THE BLOG
10/29/2018 11:25 EDT | Updated 10/31/2018 08:26 EDT

Justin Trudeau Doesn’t Care About Human Rights

Canada's reaction to Jamal Khashoggi's death thus far makes it clear the government's claim of a human-rights based foreign policy is false.

Canada's arms deal with Saudi Arabia is one of the worst blemishes on the country's global record in recent years.

The arms deal has been criticized by human rights and advocacy groups internationally, and is also opposed by the majority of Canadians.

In recent days, many of these Canadians held their breath. It appeared the government could finally pull the plug on the deal, as Saudi Arabia's apparent responsibility for the murder and disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi forced many Saudi allies to publicly reassess their relationship.

Canadian Press Videos
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answered a question during a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday.

Last Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons, "We have frozen export permits before when we had concerns about [Canadian weapons'] potential misuse and we will not hesitate to do so again." Later in the week, he said the government is reviewing these permits.

Global Affairs Canada has also put out its own statement, and co-signed a G7 letter, calling for an investigation into Khashoggi's death.

Despite these statements, and the ensuing optimism, Canada's reaction to Khashoggi's death thus far makes it clear the government's claim of a human-rights based foreign policy is false.

One Khashoggi, 10,000 Yemenis

The Canadian government, by the most generous and conservative estimates, has, since a July 2017 investigation from The Globe and Mail, suspected Saudi Arabia of using Canadian military vehicles in Yemen, and against civilians at home.

Despite this, it's only been in the last few days that the Canadian government has made serious statements hinting at the possibility of cancelling the arms deal.

Trudeau's conception of human rights is limited and elitist, because even with the knowledge of the atrocities in Yemen, it took a Western-friendly and well-connected journalist being killed to do anything. Or at least to talk about doing anything.

Empty Words

The reality is, most Western countries that profess to have human-rights based foreign policies all share the same flaw as Canada. And the Canadian government cancelling the arms deal would benefit Yemenis, regardless of the reason behind the suspension.

The problem is that Canada's statements thus far don't bring it any closer to ending the arms deal, but simply introduce new excuses to do nothing.

The reason offered for maintaining the arms deal in the past, on the rare occasions the government discussed it, appeared to be defending supposed Canadian honour. In 2016, for example, Trudeau said, "Fundamentally, this issue is a matter of principle. The principle at play here is that Canada's word needs to mean something in the international community."

Trudeau's attempt to shirk Canada's moral responsibilities due to supposed concern for the taxpayers is disingenuous.

On October 23, Trudeau attempted to offload the blame for the arms deal on the Conservatives, despite the fact that the Liberals authorized the export permits needed for the weapons to be shipped, and said, "The contract signed by the previous government, by Stephen Harper, makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract."

This isn't an excuse. It's the prime minister's job to navigate the country out of compromising situations, regardless of difficulty or political backlash, which could be severe, based on the Saudi meltdown over a tweet from foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland in August.

At another point in the interview, Trudeau made the real reason for continuing the arms deal clear, stating, "I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion-dollar bill because we are trying to move forward on doing the right thing, so we are navigating this very carefully and that's pretty much all I can say." On October 25, he inflated this potential price tag, saying it would be "in the billions of dollars."

Trudeau's attempt to shirk Canada's moral responsibilities due to supposed concern for the taxpayers is disingenuous.

On the same day Trudeau cited the potential costs of cancelling the deal, the CBC reported that, "The Liberal government has quietly written off a $2.6-billion auto-sector loan that was cobbled together to save Chrysler during the 2009 global economic meltdown." This occurred due to finance minister Bill Morneau's decision to grant Ministerial Authorization for the remaining debt to be forgiven.

That decision will cost Canadian taxpayers considerably more than what cancelling the arms deal would, according to Trudeau's first estimate, and the sole beneficiary was a corporation.

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Germany recently froze arms exports to Saudi Arabia, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "I agree with those who say that arms exports, which are already limited, cannot happen given the circumstances."

On October 25, European Union lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution that called on member countries to impose an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

Yet the Canadian government, even with the lead of another G7 country and potentially several EU members, has not yet acted on another chance to live up to even the most elitist conception of a human rights-based foreign policy.

There's no way around it: the Canadian government has made it clear it cares about human rights for a select few, and only when it doesn't lighten its pockets.

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