Canada still shipping LAVs to Saudi Arabia despite human rights concerns
Canada shows no signs of slowing down shipments of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite deepening concerns of human rights abuses and an outstanding debt to Canada of more than $1 billion.
A new report from Global Affairs reveals that, from 2016 to 2018, Canada shipped 217 armoured combat vehicles – almost all of them light-armoured vehicles, or LAVs – to the Middle Eastern kingdom.
In total, the exports are worth $1.8 billion.
The shipments are part of an existing trade deal, signed under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and upheld by the Trudeau Liberals, estimated at $15 billion.
CTV News has learned that no new arms export permits have been issued and that the earlier deal – the largest arms deal in Canadian history -- is moving forward.
But concerns are mounting that Saudi Arabia isn’t honouring payments to Canada. The Crown corporation that helped broker the deal between London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems and the Saudis was owed $1.9 billion by the end of last year.
Sources told CTV News that some payments have been received in 2019, but Saudi Arabia still owes Canada well over $1 billion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CTV News last December that he was looking for a way out of the deal. But so far, that hasn’t happened.
“We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister has also suggested that scrapping the deal would cause significant financial penalties of $1 billion or more.
Saudi Arabia has faced international rebuke for its record on human rights abuses. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was openly critical of the Saudi government, was murdered in Oct. 2018 after walking into the country’s consulate in Istanbul. His remains have never been found.
Saudi Arabia has also been criticized for its role in the war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and the vast majority of the population requires basic humanitarian aid, such as food and water.
The imprisonment of women’s rights activists has also drawn international outrage, including a call from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland last year to release the women. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responded by expelling Canada’s ambassador from the country and recalling medical students studying in Canada.
University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp said Canada should not be part of the deal.
“Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be a friend and it’s I guess only to friends that you should sell equipment that is so dangerous that has been used by Saudi Arabia against its own population,” Turp said.
Canada has a long history of military exports with Saudi Arabia dating back more than 25 years. According to court documents, more than 2,900 LAVs have been shipped to the Saudis since 1993.