Don’t sup­ply ter­ror tools to tyrants

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard Elliott

When Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als were elected, they in­her­ited an odi­ous legacy: a 2014 deal to sell armed mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia. The deal, worth $15 bil­lion, ran­kled many be­cause it meant Canada would be­come a ma­jor arms sup­plier to a regime that has a record of bru­tal­iz­ing its own cit­i­zens in the name of quelling dis­sent.

Trudeau ac­knowl­edged he didn’t like the deal, but he felt com­pelled to hon­our it for the sake of pre­serv­ing Canada’s rep­u­ta­tion as a re­li­able busi­ness part­ner. That didn’t sat­isfy the most stri­dent crit­ics, but many peo­ple could at least see the logic in his ra­tio­nale.

How­ever, all through that con­tro­versy, there was a hard stop. Rea­son­able peo­ple, and the gov­ern­ment, could tol­er­ate the deal-with-the-devil pro­vided we could be guar­an­teed the Saudis wouldn’t turn the armed might against their own cit­i­zens.

Now, cred­i­ble me­dia re­ports from the re­gion claim Saudi Ara­bia has de­ployed Cana­dian com­bat hard­ware against civil­ians. There are pho­to­graphs show­ing a ve­hi­cle that looks ex­actly like the Cana­dian prod­uct, called an ‘Ar­moured Gurkha.’ Mil­i­tary ex­perts, in­clud­ing a re­tired and anony­mous Cana­dian gen­eral, have ver­i­fied the claim.

The com­pany that makes the Gurkha says it can’t com­ment. The gov­ern­ment is aware and in­ves­ti­gat­ing. The Globe and Mail re­ported a state­ment from the of­fice of Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs Chrys­tia Free­land which says: “If it is found that Cana­dian ex­ports have been used to com­mit se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights, the min­is­ter will take ac­tion.” It also says: “The end use and end user of ex­ports, as well as re­gional sta­bil­ity and hu­man rights, are es­sen­tial con­sid­er­a­tions in the autho­riza­tion of per­mits for the ex­port of mil­i­tary goods from Canada.”

If these re­ports are true, the worst fears of peace ad­vo­cates and oth­ers crit­i­cal of such deals will be re­al­ized. Canada will again be sup­ply­ing lethal mil­i­tary equip­ment to be used against civil­ians.

Those ad­vo­cates, as well as op­po­si­tion par­ties, are al­ready call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to halt fur­ther ex­ports. Ob­vi­ously, the gov­ern­ment won’t act on me­dia re­ports alone, so if a mora­to­rium is nec­es­sary it won’t hap­pen overnight. But it shouldn’t take months, ei­ther. And the gov­ern­ment had bet­ter not rag the puck on this. If the re­ports are true, the gov­ern­ment needs to stop fur­ther ship­ments, kill the deal and tell Cana­di­ans in no un­cer­tain terms it has done so and will not sup­port new deals that carry the same risk.

Justin Trudeau was elected on wave of op­ti­mism and ide­al­ism that looks naïve in hind­sight. Trudeau can re­store some bruised cred­i­bil­ity by do­ing the right thing in this case. We may not be able to stop tyran­ni­cal for­eign gov­ern­ments from slaugh­ter­ing their own peo­ple, but we don’t have to sup­ply the bul­lets.

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