The Liberal government has made clear it intends to continue selling military hardware to Saudi Arabia under a secretive arms deal signed by its predecessor, despite the latest mass executions and repression carried out by the Gulf dictatorship.
After Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric, over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued a statement criticizing the use of the death penalty and calling on the regime to “respect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent, and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.”
Despite this rhetorical slap on the wrist, Canada will apparently continue to put billions of dollars of deadly military hardware into Saudi hands in the years to come. Adam Barratt, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Globe and Mail the new Canadian government has “no intention of cancelling [the] contract.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had blithely dismissed concerns about the Saudi arms deal during the election campaign, but these statements from foreign affairs sound definitive: The Liberals have decided to honour the secretive agreement made by Stephen Harper with one of the most decrepit and repressive regimes on the planet.
‘Just des jeeps’
The agreement with Saudi Arabia, announced in February 2015 by the Conservatives, represents the largest manufacturing export deal in Canadian history at an estimated value of $15 billion. The pact will see hundreds of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics in London, Ontario, delivered in the coming years.
This is no ordinary private sector deal. It involved very active diplomatic and economic assistance from the Canadian government, and it’s underwritten by the Canadian Commercial Corporation.
As first reported last year by Ricochet journalist Martin Forgues, the deal appears to be in flagrant violation of Canada’s own rules on exports, which prohibit military products from being sold to any government where they stand to be used to repress the local population.
The Saudi deal was a brief source of controversy during the recent election campaign. Trudeau and the Liberals criticized Harper for a lack of transparency, but brushed aside calls to cancel the deal. Appearing on the popular Quebec talk show Tout le monde en parle, Trudeau even claimed “c’est juste des jeeps” (“They’re just jeeps”). This was a variation of the same cynical campaign talking point as Harper, who claimed that the small tanks were merely transport vehicles.
This talking point is easily debunked: just look at a picture of a LAV. Most jeeps don’t include machine gun turrets and a cannon. The fleet of LAVs, supplied by several countries, is an essential component of the Saudi regime’s military, specifically the force reserved for suppressing internal revolt or any other threat to the House of Saud, the ruling monarchy.
Vehicles of repression
With the Liberals now in government, and with Saudi Arabia making global headlines with a flurry of internal repression and external warmongering (including the war on Yemen, which has claimed hundreds of civilian lives), Trudeau has had to deploy more serious-sounding justifications. Nevertheless, the excuses the government is offering for continuing the Saudi deal don’t stand up to the most basic scrutiny.
In a statement to CTV News, Dion’s foreign affairs spokesperson Barratt claimed the government has “carefully reviewed” the agreement and that “human rights considerations are carefully taken into account.”
Canada’s export-control rules stipulate that when military products are sold abroad, foreign affairs must ensure there is “no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”
It doesn’t even take a careful review to find out that LAVs like the ones Canada is supplying to Saudi Arabia are being used against civilians in the kingdom. All one has to do to figure this out is read a recent article in the Guardian:
Hundreds of armoured vehicles were deployed in the eastern Saudi town where the execution took place and the surrounding province of Qatif on Saturday morning ahead of the announcement of the deaths.
So there you have it. LAVs were deployed by the Saudi regime to discourage anyone brave enough to protest the horrific 47-person execution carried out a few days ago. LAVs were the very vehicles of the repression that Stéphane Dion and the Liberal government criticized. There is no reasonable excuse for not cancelling the arms deal. It’s a simple matter of corporate interests over human rights, just as it was under Harper.