Canada’s arms exports in 2022

September 18, 2023

By Kelsey Gallagher

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 44 Issue 3 Autumn 2023

Canada publishes an annual report on its exports of conventional weapons. The most recent report, 2022 Exports of Military Goods, reveals that Canada continues to export high volumes of arms around the world, with more than half reported transfers going to an authoritarian state.


According to the 2022 Exports of Military Goods report, last year, Canada exported military goods valued at $2.122-billion to destinations other than the United States. This total was the lowest since 2017 and 37 per cent lower than the total for 2021 but remains significantly higher than the total for any year in the period 1978-2017.

This reduced figure was largely the product of fewer transfers to Saudi Arabia of light armoured vehicles (LAVs), which remained the major item sent to that country. The value of exports to Saudi Arabia still reached $1.151-billion – approximately 54 per cent of all reported non-U.S. exports.

From a different report we can get additional perspectives on exports to Saudi Arabia. Canada also reports its arms exports to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA), providing data on units of materiel shipped to foreign states. According to the UNROCA report, Canada supplied 55 Armoured Combat Vehicles (or “ACVs,” the category of goods applicable to LAVs) to Saudi Arabia in 2022, down from the 116 supplied in 2021 and 2019’s high point of 183. Information sent to UNROCA has been included in previous Exports of Military Goods reports but for unknown reasons was not included in the 2022 edition. Fortunately, this information is still accessible through UNROCA.

Graph displaying ACV exports to Saudi Arabia
Click on image to enlarge

It is also not clear why weapons exports to Saudi Arabia continue to be permitted by Canadian officials and at such high volumes. Arming Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian government poses demonstrable human rights risks, as exemplified during the Saudi-led intervention in the war in Yemen. Supplying LAVs worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia constitutes a breach of Canada’s obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.

Despite all the information provided in the 2022 report, many details of Canada’s arms transfers remain off the public record. Principally, the report failed to include most of Canada’s arms exports to the United States. As well, most shipments of military aid to Ukraine were not integrated into the total reported value.

Graph of annual value of Canadian military exports
Click on image to enlarge

Arms exports to the United States

While the United States is generally considered Canada’s largest military customer, the Canadian government does not provide substantial data on these exports.

Until 2017, the Government of Canada provided almost no information on military exports to its southern neighbour. Since then, it has reported the value of a small subset of Group 2 arms exports, including small arms and light weapons, ammunition, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, and associated components. The reported value for 2022 was $57.4-million.

However, Project Ploughshares conservatively estimates the total value of contracts for Canadian military exports to the United States at well over $1-billion annually.

Other top customers in 2022

Canada shipped weapons valued at $970.7-million to another 76 countries and territories.

In recent years (except for 2020), the total value of Canadian arms exported to recipients other than the United States and Saudi Arabia has been higher than at any point in the last two decades. This reflects both increases in global military expenditures as well as Canada’s willingness to meet demand. Some of Canada’s biggest customers in 2022 imported more arms than ever before.

At the top of this group was NATO ally Germany at $221.6-million, with the largest export category, for armoured vehicles and associated components, valued at $137.6-million. Canadian arms exports to Germany were the highest since that country’s reunification in 1990.

In second spot was the United Kingdom at $104.5-million. This NATO ally was particularly interested in exports categorized as “technology,” valued at $23.9-million.

Third was Poland, also in NATO. The total value of goods, at $61.9-million, reached a new high, surpassing the previous high in 2021, when the total was $12.7-million. The largest export category was imaging and countermeasure equipment ($24.7-million).

India was fourth, with a highest-ever total of $54.8-million. The largest export category was for naval vessels, equipment, and associated components ($27.1-million), likely tied to India’s expansion of its Navy.

Qatar was in fifth spot, with exports valued at $49.2-million. Again, the highest value ever for Canadian-made military goods and an increase of 122 per cent over the previous high of $22.1-million in 2019. Most of the exports in 2022 were military training goods and simulation equipment. Last year, Qatar was also added to Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List, signaling a closer arms trade relationship between Ottawa and Doha that could produce higher levels of military exports in upcoming years.

Ukraine took sixth spot, with military goods valued at $47.5-million. The bulk (valued at $45.2-million) were armoured vehicles and associated components – a mix of Senator armoured vehicles manufactured by Mississauga’s Roshel and Armoured Combat Support Vehicles manufactured by London’s General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada. However, this represents only a small subset of the total value of Canadian military goods shipped to Ukraine last year.

Canadian military support for Ukraine

The value of exports to Ukraine discussed above does not include most of the Canadian military aid provided to Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February 2022. By August 2023, the total value of this support, both provided and pledged, was well over $2-billion.

The Government of Canada does not treat military aid as normal arms exports. Military aid is subjected to a parallel and opaque regulatory risk assessment outside conventional permitting processes. One byproduct is that the value of Canadian military aid is not included in the annual Exports of Military Goods report, thus misrepresenting the actual value of Canadian arms transfers.

Using available public information, Project Ploughshares estimates that in 2022 Canada transferred approximately $500-million in military aid to Ukraine. This figure does not include transfers pledged in 2022 that were exported after December 31, 2022 or goods discussed in the previous section.

Getting a better picture

The 2022 Exports of Military Goods report does provide some welcome clarity on how Canadian officials understand and mitigate some risks associated with arms transfers, particularly those linked to potential human rights violations and arms diversion. Such information will give civil society greater insights into Canada’s regulatory regime.

However, major segments of Canada’s annual arms exports remain in obscurity. If Canadian officials were to report fully on all Canada’s annual arms transfers, the grand total for 2022 would almost certainly jump from $2.1-billion to more than $3.6-billion.

While Canada’s Exports of Military Goods report has made positive steps toward transparency in recent years, it has not yet achieved as much transparency as it could. Canada’s reporting regime should be amended to achieve that end, particularly in relation to arms exports to the United States and military aid.

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