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Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares

Jobs versus human rights

Selling arms to the Saudis creates a ’reasonable risk’ to civilian populations

By Dennis Gruending


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 ISIS does. The Trudeau government now says that a deal is a deal and they cannot overturn it. This, even though 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, a Waterloo, Ont.-based inter-church peace organization, has taken the lead in detailing the contract that the government — citing client confidentiality — refuses to allow Canadians to see. Cesar Jaramillo, the executive director of Project Ploughshares, says that the deal clearly violates Canada’s export control policy. It states that before authorizing a sale, our government must undertake an assessment to determine that there is “no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made goods will be used against a civilian population. “As matters stand,” Jaramillo says, “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?”

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

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, regularly places the Saudi regime among the “worst of the worst” abusers of human rights. On Jan. 2, for example, the Saudi government put 47 men to death and, in 2015, the regime executed 158 people. What’s more, women are not allowed to drive, and the freedoms of speech and association are severely restricted. For instance, 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.

When the Saudi deal was announced, government ministers and spokespersons focused on the 3,000 jobs that were expected to be created. But there was no mention of human rights. Defenders of the deal regularly cite how important the jobs are to London, a city that has suffered in recent years from industrial plant closures. Of course, they’re important, but we cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that we will sell weapons to anyone as long as it creates prosperity in Canada while still insisting that Canada prevents military exports from flowing to countries that will use that equipment against its own civilians.

Although Foreign Affairs Minister Stephan Dion — a veteran politician known for his integrity — says that Canada would “probably” face penalties if it were to quash the arms deal, polls indicate that a majority of Canadians nonetheless support a review. Wouldn’t Mr. Dion would be right to follow their lead?


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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