Canada May Cancel $15 Billion Saudi Arms Deal

A Canadian made LAV III armored vehicle. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A Canadian made LAV III armored vehicle. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Video and photographic evidence of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard using Canadian-made armored vehicles to violently repress its citizenry have triggered a review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia by Ottawa. If it’s confirmed that Saudi Arabia used Canadian equipment against civilians, Canada will be in violation of its own export laws. 

Videos and images circulated on social media at the end of July allegedly showed Canadian-made vehicles in action against civilians. The National Guard reportedly used the vehicles to crush anti-government protests in Awamiyah, a city in the Qatif region, the Shiite majority eastern part of the country. Military experts reportedly identified the vehicles as Gurkha RPVs made by Terradyne Armored Vehicles of London, Ontario.

The media reports prompted Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to order a probe into Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  

“We are absolutely committed to the defense of human rights and we condemn all violations of human rights,” Freeland told CBC. “We also are very clear that we expect the end users of any and all exports to abide by the terms of our export permits.”

In 2014, the Harper administration approved a 15-year contract to allow General Dynamics Land Systems  to sell light armored vehicles to the Saudi National Guard. In total the deal is worth around $15 billion. The vehicles are equipped with machine guns and possibly larger anti-tank weapons as well. They can also carry six or seven passengers.

Canada’s export rules prohibit selling weapons “unless it can be demonstrated there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

Last year when under pressure to cancel the deal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada must “stick to its word” and follow through with the sale. If the deal is canceled, 3,000 jobs at the General Dynamics plant in Ontario, which manufactures the weapons, will be at risk.

In April 2016, then foreign minister Stephane Dion signed six export permits permitting the sale of these weapons.

Earlier video footage published by The Globe and Mail in May seems to show other armored vehicles firing on unarmed protesters. The footage comes from Saudi human rights activists and is said to date from 2011 and 2015. Although no Canadian-made vehicles were shown in the footage, Canada has sold similar vehicles to Riyadh.

“I think it’s clear now that Saudi Arabia doesn’t hesitate to use this weapon,” Ali Adubisi, the head the European-Saudi Organization for Human Right said. “It’s totally clear [the Canadian deal] will help Saudi Arabia to [commit] more violence against civilians.”

Violence in the region is still ongoing.

“The Canadian armored vehicles have played an important role in the destruction of Awamiyah over the past couple of weeks,” Ali Al-Ahmed of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, himself from the Qatif region, told Canada’s Globe and Mail. “They are the lead vehicle in most of the destruction and bombing and sniping at the people and killing them through the sniper.”

Rights groups are pressuring the Canadian government to cancel the export permits and stop arming the Saudi regime.

Join Amnesty International’s Campaign Against Arming Saudi Arabia Here.

Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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