Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs has not done a human rights assessment of Saudi Arabia in the past two years even though Ottawa is brokering a $15-billion arms deal to sell fighting vehicles to Riyadh, a regime with an abysmal record for treatment of women, dissenters and offenders.
Departmental records also reveal that Ottawa is issuing export permits connected to the light armoured vehicle (LAV) sale announced in 2014. Under Canadian law, the government should do an official assessment of whether the transactions will further endanger human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Federal export controls require that in the case of arms sales to countries "with a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens," Canada must first obtain assurances that the goods – in this case fighting vehicles – would not be used against the buyer's civilian population.
The government has to date refused to say whether it obtained these assurances from Riyadh.
The Department of Foreign Affairs could offer no evidence it is monitoring human rights in Saudi Arabia when requested earlier this year.
Access-to-information researcher Ken Rubin, who helped Maher Arar retrieve government documents concerning his 2002 rendition to Syria, asked Foreign Affairs to provide any reports it had prepared on human rights in Saudi Arabia for 2013 and 2014. The Harper government announced the LAV sale in 2014. It is by far the largest export deal ever brokered by the government's Canadian Commercial Corp. The manufacturer is General Dynamics Land Systems Canada in London, Ont.
The department came back empty handed. "Please be advised that after a thorough search by our [office] and our departmental Information Management Services, who searched documentation stored on the corporate repositories, no records related to your request exist," a Foreign Affairs official told Mr. Rubin in a letter dated May 11.
Mr. Rubin says he finds this odd. The Arar inquiry, which was reported in 2006, found that "many Canadian [diplomatic] missions produce annual reports evaluating the state of human rights for most countries."
Records Mr. Rubin obtained under access-to-information law after asking about the 2014 decision to sell to the Saudis show that Ottawa is already allowing the export of technical data on the fighting vehicles.
A March 24, 2015, export permit valued one transfer of data – including operation, maintenance and repair information – at $100,000 and described the recipient as the "Armoured Brigade" program in Saudi Arabia. A permit was issued on Dec. 16, 2014, for information valued at $50,000.
The 2014 agreement to ship made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles to the Mideast country is coming under increased scrutiny following much-publicized incidents of torture and mistreatment by Saudi authorities.
The Islamic kingdom, which has beheaded at least 85 people so far this year, is advertising for new executioners to carry out an increasing number of death sentences, Reuters reported.
Ken Epps, a researcher with Project Ploughshares, a peace group, said the "overall picture appears to be the government has authorized a $15-billion sale to the Saudi army without due diligence and in particular any attention to the human rights situation in a country that is notorious for human rights abuse."
A Foreign Affairs spokesperson said Tuesday the department does not draw up human rights reports on all countries every year. "No report was produced for Saudi Arabia in 2013 or 2014, but work is ongoing for a report in 2015," Bianca Healy said.
The department had no comment on why it is issuing export permits related to the deal without human rights assessments.
The Harper government calls the Saudi contract a major success that will sustain 3,000 advanced manufacturing jobs for its 14-year length, as well as thousands of other jobs for suppliers.
Canada's ties with Saudi Arabia are growing. In April, the kingdom partnered with a U.S. grain trader to buy a majority stake in the Canadian Wheat Board, reflecting Riyadh's determination to secure stable food supplies.