Canada 'will not cancel' Saudi arms deal, despite mass executions: Dion
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, January 5, 2016 9:59AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 6, 2016 1:10PM EST
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says the federal government "will not cancel" a private contract that sees military vehicles sold to Saudi Arabia, despite international criticism over 47 executions that took place in the Middle Eastern kingdom this weekend.
Dion told CTV News that there have "always" been concerns, but Canada will engage in a "very vigorous process" to ensure that the LAV III light armoured vehicles are not misused.
"It is a commitment we have made that we will not cancel private contracts, but we will engage with the authorities in Saudi Arabia to make sure they’ll be properly used," he said.
The $14.8-billion arms deal, negotiated by the previous Conservative government, was expected to create 3,000 jobs in Southern Ontario.
Earlier Tuesday, Dion's communications director Adam Barratt said the government "carefully reviewed" the proposed arms export before granting a permit to General Dynamics Land Systems Canada.
"Canada ensures that … human rights considerations are seriously taken into account," Barrat said in a statement.
UNIFOR, union representing workers at General Dynamics building LAVs for Saudi Arabia, says nothing has changed in its position on contract.— Katie Simpson (@KatieSimpsonCTV) January 6, 2016
UNIFOR re-sending news release from Sept 30, accusing Harper gov't of lack of transparency, but "bottom line is contract has been signed"— Katie Simpson (@KatieSimpsonCTV) January 6, 2016
Conservative MP Tony Clement told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday that a review was conducted during the previous government to ensure that the equipment was being used to "fight the bad guys, fight terrorism or aggressive nations that Saudi Arabia was facing in the Middle East."
"It was specifically designed to make sure they weren’t using the equipment against their own people," he added.
This is not the first time the arms deal has come under scrutiny.
In September, Stephen Harper faced flak when a 17-year-old arrested in Saudi Arabia for participating in political protests was sentenced to beheading and crucifixion.
This weekend, Saudi Arabia's mass executions renewed focus on the controversial deal.
The federal government officially condemned the executions in a statement on Sunday.
"Canada opposes the death penalty and decries the execution of 47 individuals in Saudi Arabia on January 2, 2016," the statement read. "In the wake of these executions, we reiterate our call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to protect human rights."
The statement made no mention of the multi-billion dollar agreement to export armoured vehicles to the country. It went on to express concern that the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr could "further inflame" tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East.
Nimr's execution has already sparked widespread protests, and strained relations between Iran, which is Shiite-dominated, and Saudi Arabia and its allies.
On Tuesday, Dion also spoke out against an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which occurred amid the protests.
"We disagree completely about what happened (with) the embassy in Iran -- it is not helping," said Dion.
"We want positive steps between these two countries. We invite these two countries to stay calm and to focus on what is really important, and it is to fight the terrorist group the so-called Islamic State."
Dion was also asked if Canada was considering reopening its embassy in Iran, which has been closed since 2012 because of "heightened regional tensions."
"Yes, but the government of Iran will need to take more seriously the Vienna (Convention) to protect diplomatic personnel and assets," he said.
Meanwhile, Clement said that Iran remains a "state-sponsor of terrorism," and that Canada should not reopen its embassy until Iran renounces its support for extremists groups,
"Unless the Tehran government can guarantee that diplomatic and consular assets are safe, then I think it would be the height of irresponsibility to open a mission," he said.