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Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal

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Things are definitely heating up around the controversial $15 billion Saudi arms deal that the Canadian government of Stephen Harper arranged in 2014 on behalf of General Dynamics and which the new Justin Trudeau Liberal government refuses to cancel.

In recent days, University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp (an expert in international and constitutional law) and 17 students have filed a class action lawsuit against Ottawa in Quebec Superior Court, seeking to block shipments of the combat vehicles – a move that could force the governing Liberals to explain how they justify the sale. [1] The group also intends to file a similar legal action in Federal Court within the next three weeks. [2]

As I wrote in CounterPunch last October, in 2014 the Harper government announced that the Canadian Commercial Corporation (a Crown corporation) “had secured the largest weapons manufacturing contract in Canadian history: supplying armoured military vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The contract was secured for General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, a subsidiary of the U.S. giant, which has weapons manufacturing plants in Ontario and Alberta employing a total of about 3,000 workers…It is now widely known that Saudi Arabia has long been funding terrorist activities in the Middle East.” [3]

Professor Turp and the student group have launched an initiative called Operation Armoured Rights, by which they “intend to contest, by all legal means at our disposal, the legality of exporting such military equipment.”

Their (January 2016) Open Letter states: “If the Canadian government refuses to show consistency between the ideals of human rights and its decisions on military exports, it is nevertheless required to comply with the law…Guidelines adopted by the cabinet in 1986 stated that ‘Canada closely controls the export of military goods and technology to countries […] whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.’ Saudi Arabia has committed and continues to commit such serious violations and there is a real risk that the light armoured vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics will be used to commit abuses against the civilian population of Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring countries.” [4]

The group’s Federal Court challenge “will argue that the Canadian government is violating its own arms-export rules by permitting the armoured vehicles to be shipped to Saudi Arabia. It will ask the court to rescind any export permits that have been granted for the fighting vehicles and block any future ones.” [5]

A recent Huffington Post op-ed by Project Ploughshares’ Cesar Jaramillo, Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute, and Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada explained: “According to Canada’s military export policy, ‘a key consideration in the review of each application is the end-use of the export.’ And while the required export permits must be secured regardless of the destination, the policy specifically states that Canada ‘closely controls’ military exports to countries ‘whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens’.” The authors add that it is “hard to overstate the appalling human rights record of the Saudi regime.”[6]

That record gained further infamy on January 2 when the Saudis brutally executed 47 dissidents, including the popular Shia Muslim cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr– thereby adding further tension to the Middle East region.

A recent poll by Nanos Research suggests that most Canadians are opposed to the $15 billion arms sale. The survey “showed nearly six in 10 feel it is more important to ensure arms go only to countries ‘that respect human rights’ than it is to support 3,000 jobs by selling weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.” [7]

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has offered weak explanations for the Trudeau government’s refusal to cancel the contract by claiming that “almost all our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” and that it’s a business contract and “we need to stick to our word.” [8]

Behind such lame “excuses” is the likelihood that the Liberals are simply staying with the Harper government’s plan to beef up the defence industry in Canada.

Christyn Cianfarani, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), told iPolitics recently that “Canada has nurtured a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, because the Middle East is particularly important to us – not only from an oil perspective but also from a regional politics perspective going way back…” Saudi Arabia, the CADSI president said, is “perceived by Canadian companies as a market that has opportunity for us.” [9] Indeed, Saudi Arabia is the biggest arms purchaser in the world.

As a Maclean’s writer bluntly noted, the $15 billion Saudi arms deal “is about money, jobs and bolstering Canada’s defence industry. Call it pragmatism or cynicism. Turns out those reasons are just as persuasive to Liberal governments as to Conservative ones.” [10]

I wrote about that Canadian defence industry “bolstering” (and other global defence industry issues) in my October Counterpunch piece called “Putin’s Question & the Ambassador’s Answer” – an article that received a fair amount of attention and was carried by dozens of websites. A few days ago, I noticed that someone had completely “disappeared” the article from the Google search engine. Where previously you could see all the sites carrying it, now you see nothing but a few Twitter mentions.

The defence industry is obviously in the killing business, but who knew that included recently published articles? I’m hoping that Counterpunch readers will again email that article to their colleagues and get it back on the Google search engine. Let’s see if they kill it twice.

Footnotes:

[1] Michel Chossudovsky, “Class Action Law Suit against Ottawa over $15 Billion Saudi Arms Deal,” NSNBC International, February 10, 2016.

[2] Steven Chase, “Ottawa to face court challenge over Saudi arms deal,” The Globe and Mail, February 5, 2016.

[3] Joyce Nelson, “Putin’s Question and the Ambassador’s Answer,” Counterpunch.org, October 27, 2015.

[4] “Operation Armoured Rights: The Authorization to Export Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia is Illegal,” Open Letter, January 2016.

[5] Chase, op cit.

[6] Cesar Jaramillo, Peggy Mason, and Alex Neve, “We Must Not Downplay Canada’s Arms Deal with Saudi Arabia,” Huffington Post, October 28, 2015.

[7] Chase, op cit.

[8] Steven Chase, “Critics push Ottawa to explain justification for Saudi arms deal,” The Globe and Mail,” January 5, 2016.

[9] Elizabeth Thompson, “Canada’s weapons export grew more than 89 per cent under Harper,” iPolitics, January 20, 2016.

[10] Michael Petrou, “Why is Canada making arms deals with the Saudis?” Maclean’s, January 14, 2016.

Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.

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