THE BLOG
10/23/2018 15:46 EDT | Updated 10/24/2018 10:10 EDT

Justin Trudeau Should Cancel All Trade Deals With Saudi Arabia

Ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and halting all trade, will let the world know that Canada actually takes its supposed values seriously.

The disappearance and murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, Saudi citizen and critic, has sent shockwaves around the world. It has also put a spotlight on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's, a de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, who allegedly ordered the assassination.

Canada's only official statement on Khashoggi's disappearance, released jointly with other G7 countries, encouraged Turkish-Saudi collaboration, and called for Saudi Arabia to conduct "a thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt investigation," a truly laughable oxymoron.

Here's what Canada should do going forward.

(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.

Stop the arms deal

The $15-billion, 14-year contract signed by the Stephen Harper government to build and export light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia has been closely scrutinized and condemned by many.

Not only were the details of this deal kept from the public, but both Harper, and now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, downplayed the gravity of what exactly Canada would be building and exporting to Saudi Arabia; Harper and Trudeau called them "trucks" and "jeeps" respectively.

As we now know, the LAVs include heavy assault vehicles that have been used by the Saudis to repress civilians in the Eastern Province, as well as in fights against rebels in Yemen. This is in violation of our export permits, against Canadian values and inconsistent with international human rights laws.

Germany recently suspended its arms exports to Saudi Arabia, as did Spain, who canceled its 2015 contract to sell laser-guided bombs for fears that they would threaten the lives of civilians.

Canada should cancel permits for the export of the LAVs and put an immediate end to the deal because of the substantial risk of human rights violations.

End all trade

The Canadian government has faced a lot of warranted criticism at home, and from international organizations such as Amnesty International, for our continued trade with Saudi Arabia.

This trade doesn't need to continue. Canada can afford to cut ties with Saudi Arabia.

Canada's relationship with Saudi Arabia also has already been strained.

According to Global Affairs Canada, our bilateral trade in 2017 amounted to a mere 0.2 per cent of Canada's total exports, and 0.4 per cent of Canada's total imports. Saudi Arabia is not in the top 20 of our trading partners, nor should it be, considering it's an autocratic and murderous regime.

Canada must also call on others to stop doing business with Saudi Arabia.

One step forward

There is a clear precedent of Canada taking these sort of actions against other states. For example, Canada condemned Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and the alleged-poisoning of Sergey and Julia Skirpal, as well as other rogue acts by governments, by imposing sanctions and taking a firm stance. Canada must do so again in response to Khashoggi's murder, and lead by example.

Canada's relationship with Saudi Arabia also has already been strained.

On August 3, a tweet from the official Canadian Foreign Affairs account calling for a release of imprisoned women's rights activists resulted in a grossly disproportionate Saudi response.

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The Saudi government recalled its ambassador, expelled Canada's ambassador, suspended all new trade talks and recalled its international students from Canada.

Canada did not give in to the demand for an apology, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, confirmed Canada's commitment to speaking up for human rights. She said, "Canadians expect our foreign policy to be driven by and to embody Canadian values, and that is how we intend to continue our foreign policy."

Ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and halting all trade, will let the world know that Canada actually takes these values seriously. There is no better time for Canada to act on its commitment to the protection of human rights than right now.

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