What Is Canada Wait­ing For?

Canada is Com­plicit in Saudi Ara­bia’s Hu­man Rights Vi­o­la­tions

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Nel­lia Hal­imi The Mcgill Daily

On Oc­to­ber 2, a few hours af­ter en­ter­ing the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul, jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi was de­clared miss­ing. Khashoggi was a Saudi na­tional and a reporter for The Wash­ing­ton Post who openly op­posed the Saudi gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies. He crit­i­cized the Crown Prince and the King on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, and con­demned the Saudi- led in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men. Ac­cord­ing to Turk­ish re­ports, he was al­legedly tor­tured, dis­mem­bered, and then killed in the Saudi Ara­bian con­sulate.

The Saudi gov­ern­ment’s nar­ra­tive has been shift­ing and un­clear over the past month. It first de­nied that the death oc­curred in its con­sulate, then claimed that a fist-fight re­sulted in the jour­nal­ist’s death, and fi­nally an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 25 that the mur­der was in fact pre­med­i­tated. Through­out this process, Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man has con­tin­u­ously de­nied any in­volve­ment of the Crown and claimed there was no killing order is­sued by the gov­ern­ment. Canada pub­licly de­nounced Khashoggi’s mur­der, call­ing for ex­pla­na­tions and an­nounc­ing there would be con­se­quences while not com­mit­ting to any ac­tual sanc­tions. These mean­ing­less, in­con­se­quen­tial words have be­come part of Canada’s stan­dard re­sponse to hu­man rights abuses.

Over the years, Canada has tried to build an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a hu­man rights de­fender. This po­si­tion­ing on the world stage has been made pos­si­ble in part by the ter­ri­ble hu­man rights record of the United States. The con­stant com­par­i­son of Canada to the United States is not new; for years, their health­care sys­tems, laws, and hu­man rights records have been judged in re­la­tion to one an­other. As a re­sult, pro­gres­sive ini­tia­tives by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment get ex­tra me­dia coverage and praise, and are pub­li­cized as an “ex­am­ple for Amer­i­cans.”

Both the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and Cana­dian res­i­dents have used this nar­ra­tive to con­ve­niently ig­nore hu­man rights abuses per­pe­trated by Canada. Last Au­gust, Cana­dian For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Free­land is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing the im­pris­on­ment of women’s rights ac­tivists by the Saudi gov­ern­ment, and urged for their im­me­di­ate re­lease. This pub­lic con­dem­na­tion of Saudi Ara­bia was met with im­me­di­ate back­lash from the Saudi gov­ern­ment. They not only ex­pelled the Cana­dian am­bas­sador but also halted any fu­ture busi­ness trans­ac­tions, and forced Saudi stu­dents on gov­ern­ment grants or schol­ar­ships in Canada to re­turn to Saudi Ara­bia. Nev­er­the­less, on the in­ter­na­tional stage, Canada gained a great deal of le­git­i­macy from this move. It re­leased a state­ment re­it­er­at­ing that “Canada will al­ways stand up for the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights, very much in­clud­ing women’s rights, and free­dom of ex­pres­sion around the world.” How­ever, af­ter a month of con­fronta­tion, Canada qui­etly tried to fix its diplo­matic re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia. For­eign Min­is­ter Free­land an­nounced she would meet with her Saudi coun­ter­part at a United Na­tions meet­ing, and said: “I have been in close touch with [Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter] Adel [bin Ahmed al-jubeir] all sum­mer. We call each other on our cell phones.”

Canada has a 15-bil­lion- dol­lar arms deal with Saudi Ara­bia. It was signed in 2014 by the Con­ser­va­tive Harper gov­ern­ment, and has been firmly up­held by the Lib­er­als since their elec­tion in 2015. While they could have cho­sen to aban­don the deal, they in­stead green­lighted it and started pro­vid­ing ex­port per­mits in 2016. The arms deal al­lows a Cana­dian mil­i­tary com­pany to sell 15 bil­lion dol­lars’ worth of light ar­moured ve­hi­cles (LAVS) to Saudi Ara­bia. How­ever, the full de­tails re­lat­ing to the ve­hi­cles be­ing provided were sealed un­til this March, four years af­ter the arms deal was signed. The CBC pub­lished a re­port which re­vealed that Canada’s arms sale to Saudi Ara­bia in­cludes “heavy as­sault” ve­hi­cles, con­trary to what the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment had been im­ply­ing un­til then. CBC re­ported that the deal in­cluded “928 of the most mod­ern light ar­mored ve­hi­cles, known as the LAV 6,” which are es­sen­tially ready for com­bat in Saudi Ara­bia.

