The Canadian Press

Ottawa: Two human-rights groups have teamed up to oppose a plan by the outgoing Conservative government to allow the sale of so-called prohibited weapons to Ukraine, including automatic assault rifles and armoured vehicles.

Amnesty International Canada and Project Ploughshares have written to the Department of Foreign Affairs expressing concern about the potential consequences of adding the embattled eastern European government to the list of countries to which Canada can sell automatic firearms.

The department has been in the process of consulting on the proposal since it was introduced last summer, around the time Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed a free trade agreement with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The move was seen at the time as opening the door for Canada to expand support for Ukraine, which to this point as only received non-lethal defensive equipment and medical supplies to offset its losses in the conflict with Russian-backed rebels.

Both Amnesty and Project Ploughshares say exporting weapons should be delayed until the human rights situation in the country improves, citing brutal police tactics used to suppress the anti-government protests in the fall of 2013 _ something that led to the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych’s government the following year.

They also question whether Canadian-made weapons would be used against civilians in the conflict against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.