Dave Holmes is associate dean at the University of California, Irvine. Linda Juergensen is a faculty member with the School of Nursing, York University. Stuart J. Murray is Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics at Carleton University.
“There are certain things that we assumed will never happen to us. And now that red line is broken and we have to be hypervigilant.” These are the words of journalist Iyad el-Baghadadi to a member of The Canadian Press upon hearing reports from Turkey of the torture and murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consular office in Istanbul. In recent days, the CIA has concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, himself ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. U.S. President Donald Trump’s response − “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t” − provokes and prevaricates, but Canada’s is no less disgraceful.
Many of us, ordinary citizens, remain horrified by the details of the gruesome killing, but no less by the craven care of our politicians in their refusal to criticize the Saudi regime.
Jamal Khashoggi was reportedly tortured, beheaded and then dismembered. Government officials from around the world, we are told, have had a chance to hear the secret recordings. Yet from our leaders we continue to hear a familiar, now hollow, refrain. “We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and indeed for universal values and human rights at any occasion,” said the Prime Minister. To date, no action has been taken by Justin Trudeau or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland.
“As a global leader on human rights, we have a duty to act swiftly to condemn barbaric acts against journalists, human-rights activists and dissidents,” stated Conservative foreign-affairs critic Erin O’Toole and defence critic James Bezan in a recent media release.
Nonetheless, Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Freeland cling to the government’s long-held position that it would hurt Canada’s reputation to cancel its armoured-vehicle deal with the Saudi Kingdom. “When it comes to existing contracts, our government believes strongly that Canada’s word has to matter.” After all, the G20 summit is days away, and Mr. Khashoggi will not interfere with the important business between our Prime Minister and the King of Saudi Arabia.
Despite the political rhetoric, what matters to Canadians, according to pollster Nik Nanos, is not our weapons contracts. Based on a poll conducted with The Globe and Mail this summer, “it’s clear most Canadians give a thumbs down to selling arms to Saudi Arabia, a country that regularly ranks among the ‘worst of the worst’ on human rights by U.S. liberty watchdog Freedom House.”
Our vigilance must become meaningful action, otherwise we are complicit. Canadians must insist that our government make our voices heard and truly demonstrate that Canada’s “word matters.” We demand a thorough, credible and transparent response to the Saudi regime, in the name of all Canadians who value human rights and freedom of the press.
One proposal for action comes courtesy of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs himself, Adel al-Jubier. Earlier this year, the Saudi Crown Prince took exception to a tweet by Ms. Freeland, saying that it broke the “most basic international norms” of diplomacy. Saudi retaliation was swift, and measures against Canada were imposed. “There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” said Mr. al-Jubier.
If the barbaric execution of an innocent civilian is no less reprehensible than a “mistake” on Twitter, we might reframe Mr. al-Jubier’s call for diplomatic sanctions and offer them up as just one modest rejoinder. The Canadian government ought therefore to:
- Cancel existing trade agreements and freeze all new trade agreements with the Saudi regime;
- Impose sanctions on all officials associated with the murder, in line with Canada’s version of the Magnitsky Act;
- Demand that the ambassador and Saudi diplomatic personnel leave Canada within 24 hours;
- Stop Saudi airlines’ direct flights to and from Canada.
Of course, none of this is likely to happen. In the days and months to come, we are more likely to hear, again, about the sanctity of existing contracts, and how these are tied to Canada’s word.
Human lives are too easily lost in the fray. Everything and everyone has a price, in weapons, in oil. The red line has been crossed, sealed and sold as a bloody sacrificial economy: the flagrant desecration of innocent life now the most basic international norm of diplomacy and trade.
If our word is our bond, then in whose name and whose words will we demand human rights and justice? Mr. Khashoggi’s voice must not be silenced, at home or abroad. The dead matter.