Canada touts im­proved Saudi arms deal



OT­TAWA • The fed­eral gov­ern­ment says it has im­proved a con­tro­ver­sial con­tract to sell light-ar­moured ve­hi­cles to Saudi Ara­bia by mak­ing its de­tails more trans­par­ent to the Cana­dian pub­lic.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has been un­der pres­sure since win­ning power in 2015 to can­cel the $14-bil­lion con­tract be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and On­tario-based Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics Land Sys­tems-canada be­cause of con­cerns over Saudi Ara­bia’s poor hu­man-rights record.

The Lib­er­als have said they were ham­strung by the con­fi­den­tial­ity pro­vi­sions of the con­tract, which was ne­go­ti­ated by the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in 2014, and that can­celling it could cost jobs in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

“We can con­firm that the can­cel­la­tion of this $14-bil­lion con­tract — or even the mere dis­clo­sure of any of its terms — could have re­sulted in bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­ages to the gov­ern­ment of Canada, with po­ten­tial dam­ages amount­ing to the full value of the con­tract,” For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Fran­cois-philippe Cham­pagne and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau said in a joint state­ment on Thurs­day.

“This would have put the jobs of thou­sands of Cana­di­ans at risk, not only in south­west­ern On­tario but also across the en­tire de­fence in­dus­try sup­ply chain, which in­cludes hun­dreds of small and medium en­ter­prises.”

The gov­ern­ment says it has been able to make sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to the con­tract.

“This in­cludes now be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate more trans­par­ently with Cana­di­ans about cer­tain terms of the con­tract.”

The state­ment says the new deal will elim­i­nate Canada’s ex­po­sure to risk “where fu­ture ex­port per­mits are de­layed or de­nied if there is an in­fringe­ment of the per­mit’s end-use as­sur­ances — which en­sure that the ve­hi­cles are used only for the stated pur­pose.”

Hu­man-rights groups have said Canada’s sale of the ve­hi­cles was im­proper be­cause Saudi Ara­bia could use them to vi­o­late the rights of its own peo­ple. But the gov­ern­ment has pre­vi­ously main­tained that it has found no ev­i­dence the ve­hi­cles were used for that pur­pose.

“Un­der our law, Cana­dian goods can­not be ex­ported where there is a sub­stan­tial risk that they would be used to com­mit or to fa­cil­i­tate se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law, in­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights law or se­ri­ous acts of gen­der­based vi­o­lence,” said Thurs­day’s state­ment from the two min­is­ters.

“We need to en­sure that we are al­ways ready to strengthen avail­able tools to con­duct proper due dili­gence on all ex­ports, as Cana­di­ans ex­pect.”

The gov­ern­ment says it is cre­at­ing an arm’s-length ad­vi­sory panel to re­view best prac­tices on arms ex­ports to bet­ter com­ply with the United Na­tions Arms Trade Treaty.

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