In Multipolarity

By Steven Chase, The Globe and Mail, Friday, Feb. 05, 2016

OTTAWA —  Opponents of Canada’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia are taking Ottawa to court in an attempt to block shipments of the combat vehicles, a move that could force the governing Liberals to explain how they justify the sale to a human-rights pariah under weapon-export restrictions.

Operation Armoured RightsDaniel Turp, a professor of international and constitutional law at the University of Montreal, is leading the effort, supported by students and a Montreal law firm with a record of class-action work and anti-tobacco litigation. He will announce the legal challenge on Saturday and intends to file it with the Federal Court within three weeks.

Mr. Turp and his group are calling on critics of the deal across the country to rally behind their challenge, which they are calling Operation Armoured Rights, pointing to how poorly Saudi Arabia treats its own citizens and the civilian carnage of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

There is evidence Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is out of step with the majority of Canadians by refusing to cancel the deal. The manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., is still gathering material for production.

A poll by Nanos Research suggests most Canadians consider the massive arms sale out of line with Canada’s values and believe human rights should trump jobs. The survey showed nearly six in 10 feel it is more important to ensure arms go only to countries “that respect human rights” than it is to support 3,000 jobs by selling weaponized armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion declined to comment on the poll on Friday.

The Canadian government is the prime contractor in the deal to sell combat vehicles with machine guns and anti-tank cannons to the Saudi force that protects the Mideast kingdom’s monarchy from internal threats. The deal is expected to include upward of 1,000 fighting vehicles, plus service and training.

The watchdog organization Freedom House regularly ranks Saudi Arabia among the “worst of the worst” on human rights.

The Federal Court challenge will argue that the Canadian government is violating its own arms-export rules by permitting the armoured vehicles to be shipped to Saudi Arabia. It will ask the court to rescind any export permits that have been granted for the fighting vehicles and block any future ones.

Canada’s export controls place restrictions on sales to countries with a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.”

The federal government is supposed to assure itself the Saudis will not turn the light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) on civilians. The rules say shipments cannot proceed “unless it can be demonstrated there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

Mr. Turp, a former Bloc Québécois MP who later was a Parti Québécois MNA, said he finds it hard to believe Mr. Dion, once a professor at the University of Montreal himself, really believes the Saudi deal is appropriate.

The Trudeau government has rebuffed repeated requests to spell out how it justifies export of these arms, saying this might hurt the “commercial confidentiality” of the deal.

“The idea that military equipment made in Canada could contribute to human-rights violations against civilians in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries is immoral. But we also believe that the authorization to export armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is illegal,” Mr. Turp and the legal campaign’s supporters write in an open letter.

The Canadian government authorization to export armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is illegal

Open letter by ‘Operation Armoured Rights’, February 2016

Support for the sale of light armoured vehicles (LAV) by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada to the Saudis by the new government has done more than raise eyebrows. One could have expected the new Trudeau government, a “government of real change,” to cancel the decision of its predecessor to issue the export licenses required for this purpose. On its face, the idea that military equipment made in Canada could contribute to human rights violations against civilians in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries is immoral. But we also believe that the authorization to export armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is illegal.

Proof that Saudi Arabia violates fundamental human rights is overwhelming. The history of such violations is well known. The list is long. There is talk of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, particularly in the imposition of the death penalty; total disregard for gender equality; of arbitrary executions and detentions; of infringement of freedom of religion and freedom of expression; the denial of human rights defenders, and infringement of the freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial.

Since the beginning of 2016, 58 executions have taken place and human rights defenders have been imprisoned. Sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, blogger Raif Badawi, as well as his lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, are incarcerated in violation of their most fundamental rights. A UN report confirms that Saudi Arabia bombed schools in Yemen. An Amnesty International report recalls the constant violations by the Saudi government of the human rights of its population. In short, the abuses committed by Saudi Arabia are not isolated acts. They are serious and repeated violations of human rights.

If the Canadian government refuses to show consistency between the ideals of human rights and its decisions on military exports, it is nevertheless required to comply with the law. The government must abide by the rule of law, a constitutional principle, and ensure respect for legislation as a whole.

Are there any standards prohibiting the export of military equipment to countries that systematically breach the human rights of its citizens and those of neighbouring countries? Guidelines adopted by the cabinet in 1986 state that “Canada closely controls the export of military goods and technology to countries […] whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” Saudi Arabia has committed and continues to commit such serious violations and there is a real risk that the light armoured vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics will be used to commit abuses against the civilian population of Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring countries. Moreover, the decision to allow the sale of military goods to Saudi Arabia may violate some of Canada’s international commitments relating to human rights and export controls for conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

Mindful of the legal issues raised by the export of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, we have decided to initiate ‘Operation Armoured Rights.’ We intend to contest, by all legal means at our disposal, the legality of exporting such military equipment. We invite all citizens to support our group in writing ([email protected]) and to visit our forthcoming Facebook page (Operation Armoured Rights) and website (www.armouredrights.org).

Signed by:
Daniel Turp, professor at the Faculty of Law of the Université de Montréal, and a group of students composed of Debra Bruman, Daiana Crisan, Vincent Dubuc Cusick, Olivier Duludee, Jeremy Flauraud, Ivan da Fonseca, Sandra Lando, Timothy Li, Louis Lyonnais, Marilynn Morin, Marcela Pena Vega, Louis Poissant Lespérance, Juliette Pré, David Rathé, Étienne Rivet, Jérôme Tremblay and Arianne Vanasse

 

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