Last week Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion approved the export permits allowing for the $15-billion transaction of armed military vehicles to Saudi Arabia. A decision that sets a precedence in determining whether a weapons shipment to a foreign country is going to be considered “legal”, according to Ottawa.
This weapons sale represents a greater matter than one of legality – the sale of weapons to warring countries is a mater of ethics, and also embarks Canada down a slippery slope of enabling crimes against humanity for monetary gain.
Roy Culpeper, Chair of “Group of 78“, signed by a coalition of human-rights, development and arms-control groups, has sent an open letter to the Liberal government, Justin Trudeau and his counter parts, The Honourable Stephane Dion, Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Hon. Harjit Sajjan and Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau titled: Open Letter to the Prime Minister on Saudi arms deal authorization. The letter has been co-signed by thirteen independent groups. (Listed at the end of this article). Following are a few excerpts from the letter:
“To provide such a large supply of lethal weapons to a regime with such an appalling record of human rights abuses is immoral and unethical. The spirit and letter of both domestic export controls and international law support this view.
“The $15-billion contract with Saudi Arabia is precisely the type of deal that Canada’s export controls are intended to prevent. The Government of Canada must enforce our existing export control policy and regulations, which should prohibit arms sales to governments that have a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens,” and that are “involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities.” That process should be transparent and must prevail over other economic or strategic considerations.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated that Canada “has no evidence” that Saudi Arabia has used Canadian-made goods against civilians. However, the threshold established by Canadian export controls to assess the possibility of misuse is neither “evidence” nor “certainty” but “reasonable risk.” Given what is known about Saudi Arabia’s abysmal—and worsening—human rights record, both within Saudi Arabia and in neighbouring Yemen, we consider this risk to be evident, and categorically express our deep reservations about the strength of an export control system that has apparently determined otherwise.
“Your government’s authorization of this deal also casts serious doubt over Canada’s readiness to abide by the legally binding obligations and intent of the Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada has announced it will join in the near future.
“Of this we are convinced, Prime Minister: the decision to proceed with this arms deal undermines not only the public’s trust in our export control system, but also the core values that define Canada’s character as a nation.” [pdf full letter]
In his recent articles for The Globe and Mail, Steven Chase has reported, “In the memorandum justifying the export permits, the department of Global Affairs reasons that the light armoured vehicles will help Riyadh in its efforts at “countering instability in Yemen,” where the Saudis are fighting Houthi rebels aligned with Iran, as well as combatting (sic) Islamic State threats.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says the Saudis are not the only ones who need to be held to account concerning when it comes to human rights. (Photo: Globe and Mail).
““The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia in these goals,” the memo approved and signed by Mr. Dion said.
“When it comes to Yemen, the Canadian government is choosing its words carefully, noting that so far the Saudis have not been found to be using Canadian-made combat vehicles previously sold to Riyadh to commit rights violations there.
“Asked about the Saudis’ conduct in Yemen on Thursday, Mr. Dion said they’re not the only ones that need be held to account. “There are serious concerns that should be raised about all of the parties” fighting in Yemen, Mr. Dion told the Commons foreign affairs committee Thursday, widening the matter to include the conduct of Houthi rebels.
I find it appalling that Canada is justifying their sale of arms by pointing their finger at the Yemenis, in an attempt to deflect attention from Saudis crimes of slaughtering innocent women and children.
Just to keep facts straight Mr. Dion, the Houthi rebels did not block humanitarian aid, or delivery of food and medicine; the Saudis did that – an inhumane crime against humanity that has sentenced the people inside Yemen to death by starvation and treatable diseases.
Dion continued, “As far as Yemen is concerned, our priority is to have a peaceful solution found.”
Eric David, a renowned human rights legal scholar from Belgium who has acted in major international cases, is lending support to a March 21 lawsuit led by University of Montreal professor Daniel Turp that seeks to block exports of the weaponized armoured vehicles from Canada.
Steven Chase said, “In an affidavit being added to the lawsuit, Professor David of the Free University in Brussels says he believes Canada is violating international law by shipping arms to a country already accused of massive human-rights violations in Yemen.
A United Nations panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen found “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law.
Allowing the “sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia … would violate the obligation to respect and ensure the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law,” wrote Professor David in a 196-page filing.
“The sale of armoured vehicles … becomes an “internationally wrongful act.”
