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      Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia!
      The Liberal Government Continues The Harper Government's Policies

      By Janine Solanki

      Stop Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia!
      Liberal Government Continues Harper Government Policies

      In November 2015, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to power with the catchphrase that “Canada is back”. Back from where and to what is up to interpretation, but one thing is for sure – Canada under past and current Liberal and Conservative governments continues to be the country which puts deadly weapons into the hands of some of the most brutal and tyrannical regimes in the world.

      In 2014 under the Conservative Harper government, a $15-billion deal was struck to sell “Light Armoured Vehicles” or LAVs to Saudi Arabia, a country that is world-renowned for having one of the worst human rights records. While this deal received some criticism when initially signed, it has now received renewed opposition as the new Liberal government refuses to cancel the deal.

      For every argument made against the sale of the military vehicles, the Liberal government has defended their decision with justifications which really don't add up. Even before being elected as Prime Minister, in October 2015 Justin Trudeau tried to downplay the arms deal as the sale of mere “jeeps” to Saudi Arabia. However despite the deceiving name of “Light Armoured Vehicles” a Globe and Mail investigation found that these military vehicles will be equipped with machine guns, medium- or high-calibre weapons or even big-barrel guns that can fire 105mm shells or anti-tank missiles.

      After the Liberal government was elected the opposition to this arms deal increased. On February 18, 2016 Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion made the contradictory statement that “the government doesn’t approve this contract. The government simply refuses to terminate a contract that has already been approved by the former government.” On May 11, 2016 in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision to uphold the deal with the excuse, “We need to be able to project [to] the world that when Canada agrees to something, it sticks to its word”

      If Canada's word is the issue here, then why isn't the government of Canada upholding it's own regulations? This arms deal is creating so much controversy because it goes against Canada's own laws which restrict export permits for weapons sales to countries with poor human rights records “unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” This article will go further into the many ways which Saudi Arabia is renowned for their abysmal human rights record, but first lets see how Trudeau and Dion defended themselves against the most direct evidence that should enact their own regulations and stop the export of arms to Saudi Arabia. On May 11, 2016 The Globe and Mail released video footage from 2012 and 2015 which shows similar models of Light Armoured Vehicles being used to violently attack civilians in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to large populations of the suppressed Shia minority. Ali Adubisi, director of the Berlin-based European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights, says Saudi authorities have deployed armoured vehicles against Shia civilians in Eastern Province more than 15 times since 2011. Upon being questioned about the video footage, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion still defended the sale of the military vehicles to Saudi Arabia, claiming that “The fundamental point is that this is not Canadian military equipment” in the video footage. If Saudi Arabia is using non-Canadian made LAVs against civilians, I would say this is enough evidence that the Canadian sale of LAVs will be used against civilians too, especially as they are being sold to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, the force that deals with “internal threats”.

      Stéphane Dion's claim that the agreement was a done deal and could not be canceled was yet another embarrassing lie by the Liberal government. It came to light that on April 8, 2016 Stéphane Dion signed off on export permits to ship $11 billion worth of the $15-billion military vehicle sale. In the process of a military arms deal, the sanctioning of Canadian arms exports is a decision which is not supposed to be affected by whether a contract is already signed, and there is no guarantee that a sale is officially approved until permit applications are approved. This approval was a decision made under the Liberal government, signed by the Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion.

      With all of the government's justifications exposed, Trudeau and Dion are now playing the card that they simply can't pass up the opportunity of jobs that this deal will create. The contract is projected to create 3,000 jobs over 14 years. This number is hardly going to have a huge effect on the unemployment rate in Canada. Besides, do we create jobs at the expense of humanity? While the government of Canada may think this is an excuse, people in Canada do not think this is morally justifiable. In a poll by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail, “nearly six out of 10 respondents said human rights should trump job creation when it comes to Canada’s export policy. In the survey of 1,000 Canadians from Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 87% of respondents say they have a negative, or “somewhat negative opinion” of the authoritarian Saudi regime.” People in Canada want jobs, but they want honest and dignified jobs, not jobs making weapons to fuel the imperialist war machine.

      Who is Saudi Arabia?

      It is pretty difficult to justify the good intentions Saudi Arabia might have in their use of military vehicles, considering both their internal human rights record and foreign policy.

