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editorial

Let's see if we have this straight.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion may or may not have personally approved the shipment of Canadian-made military goods to Thailand, a country controlled by an oppressive, anti-democratic military dictatorship that puts its critics in detention camps where they undergo "attitude adjustment."

At the same time, Mr. Dion may or may not have blocked the same sale, since he will not divulge his decision on the matter. We do not know what the military goods are, and we don't know who made them. We don't know the value of the goods, either.

We know nothing, except that the export permit for this mystery equipment was contentious enough that it needed to be brought to the Minister's attention. Since then, stonewalling.

The Minister's office says Mr. Dion cannot reveal his decision one way or the other, or any other information, because doing so could harm the commercial interests of the company or companies that may or may not be shipping military equipment to a dictatorship.

There is no way of knowing whether that is true or not. There are reasons to be skeptical, however.

For one thing, it's a strange claim to make and then to add, as Mr. Dion's office has, that "We're actively working towards introducing greater transparency … going forward." If transparency harms commercial interests now, how could it not in the future?

Also, Mr. Dion was stung badly in April when he signed off on the export permits to sell armoured military vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The controversy hurt him. He felt he was doing the right thing by putting the final touch on a lucrative weapons sale negotiated by the previous government, a deal worth $15-billion and which protected 3,000 jobs in Ontario. Instead, he was overwhelmed by criticism that he should have cancelled the sale of deadly arms to a nation that has an abysmal human-rights record.

Once bitten, twice shy. Mr. Dion knows he is in a no-win situation. If he admits to permitting this new sale to Thailand, he will once again be lashed with criticism for allowing Canadian military equipment to be delivered to an oppressive regime – equipment that might be used for "attitude adjustment" purposes, for all we know. Better to say as little as possible, then, and leave Canadians in the dark.