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Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion tells The Globe he would ‘release, upon request, unclassified versions.’ (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion tells The Globe he would ‘release, upon request, unclassified versions.’ (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa to release redacted version of Saudi human-rights study Add to ...

The federal government will release a portion of its analysis on the human-rights situation in Saudi Arabia, while still refusing to publish details of a $15-billion contract to sell weaponized armoured vehicles to the country’s national guard.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said he asked his department to reverse course and release a redacted version of its assessment of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

“The [country reports on human rights] are intended for internal use and are classified. I would be pleased to release, upon request, unclassified versions,” Mr. Dion said of the analysis the government insisted last week would be kept under wraps.

The government is under growing pressure to justify the massive deal to provide hundreds of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which protects the kingdom against internal threats.

The former Harper government used diplomatic resources to lobby Riyadh for the contract, which will support 3,000 jobs in Canada, mainly in London, Ont. A federal crown corporation brokered the deal and is the prime contractor to supply the Saudis with these LAVs.

In a televised interview, Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland pointed out that the deal was approved by the previous Conservative government, but went on to promise more transparency in the event of future weapons sales to countries with questionable human-rights records.

“As we negotiate deals, we will negotiate them in a real spirit of transparency, but also transparently, and have conversations with Canadians about these hard issues as we go into them,” Ms. Freeland said on CTV’s Question Period with The Globe And Mail’s Robert Fife.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred last year to the LAVs being sold to Saudi Arabia as “jeeps.” However, the vehicles will be equipped with medium-calibre weapons and big-barrel guns capable of firing anti-tank missiles.

Federal arms export controls oblige Ottawa, in the case of export destinations with a “persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens,” to obtain assurances the armoured vehicles will not be used against the country’s civilians. A country’s human-rights record is an important consideration in the arms export control process that determines whether Canadian-made weapons can be exported there.

Saudi Arabia, notorious for its treatment of women, dissidents and offenders, became the focus of international condemnation this month over a mass execution of 47 people, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, an exceptionally vocal critic of the ruling Al Saud family. A major source of domestic unrest in the country is the eastern provinces and the Shia minority there that Sheik al-Nimr represented.

Amnesty International has called on the Trudeau government to be transparent with Canadians and explain how this deal passes the arms export regime test.

However, the current government is refusing to release any information on the deliberations that have been undertaken with the Saudis to obtain the proper reassurances about the eventual use of the LAVs.

Speaking on Question Period, Ms. Freeland added the government will be proceeding this week with additional consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the federal government could sign the trade pact in the near future, she said the more important benchmark will be the potential ratification.

“The key decision point will be ratification, and the crucial point is there will be parliamentary debate and committee study before we get to that stage,” Ms. Freeland said.

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