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Canadian-Saudi Arms Trade Ongoing Amidst Alleged Human Rights Abuses

The Takeaway: Canada continues to export hundreds of millions of dollars worth of armoured vehicles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia despite evidence they have committed human rights violations both at home and abroad

  • Reports show that Canada sold over $330-million worth of tanks and armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, even as reports come out that the Middle Eastern country attempted to send a hit squad to Canada in 2018 to kill a state dissident.

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Failing to find a way out

Canada’s dealings with Saudi Arabia have been in the hot-seat since 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau’s government finalised an arms deal for the supply of $15-billion of military equipment.

  • Critics have pointed to these exports as proof of Canada’s complicity in Yemen’s civil war-fueled humanitarian crisis, which Saudi Arabia has been accused of heightening.
  • Despite providing humanitarian aid to Yemen and committing to finding a way out of its agreement, the government was called out again for selling a record amount of equipment to Saudi Arabia in 2019, amounting to almost $3-billion.

While the Saudi government’s human rights record has not improved, Canada continues to profit from its arms trading with the middle eastern country.

  • Most recently, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of sending a group of assassins to Canada in an attempt to kill former Saudi intelligence official Saad Aljabri. Canadian Border Agents denied their entry after questioning led to inconsistencies in their stories and suspicious luggage.  
  • An updated arms deal was announced in April 2020 after the Canadian government found no evidence that vehicles supplied by Canada were being used to violate the human rights of Saudi Arabians.  

The numbers keep growing

According to Statistics Canada, the value of tanks and other armoured vehicles exported to Saudi Arabia in the month of July exceeded $330 million.

The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, to which Canada is party, requires states to assess whether exports could be used to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, or commit gender-based violence.

  • By refusing to cancel its arms deal with Saudi Arabia and failing to commit to tangible mitigation efforts, Canada is overlooking its international commitments.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights record

The Middle Eastern country has been under extreme scrutiny for its human rights abuses.

  • Saudi Arabia has been unable to explain how journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents at the country’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.
  • Despite small ticket reforms such as allowing women the right to drive, the Saudi government has been accused of silencing, detaining and putting on trial women’s right activists.
  • Finally, its continued military campaign in Yemen has been reported for utilizing a number of unlawful airstrikes, killing or wounding thousands of civilians.

The Bottom Line: In June, Nouvelle covered how Canada’s trade relations with Saudi Arabia impacts the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Since then, new evidence has surfaced, further emphasizing the Saudi government’s indifference towards Canada and human rights. 

Meanwhile the Canadian government continues to put financial interests above protecting human rights globally. In addition to its involvement with the Yemen civil war, Saudi Arabia has been accused of numerous human rights violations from repressing dissidence and preventing religious freedom.