The Canadian government has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the success of a controversial $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a transaction drawing more scrutiny as concern grows over the kingdom's flogging of a man with ties to Canada.
Ottawa is facing growing calls to intervene as Saudi Arabia administers the latest instalment of 1,000 lashes to Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger whose wife and children have been granted asylum in Canada. Amnesty International organized protests outside the Saudi embassy in Ottawa Thursday, and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is writing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking him to do more for the man convicted of blasphemy against Islam.
It was only last year the Harper government celebrated a 14-year deal brokered by Ottawa to supply made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia as a historic achievement that will sustain more than 3,000 manufacturing jobs.
Ken Epps, senior program officer with Project Ploughshares, said the 2014 arms deal was unprecedented in some ways for the federal Crown corporation that facilitated the transaction with Saudi Arabia.
He said it is by far the largest military sale that the Canadian Commercial Corporation has ever arranged, based on his 30 years of studying the contracts the agency arranges for foreign arms purchases. The nearest one Mr. Epps could find was a transaction worth $1-billion for U.S.-bound exports.
While the deal to sell General Dynamics Land Systems Canada armoured vehicles was originally reported to be worth at least $10-billion, with the possibility of growing to $13-billion, documents obtained under access to information by Project Ploughshares show the total value of the Saudi deal brokered by Ottawa is $14.8-billion. It's split into two separate transactions, with the second smaller one presumably a contract to service the vehicles, Mr. Epps said.
"Thousands of Canadian livelihoods in London, Ont., and in subcontracting companies across Canada will depend on shipments of military armoured vehicles to an autocratic regime well known for human-rights abuses," Mr. Epps said.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Commercial Corporation said the transaction is the "highest-valued project" in the agency's history, but she said the support extended for the arrangement was "no different from what would have been offered to any other similarly qualified Canadian supplier."
The Crown corporation is normally responsible for payments to the supplier even if the foreign government doesn't pay up and it is liable to the foreign government if the supplier fails to deliver, Mr. Epps said.
Saudi Arabia has recently become the No. 2 destination for Canadian arms exports after the United States, and this deal could mean the Saudis surpass the Americans in the years ahead as the top buyer of military gear from Canada.
Pressure is growing on Mr. Harper to intercede with Saudi Arabia over Mr. Badawi. Mr. Mulcair, the Official Opposition Leader, wrote the Prime Minister Wednesday asking him to try to arrange for the man's safe transit to Canada.
Mr. Mulcair said the case of the free-speech advocate condemned to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes a "blatant violation of human rights and freedom of expression" cannot be ignored, especially after the January murders of staff at a French satirical newspaper that mocked Islam.
Mr. Badawi is being punished for having "founded a website that endangers public safety" and for purportedly having mocked Islamic religious figures, the NDP chief noted.
"As we mourn the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo contributors, it is essential that we stand in defence of human rights and urge the Saudi authorities to release Mr. Badawi," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has issued a statement condemning the treatment of Mr. Badawi, but the Official Opposition says more should be done.
The Harper government is making no apologies for the deal. "The GDLS export contract – the largest in Canadian history – will create manufacturing jobs throughout Southern Ontario and across Canada by way of a 500-firm supply chain, from coast to coast," said Max Moncaster, spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast.
"Canada won these jobs over rival bids from our allies Germany and France. We supported this contract to bring these jobs to Canada," Mr. Moncaster said.
"The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canadian principled foreign policy," the trade minister's spokesman said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said it appears Canada has too cozy a relationship with Saudi Arabia. "We don't think when you have a country like Saudi Arabia with its human-rights record that we should be massively increasing arms sales to them."