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Globe editorial: On Saudi arms sale, Ottawa must be prepared to say no

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is right to call for a probe into video evidence and photographs that appear to show Canadian-made armoured vehicles being deployed by the Saudi Arabia government against its own citizens.

If the allegations prove true, Ms. Freeland should suspend future sales of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, including the controversial $15-billion deal to supply Riyadh with armoured vehicles produced at the General Dynamics plant in London, Ont.

The deal, originally signed by the Harper government in 2014, has been a tricky inheritance for the Trudeau government, one that it handled poorly from the minute it came to power in 2015.

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Read more: Ottawa urged to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia amid probe

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gamely tried to balance Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia, an important Mideast ally, and the need to protect as many as 3,000 jobs at the General Dynamics plant, with the decidedly unsunny optics of selling weapons to a nation infamous for its gross human-rights violations.

He and his cabinet never did a good job of it, pretending at first that the sale was a private matter between vendor and customer, then that it had no choice but to approve a deal made by a previous government, and then squirming when evidence first emerged that the Saudi regime was using armoured vehicles made in other countries to kill dissidents within its borders.

But in all the back and forth about whether Canada should be arming despotic countries, there was always a bottom line for the Trudeau government: If concrete evidence came to light that Canadian-made weapons were used against civilians, it would take action – up to and including blocking the General Dynamics deal.

And now the evidence appears to exist, in the form of images captured in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province of another company's Canadian-made combat vehicles. If confirmed, as seems likely, it will be a blow to Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Canada played up the General Dynamics deal as an "act of friendship" last year.

Some friend. Riyadh's ongoing disregard for human rights has once again demonstrated that it can never be a reliable ally. If the sale is blocked, it will be on the Saudis' heads.

The fact remains, though, that Ms. Freeland must act decisively.

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Canada has a defence industry that creates thousands of jobs; the government is right to try to promote it, and to use it to cement alliances. But in order to be respected – and to support human rights and the desire for a more peaceful world – there has to be a line in the sand that Canada will not cross.

Let this be that line.

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