      Saudi Arabia is a country devoid of democratic institutions, and is in fact an absolute monarchy where decisions are made by the ruling family and their clique. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world which is currently skyrocketing. A total of 158 people were killed by death penalty in 2015, and according to Amnesty International most were beheaded or killed by firing squad, with the bodies sometimes displayed in public after the executions. As of May 29, 2016, the 95th execution this year was carried out. This increasing rate includes the largest mass execution in the country since 1980, when 47 men were put to death on January 2nd, 2016. Among those executed was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric convicted of vague charges, which according to Human Rights Watch were based largely on his peaceful criticism of Saudi officials.

      Basic human and democratic rights are denied in Saudi Arabia. The existence of political parties, trade unions or independent human rights groups are not permitted, and all public gatherings, including peaceful demonstrations, remain prohibited under an order issued by the Ministry of the Interior in 2011. Those who seek to defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”. In March 2016, the regime warned that it would arrest and prosecute anyone who publicly criticized Saudi Arabia’s military actions in Yemen.

      Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are practically non-existent. To name just a few restrictions women face, women must be accompanied by a male chaperon to go outside of their home and do not have the freedom to travel, open a bank account, or do many other basic things without their husband's or guardian's permission. Women are prohibited from driving, despite heroic protests to defy the driving ban.

      For decades, particularly over the last 30 years, Saudi Arabia has played an important role as a client of Western imperialism in the Middle East. From allowing US military bases to operate in Saudi Arabia, to militarily intervening in favour of US interests, Saudi Arabia is an important ally as the US expands their hegemony and new era of war and occupation in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2011 during popular uprisings in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent in troops, tanks and the famous Light Armoured Vehicles to violently suppress the peaceful protests. Reports assert that these LAV's were Canadian-made, a claim to which the government of Canada has responded with a weak assertion that “it doesn’t believe the vehicles were used to combat protests” according to The Globe and Mail. In neighboring Yemen, since March 26, 2015 Saudi Arabia has carried out a bombing campaign and outright war against the people of Yemen, resulting in a humanitarian crisis and the deaths of approximately 8,500 people as of April 2016.

      Saudi Arabia has had a big role to play in the US-fomented civil war in Syria over the last five years. While the US government was initially trying to deny involvement in backing mercenaries in Syria, Saudi Arabia did their dirty work. In June 2012 The Guardian released reports that Saudi Arabia was putting so-called Syrian rebels on a Saudi payroll to fight against the legitimate government of Syria. Since then, media reports point to arms and funds flowing from Saudi Arabia to mercenaries and groups including Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL).

      Who is Canada?

      Take away Canada's friendly public relations campaign and the honeymoon of a new Prime Minister, and Canada is what it is. That is, an imperialist country with a foreign policy driven by capitalist interests. In it's arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the government of Canada doesn't care about jobs or keeping it's good word. It cares about a business deal that enhances Canada's reputation as key player in the new era of war and occupation unfolding today. That is, a weapons manufacturer and supplier that keeps this war drive rolling and profits from it. Saudi Arabia's human rights records may be unsavory to peace-loving people in Canada, but to the government of Canada Saudi Arabia as a key ally, one that they would like to see sufficiently armed to keep down dissent both at home in Saudi Arabia and throughout the region.

      This is nothing new for Canada. Since 2001 Canada has played a key role in the war and occupation of Afghanistan. Soon after Canada's involvement in Afghanistan began, the mask of peacekeeping came off with the words of Canada's former top general and Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier, who in 2005 said that Canada was in Afghanistan fighting "detestable murderers and scumbags," and that the job of the Canadian Forces was “to kill people”.

      In the war in Iraq, from the beginning in 2003 Canada had a role in supplying weapons, alongside providing naval and military personnel support. Canada was the largest foreign supplier of arms to the US for the war in Iraq. In 2004 the Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin had a 5-year contract to supply the US Army with 300-500 million bullets per year.

      Peace-loving people in Canada aren't fooled

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion can make all the excuses they like, but peace-loving people in Canada aren't buying their lies on the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Working and poor people in Canada must come together to demand that the Liberal government stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and to dismantle Canada's arms industry altogether. People in Canada want dignified jobs, not jobs that are at the expense of human life, for weapons manufactures profiting off the blood of others. Money must spent for social welfare and well being of people not for killing of innocent people around the word.


      Follow Janine on Twitter:@janinesolanki

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