Light armoured vehicles destined for Saudi Arabia were loaded onto a cargo ship in Saint John on Sunday, a day after longshoremen refused to cross a protest line.
In the rain and fog, protesters gathered near the port entrance at 7 a.m. on Saturday. More than a dozen protesters held signs and passed out pamphlets detailing concerns about the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. They had hoped to prevent the shipment.
Holding placards and illuminated only by the port’s flood lights, they marched back and forth as the longshoreman parked their cars and waited before leaving two hours later, forfeiting their day’s wages.
A day later, however, the LAVs were loaded onto the Bahri Yanbu and the ship left the port. Pat Riley, spokesman for the International Longshoremen’s Association Branch 273, said he was trying to confirm the work was done by the union but didn’t respond before deadline.
He said ILA Branch 273 could face repercussions from their employer for its decision not to cross Saturday’s protest, even though the combat vehicles, some of which have been used in Riyadh’s war in Yemen, were eventually transported.
“We recognize that every time someone puts up a picket line and we don’t cross it, the guns are pointed at us,” Mr. Riley said. “It’s very legal for people to protest and put up information protest lines wherever they deem they want to, but it’s the workers who face the possible legal repercussions. And we’re prepared to do that.”
Mr. Riley said he has been contacted by the union’s employer, Port Saint John, requesting a meeting as soon as possible. When asked if the port will pursue legal action, fines or other punishments against the longshoremen, spokeswoman Paula Copeland declined to comment.
Despite the LAVs being shipped, the union has a history of refusing to move what it deems “hot cargo” – or goods intended for immoral purposes, including refusing to move military equipment destined for the Middle East during the Iraq War in 2003.
“Obviously it’s highly unfortunate the LAVs got on the ship, however they got on the ship,” protester Sharon Murphy-Mayne said. “But now the longshoreman are aware and I’m sure they’re going to have meetings and discuss all of this. In the end, I guess that’s a definite win.”
Defence contractor General Dynamic Land Systems Canada, a manufacturer based in London, Ont., has been contracted to deliver 742 LAVs to the Arabian Peninsula kingdom. LAVs have been transported to the Saint John port by train since July.
Both the manufacturer and DP World, the marine terminal operator in Saint John, said the movement of these vehicles is lawful and part of a binding contract.
“General Dynamics has valid export permits and an active contract requiring timely shipment of product,” said Douglas Wilson-Hodge, a spokesperson for General Dynamics, in an e-mail.
Minister of International Trade Diversification Jim Carr responded to the scheduled shipment by voicing his support for workers in London.
“As we have said, matters related to arms exports to Saudi Arabia are under review,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “We understand a shipment of vehicles by the company is in process today. The company has this authority under its existing export permit.”
Mr. Riley said the longshoremen are conflicted about the decision not to cross the protest because of the unionized jobs in London.
“And what we’ve suggested, and said yesterday, is that perhaps these LAVs could be used for peacekeeping missions," he said on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia has come under increasing international censure after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and amid mounting concern over the ruinous war it’s spearheading in neighbouring Yemen.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project puts the death toll in Yemen at around 57,000 people, while the aid agency Save the Children estimates an additional 85,000 children are dead from starvation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated he is seeking a way to stop Canada’s arms deal with the Mideast kingdom and is reviewing the export permits for the LAVs from General Dynamics.