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These Emails Show Canada Was Super Stoked About Saudi Arms Deal

While the deal has sparked controversy publicly in Canada because of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, privately, bureaucrats were celebrating that "The Big One Has Landed" in emails.

by Ben Makuch
Nov 2 2015, 7:05pm

Canadian LAVs. Photo by Bill Graveland/Canadian Press

As the sale of Canadian-made Light Armored Vehicles to Saudi Arabia sparked public controversy last year over the Middle Eastern regime's human rights record, privately, within the Canadian government, bureaucrats were giving each other massive kudos.

Within a cache of heavily redacted documents obtained by VICE News, an email with the subject heading "The Big One Has Landed" shows just how pumped government workers were in the department of Foreign Affairs, lauding the estimated $15 billion export deal when the sale was finalized in February 2014.

The historic sale of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada's (GDLSC) vehicles to the Saudis became an election issue this month, with no federal party leader saying they would scrap the agreement, and Justin Trudeau, who was later elected prime minister, saying it merely concerned "jeeps."

"A good win for Canada," says one Foreign Affairs official in February 2014, while another cheered the deal for the military vehicles: "A big congrats!! And inspiring for all. Great day for Canadian interests."

Chief among those celebratory voices was the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald.

"In the past 6 months Canada has been on a hot streak in terms of trade deals with Saudi Arabia," said MacDonald before recapping deals worth billions by other Canadian companies with Saudi Arabia. "But today we saw the home run. And what a grand slam it was!"

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

In the same email, MacDonald goes on to describe "the biggest-ever single export deal in Canadian history" as a win that "vaults Saudi Arabia into a new league as an export market for Canada." 

Saudi Arabia is regularly touted as one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and has the fastest growing military budget in the world. Amnesty International reports the Saudi monarchy sanctioned the beheading of at least 175 of its citizens within the last year alone and is on pace to surpass 192, its own record set in 1995.

In his email, the Canadian ambassador also highlighted the importance of the deal for GDLSC and its London, Ont.-based plant that suffered layoffs prior to the sale.

But MacDonald saved his biggest praise for the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) — a Crown corporation operating at an arm's length of the government, which helped finalize the sale to Saudi Arabia.

"This is also a breakthrough deal for the CCC which will be the prime contractor and will receive a substantial service fee for its role," said MacDonald. "CCC expects to establish a presence in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) in due course to manage the contract. Previously, CCC's role in GDLS LAV sales into Saudi Arabia was more at the Canadian end as the sales (REDACTED)."

In recent years, the organization has been criticized for broadening the Canadian defense market beyond that of its biggest client, the US, to now include "allies and like-minded nations," such as Saudi Arabia.

And under the Harper government, Canada touted its strategy of "economic diplomacy" that put the government in the middle of private business deals abroad, "to maximize the success of Canada's commercial interests in key foreign markets."

But any economic diplomacy cannot involve human rights abusing nations, according to export guidelines from the department of foreign affairs that ban military exports to governments with a "persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population."

Email excerpts: 

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Image via Flickr user ResoluteSupportMedia