An aerospace company based in St. John's, Nfld., is fixing helicopters for the Colombian military, a force that has come under fire from human rights groups for its role in a brutal civil war.
Although the federal government had told Parliament in March that the firm was only working on civilian planes, Vector Aerospace is repairing engines, components and auxiliary power units for the Colombian military, a contract worth $6.5 million Cdn.
When told by this reporter that the company was working on military aircraft, the secretary of state for Latin America and Africa defended the contract. David Kilgour said the Colombian government had a right to defend itself.
The work is being done by four Vector subsidiaries, which are separately based in England, P.E.I., California and British Columbia.
The company did not receive a military export permit from Ottawa for the contract.
During a parliamentary session on March 20, Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde asked Kilgour why no export permit was issued.
“Vector's involvement concerns only civilian planes,” Kilgour responded. “There are no helicopters for military purposes.”
In a phone interview, however, Mark Dobbin, chairman and CEO of Vector, confirmed the company is working on military equipment.
“We're working on both civilian and military aircraft,” said Dobbin.
A second company official, who asked not to be named because he was not an official spokesperson, said Vector was working for the Colombian military.
“We are repairing engines and components and other items for the Colombian military,” said the official.
The revelation outraged NDP MP Svend Robinson.
“It's shameful that the Liberal government is totally unaware or covering up Vector's involvement with the Colombian military, which has one of the world's worst human rights records,” said Robinson, his party's foreign affairs critic.
In a June 13 phone interview, Kilgour said the Liberals were not hiding anything from the Canadian public.
“My understanding at the time I answered that question was that they were only servicing civilian planes,” said Kilgour.
When asked for Ottawa's view of a Canadian firm working for the Colombian military, Kilgour replied: “I think it's appropriate for a democratically elected government to protect themselves (from armed incursions).”
He added, however, that he has nothing but “absolute revulsion” for the paramilitary groups which have been tied to widespread massacres.
The revelation of Vector’s military work shows that at least one Canadian firm is involved in the Colombian conflict.