New Cold War.org, April 16, 2016
Enclosed are three recent articles from the Globe and Mail national daily in Canada. The newspaper has broken the story of how the new, Liberal Party government in Canada has falsely claimed that approval of Canadian-manufactured armoured personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia was a ‘done deal’ by the previous Conservative government which it cannot legally break.
The government’s approval of the sale is the subject of a human rights lawsuit, reported below.
Liberals warned of increase in Saudi human-rights violations before signing arms deal
By Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail, April 15, 2016
The Trudeau government was warned of worrisome developments in human rights in Saudi Arabia before it made the decision last week to approve export permits for the bulk of a controversial $15-billion arms deal with the Mideast country, a newly released report shows.
More than 20 per cent of the Department of Global Affairs’ 2015 “Human Rights Report” was blacked out by government officials before this internal assessment was made public Friday.
“During 2015, concerning human rights trends were reported,” the report’s summary says of Saudi Arabia, such as “a significant increase in the number of executions, restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, association and belief, lack of due process and fair trial rights.”
Other findings the report considered troubling include “violations related to physical integrity and security of the person,” a reference to the 159 executions in Saudi Arabia last year, as well as the “lack of equal rights for women,” who are forbidden from driving. The report was updated on Jan. 2, 2016, to cover the biggest mass executions in Saudi Arabia in decades, an event that killed 47, including a populist dissident Shia Muslim cleric who was a critic of the ruling Al-Saud family.
This assessment was released by Global Affairs on Friday, three months after it was requested by The Globe and Mail.
It comes the same week that University of Montreal Professor Daniel Turp’s legal challenge of the combat-vehicle deal revealed the Liberals played an unexpectedly large role in green-lighting the exports.
Documents released to Prof. Turp on Tuesday revealed Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly approved export permits for 70 per cent of the shipments tied to the sale to Riyadh. The minister has absolute authority over permits and exports of weapons are not considered to have been assured until they are granted – a process that obliges Ottawa to consider human rights in the destination country. The Liberals have long said their hands were tied in “a done deal” arranged by the Harper Conservatives. It turns out the Tories had only approved the export of technical data.
Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve, whose organization warned in January that human rights in Saudi Arabia have “steadily deteriorated” in the previous 12 months, said he can’t understand how Mr. Dion could exercise his ministerial authority and sign the combat-vehicle export permits after reading his department’s own report.
“Everything in this human-rights report points to the inevitable conclusion that Canada should not be selling light armoured vehicles to the Saudi military and that export permits allowing this deal to go ahead should not have been been authorized,” Mr. Neve said. “The risk that these light armoured vehicles will be used to commit serious human rights violations is simply too high.”
Mr. Dion has said he could stop shipments of these vehicles, which will feature machine guns and anti-tank cannons, if Canada learns they are being used to violate rights. Critics note that most will likely be shipped within four years, so that’s little leverage.
The report documents harsh punishment in Saudi Arabia, including that of poet Ashraf Fayadh, now sentenced to an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes after being charged with “spreading atheistic thoughts through his poetry” and accused of “taking photos of women who were not his relatives and storing them on his cellphone.”
It says the country, an absolute monarchy, has allowed women to vote and run in municipal elections for councils that have limited decision-making power. “The election of 21 women is … viewed as a positive development, albeit very small.”
It notes a United Nations report has accused the Saudi-led Arab coalition of major human rights violations in Yemen – a charge that critics say should move Canada to suspend shipments.
“In December 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad told the UN Security Council that the Saudi-led coalition appears to be responsible for a ‘disproportionate amount’ of attacks on civilian areas,” the report said, adding that 6,000 have been killed – “almost half of them” civilian.
“In two separate incidents in October and December, 2015, air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition hit health facilities operated by Doctors Without Borders, wounding several people.”
Joseph Pickerill, director of communications for Mr. Dion, referred to the Minister’s April 13 statement on the deal when asked for comment. The Minister said if Canada blocked the combat-vehicle exports and cancelled the contract Ottawa would have less leverage to influence Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights conduct. He noted that current Canada-Saudi relations have led to 16,000 Saudi students studying here “which will help to promote a greater appreciation of Canadian values, including the importance of diversity and gender equality.”
