The Canadian government is trying to figure out how to stop the shipment of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday, providing the strongest indication yet that the government is serious about ending the controversial $15-billion deal.
Until now, Trudeau has only talked about studying the deal and suspending the export permits that allow the shipments as a way of pressuring Saudi Arabia to fully explain the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said on CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
It’s not clear yet if the government intends to hit pause on the deal or to permanently stop the shipments. It’s also unclear at this point how many vehicles have already been delivered and if the government would face a fine for breaking the deal.
In a statement to the Globe and Mail, Alex Lawson, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said, “We are serious when we say we are reviewing arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”
“Therefore, we are doing the prudent thing by examining all scenarios − but no final decisions have been taken while the review proceeds,” said Lawson.
While it was the Harper government that brokered deal, which sustains thousands of jobs in southwestern Ontario, it was the Liberals who issued the export permits in 2015 after they took office.
The Canadian government announced in October that it would not approve any new permits while the deal was being reviewed. Trudeau previously warned that breaking the deal could cost $1 billion in penalties.
In an interview with CBC, the prime minister had described the situation as “incredibly frustrating.”
“I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion-dollar bill because we are trying to move forward on doing the right thing, so we are navigating this very carefully and that’s pretty much all I can say,” Trudeau said.
Some experts are still skeptical that the government will terminate the deal.
“I’m doubtful Trudeau will cancel the deal. I think this is another attempt to buy time and fend off criticism,” tweeted Bessma Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo and an expert in Mideast politics. “Hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see this happening in an election year when thousands of good manufacturing jobs are on the line in a key rising.”
Saudi Arabia has been facing mounting international pressure in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA believes was behind the killing.
Riyadh maintains that he was not involved.
Cover image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press