Saudi arms deal makes mockery of Canadian values


By Peggy Mason

Embassy News, January 21, 2015

The Harper government has made defending Western values a centrepiece of its anti-terror rhetoric. But our actions both at home and abroad tell a different story.

Since the 9/11 attacks, Western democracies, in the name of fighting terrorism, have enacted countless anti-democratic measures to curtail free speech, free assembly, peaceful political dissent and most especially due process and the rule of law. At the same time, we have partnered with anti-democratic regimes abroad to counter the illegal use of force by violent extremists with our own military “reign of terror.”

Nothing can illustrate this Orwellian approach more clearly than Canada’s unholy alliance with Saudi Arabia. It is one of three countries, along with United States and Israel, that not only violent jihadists but the vast majority of moderate Islam (with much justification) hold largely responsible for preventing Muslim countries in the Middle East from taking their rightful place in the world community.

Saudi Arabia is a key regional ally in the American-led military coalition, of which Canada is a part, against the Islamic State, the Islamist movement that has taken over significant areas in northern Iraq. Yet, the 83 official beheadings carried out by Saudi Arabia in 2014 surely rival the numbers thus far attributed to either Al Qaeda or the Islamic State. And need we be reminded that almost all of the 9/11 airplane hijackers were of Saudi origin, including the mastermind, Osama bin Laden.

The sentencing of Raif Badawi, a young Saudi blogger with family in Sherbrooke, Que., has finally brought some long-overdue Canadian media attention to Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record. Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a public flogging of 1,000 lashes–50 per week over 20 weeks–for the crimes of insulting Islam and creating the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website for social and political debate.

Every year thousands of people in that country are subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture, ill treatment in detention and unfair trials. Saudi judges routinely sentence defendants to thousands of lashes. The government does not tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam, a situation about which Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom has been as shockingly silent as the Harper government in general has been over the manifold Saudi misdeeds.

Like other Gulf State allies in the fight against the Islamic State, such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (with whom Canada has signed a nuclear co-operation agreement), Saudi Arabia has defined terrorism to encompass nearly every form of peaceful political and intellectual activism, including criminalizing the Gulf branches of the opposition political movement the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last July the United Kingdom completed a Foreign Office review of Brotherhood activities that apparently concluded the group was not a terrorist organization. But the study is mysteriously unpublished, seemingly because it might embarrass Britain’s allies in Egypt and the Gulf. Not to be outdone, Foreign Minister John Baird said in April that he was “tremendously concerned” about the group, but he has now has gone silent in the wake of the apparent failure to find “facts and intel” to support a terrorist designation. What message does such blatant hypocrisy send to reformers and peaceful activists in the Middle East?

And of course let us not forget the Saudi role, using Canadian armoured vehicles, in putting down peaceful demonstrations during Bahrain’s short-lived Arab Spring, actions in gross violation of democratic principles. Saudi Arabia’s egregious human rights record ultimately caused Germany in April 2014 to rescind its own huge tank deal with Saudi Arabia.

Not so for Canada.

A few facts about the Canadian deal: supported by heavy government promotion and a parallel decline in Canada’s export control standards, multi-year contracts for armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia were announced by General Dynamic Land Systems Canada in February, totalling almost $15 billion.

Variants include armoured troop carriers and tanks with large cannons, operable in both urban and rural environments. In short, these vehicles are particularly suited for the type of repression of peaceful dissent we saw in Bahrain. As Canadian expert Ken Epps has pointed out in recent commentaries, it is possible that, “in the near term at least, Saudi Arabia will rival or even replace the US as Canada’s largest arms customer and the Middle East–the world’s most heavily-armed and arguably most unstable region–will become the most economically important to the Canadian arms industry.” This will give Canada a direct financial stake in Middle East conflict rather than in its resolution.