The im­pli­ca­tions of such a sale for coun­tries in on­go­ing con­flict with Saudi Ara­bia are ex­tremely con­cern­ing. In Ye­men, where the Saudi gov­ern­ment has been lead­ing an in­ter­ven­tion since 2015, the re­ports of hu­man rights abuses by Saudi forces against civil­ians are ex­ten­sive and hor­rific. The United Na­tions has con­demned the coali­tion, which has been ac­cused of bomb­ing civil­ians and schools and of re­cruit­ing child sol­diers, along with other hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

As usual, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has pub­licly con­demned those abuses and provided 65 mil­lion dol­lars in aid to Ye­men to help com­bat the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. This only rep­re­sents a hun­dredth of their $15-bil­lion arms deal. In Au­gust 2017, videos were re­leased which al­legedly show Saudi sol­diers us­ing the Cana­dian-made ve­hi­cles against civil­ians. Canada is well aware that the ve­hi­cles be­ing provided might be de­ployed against Ye­meni civil­ians and an­nounced it would “look into it and re­spond ac­cord­ingly.” This vague state­ment in­cludes no real com­mit­ment to ac­tion, prov­ing Canada’s dis­in­ter­est in up­hold­ing hu­man rights abroad.

Canada has the means to end this dan­ger­ous arms deal, which goes against the the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights’ rec­om­men­da­tions con­cern­ing ex­port con­trols. The com­mit­tee ad­vo­cates that Canada up­dates its Ex­port Con­trol List to pre­vent the sale of arms to coun­tries where they would be used to com­mit hu­man rights abuse.

The Lib­er­als have claimed re­peat­edly that their hands were tied by a signed agree­ment and by the loss of 3,000 Cana­dian jobs that would oc­cur if the deal was ter­mi­nated. How­ever, Global News re­ported that Harper’s gov­ern­ment only ap­proved “mi­nor-level ex­port per­mits for the ve­hi­cles,” and that it was the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment who “signed off on $11-bil­lion worth of ar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia.” While the num­ber of lost jobs is sig­nif­i­cant, it seems ob­vi­ous that the real con­cern is not about Cana­dian work­ers but about the im­mense profit that this deal has brought to the gov­ern­ment.

In the past weeks, de­spite al­le­ga­tions that the Saudi gov­ern­ment mur­dered a jour­nal­ist within their own con­sulate, Trudeau an­nounced that he would not re­con­sider the deal. Af­ter pres­sure from hu­man rights groups, he said on Oc­to­ber 25 that Canada could sus­pend ship­ments of ve­hi­cles, while not can­celling the deal it­self. For­eign Min­is­ter Free­land has also re­it­er­ated her ar­gu­ment that Canada’s com­mit­ment should “last longer than any gov­ern­ment,” ap­par­ently hav­ing no re­gard for whether said com­mit­ment is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sys­tem­atic mur­der of Ye­meni civil­ian by Saudi troops. Even worse, the Cana­dian ex-am­bas­sador to Saudi Ara­bia pub­licly de­fended the deal, ar­gu­ing that it was to be ex­pected when sell­ing arms to an­other coun­try that they would use them to “de­fend them­selves.” While Canada has “sug­gested [they are] look­ing for ways to can­cel the arms con­tract with­out trig­ger­ing the penal­ties,” those kind of vague ex­cuses are why the deal’s can­cel­la­tion are con­tin­u­ally de­layed. Ul­ti­mately, the lu­cra­tive as­pect of the sale was in­cen­tive enough to ig­nore Saudi hu­man rights abuse when it was ap­proved four years ago, and ap­par­ently still is to­day.

Canada is not an ad­vo­cate for hu­man rights. It per­pet­u­ates hu­man rights abuses in its own coun­try against In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions, and has made clear that it will do the same on an in­ter­na­tional level. The Cana­dian Mag­nit­sky law can, and should, be used in cases of “gross vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized hu­man rights.” This law al­lows Canada to en­force puni­tive mea­sures, bans, freez­ing of do­mes­tic as­sets, and other sanc­tions against for­eign pub­lic of­fi­cials or against the state as a whole. Eco­nomic sanc­tions against Saudi Ara­bia it­self should be con­sid­ered care­fully, as the poor­est and most marginal­ized part of the pop­u­la­tion usu­ally end up bear­ing the brunt of those sanc­tions. How­ever, Canada could choose to hold the Saudi gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials ac­count­able. Canada could choose to end the arms deal, not only as a pun­ish­ment to Saudi Ara­bia, but be­cause its weapons are al­legedly be­ing used to mur­der civil­ians. Canada could choose to do all that and act with ba­sic de­cency, if not dig­nity, re­gard­ing Saudi Ara­bia’s hu­man rights abuse. It just won’t.

These mean­ing­less, in­con­se­quen­tial words have be­come part of Canada’s stan­dard re­sponse to hu­man rights abuses. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has [...] provided 65 mil­lion dol­lars in aid to Ye­men. [...] This only rep­re­sents a hun­dredth of their $15-bil­lion arms deal.

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