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Smoke billows from a site hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa January 30, 2016. (KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS)
Smoke billows from a site hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa January 30, 2016. (KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS)

Ottawa defends arms sales to Kuwait amid UN scrutiny Add to ...

The Canadian government is defending selling military goods to Kuwait even as a coalition of Arab states is accused in a United Nations report of indiscriminately bombing civilians in Yemen, saying Ottawa values “our close relationship” with the Mideast country.

The Trudeau Liberals are facing pressure to bring public scrutiny to foreign weapons sales as questions grow about military exports to Mideast countries, including a $15-billion sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia and military sales to the Kuwait air force, which supports the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen.

The NDP plans to ask the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to create a subcommittee of MPs that would focus solely on arms shipments abroad and question government officials on their justification for the deals, New Democrat foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière says.

The Liberals have 184 seats in the Commons and can easily use their majority power to squash the idea or support it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s department said it has not read a UN report leaked to the media last week that criticized the Saudi-led coalition of Arab states for “widespread and systematic” bombing of civilians in Yemen. The report attributed 60 per cent of civilian deaths and injuries in the Yemen conflict to air-launched explosive weapons and the coalition’s “targeting of civilians … is a grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution” and violate international law.

Montreal-based CAE recently built a military flight simulator for the Kuwait Air Force that trains pilots on the KC-130J tanker aircraft, a plane that refuels fighter jets in mid-air. On the same day last week that the UN report on civilian carnage in Yemen made headlines, Canadian officials visited the CAE-built facility at Al Mubarak air base near Kuwait International Airport to talk up defence sales to Kuwait.

Flight simulators for military use are regulated goods under Canada’s arms export control regime.

Asked how it can promote defence sales to Kuwait right now, department of Global Affairs spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said, “Kuwait has been a strategic partner for Canada in the Middle East for over 50 years, and we value our close relationship with them.”

The United States faces calls from Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz to carpet bomb Islamic State positions in much the same way the Saudi-led coalition has hammered Yemen.

But the Pentagon on Monday steadfastly rejected the idea, saying “it matters how you win.” The commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, told reporters on a conference call that “indiscriminate bombing, where we don’t care if we are killing innocents or combatants, is just inconsistent with our values.”

John Manley, the president of the Business Council of Canada, which represents about 150 of the country’s leading companies, said the UN report’s findings should prompt the Canadian government to raise the matter with Kuwait. But he cautioned that blocking trade with foreign countries is a decision that should not be made lightly.

“It’s grounds to have a conversation,” he said of the UN report, adding, however, that “you’re not going to get the next deal if you can’t be relied upon.”

Canada owes Kuwait a debt for helping the Canadian Armed Forces when they were kicked out of the United Arab Emirates in the fall of 2010 in a dispute over landing rights at Canadian airports. Kuwait gave Canada access to sufficient infrastructure to supply the Canadian military’s final Afghanistan mission.

It has also hosted Canadian warplanes and support staff as Canada bombed Islamic State jihadis in Iraq and Syria.

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