Violent extremists like Islamic State members are able to make headway in Iraq and elsewhere because they exploit genuine local political, social and economic grievances to win local support. This is the story of the Sunni tribes in northern Iraq who, having suffered vicious sectarian repression under the Western-blessed Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki, decided they had a better chance throwing in their lot with the Islamic State than their own national government.

Do we really think that we can counter violent extremism by partnering with repressive Middle Eastern governments who make a mockery of Western democratic values? By outlawing peaceful political opposition parties while doing nothing to address marginalized, impoverished minorities, these governments are fuelling that very terrorism we say we are fighting.

The Canadian arms deal to Saudi Arabia is a national disgrace. Our export control laws, going back over 30 years, have a human rights test that potential recipients are required to pass. If Saudi Arabia can meet that test, then any country can. If the Canadian government is actually serious about fighting terrorism, the very first thing it must do is to follow Germany’s principled lead and cancel this arms deal.


Peggy Mason, a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament to the UN, is the President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs.

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6 Responses to “Saudi arms deal makes mockery of Canadian values”

  1. Caroline MaloneyFebruary 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    Thank you, Peggy Mason!
    If anyone would have told me a few years back that Canada could have such a thug for a Prime Minister, I wouldn’t have believed them!

  2. GuyJanuary 23, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    We now border on gangsterism with the Harper regime in power.

  3. Mary GrohJanuary 22, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Not only should the huge contract from Saudi Arabia for armoured vehicles be cancelled, but the whole military industry in Canada should be shifted from manufacturing hardware intended to repress and kill our fellow human beings to hardware intended to provide alternative sources of energy so that our planet can look forward to a future which includes
    all humanity. Big multi-national corporations and the governments that co-habit with them are standing in the way of the earth’s well-being. When, o when, will they see this?

    • PJ RobertsonJanuary 22, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

      Wise words. The military-industrial complex represents corruption to the point of insanity.

  4. PJ RobertsonJanuary 21, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

    The Harper regime’s hypocrisy on universal human rights and values would be breathtaking if it hadn’t become so banal.

  5. No Harper fanJanuary 21, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    We will be much further ahead when the stuck in la-la land journalists get with the informed and aware citizens of the world. 9/11 was an inside job. Get that into your repertoire so we know we’re not dealing with Harper’s homies and Bush bunnies.
    There will be no taking any articles seriously until all these false flags are labeled what they are: attempts to squash our rights and freedoms. Or is there a gun to your head ?
    The con’s and their non-stop deceit and maligning of our now questionable ‘Canadian values’ has shown this lot of sexist sneaks for the repugnant racists they are and puts a huge question mark over the nation. With their heavily fanatical agenda, Harper and his band of banditos shows our values are all in our head. Harper will blindly – and like a puppy with his nose in his owners’ butt – do as the Zionists demand is blatantly obvious to the informed. Unless the writers of such ‘stuff’ realize that their spin is looking as silly as Harper, Oliver, Baird, Mackay and the rest of the con shills, look to be either out of touch, uninformed or in the same sinking ship.
    Start writing as though writers are as aware as the readers are by admitting that these now painfully obvious false flags are threats to our values of honesty and ethics. Our ‘values’ are what Zionist Israelis tell us they are thanks to that chicken shit school girl who gushes for her crush – Israel. Perpetrating the hoax of labeling an unfortunate, manipulated mentally ill and confused crack addict to a jihadist is looking more like the works of a madman: Harper. Canada is looking more obtuse and idiotically dishonest as each day’s desperation drives the cons to more slime ball moves after the next.
    Harper and Nut bar – Netanyahu, are the biggest threats and continuing the atrocities of deranged lunatics against innocent citizens of the east are biting at their ass. Canada is no longer Canada but a nation of 1/4 dim wits, 1/2 waking up and 1/4 population that are so out to lunch working on more lies and how to depopulate the planet that I wonder why we think of our screwed up nation as moral or we just like to think that we are. A good reporter reports the truth. A spinner repeats the sick acts of the Harper regime as ‘real life’. Good freaking grief.