University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran criticized the amount of information blacked out by Ottawa in the report, saying it surpasses “even the Harper government’s censorship of the Afghanistan human rights report at the height of the war,” adding “it cannot possibly be legal, and there are obvious presentational difficulties for the Trudeau government’s pledge of openness.”
Mr. Pickerill said the Liberals “do not interfere” in the process of vetting documents under the Access to Information Act. “Nor should we,” he said.
Mr. Attaran pointed out, however, that Section 15 of the Access to Information Act, used to justify redacting parts of the report, leaves discretion over what can be released to the minister. “Mr. Dion, as minister, is like the captain of the ship who is responsible no matter what.”
Canada violating international law with Saudi arms sale: expert
By Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail, April 14, 2016
Belgian human rights legal scholar lending support to lawsuit that seeks to block exports of combat vehicles from Canada
A controversial rationale the Trudeau Liberals are using to justify approving exports of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia – that these machines could help Riyadh prosecute a war in neighbouring Yemen – is figuring prominently in a Federal Court challenge aimed at stopping the shipments.
Eric David, a renowned human rights legal scholar from Belgium who has acted in major international cases, is lending support to a March 21 lawsuit led by University of Montreal professor Daniel Turp that seeks to block exports of the weaponized armoured vehicles from Canada.
In an affidavit being added to the lawsuit, Prof. David of the Free University in Brussels says he believes Canada is violating international law by shipping arms to a country already accused of massive human-rights violations in Yemen. A United Nations panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen found “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law.
Allowing the “sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia … would violate the obligation to respect and ensure the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law,” Prof. David wrote in a 196-page filing.
“The sale of armoured vehicles … becomes an “internationally wrongful act.”
As The Globe and Mail first reported, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion last week quietly approved1 export permits covering more than 70 per cent of the $15-billion transaction with Saudi Arabia – a decision that represents the most vital step in determining whether a weapons shipment to a foreign country can proceed or whether it’s “illegal,” as Ottawa calls it.
The revelation that Mr. Dion greenlighted the bulk of this deal runs contrary to the Liberal claim that the Trudeau government’s hands were tied on the Saudi deal.
Many observers had assumed the Conservatives had granted export permits when they signed the deal.
The Liberal signature on the export permits means the Trudeau government has taken full ownership of a decision to sell arms to a country notorious for human-rights abuses.
In the memorandum justifying the export permits, the department of Global Affairs reasons that the light armoured vehicles will help Riyadh in its efforts at “countering instability in Yemen,” where the Saudis are fighting Houthi rebels aligned with Iran, as well as combatting Islamic State threats.
“The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia in these goals,” the memo approved and signed by Mr. Dion said.
When it comes to Yemen, the Canadian government is choosing its words carefully, noting that so far the Saudis have not been found to be using Canadian-made combat vehicles previously sold to Riyadh to commit rights violations there.
Asked about the Saudis’ conduct in Yemen on Thursday, Mr. Dion said they’re not the only ones that need be held to account. “There are serious concerns that should be raised about all of the parties” fighting in Yemen, Mr. Dion told the Commons foreign affairs committee Thursday, widening the matter to include the conduct of Houthi rebels.
“As far as Yemen is concerned, our priority is to have a peaceful solution found.”
Separately, Thursday, Mr. Dion offered only mild support for an NDP proposal by MP Hélène Laverdière to create a Commons committee that would scrutinize arms exports. “I think it’s an interesting proposal. I am not sure it’s the priority right now – but the committee can certainly decide,” the minister told the foreign affairs committee.
Saudi Arabia is regularly ranked among the “worst of the worst” on human rights by Freedom House.
Liberals accused of lying about Saudi arms deal
By Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail, April 13, 2016
The Trudeau government is facing accusations it misrepresented the $15-billion Saudi arms deal to Canadians as the Liberals play down their unexpectedly large role in green-lighting exports of these weaponized armoured vehicles to a country notorious for human-rights abuses.
As The Globe and Mail first reported, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion only last week quietly approved export permits covering more than 70 per cent of the transaction with Saudi Arabia – a decision that represents the most vital step in determining whether a weapons shipment to a foreign country can proceed or whether it’s “illegal,” as Ottawa calls it.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair on Wednesday said the Liberals misled Canadians. “I am going to say this straight up and I don’t say it lightly: The government lied to Canadians about who signed what [and] when in the Saudi arms deal and that is a very serious matter,” he said. “The Liberals lied.”
