Despite ruling, many questions on Saudi arms deal linger

January 25, 2017

Two prime ministers and four ministers of foreign affairs later, Canada is still set to ship $15-billion of military equipment to human-rights pariah Saudi Arabia. This in spite of well-documented red flags and numerous unanswered questions about the process by which the deal cleared Canada’s military export controls.

And notwithstanding yesterday’s Federal Court rejection of a bid to stop the sale, major concerns remain not only about the compatibility of this deal with arms-control regulations but, just as critically, about Canada’s commitment to the protection of human rights internationally.

From Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau, from John Baird (to Rob Nicholson to Stéphane Dion) to Chrystia Freeland, Ottawa seems determined to proceed with this dubious deal no matter what. But we have yet to hear a single compelling argument that reconciles the authorization of the deal with the human-rights safeguards of our export controls system, which should prohibit such exports when there is a “reasonable risk” that they might be used against civilians.

Organizations that track human rights internationally warn of a worsening human-rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Global Affairs Canada’s own 2015 human rights report on the Kingdom, the most recent to date, paints a grim picture. Documentary evidence appears to show armoured vehicles like the ones in this contract being used against Saudi civilians. A leaked report of a United Nations-mandated panel has denounced “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets by the Saudi-led coalition in neighbouring Yemen.

Yet Ottawa still refuses to acknowledge a reasonable risk of misuse.

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