One of the cargo ships charged with delivering another load of Canadian armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is due this weekend in Saint John, where the combat machines have been warehoused for months, even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seeks a way to stop Canada’s arms deal with the Mideast kingdom.
The Saudi-flagged cargo ship Bahri Yanbu will be greeted by protesters trying to prevent the shipment of these vehicles, which have been used in Riyadh’s war in Yemen. Demonstrators organized by the activist group PEACE-NB and individuals from the Council of Canadians will be protesting on Saturday morning near an entrance to the port and lobbying longshoreman to refuse to move the cargo.
“We’re hoping to spread awareness ... locally, with the people working on the ground that are probably unwittingly helping Saudi Arabia get these armoured vehicles,” Sharon Murphy-Mayne, one of the protesters, said.
“The best-case scenario would be that the light armoured vehicles are stopped in Saint John and aren’t exported overseas.”
At least 16 LAVs have been spotted heading by rail toward the New Brunswick port since July. Prior to that, the vehicles were shipped through Halifax’s port. The last train shipment was in mid-September. This week, LAVs could be seen in storage at a port warehouse, awaiting pickup by a Saudi cargo vessel.
Protesters say they hope the local branch of the International Longshoremen’s Association, a union with a history of refusing to move what it deems “hot cargo” – or goods intended for immoral purposes – will thwart the latest shipment.
Pat Riley, a spokesman for ILA Branch 273, declined to comment when contacted about what the longshoremen would do if confronted by protesters.
This local union was honoured by Argentina for its 1979 refusal to ship heavy water for a nuclear reactor to the South American country after a military coup. Back then, protests in the city were organized by the Saint John and District Labour Council, which was working in collaboration with the Group for the Defence of Civil Rights in Argentina.
“That’s what has to be present for there to be a hot cargo response,” retired University of New Brunswick professor David Frank, a labour history specialist, said. “When you’re talking about hot cargo, you’re always talking about how someone has appealed to you not to move this cargo.”
Again, in 2003 during the Iraq War, Saint John longshoremen declined to move military equipment destined for the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has come under growing international censure after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and amid mounting concern over the ruinous war it’s spearheading in neighbouring Yemen. Last week, the U.S. Senate officially blamed Mr. Khashoggi’s murder on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and voted to withdraw military aid for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The last available United Nations figure for the civilian death toll in the war dates back to 2016 and stood at more than 10,000. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence in Yemen, now puts it at around 57,000 people. The UN has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“There’s no secret of what is going on in Yemen. It’s an abomination,” Ms. Murphy-Mayne said.
Last week, Mr. Trudeau announced he wants to find a way to end shipments of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia – part of a deal valued at as much as $15-billion. The 14-year deal was signed in 2014 under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but it was the Liberal government in 2016 that approved the exports to the Saudis under Canada’s arms-export control program.
“We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Trudeau told CTV’s Question Period on Dec. 16.
Saudi-Canadian relations were already severely strained before Mr. Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the Crown Prince, was killed on Oct. 2, because Canada had publicly urged Riyadh in July to release jailed civil-rights activists immediately.
In August, the Saudis expelled the Canadian ambassador and froze new trade and investment dealings with Canada in retaliation for what it called “blatant interference” in its domestic affairs. It suspended Saudi Arabian Airline flights to and from Toronto and began to withdraw thousands of Saudi students from universities, colleges and other schools in Canada.
According to the schedule of shipping line Bahri, its next stop in Saint John, after this weekend, is Jan. 29, 2019.
With a report from Reuters
Joseph Tunney is a freelance writer.