By David Pugliese, Postmedia News, April 8, 2015
Ottawa — The Conservative government says providing Ukraine with satellite imagery will have no adverse effects even though government documents show Canada faces difficulties in acquiring such surveillance data for its own use.
Last year, Ukraine asked Ottawa for imagery from Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite; in February Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced that would be provided.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May asked whether the Canadian Forces or other federal departments were concerned about sharing such information with Ukraine’s military.
The response from the Conservative government, recently provided to the House of Commons in the form of an order paper, did not answer that question. Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said federal organizations, including the National Defence and Foreign Affairs departments and the Canadian Space Agency, were consulted.
“The decision to share imagery products with Ukraine has had no negative effect on Canada’s ability to use Radarsat-2 for other purposes, including those supporting the defence and security of Canada,” he said.
But DND business planning documents for 2014-15 show the Canadian Forces has warned it is facing a “critical shortage” in funding access to Radarsat-2 imagery. Government budget cuts have left the military scrambling for that access, according to the documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
“The use of Radarsat imagery in support of the Canadian Forces operations has been growing over the past years,” the planning documents warn. As part of cost savings, DND and Canadian Forces have faced “an imposed reduction” on access for Radarsat-2.
Federal departments were to receive $445 million-worth of data collected by the Radarsat-2 satellite in exchange for the government’s financial contribution to building the satellite, which is owned and operated by MacDonald, Dettwiler of Richmond, B.C.
But the spacecraft has become so essential, particularly for the Canadian military’s surveillance of the country’s coastlines, Ottawa is fast using up its data credits.
Unless it provides more money, its surveillance time will be used up by summer 2017, documents show.
Calandra also declined to answer May’s questions about which foreign governments were consulted on the decision and what were the exact terms of the agreement with Ukraine’s military. Such information would be “injurious to international relations and the defence of Canada,” he said.
The government has also refused to provide information on how much the deal with Ukraine will cost Canadian taxpayers and for what period it will be provided. His response also lacked details about what safeguards would be put in place to ensure Ukraine’s military does not use the surveillance data to target Russian or separatist forces.
But according to the DND it has been told that won’t be happening. “The Ukraine government gave us the assurance that the products will not be used for targeting,” the department noted in an email.
The Radarsat-2 satellite is unique in that it can provide surveillance data day or night and through heavy cloud cover.
Ukrainians have been fighting each other over the last year, with government troops battling rebels who want to separate. There is now a ceasefire in place but there are concerns it will not hold.
Russia has annexed Crimea and has provided support to the separatist forces. Canada and NATO have accused Russia of sending troops and equipment to take part in the war but Russia denies that.
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