The Trudeau government says it is trying to find a way to end shipments of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia as Riyadh comes under mounting condemnation for the costly war it’s waging in neighbouring Yemen and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously talked about studying arms sales between Canada and Saudi Arabia and even suspending the export permits that underpin the armoured-vehicle deal as a means of pressing Saudi officials to fully explain Mr. Khashoggi’s slaying.
But now the Canadian leader is talking about stopping the shipments for good.
“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 Sunday. The Prime Minister’s Office did not offer any further comment but noted that Mr. Trudeau also said Mr. Khashoggi’s murder was “unacceptable,” Canada has been demanding answers from Riyadh and that the contract was first signed by the Harper government.
Mr. Trudeau’s latest remarks are the clearest signal yet that the Liberal government is serious about terminating a massive deal that Ottawa brokered to sell armoured vehicles to Riyadh − one valued at as high as $15-billion over 14 years.
Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, called Mr. Trudeau’s comments a “potentially significant development.”
It’s still unclear what solution Mr. Trudeau has in mind or how close the government might be to implementing it. It’s not clear whether Ottawa might suspend deliveries or cancel the deal outright.
“I cannot say that it is a surprise. It seemed clear in recent weeks that the government − which had long been uncomfortable with the deal − was moving in this direction,” said Prof. Juneau, an expert in Mideast politics.
Alex Lawrence, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said: “We are serious when we say we are reviewing arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Therefore, we are doing the prudent thing by examining all scenarios − but no final decisions have been taken while the review proceeds.”
Since Mr. Trudeau took office in 2015, the Liberals have repeatedly declined to budge when pressed to quit this contract, It was originally signed by the former Harper government and helps support thousands of jobs in Canada, particularly in southwestern Ontario. Mr. Trudeau’s government even took the crucial step in 2016 of issuing export permits for the deal − approvals it issued even though Ottawa had been warned of a further erosion of human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The government’s potential reversal now reflects a deepening divide between Western countries like Canada and the Saudi government in the wake of Riyadh’s killing of Mr. Khashoggi. Earlier this month, American media including the Washington Post reported that the CIA believes that Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing − contradicting Riyadh’s assertion that he was not involved in the murder.
Several days ago, the U.S. Senate delivered a rare double rebuke to President Donald Trump − one of Saudi Arabia’s few defenders today − voting to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen and blame Saudi’s Crown Prince for the murder. The resolution has yet to pass the U.S. House of Representatives.
In late October, the Canadian government announced that it was suspending approvals of any new arms export permits for Saudi Arabia. It has since been studying the light-armoured-vehicle contract − a deal that Mr. Trudeau has previously warned would be costly to break. He has cautioned that it could cost Canada billions of dollars in penalties to cancel the contract because of onerous terms contained in the deal.
As international outrage grew over the Oct. 2 murder of Mr. Khashoggi, who was a fierce critic of the Crown Prince, Mr. Trudeau had also talked of possibly suspending the export permits that allow the export of LAVs to Riyadh.
One of the biggest obstacles to ending LAV shipments to Saudi Arabia would be the damage to employment in and around the General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLSC) factory in London, Ont., where the vehicles are assembled.
When this contract was first announced in 2014, the Canadian government said it would sustain more than 3,000 jobs annually in Canada.
But as criticism of the Saudi LAV deal grew over the years, GDLSC has been emphasizing a broader measure of the employment affected by the Riyadh contract.
Since 2017, the company has said its operations − including the centrepiece Saudi deal − sustain 13,500 jobs. That’s direct jobs, indirect jobs and what are called “induced jobs" − those created by General Dynamics employees spending their earnings. “These are all jobs that are attributable to GDLS-C business, the majority of which depends on our large contract,” company spokesman Doug Wilson-Hodge told The Globe and Mail earlier this year.
One option for the Liberal government, which is expected to head to the polls in a general election next year, is to find another buyer for the Saudi LAVs or purchase them outright for the Canadian military. The Canadian Armed Forces is already a major user of light armoured vehicles.
Last month, Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau, called for the suspension of the Canada-Saudi LAV contract.
With a report from Reuters