The RCMP has confirmed that it has been asked to investigate whether the transfer of Canadian built drones to Libya was in violation of Canadian regulations to implement a UN arms embargo on Libya.
When the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade confirmed last November[i] that it had “asked the RCMP to investigate these reports [of drone transfers to Libya] to ensure our sanctions are respected,” the RCMP had not confirmed that it was indeed investigating.
Three months after the question being put to them, the RCMP now “acknowledges that it received a referral of this matter from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)” and indicates that “the matter has been referred to the Customs and Excise Section of the ‘A’ Division RCMP.”[ii]
The Aeryon Scout, an unmanned (and unarmed) aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Aeryon Labs Inc. of Waterloo, [iii] earned headlines last summer when it was reported by the Globe and Mail[iv] and the New York Times[v] that Zariba Security of Ottawa had delivered the Aeryon Scout to the Libyan rebels and provided training on its use.
While Aeryon Labs Inc was not the exporter, the company’s publicity frequently refers to the use of the Aeryon Scout in Libya, adding that the vehicle “has played a key role in major world events.”[vi] By all accounts, the Scout is an extraordinary surveillance aircraft of less than three pounds. It fits into a suitcase, and is powered by four battery driven rotors.
The Scout has many civilian uses, but in Libya, it was used by Libyan rebels in offensive operations against the Government. As the Times put it in August: “The Libyan rebels have been using the Aeryon Scout Micro UAV to acquire intelligence on enemy positions and to coordinate their resistance efforts”[vii] — hence, the investigation into its possible violation of both the UN embargo and the related Canadian regulations (see here for further background). The RCMP has not yet responded to the question of whether the results of the investigation will be made public.
[i] “Canadian drones and the UN arms embargo on Libya,” 13 December 2011 http://disarmingconflict.ca/2011/12/13/Canadian-drones-and-the-un-arms-embargo-on-libya.
[ii] Email, 9 March 2012, from the RCMP’s Communications and Public Relations Unit.
[iii] The Aeryon Scout, built by Aeryon Labs Inc. of Waterloo, ON, “is a [small, suit-case size] vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) micro unmanned aerial vehicle used for tactical, over-the-hill aerial intelligence.” http://www.aeryon.com/.
[iv] Tu Thanh Ha, “How high-tech Canadian drones gave Libyan rebels a boost, The Globe and Mail, 23 August 2011. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/how-high-tech-canadian-drones-gave-libyan-rebels-a-boost/article2139481/.
[v] Ian Austen, “Libyan Rebels Reportedly Used Tiny Canadian Surveillance Drone,” New York Times, 24 August 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/world/africa/25canada.html.
[vi] “Aeryon Labs Demonstrates Live Video Streaming & Flight Control over the Internet with ScoutTM Micro-UAV System,” Aeryon Labs Inc, 23 March 2012 Press Release. http://www.aeryon.com/news/pressreleases/376-tedx-waterloo-2012.html
[vii] The NY Times Blog, The Lede, reported on August 25 on a company news release that claimed that “the Libyan rebels have been usimg the Aeryon Scout Micro UAV to acquire intelligence on enemy positions and to coordinate their resistance efforts.” Robert Mackey, “Aug. 25 Updates on the War in Libya,” The Lede. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/25/latest-updates-on-the-war-in-libya-2/.