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A combatant mans a heavy machine gun as forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government clash with Huthi rebel fighters around the strategic government-held 'Mas Camp' military base, in al-Jadaan area, in central Yemen, on Nov. 22, 2020.-/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters temporarily blocked trucks from leaving a Hamilton, Ont. transport company Monday in a demonstration aimed at drawing attention to Canada’s ongoing $15-billion deal to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a major combatant in a costly military intervention in Yemen.

Last fall, Canada was for the first time publicly named as one of the countries helping fuel the war in Yemen – where a humanitarian crisis has left hundreds of thousands dead – by a panel of independent experts monitoring the conflict for the United Nations and investigating possible war crimes by the combatants, including Saudi Arabia.

New U.S. President Joe Biden appears set to change the way the United States treats the conflict. His nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told a Senate confirmation hearing last week that Yemen has become the “worst humanitarian situation in the world,” adding that the new administration intends to end U.S. government support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.

Simon Black, an assistant professor of labour studies at Brock University and a member of Labour Against the Arms Trade, a coalition of peace and labour activists opposed to Canada’s international arms sales, attended the protest in Hamilton on Monday.

For several hours, a group of about 40 protestors barred trucks from leaving Paddock Transport’s headquarters, Mr. Black said. Police arrived and threatened arrests and fines before the protestors left.

Paddock Transport co-presidents Scott Paddock and Mac Paddock did not immediately return phone calls from The Globe requesting comment. For years, Paddock trucks have been spotted hauling light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Port of Halifax, according to Mac Mackay, a long-time blogger who watches and photographs vessels and trucks arriving in the coastal city. Prof. Black said these days the trucks are believed to be transporting LAVs to port in Baltimore, Md.

For the last few years, Canada has been shipping LAVs equipped with machine guns or anti-tank cannons to Saudi Arabia in a 10-year deal first inked by the Harper government but later renegotiated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government that allowed the exports to continue.

Older versions of the Canadian-made combat vehicles have been filmed and photographed taking part in cross-border skirmishes between Saudi and Houthi forces. In military jargon, armoured vehicles are “force multipliers” on a battlefield, meaning that they significantly increase the combat potential of soldiers.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the war in Yemen has led to an estimated 233,000 deaths since 2014 – including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure.

“Most Canadians don’t realize that weapons manufactured here continue to fuel a war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people,” Prof. Black said.

A coalition of 39 human-rights, arms-control and labour groups, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the largest union in the federal government – urged Mr. Trudeau last September to stop arms sales to the desert kingdom. In 2019, Canadian shipments of military goods to Saudi Arabia hit a record high in 2019, almost entirely owing to a $15-billion contract to sell LAVs to the kingdom.

Arms shipments to Saudi Arabia now account for more than 75 per cent of Canada’s military exports to countries other than the United States, the coalition says.

Canada exported nearly $2.9-billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia last year, nearly all of it LAVs made in London, Ont., by a subsidiary of U.S. defence contractor General Dynamics Corp. General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont., did not immediately respond when asked to comment on Monday.

Some federal Liberals, such as Toronto-area MP Adam Vaughan, have recently said the crisis in Yemen should prompt countries to end arms shipments to that region of the world. He confirmed his position when contacted Monday. “I believe the humanitarian crisis in Yemen requires us to suspend military shipments to the region and provide more in the areas of food and medicine,” Mr. Vaughan said.

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