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Those Mass Executions Won’t Stop Canada From Shipping Even More Weapons to Saudi Arabia

The Canadian government said it doesn't plan to remove Saudi Arabia from a list of countries that can buy high-capacity automatic weapons from Canadian manufacturers. It also won't impose trade restrictions.
Canadian light armored vehicles in Afghanistan. Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

The Canadian government will not tighten rules on how automatic weapons are sold to Saudi Arabia. It will not reconsider a $15-billion deal between a Canadian light armored vehicle manufacturer and Riyadh. It will not do much more, it seems, than issue a statement.

But the military partnership between Ottawa and Riyadh is a long-standing one — and it extends to everything from surveillance drones to missiles for its attack helicopters. The calls to rein in the growing arms trade between the countries have only increased after the government of Saudi Arabia, to ring in the new year, executed 47 men, eliciting worldwide condemnation almost immediately.


The mass execution, Saudi Arabia's largest in 35 years, is the spectacular end to a bloody year for the conservative Sunni regime — in 2015, it put 158 people to death, publicly tortured writer Raif Badawi, and committed war crimes in its war against Yemen, according to Amnesty International.

But despite that, and despite the new Canadian government's pledge to renew the country's push for global human rights, billions of dollars in weapon shipments will continue unabated to the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion refused, this week, to consider re-opening a deal to sell $15-billion in armored vehicles to the repressive Islamic state this week, telling the CBC: "What's done is done."

He added that, going forward, Canada needs to follow a rigorous process to ensure that weapons sold to countries with a "questionable" human rights record, do not turn around and use them against their own citizens. "Canada is not alone in this situation. In fact, almost all of our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia or to other countries," he said.

The foreign affairs minister, as well as International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, both refused interview requests for this story.

The government did, however, release a statement insisting that "the Government of Canada raises concerns about human rights and due process with senior Saudi Arabian officials on a regular basis and will continue to do so."


There has been a chorus of calls to walk back the trading relationship since news broke of the $15-billion, 14-year deal to sell light armored vehicles (LAVs) to the Islamic state — despite evidence suggesting Riyadh may have used similar vehicles, which are outfitted with considerable weapon systems, on civilian populations in Bahrain.

'Almost all of our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.'

But while that $15-billion deal has been the cornerstone to opposition to the military relationship between the two countries, it is just a part of the military exports that go from Canada to Saudi Arabia each year.

Between 2012 and 2013, Canada shipped over $575 million in weapons and military hardware to the Gulf state, according to government disclosures, comprising of everything from rifles, missiles, and training gear to planes and drones.

That number will likely rise when the government publishes the military export numbers for 2014, which could be anytime in the coming weeks.

Between 2012 and 2013, those sales made up a third of Canada's total military exports to countries other than the United States — making it Canada's largest arms buyer, excluding America.

Part of the reason why these arm shipments can be made at all is because the Saudi government had its name is on the Automatic Firearms Country Control List. Canadian defense companies can only sell high-capacity automatic weapons to countries on that list.


Dion's office confirmed to VICE News that Ottawa has no plans to stem the flow of rifles, ammunition, military vehicles, bombs, aircraft, and training gear sent to the Saudi military and police forces.

"The Canadian government is not considering Saudi Arabia's removal from the Automatic Firearms Country Control List nor implementing trade restrictions," said a spokesperson for Dion.

Related: These Emails Show Canada Was Super Stoked About Saudi Arms Deal

Since 2009, Canada has shipped over $80 million in rifles, automatic weapons, and ammo to Saudi Arabia, with the majority of the guns constituting heavy machine guns.

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Canada — a subsidiary of General Dynamics, which inked the $15-billion LAV deal — has ample experience exporting massive amounts of weapons and ammunition to Saudi Arabia, via distributors in Cyprus and Lebanon.

At some point, according to industry analyst Jane's, Saudi Arabia also obtained a quantity of CRV-7 — short for Canadian Rocket Vehicle 7 — air-to-surface rockets, which are carried onboard its Apache attack helicopters. The CRV-7 was made by Winnipeg-based Bristol Aerospace. That manufacturer was acquired by rapidly-growing Magellan Aerospace, based in Ontario, which also lists Saudi Arabia as a client.

Aeryon Labs, a burgeoning drone manufacturer based in Ontario, found its first-ever international client in the Saudi military, although the value of that deal is unclear. In 2011, the same Waterloo-based company controversially sold surveillance drones to Libyan militias then opposing Muammar Qaddaffi forces.


In the midst of active military operations in neighboring Yemen, Saudi Arabia is undergoing a rapid militarization plan calling for new wares from across the world in an effort to update its armed forces to western standards. In 2014, the Saudis surpassed India as the biggest arms importer in the world, as a range of new military technologies found their way to the Arabian Peninsula.

As The Intercept reported in 2015, high profile American military contractors quickly defended Saudi Arabia and its human rights record after making high value arms sales to the Kingdom.

When asked about the Canadian LAV deal by the Globe & Mail, Dion brushed off the idea the trading relationship amounted to an endorsement of Saudi Arabia from Ottawa. "It's not a backing, it's simply a private-company contract," Dion told the paper this week.

Yet, the government is actually being pushed by its bureaucrats to deepen ties with Saudi Arabia to facilitate a deeper trade relationship, according to briefing books provided to Trudeau. Dion even met with the foreign affairs minister for Saudi Arabia in Ottawa, where the two discussed how to strengthen trade ties.

Related: No One Running for PM Plans to Scrap Canada's Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia

Two different arms-length government agencies have also been instrumental in establishing the trading relationship.

Dating back to 2009, reports from the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) — a government agency tasked with facilitating and promoting Canadian exports — has lauded Saudi Arabia as a prime target for military sales.


Its five-year corporate plan, published in 2011, reads that "CCC will focus its efforts on Saudi Arabia, Norway, Colombia and Argentina for its defence work."

The 2013-2014 annual report for the agency brags "CCC's performance last year culminated in the signing of Canada's largest ever advanced manufacturing export contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for armoured vehicles to be provided by General Dynamics Land Systems."

Export Development Canada (EDC), another government agency that provides financing for 184 Canadian companies that do business in Saudi Arabia, issued a Winter 2016 investment report, indicating the risk for political violence in the country is 'medium' and that "There remains the prospect for localized political unrest in the oil-rich Eastern Province, home to Saudi Arabia's disadvantaged Shia minority. The country will also continue experiencing sporadic attacks or incidents of terrorism due to Islamist militants."

EDC, nevertheless, encourages investment in the autocratic country. In one particularly tin-eared report, entitled "The Upside of Capital Punishment," economists from the agency feted Saudi Arabia as being relatively debt-free, and a safe investment. The title alluded to investment capital, not, as it sounds, to executions.

Follow Justin Ling and Ben Makuch on Twitter@Justin_Ling @BMakuch