Canada has legal 'levers' on Saudi deal, but won't revisit decision: official
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016 2:38PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 20, 2016 5:36PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada's foreign ministry is closely monitoring all of the country's military exports, but won't revisit the controversial decision to allow the sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, The Canadian Press has learned.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record, said Canada has levers it can use under its export permit regime to stop or suspend exports.
"The government has tools at its disposal as part of the Export and Import (Permits) Act that would allow it to review future military exports to any country should the situation change there."
But the official said Canada is "categorically" not considering a suspension of the $15-billion sale of Ontario-made LAV3 vehicles to Saudi Arabia, and is instead keeping a close eye on future exports.
"We closely monitor all of our military exports outside of the country. Export permits are evaluated based on the information we have from a variety of sources, at our disposal, when an export permit application is made," the official explained.
"If a situation in a country should change, the government of the day has at its disposal an important lever within the Export and Import Permits Act, which allows it to review whether or not continuing to send military goods to a specific country still passes muster on analysis against our foreign and defence interests."
The former Conservative government approved the sale of the LAV3s to Saudi Arabia, and the current Liberal government is standing by the decision.
Groups such as Amnesty International are calling on Canada to suspend the sale because they say the heavily armed armoured vehicles could be used by the Saudi government to crush dissent among its own citizens.
Global Affairs Canada is also reviewing its latest human rights assessment on Saudi Arabia with an eye towards publicly releasing a censored version that protects the identity of sources who could otherwise face reprisals.
"Canada monitors the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and consistently raises concerns regarding human rights with senior Saudi officials," said Adam Barratt, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion.
Dion raised human rights and regional security issues in a meeting in Ottawa last month with Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir.
That included human rights reports on Saudi Arabia that are generally universal in their condemnation of the country's rights record. They cite discrimination against women and minorities and a lack of tolerance for any meaningful dissent.
Dion raised the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife now lives in Quebec. Badawi is serving a sentence of 10 years and 1,000 lashes for his criticism of Saudi clerics.
"Should we become aware of reports that would be relevant to Canada's export control regime, the government can consider whether existing permits should be suspended or cancelled, and factor this information into consideration of any future permits," said Barratt.
Conservative deputy foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said the inherent "contradictions" in dealing with Saudi Arabia prevent diplomatic relations from being "neat and perfectly principled."
"Their lack of respect for human rights is appalling," said Kent. "But they have their own domestic security concerns about (ISIL) or like-minded terrorist groups overthrowing the Saudi state."
Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada renewed his organization's call for the full public release of the human rights assessment of the Saudi arms deal.
"The categorical refusal to reconsider the Saudi arms deal, despite the country's deteriorating human rights situation and mounting concern from Canadians, once again highlights how little we know as to how thoroughly, on what basis and when the human rights consequences of the deal were assessed."