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Canada doubles arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite dire rights record: New figures

The file photo shows Canadian light armored vehicles (LAVs).

Newly-released figures have revealed that Canada’s sales of military hardware to Saudi Arabia hit a record in 2019, despite a moratorium that was in place on approval of new arms exports to the kingdom due its poor human rights record.

Citing figures released by Canada’s department of Global Affairs, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Tuesday that Canadian shipments of military goods to Saudi Arabia doubled in 2019, compared to the previous year.

Canada, it added, sold almost $2.2 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in 2019 – more than double $950 million recorded in 2018 – with light armored vehicles (LAVs) comprising the bulk of the exports.

More than 30 large-caliber artillery systems and 152 heavy machine guns were also sold to Riyadh.

The sales were part of a $10-billion contract Canada signed in 2014 to export LAVs made by the Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems to Saudi Arabia, according to the report.

This is while the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had, in 2018, frozen all new export permits and begun a review of the LAVs deal with Riyadh after reports emerged that the Saudi government was behind the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

Trudeau said at the time that Canada “was looking for a way out of the Saudi arms deal.”

The Guardian cited Mark Kersten, deputy director of the Wayamo Foundation as criticizing the 2019 exports, which had taken place when the moratorium was still in place before being removed earlier this year.

“I struggle to know what ‘moratorium’ means to this government, because to me, when there’s a moratorium on something, you can’t increase the sales of that thing. And exactly what seems to have happened,” he said. 

“I can’t understand for the life of me, why the government wouldn’t say anything about it, unless it just simply didn’t want the public to know, because it looks awful,” Kersten added.

In April 2020, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that Canada was lifting the moratorium on new export permits to Saudi Arabia and that it had renegotiated the 2014 deal.

The “significant improvements” to the contract would secure the jobs of thousands of Canadians, “not only in Southwestern Ontario but also across the entire defense industry supply chain, which includes hundreds of small and medium enterprises,” they said in a joint statement.

Canada’s refusal to fully scrap that deal drew sharp criticism from human rights campaigners and other governments.

Opponents argue that the Saudi government has violated the very basics of the human rights by killing tens of thousands of civilians in its prolonged war on Yemen besides its other rights violations against its own citizens.

Canada’s decision to keep the deal and lift the moratorium came despite calls for the North American state to follow the example of Germany and Sweden, which both cancelled arms contracts with Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi’s murder.

The Trudeau government had long portrayed itself as a critical voice against Saudi human rights violations both at home and abroad. Ottawa, in 2018, engaged in a severe diplomatic dispute with Riyadh for speaking against the regime’s shameful rights record.

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