The assessment released by Global Affairs on Friday, three months after it was requested by The Globe and Mail, more than twenty-percent of the Department of Global Affairs’ 2015 “Human Rights Report” was blacked out by government officials before this internal assessment was made public Friday.
““During 2015, concerning human rights trends were reported,” the report’s summary says of Saudi Arabia, such as “a significant increase in the number of executions, restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, association and belief, lack of due process and fair trial rights.”
“Other findings the report considered troubling include “violations related to physical integrity and security of the person,” a reference to the 159 executions in Saudi Arabia last year, as well as the “lack of equal rights for women,” who are forbidden from driving. The report was updated on Jan. 2, 2016, to cover the biggest mass executions in Saudi Arabia in decades, an event that killed 47 (people), including a Shia Muslim cleric who was a critic of the ruling Al-Saud family.
“Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve, whose organization warned in January that human rights in Saudi Arabia have “steadily deteriorated” in the previous 12 months, said he can’t understand how Mr. Dion could exercise his ministerial authority and sign the combat-vehicle export permits after reading his department’s own report.
““Everything in this human-rights report points to the inevitable conclusion that Canada should not be selling light armoured vehicles to the Saudi military and that export permits allowing this deal to go ahead should not have been been authorized,” Mr. Neve said. “The risk that these light armoured vehicles will be used to commit serious human rights violations is simply too high.” 
“By any measure there is a very strong risk that these light armoured vehicles in the hands of Saudi security services would be used to violate international human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, told a news conference. “It is civilians in Yemen or protesters and dissidents in Saudi Arabia who would pay that $15-billion price tag.”
Mr. Neve said the Saudis have used an array of weapons in Yemen, including light-armoured vehicles, that have resulted in the death of 3,000 civilians, 20,000 civilian injuries and the displacement of 2.5 million people.
“We are saying to the Prime Minister we need to honour our human-rights obligations. That is what the world will notice and that requires rescinding this deal,” Mr. Neve said.
“Rideau Institute president Peggy Mason, who helped to write the export control guidelines in 1986, said the rules clearly stipulate that approval should not be granted if there is a “reasonable risk” that the weapons will be used against civilians.
““This is cannot said to be the case with respect to the $15-billion deal for Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Mason said as she countered arguments that the deal will create 3,000 jobs at the General Dynamics plant in London, Ont. ‘It is a pernicious argument to assert that Canadian jobs must depend on the killing, maiming, injuring and repressing of innocent civilians abroad.”
The Liberals are on the defensive after court documents released earlier this month revealed that Mr. Dion, not Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, signed the export permits to allow seventy-percent (70%) of the transaction to ship to Saudi Arabia.
Many observers had assumed the Conservatives had granted export permits when they signed the deal.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The Liberal signature on the export permits means that the Liberal government has taken full ownership of a decision to sell arms to a country notorious for human-rights abuses.
“Federal arms-control officials drive the same point home in e-mails obtained and published by The Globe and Mail last year, where they tell Global Affairs colleagues that there were no assurances the $15-billion transaction was approved until export permits were processed.”
Could it be that Prime Minister Trudeau is about to show us his true colours? I certainly hope not. I supported his campaign of putting ethical human rights back on the forefront of Canadian policy.
I want to see our Prime Minister act like the leader he claimed to be, and do the ethical and humane thing – stop the sale of the armoured military vehicles that will clearly aid the Saudi’s genocide of the Yemenis.
Below is a list of the signatories representing the coalition groups who signed the Open Letter to PM Trudeau: (read the letter on pdf)
- Fergus Watt, Executive Director: World Federalist Movement Canada,
- Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director: Project Ploughshares,
- Pierre Jasmin, Artists for Peace: Vice President,
- Peggy Mason, President: Rideau Institute,
- Béatrice Vaugrante, Directrice Générale: Amnistie internationale Canada francophone,
- Alex Neve, Executive Director: Amnesty International Canada English,
- Julia Sanchez, President-CEO: Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC):
- An umbrella organization for more than 80 groups including the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Church of Canada and Canadian Lutheran World Relief,
- Monia Mazigh, National Coordinator: International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group,
- Thomas Woodley, President: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East,
- Paul Hannon, Executive Director: Mines Action Canada,
- Silke Reichrath, Director: Brooke Valley Research for Education in Nonviolence,
- Nicole Filion, Coordiatrice: Ligue des droits et libertés, and
- Metta Spencer, President: Science for Peace.
This article references The Globe and Mail: Human rights groups ask Trudeau to end ‘immoral’ arms deal with Saudi Arabia.