Stéphane Dion Stands By $15B Saudi Arms Deal After Executions

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A $15-billion contract signed under the previous government to supply Saudi Arabia with light-armoured military vehicles won't be revisited after the execution of dozens of prisoners in that country, the foreign minister says.

Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, was one of 47 prisoners recently executed by Saudi Arabia.

"We have said during the campaign — the prime minister has been very clear — that we will not cancel this contract or contracts that have been done under the previous government in general," Stéphane Dion said Tuesday in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power and Politics.

stephane dion
Stephane Dion speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

"We'll review the process by which these contracts are assessed in the future. But what is done is done and the contract is not something that we'll revisit," Dion said.

The issue of whether Canada should sell military equipment to a country with such a poor human rights record was a subject of debate during the last federal election campaign. The arms deal roared back onto the political agenda after the most recent executions in Saudi Arabia were announced over the weekend.

Activists in Canada fear that the light-armoured vehicles (LAVs), being manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., could be used by the Saudi regime to carry out further violence against its own people.

'I'd sign it again today,' Baird says

But former foreign affairs minister John Baird said in a separate interview with Barton that the multi-billion dollar deal has merit.

Baird said while Canada and Saudi Arabia "share many different values" there are also common interests. There's an economic interest linked to the deal, he said, but also a shared interest in security as the battle against the Islamic State continues.

"I'd sign it again today," Baird said of the deal, which will support manufacturing jobs in Ontario.

He said the Liberals choosing to honour the commitment made under the last government "says all you need to say."

"It obviously isn't that bad. Obviously we have a lot of military jobs in Canada, we export to a lot of countries," he said.

Canada to restore relations with Iran

Since the Shia cleric's execution, a diplomatic row between Iran and Saudi Arabia has escalated. Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted "divine vengeance" for the execution.

Dion condemned the executions and the subsequent violence in Tehran directed at the Saudi embassy.

He said Canada could play a more robust role in easing tensions between the two powers if it had a diplomatic relationship with Iran, despite its questionable record.

"The fact that Canada is not in Tehran is helping nobody. It's not helping the population of Iran, it's not helping Saudi Arabia, it's not helping Israel — so we need to engage Iran in trying to be positive in the region," the foreign minister said.

Baird, who closed the Canadian embassy in Iran during his tenure, said he was deeply skeptical of the new government's openness to a rapprochement with Tehran.

"I don't know how … any reasonable person could expect that you could count on the government of Iran to come in and defend your embassy if it came under attack," Baird said, adding that Canada should demand improvement to Iran's record on human rights, and "some meaningful action in terms of their material support for state-sponsored terrorism," before restoring any diplomatic ties.

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