Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Liberals to honor Conservatives $15 billion armored vehicle deal with Saudis

In 2014 the Conservative government of Stephen Harper inked a huge $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal was controversial because of the wretched human rights record of the Saudis.

During the campaign ahead of the October 2015 federal election that brought Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party to power, the Liberals promised to sign the UN Arms Trade Treaty that is designed to regulate the international arms trade to promote international peace, reduce human suffering, and promote transparency. However, not long after winning power the Liberals said that the arms deal with the Saudis would be exempt from the deal.
After the recent execution of 47 prisoners, including a prominent Shia cleric, in Saudi Arabia, Stephane Dion, the Canadian foreign minister said:"We have said during the campaign — the prime minister has been very clear — that we will not cancel this contract or contracts that have been done under the previous government in general. We'll review the process by which these contracts are assessed in the future. But what is done is done and the contract is not something that we'll revisit."
Dion also said the contract was just part of the world in which we are and that many Canadian allies exported arms to the Saudis. He also said the government did not receive a mandate from the people to stop the sale of the weapons. Many critics of the contract claim the party is jeopardizing its principles by going ahead with the deal and it also violates its own export guidelines.
Law professor Daniel Turp of the University of Montreal and a dozen of his students have filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government in the Quebec Superior Court. The suit seeks to block shipments of the combat vehicles. The suit could force Liberals to explain how they are able to justify the sale. The group will also file a similar action in the Federal Court with three weeks.
The combat vehicles are to be produced by General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, the U.S. aerospace and defense firm. The lawsuit refers not only to the Liberal election promise but also to defense export guidelines already put in place in 1986, by a Conservative government, that says: "Canada closely controls the export of military goods and technology to countries…whose governments have 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."In an open letter Turp and the students note Saudi Arabia has committed and continues to commit serious human rights violations against their citizens and that the light armored vehicles could be used against their own population. The suit argues that the government is violating its own existing export rules and that the permits for export should be rescinded.
Amnesty International notes in regard to Saudi Arabia:It is beyond dispute that there are longstanding and extensive human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.Those violations arise across the full range of rights enshrined in international law, including torture and ill-treatment, women’s equality, unjust and secretive executions, religious freedom, freedom of expression, the rights of human rights defenders, press freedom, fair trials and arbitrary detention.In addition Amnesty notes that their research shows that Saudi forces operating in Yemen have committed war crimes. Some of the weapons used have been identified as coming from the UK and the US. The UK International Development Select Committee called for Prime Minister David Cameron to halt the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition targeting civilian areas in Yemen and engaging in indiscriminate bombing in Yemen.
The Globe and Mail points out that some of the light-armored vehicles will actually be fitted with medium or high-calibre weapons by a European subcontractor including a powerful cannon to shoot anti-tank missiles. The vehicles will go to the Saudi National Guard. The Canadian government has described the vehicles as amounting to "jeeps." A Belgian Contractor, CMI, has a sub-contract that will amount to $4.9 billion and last 15 years.
The Saudi contract is estimated to employ about 3,000 Canadians, mostly at a London, Ontario, General Dynamics plant for 14 years. The company advertises the vehicles it is selling to the Saudis with a Canadian focus:General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) advertises its fighting vehicle as a classic piece of Canadiana. In marketing materials, it showcases the combat machine, equipped with a machine gun, alongside photos of poutine, a Mountie, a hockey game and a moose. The advertising tagline reads: “This is Canadian.”
The Liberal government has acted exactly as the Harper Conservatives in refusing to explain how the contract can be justified under existing arms-control rules. Dion's Foreign Affairs Department refuses to make public its analysis on the grounds that it could injure the "commercial confidentiality of the deal." Well-known Liberal Lloyd Axworthy has said that the Liberals should review the deal saying:“Everybody says it’s for jobs, but I think if you start counting up the price you pay in terms of instability and repression and forceful maintenance of order, you may be paying a high price.I think the Saudis have really, in the last couple of years, really become a problem country. The degree of oppression against women and dissidents in Saudi Arabia is becoming almost epidemic.”Axworthy also claimed that the Saudis help support and export Islamic fundamentalism. Under the terms of the contract details of the deal must be kept secret.
Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an antiwar group based in Waterloo Ontario summed up his view on the issue: “Of course, job creation is a legitimate pursuit for any government. But there are lines that Canada should not cross in the pursuit of profit – and sustaining one of the worst human-rights violators in the world should clearly be one of them.”

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