Recent headlines declared the infamous $15-billion Saudi Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) deal—brokered by the Harper Conservatives who were hawking new war machines to the Kingdom, then upheld by the Trudeau Liberals—had shrunk. This was fresh on the heels of a spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada, over the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record prosecuting activists.
The Saudis and its emboldened Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who looks every bit the gallivanting, future monarch hell bent on asserting his country’s geopolitical power, immediately cancelled trade deals and withdrew diplomatic ties to Canada.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, having already become the face of standing up to both President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, doubled down on her criticism of the Saudi regime.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world," she said in a statement.
Given that, you might be forgiven for thinking Canada is standing up to autocrats, dictators and princes around the globe by not doing business with them. But the record shows otherwise.
Let’s face it, the deal to now provide the Saudis with 742 modern LAV-6s, made by General Dynamics Land Systems, down from the original 928 vehicles promised in 2014, isn’t exactly a staggering decline. Especially when some of the already delivered LAVs are believed to have been spotted in action in Yemen, a conflict in which UN investigators have found evidence of war crimes committed by Saudi Arabian troops.
Let’s also remember that this was a deal brokered with a rampant human rights violating nation like Saudi Arabia, originally lauded internally by government officials, with one internal email declaring: “The Big One Has Landed” in reference to the gargantuan cash deal solidifying Saudi relations with Canada. And if the Trudeau Liberals were the protectors of human rights as they market themselves to be, when it comes to Saudi arms deals they would go the way of fellow NATO member, Spain: it has outright cancelled sales of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia over its questionable war in Yemen.
The latest government figures reporting on Canadian weapons deals for 2017, still shows Saudi Arabia as the top non-US buyer of Canadian military goods, while the United Arab Emirates—which is supporting the Saudi campaign in Yemen—was sold $6.3 million in product.
Overall weapons sales from Canadian makers, standing at roughly $1.3 billion represents a $300 million increase from 2016 and Saudi Arabia sat at number one on the list of non-US buyers. Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—now considered more of a dictator, having taken control of the military and cracking down on civil liberties (like jailing filmmakers who stage his mock execution) or declaring martial law—bought close to $50 million worth of military gear from Canada. Those materials are designated as “riot control agents,” which is handy in a protest if you’re a repressive regime. Meanwhile, a million dollar sniper rifle deal to the Ukrainian government has also come under fire for its potential to escalate the conflict in Donbass and raise questions about who might obtain the guns when far-right militias still fight on the frontlines with government forces.
Not to mention, Canada nearly sold $300 million worth of helicopters to the maniacal Duterte regime in the Philippines, which is widely condemned for its brutal mass executions of addicts and its current war on drugs. That deal was only stymied once Duterte himself cancelled it after the Trudeau government had undertaken a review (not a cancellation) of the deal.
In other words, while Canada may talk tough publicly, behind the dark shadows of statecraft it behaves like any other industrialized power: selling weapons to the highest bidder, no matter the consequence.
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