The secret Saudi memo: Dissecting how the document contradicts what Ottawa has said
PHOTO BY SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Newly released secret documents show how the Foreign Affairs Minister quietly gave the green light to sell combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia – challenging the Liberal government's claims that their hands were tied on the $15-billion 'done deal' brokered by their Conservative predecessors. Here are eight key takeaways from the documents
WHERE DO THESE DOCUMENTS COME FROM?
The Global Affairs Canada memo, marked "secret," was released by the Justice Department on Tuesday in connection with a lawsuit led by a University of Montreal law professor. Daniel Turp alleges that an arrangement to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia – which has a notoriously poor human-rights record, and has been suspected of using Canadian-made LAVs in its proxy war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen – is illegal, and is challenging the deal in Federal Court. (Here's an explanation from The Globe's Steven Chase of what that deal entails, how Stephen Harper's Conservative government brokered it and why it's so controversial.)
EIGHT IMPORTANT THINGS TO HIGHLIGHT IN THE MEMO
1. The date
The memo is dated March 21, the same day Mr. Turp's group filed the Federal Court lawsuit.
2. When it was approved, and who approved it
A note scrawled across the memo in French reads: "Approved by the foreign affairs minister April 8, 2016."
The memo bears a signature from Mr. Dion, next to a ticked box saying "I concur."
In an accompanying letter, a Justice Department lawyer said Mr. Dion's decision on the exports was made "as of April 8."
3. Who actually approved the export permits
Canada's export-control regime makes it clear that a transaction can only proceed after Ottawa has issued export permits. Many thought the Conservative government had already granted a full green light to the transaction, a rationale the Liberals used for defending the deal to critics. In February, Mr. Dion answered questions about the deal in the Senate, distancing himself and the government from it by saying it was a Conservative-orchestrated fait accompli. "The government doesn't approve this contract," he said. "The government simply refuses to terminate a contract that has already been approved by the former government. … This is an important difference."
But it turns out that the Conservatives had only approved minor permits for the export of technical data – leaving Mr. Dion to approve the bulk of the transaction, more than 70 per cent of it. Here's what the memo says about the process for deciding to approve or disapprove permits.
4. What the memo says about human rights
Critics of the deal have suggested the Saudis might use the Canadian vehicles against civilians. The report acknowledges these concerns, but says "we do not believe that the proposed exports would be used to violate human rights in Saudi Arabia."
During the federal election campaign, soon-to-be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that the deal with the Saudis was merely a sale of "jeeps" to Riyadh. In opposition, however, the Liberals were frequent critics of the deal's secrecy and Saudi Arabia's human-rights record. In particular, Mr. Trudeau's top adviser and current principal secretary, Gerald Butts, frequently attacked Mr. Harper's government on social media for its close ties to the Saudis.
5. What the Saudis were buying
The number of LAVs that have been approved for export has been redacted in the released memo.
The export-control regime forbids Ottawa from issuing weapons-sales permits to countries with poor human-rights records "unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population." Freedom House regularly ranks Saudi Arabia among the "worst of the worst" for its human-rights record.
6. Where Canada stands with Riyadh
The federal government is front and centre in the deal with Saudi Arabia, which the memo calls a "key partner for Canada, and an important and stable ally in a region marred by instability, terrorism and conflict."
The memo acknowledges that the Saudis are a "key purchaser" of Canadian-made LAVs. Here's how Canada's military exports to Riyadh stack up against other countries.
Canada's total exports for the 2012 and 2013 calendar years, by destination
Destination,Total Afghanistan,9932029 Algeria,1493907 Argentina,2660 Australia,46940122 Austria,96009293 Bahrain,3382120 Belgium,28729679 Bermuda,68420 Bosnia and Herzegovina,1426 Botswana,283260 Brazil,1720527 Brunei,15465 Bulgaria,94025 Burkina Faso,40000 Chile,4400079 China,1376315 Colombia,820828 Costa Rica,155114 Croatia,110779 Cyprus,3632 Czech Republic,280091 Denmark,21600808 Egypt,7256719 Estonia,96034 Falkland Islands,1700 Finland,1683507 France,43374260 Georgia,1960 Germany,72189648 Greece,269986 Guam,6362 Guatemala,8731 Guyana,50033 Haiti,1000 Hong Kong,15800 Hungary,10482 Iceland,645302 India,3252004 Indonesia,2017922 Iraq,190000 Ireland,85806 Israel,7226091 Italy,65631060 Jamaica,7000 Japan,18937185 Jordan,1607266 Kazakhstan,92834 Kenya,47105 Kuwait,884597 Latvia,141394 Libya,3116000 Lithuania,4200 Luxembourg,22918690 Macedonia,1320 Malaysia,840948 Malta,82000 Mauritania,90821 Mexico,2061220 Mongolia,1598 Morocco,41502 Namibia,33452 Netherlands,24833852 Netherlands Antilles,2175000 New Caledonia,1101 New Zealand,3952703 Nigeria,4534078 Norway,14278019 Oman,918520 Panama,11545 Peru,131575 Philippines,4494986 Poland,265808 Portugal,977404 Qatar,144049 Romania,6376 Russia,374629 Saudi Arabia,575071099 Serbia,3925 Singapore,27253758 Slovakia,54968 Slovenia,42939 South Africa,8154834 South Korea,23018749 Spain,11428441 Sweden,12651674 Switzerland,19046217 Taiwan,10481650 Thailand,17425656 Trinidad and Tobago,202500 Tunisia,6191446 Turkey,8888963 Ukraine,300367 United Arab Emirates,281154930 United Kingdom,192125657 Uruguay,25135 Vietnam,172008 Yemen,446070 Zambia,18946
7. What the deal means for jobs in Canada
One reason the Department of National Defence has offered for supporting the deal was that it would keep London, Ont.-based defence contractor General Dynamics Land Systems in business and able to build similar machines for Canada when needed. The memo uses this rationale as well.
8. What the Liberals thought of media coverage of the deal
Officials were scrambling behind the scenes last year after the arms deal got more media attention, trying to determine the consequences of publicly releasing the terms of the contract.
Ottawa is contractually obliged to keep secret the details of the transaction. Department of Global Affairs e-mails obtained by The Globe and Mail under the Access to Information Act indicate the Saudis have said excessive publicity surrounding the transaction would be a deal-breaker.
With reports from Steven Chase, Robert Fife and Evan Annett