Selling arms to the Saudis, jobs versus human rights

Project Ploughshares andf Cesar Jaramillo blow the whistle on Canada's arms deal with Saudi Arabia
Project Ploughshares executive director Cesar Jaramillo

In December 2014, the Harper government made a deal to sell $15 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, whose regime likely beheads more people than does ISIS. The Trudeau government now says that a deal is a deal and they cannot overturn it, but a recent Angus Reid poll shows that fewer than one in five Canadians believe that abiding by the deal is a good idea.

Project Ploughshares

An inter-church peace organization headquartered in Waterloo, has taken the lead in providing information about the details of a contract which the government, citing client confidentiality, refuses to allow Canadians to see.

Cesar Jaramillo, the executive director of Project Ploughshares, says the deal clearly violates this country’s export control policy. That policy states that before authorizing a sale our government must undertake an assessment to determine there is “no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made goods will be used against a civilian population.

“As matters stand,” says Jaramillo, “Canadian-made goods will serve to sustain one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Is this how Canada wants to present itself on the world stage – as a country more interested in profit than principle?”

Contract details

The contract calls for Canada to provide an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) based in London, Ontario. They are in reality combat vehicles which are being outfitted with machine guns and anti-tank cannons. The Saudis have already used their existing armoured vehicles to quell dissent at home as well as in neighbouring Bahrain and Yemen.

Saudi human rights abuses

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, regularly places the Saudi regime among the “worst of the worst” abusers of human rights. On January 2, 2016, for example, the Saudi government put 47 men to death and in 2015 the regime executed 158 people. Women are not allowed to drive; freedom of speech is severely censored; freedom of association, freedom of the press, and academic freedom are restricted. Imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife lives in Canada, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website to debate public issues.

Jobs versus human rights

When the Saudi deal was announced in 2014, government ministers and spokespersons focused on the 3,000 jobs to be created but made no mention of human rights. Defenders of the deal regularly cite how important the jobs are to London, a city which has suffered in recent years from industrial plant closings. They are important. However, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we will sell weapons to anyone as long as it creates jobs and prosperity in Canada, and still insist that Canada has in place stringent regulations to prevent military exports from flowing to countries who will use that equipment against civilians.

Quash the deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephan Dion, a veteran politician with a previous reputation for integrity, says that Canada would “probably” face penalties if it were to quash the deal. Polls indicate that a majority of Canadians support a review. Mr. Dion should follow their lead.

This piece ran as a United Church Observer blog on March 10, 2016.  

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