The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “CBC” revealed in a report the presence of an Israeli spying company in the United Arab Emirates.
CBC said that former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads the Israeli company “AWZ Ventures” for surveillance technology systems, based in Toronto, and is looking to facilitate the sale of advanced surveillance technology to the UAE.
The authority stated that the company provides facial recognition services, crowd detection, and comprehensive information about individuals at the same time.
Harper is a key component of this investment firm, serving as chair of its advisory committee, which is made up of former members of the Mossad and other Israeli and US intelligence agencies.
He is also a business partner with the company, which has investments in 18 Israeli cybersecurity companies, according to its website.
And “AWZ Ventures” is in the process of establishing a branch in the UAE, and the former Canadian diplomat Catherine Ferrer Fréchette has been appointed as the general manager of this subsidiary, whose name is “AWZ Horizons”, and it will be based in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrer has been working full-time for AWZ since February 2021, according to her LinkedIn account.
It was also tasked by AWZ with facilitating the sale of cybersecurity technologies to other countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, and countries in North Africa.
International cyber-threat and human rights experts in Canada, the UK and Israel condemn the possibility of providing such technologies “to a country with a history of human rights abuses,” according to the report.
“Selling electronic surveillance technologies to a country like the UAE is inherently problematic from a human rights perspective,” said Sienna Anestes, senior legal advisor at Citizen Lab, a research body at the University of Toronto focused on studying digital threats.
AWZ Ventures defends its decision to do business with the UAE.
AWZ co-founder and spokesperson Yaron Ashkenazi was quoted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as saying that the company invests in “defense security technologies that are designed not to be circumvented or reverse engineered for nefarious purposes.”
Ashkenazi added that his firm is working “seriously” with companies “to ensure they comply with the highest ethical and regulatory investment standards in Canada and other markets in which we operate.”
He stressed that the commercial relationship between “AWZ Ventures” and the UAE is established “in the spirit of the Abraham Agreements”, the peace treaties between Israel, the UAE and other Arab countries.
He added that his company has staff on the ground “to ensure ethical operations”.
But an Israeli human rights lawyer, Itai Mac, said the UAE used this type of technology to control its population and obstruct democratic reforms.
“It’s a very serious matter,” Mack, who has called on Israel to be more transparent when it comes to defense exports, said he found it “very sad” for a former Canadian prime minister to associate himself with selling electronic surveillance technology to the UAE.
“I think he should have done better things for humanity instead of putting his name as well as his reputation as Canadian Prime Minister to this project,” Mack added. “It gives great legitimacy not only to this project but also to human rights abuses in the UAE.”
Canada and the UAE enjoy strong diplomatic and trade relations and are members of international organizations, such as the Francophonie.
The UAE has been accused of spying on journalists and activists, and an international investigation led by 17 news agencies revealed this summer that the UAE and others were clients of the Israeli NSO group, the developer of spyware “Pegasus”, which can be secretly installed on mobile phones.
The investigation identified 1,000 phone numbers of potential Pegasus targets, including political leaders, human rights activists and journalists in many parts of the world. The UAE denied spying on these individuals.