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The secret Saudi memo: Dissecting how the document contradicts Ottawa

Between the lines

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."

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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.

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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.

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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


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The Saudi arms deal: What we’ve learned so far, and what could happen next Get caught up on the story of how the arms deal began and what the government has said and done about it.
Ottawa’s high standards for foreign-arms deals is false advertising The huff and puff the Canadian government uses to tell its citizens that it has “some of the strongest export controls in the world” is undermined by the failure to apply its own explicitly stated rules. (For subscribers.)
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