Mr. Dion held a brief news conference Wednesday to defend his rationale for approving the permits. He noted all major political parties said they would respect the contract during the 2015 election and said Ottawa has seen no evidence that any of the light armoured vehicles Canada previously sold to Riyadh were misused.
“Our best and regularly updated information indicates that Saudi Arabia has not misused the equipment to violate human rights nor has the equipment been used in a manner contrary to the strategic interest of Canada and its allies,” Mr. Dion said.
The revelation that Mr. Dion approved the bulk of this deal runs contrary to the Liberal claim that the Saudi export deal was a fait accompli. Many observers had assumed the Conservatives had granted export permits. It also makes the Trudeau government more squarely responsible for a deal with a country increasingly cast as a pariah when it comes to human rights. The Harper Tories inked the deal in 2014 but approved only the export of technical data about the vehicles to Riyadh.
News of the permit approvals came to light after University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp filed a lawsuit trying to block the combat-vehicle shipments to Saudi Arabia and sought a copy of the export permits. In response, the Department of Justice released a memorandum stamped “Secret,” which Mr. Dion signed just weeks after Mr. Turp’s legal action was filed, authorizing the bulk of the Saudi deal.
Mr. Turp’s challenge has prompted a reaction from General Dynamics Land Systems, the London, Ont.-based defence contractor building the armoured vehicles for the Canadian government, which is the prime contractor in this deal. A lawyer working on behalf of General Dynamics registered with the federal lobbyist registry this month to arrange meetings with the Department of Justice over the Turp lawsuit.
On Wednesday, Liberals answered the accusation they misled Canadians by emphasizing that the 2014 contract signed under the Harper government was too costly to break.
“The fact is there are jobs in London relying on this. Commitments have been made to the world that we will honour our good name when we sign our contracts,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Commons.
Mr. Dion’s office played down the significance of the export-permit approvals. “The permits are an administrative process with respect to the contract – a done deal under the previous Conservative government,” Joseph Pickerill, director of communications for Mr. Dion, said in an e-mail.
Weapons-control experts disagreed, saying the decision to award permits for weapons shipments is central to whether an export proceeds. The federal Canadian Commercial Corporation signs a great number of foreign deals for military shipments on behalf of Canadian companies but these contracts do not allow a deal automatic progress through the export-control process, they say. The permitting stage is where Ottawa is supposed to bring its most stringent scrutiny to bear and consider, for instance, what observers describe as a deteriorating human-rights situation in Saudi Arabia.
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible by law for the authorization or denial of military export permits,” said Ken Epps, a researcher for Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that tracks weapons shipments. “This is not merely an administrative procedure, but rather, lies at the core of the oversight and control of Canadian arms exports. To downplay the importance of this role does a disservice to Canadians who are concerned about where Canadian weapons are shipped and how they may be misused.”
Federal arms-control officials drive the same point home in e-mails obtained and published by The Globe and Mail last year, where they tell Global Affairs colleagues there were no assurances the $15-billion transaction was approved until export permits were processed. In 2014, the department undertook an initial review of the deal to check for “red flags.” It found none but Debbie Gowling, a senior official in the export-controls division, reminded the department there was no guarantee the sale was officially approved by Ottawa until permit applications were scrutinized.
It’s these export-permit applications that Mr. Dion approved on April 8, which means it was the Liberal minister’s decision to ultimately sanction the export of arms to a country ranked by Freedom House as “among the worst of the worst” on human rights.
In his news conference, Mr. Dion repeated what he said as far back as January, that he could rescind, suspend or revoke permits should Canada become aware of human-rights violations conducted by the LAVs.
Mr. Epps pointed out the bulk of the exports appear set to ship to Saudi Arabia over four years. That means Canada would have no leverage after that.
Mr. Dion warned of financial penalties if the Liberals break the contract but the federal government has refused to make any portion of this agreement public, or divulge the cost, citing the need to protect commercial secrets.
Mr. Turp, for his part, said it was disappointing that it required a lawsuit to force the federal government to divulge this information.
“If you need to go to court for more transparency that’s really something that is unacceptable in a democratic setting like Canada,” he said.
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