Celebrated by the Canadian government as the “largest advanced manufacturing export win” in the country’s existence, the recently announced $10-billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia poses a “significant risk” of contributing to serious human rights violations, says arms watchdog Project Ploughshares (Megan O’Toole, “Canada-Saudi arms deal has ‘significant risk’,” Al Jazeera, 14 April 2014).
The deal, announced in February, was described by International Trade Minister Ed Fast as a “landmark” contract that will benefit hundreds of Canadian supply firms and create up to 3,000 manufacturing jobs in southern Ontario (see $10-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia).
But Ceasefire.ca and other critics denounce the deal as part of a deliberate government strategy to establish Canada as a bigger player in the international arms trade with little or no regard for the consequences of such sales in terms of conflict and human rights violations (Lee Berthiaume, “Light Armoured Vehicle Deal With Saudi Arabia Raises Human Rights Concerns – General Dynamics Land Systems Canada Wins Award Estimated at $10 Billion,” Defence Watch, 14 February 2014).
Kenneth Epps, a senior programme officer with Project Ploughshares, argues: “Under Canada’s own guidelines, this sale should not have gone forward, and in the future similar sales should not go forward” because of “concerns about human rights violations that the Saudi regime is known for.”
“[We have] concerns about human rights violations that the Saudi regime is known for,” Epps told Al Jazeera. “There is a significant risk, based on current and past history in Saudi Arabia, and even specifically the fact that armoured vehicles of this kind were used by Saudi forces to reinforce Bahraini troops when Bahrain was putting down opposition a couple of years ago. The risk is clear.”
As Ceasefire.ca revealed in 2011, there is evidence that Saudi Arabia used Canadian-made light armoured vehicles to help suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain during the Arab Spring.
MP Paul Dewar, the New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs critic, is calling for “greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the international sale of conventional weapons” by Canada. Dewar accuses the government of trying to “hide” the identity of the buyer in the Saudi deal. The purchaser was not identified by General Dynamics in the initial announcement, Dewar notes, suggesting the government only included it as an afterthought, buried in the last paragraph of a press release that emphasized job creation.
Other commentators agree that the Canadians are not being given sufficient information about Canada’s role in the arms trade:
“The Canadian public remains largely in the dark about the scale of Canada’s arms exports to foreign governments,” according to Wayne Cox of Queens University’s Centre for International and Defence Policy.
Celyn Dufay believes the government is using the veil of job creation to hoodwink Canadians desperate for jobs into supporting its ambitions.
“Unemployment is tearing communities apart in Canada. People are desperate for jobs, and Harper knows it. But the employees at [General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada] count on the Canadian government to ensure that their potentially lethal products are never sold to human rights abusers” says Dufay (“Arms over rights: Canada’s war economy,” rabble.ca, 26 March 2014.)
Photo credit: DND