaging equipment. The East Timor Alert Network website says Aquarius Flight Inc. of Markham, Ontario "has reportedly carried out mapping operations assisting the Indonesian military in counter-insurgency operations in East Timor and West Papua." Aquarius' digital maps are exactly what armies need when repressing insurgents in remote and rugged terrain.

CAL Corporation produces communications equipment for remote sensing (the term for space-based surveillance) and has sold such equipment to Indonesia. In the 1970s, the Canadian Forestry Service provided digital image processing to the Suharto regime in order to create Indonesia's first comprehensive resource maps, based on Landsat satellite images and aerial photographs.

Randy Schwartz says similar help provided to the Peruvian government in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan was used by the Lima government "to carry out helicopter-based counter-insurgency warfare in the Upper Huallaga Valley resulting in the death of thousands of peasants."

Other Canadian companies that have sold imaging equipment abroad include MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (Canada's leading remote sensing company), WESCAM Inc., ELCAN Optical Technologies, Spar Aerospace and BAE Systems Canada.

Ottawa's determination to supply military hardware even to as reprehensible a force as the Indonesian military can be explained by federal support for the Canadian aerospace sector. This support is the centrepiece of official industrial strategy.

Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) is the federal government's biggest industrial development program and two-thirds of its funds go to aerospace companies concentrated in Quebec and Ontario.

Companies in Quebec get 52 percent of the money, those in Ontario 31 percent, the West 13 percent and firms in Atlantic Canada get two percent.

In fact, TPC was set up to help aerospace corporations such as Bombardier and Spar Aerospace.

John Geddes, in an article in the November 2, 1998 Maclean's, wrote that the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada is "one of Ottawa's best-connected lobby groups."

From 1982 to 1997, the federal government gave $11 billion in repayable assistance mainly to defence and aerospace-linked industries and got back only 15 percent of this amount.

Meanwhile, the aerospace sector's sales were $13.4 billion in 1997, double the figure for 1987. Eighty percent of these sales came from exports.

The Canadian government supports military exports for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons is because aerospace companies make huge profits for their shareholders and employ 64,000 well-paid workers in Canada. But could another reason be that several major Canadian aerospace companies which have benefitted from the export of military equipment to Indonesia have made large donations to the Liberal Party of Canada? These include Bombardier Inc., one of the top five donors to the Liberal Party, which gave $310,613 during 1995-1998. Meanwhile, Pratt and Whitney Canada donated $76,430 during the same time period.

(Asad Ismi has written extensively on global economic and political issues. For more of his reports and articles, visit