Re­ports of Saudi abuses us­ing Cana­dian ve­hi­cles cause con­cerns

National Post (National Edition) - - CANADA - GRAEME HAMIL­TON ghamil­ton@post­media.com

The Cana­dian govern­ment ex­pressed deep con­cern Fri­day over re­ports out of Saudi Ara­bia that the king­dom is us­ing Cana­dian-made ar­moured ve­hi­cles against its own peo­ple.

Global Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land “is deeply con­cerned about this sit­u­a­tion and has asked of­fi­cials to re­view it im­me­di­ately,” a depart­ment spokesman said in a state­ment. “If it is found that Cana­dian ex­ports have been used to com­mit se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights, the Min­is­ter will take ac­tion.”

Spokesman John Bab­cock said the govern­ment “is ac­tively seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about Saudi Ara­bia’s cur­rent ef­forts to deal with its se­cu­rity chal­lenges, the re­ports of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, and the re­ports that Cana­dian-made ve­hi­cles have been used by Saudi Ara­bia in its cur­rent se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions.”

He added that Canada ex­pects “the end user of any and all ex­ports to abide by the end use terms in is­sued ex­port per­mits.” Saudi Ara­bia was the largest non-U.S. im­porter of Cana­dian-made mil­i­tary goods in 2016, re­ceiv­ing $142 mil­lion in ex­ports — nearly 20 per cent of all Cana­dian mil­i­tary ex­ports.

Mil­i­tary goods are ex­ported un­der the con­di­tion that they not be used to com­mit hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Canada last year called for an end to arms ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia, cit­ing their pos­si­ble use to com­mit war crimes in the con­flict in Ye­men.

“Mount­ing ten­sions and con­flict in east­ern Saudi Ara­bia, about which the Cana­dian govern­ment has rightly ex­pressed pub­lic con­cern, fur­ther in­di­cate how fraught it is for Canada to have au­tho­rized the sale of light ar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia at this time,” Alex Neve, sec­re­tary gen­eral of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional Canada, said in a state­ment Fri­day.

Cit­ing re­ports from com­mu­nity ac­tivists, Reuters re­ported Thurs­day that at least five peo­ple had been killed in east­ern Saudi Ara­bia in re­cent days, as se­cu­rity forces be­gan an op­er­a­tion to flush out sus­pected Shi­ite mil­i­tants in Qatif prov­ince. The oil-pro­duc­ing prov­ince, home to some of the coun­try’s Shi­ite Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, has seen oc­ca­sional mil­i­tant at­tacks against se­cu­rity forces since the 2011 Arab Spring protests.

In a state­ment Thurs­day, Global Af­fairs ex­pressed con­cern about es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence that led to ca­su­al­ties among civil­ians and se­cu­rity forces in east­ern Saudi Ara­bia. “We rec­og­nize that Saudi Ara­bia faces se­cu­rity chal­lenges, but we urge lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to work with all com­mu­ni­ties to defuse ten­sions,” the depart­ment said. “All such chal­lenges must be ad­dressed in a man­ner that abides by in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights law.”

As con­cerns about Saudi rights vi­o­la­tions mounted, the Lib­eral govern­ment faced crit­i­cism last year for re­fus­ing to can­cel a Lon­don, Ont., com­pany’s $15-bil­lion sale of light ar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia. The deal had been ap­proved by the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau ar­gued that can­celling it would jeop­ar­dize Canada’s abil­ity to con­duct busi­ness around the world, send­ing a mes­sage that signed deals would not sur­vive a change in govern­ment. Dur­ing the 2015 elec­tion cam­paign, Trudeau had dis­missed con­cerns about the sale, say­ing Canada was just ship­ping “jeeps” to the Saudis.

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