Canadian-Saudi relations in the spotlight -Globe and Mail

The Harper government signed a deal to sell armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Despite growing criticism, the new Trudeau government is honoring the deal. The criticisms are focusing on two things. First, the nature of the vehicles and how they will be used:

“Let’s be clear: These are weapons. The Canadian light armoured vehicles, or LAVs, that will be sold to Saudi Arabia are not jeeps. They are big, 8×8 armoured vehicles with gun turrets on top. And they are being sold to an internal security force, not Saudi Arabia’s regular army. That force, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, is tasked with protecting the royal family. It deploys its armoured vehicles at protests. There can be no assurance they will never be used against Saudi civilians.”

The Saudi National Guard is indeed an internal security institution, and its chief task is protecting the regime. These vehicles could be used to put down civilian unrest, including Shi’a protesting against discrimination and potentially pro-democracy demonstrations. They could also be used against extremist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. The National Guard also acts as a check against the regular Saudi army, lest they ever get the idea to stage a coup. Not surprisingly, the national Guard is heavily armed in Saudi Arabia.

The Trudea government is also coming under criticism for the Saudis human rights record, and whats written in its own appraisals of the regime.

“The Liberal government is refusing to make public a recently completed assessment of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia even as it endures criticism for proceeding with a $15-billion deal to ship weaponized armoured vehicles to the Mideast country.

Saudi Arabia, notorious for its treatment of women, dissidents and offenders, became the focus of international condemnation this month over a mass execution of 47 people, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, an exceptionally vocal critic of the ruling Al Saud family.

A country’s human rights record is an important consideration in the arms export control process that determines whether Canadian-made weapons can be exported there. The Saudi deal was brokered by Ottawa, which also serves as the prime contractor in the transaction.”


Finally, the Globe and Mail has also had a look at policy briefs that suggest Ottawa needs to deepen its ties to Saudi Arabia, because of the country’s strategic position and because of potential economic opportunities.

“Current bilateral engagement includes a particular focus on Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” it says. “Saudi Arabia is a regional power, the only Arab country in the G20. It is a key contributor to global energy security and Canada’s largest trading partner in the region.”

“The memo says there are trade and investment opportunities for Canada in the Gulf region because its economies are “diversifying into areas of Canadian strength, including financial, education, health care services, agriculture, as well as infrastructure.”

The briefs make no mention of civil rights, and the public versions have the references to political reform within the Saudi Kingdom redacted.

“The censored version of the memo makes no mention of human rights, including the case of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife now lives in Quebec.

But a section on how Canada can support “gradual, consensual political and social reforms” in the region is almost entirely blacked out.”