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Ottawa touts sale of military vehicles to Saudi Arabia

International Trade Minister Ed Fast is shown in Ottawa on Oct. 25, 2012.


A multibillion-dollar deal to sell made-in-Canada light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is being championed by Ottawa as a major success for Canadian diplomacy.

But the Official Opposition NDP is raising concerns about arms sales to a country with a poor human rights record.

The deal would see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, the London, Ont.-based arm of a U.S. defence and aerospace contractor, supply Saudi Arabia. It's worth $10-billion over 14 years and will sustain more than 3,000 jobs annually in Canada.

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International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced the deal is being underwritten by Ottawa's Canadian Commercial Corporation. He said the light-armoured vehicles will be designed and manufactured in London, "which will become the epicentre of a cross-Canada supply chain directly benefiting more than 500 local Canadian firms."

Mr. Fast touted the deal as a triumph for Canada's new economic diplomacy effort, the Global Markets Action Plan.

"Our government will continue to support our exporters and manufacturers to create jobs, as part of our government's most ambitious pro-trade, pro-export plan in Canadian history."

Mr. Fast said General Dynamics won the contract over competitors in France, Germany and other European Union companies.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said he's worried these light-armoured vehicles could be used by Saudi Arabia to oppress citizens. "Is this just open-for-business for whoever wants to buy arms from us?" he said. "I am concerned what these arms could be used for."

A January update by Human Rights Watch regarding the Middle Eastern country says: "In Saudi Arabia, 2013 was another bad year for human rights, marred by executions and repression of women and activists."

The rights group also draws attention to Saudi's treatment of religious minorities. "Saudi Arabia does not tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam and systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, in particular Twelver Shia and Ismailis," Human Rights Watch says.

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Mr. Dewar said he worries this deal is part of a ramp-up in arms exports by Canada and is unhappy that Ottawa has stopped issuing annual reports on where the country's weapons sales are heading.

General Dynamics Lands Systems Canada, which builds light-armoured vehicles, was formerly the defence division of General Motors of Canada. It was acquired by General Dynamics in 2003.

Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, lauded the deal. "This is an Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers. It shows how great people in truly innovative companies like General Dynamic Land Systems Canada can compete internationally and bring home the gold," he said. "Like all victories, it's been the result of a team effort in which the government has played a crucial role. All Canadians should be proud of this record achievement."

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