OTTAWA (Reuters) - Just one day after signing a $233 million agreement to sell 16 helicopters to the Philippines, the Canadian government on Wednesday ordered a review of the deal amid concerns the aircraft could be used to fight rebels.
Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that the deal - formally signed on Tuesday - had been struck in 2012 on the understanding the helicopters would be used for search-and-rescue missions.
Philippine Major-General Restituto Padilla, military chief of plans, told Reuters on Tuesday the helicopters would be used for the military's internal security operations, adding they could also be deployed in search-and-rescue and disaster relief operations.
"When we saw that declaration ... we immediately launched a review with the relevant authorities. And we will obviously review the facts and take the right decision," Champagne told reporters, without giving more details.
The Bell 412EPI helicopters were due be delivered early next year as the Philippine military prepares to step up operations against Islamist and communist rebels.
Nearly 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by police in a war on drugs since June 2016. Human rights groups accuse police of carrying out illegal killings, staging crime scenes and falsifying reports, a charge they deny.
"Human rights is a key element of our foreign policy and of our trade policy," said Champagne.
In 2016, the Liberal government was criticized for deciding to honor a contract to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite human rights concerns. Like the helicopter contract, the deal had been arranged by Canada's former Conservative administration.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)