The new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is set to rubber stamp the continuing sale of Canadian Light Armoured Vehicles to the despotic monarch of Saudi Arabia, violating Canada’s own arms export rules and straining the Prime Minister’s ‘liberal’ credibility. The outgoing Conservative government of Canada agreed in 2014 to sell an unspecified number of LAV III mini-tanks to the king of Saudi Arabia in a deal worth $15 billion over several years. They will be built by General Dynamics Canada, Land Systems Division. The deal was supported and actively promoted by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown corporation, that uses government funds and credit to support external trade, including arms deals.
The deal came after extensive lobbying by the Conservative government, including (then) Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, and support from members of at least one of Canada’s right-wing military think tanks. Wikileaks published documents in June 2015 that showed how members of the Conservative cabinet lobbied the Saudi regime.
Violation of Canadian Laws
Rules for the export of arms from Canada require that the weapons will not be used against civilian populations. Saudi troops have used similar LAVs against their own citizens on many occasions, and in 2011 notoriously invaded Bahrain at the request of the Bahrain dictatorship to put down (largely Shia) democracy protesters. Given the past history of Canadian arms sales to Bahrain, it is probable that earlier Canadian LAVs were used against democracy protests. Project Ploughshares has pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development will not even let Canadians know how the arms export permit system works, hiding behind the veil of ‘commercial confidentiality’.
The Vancouver Sun reported that the LAVs would not be for the state army of Saudi Arabia, but for the ‘SANG’ the personal army of the Saudi despot, who maintains a force four times the size of the state army. They reported
“According to reports in a variety of specialist military publications — including Jane’s — the SANG comprises Bedouin tribesmen and Wahhabi religious zealots whose prime task is to protect King Abdullah and the royal family from domestic opponents”.
The government has provided little information about the contract, citing ‘commercial confidentiality’. The government has refused to say whether the LAV’s will be armed as they leave Canada. They don’t provide information about who might have been paid to broker aspects of the deal. The government refuses to say whether the Saudis have provided assurances that the mini-tanks won’t be used against their own people. It refuses to say how many LAV IIIs will be sold to the Saudis.
The Conservative government, defeated in October, regularly tried to deceive the public about the true nature of the deal. Stephen Harper, when questioned about the deal, denied that the LAV’s were arms, calling them ‘transport vehicles’, obfuscating the reality that the LAVs are armed small tanks often used in aggressive attacks on both civilian and military adversaries.
The arms sale can’t be understood without examining the convoluted strategic context of the Canadian Conservative Party. Saudi Arabia is bulwark of the conservative ‘Sunni-sphere’, and thus the main local adversary of Iran. Iranian relations with Canada have been poor, but the main driver of events has been Canada’s solid support for Israel in its relentless campaign against Iran. Any foe of Iran is a friend of Canada, in this view, and supportive of the Israeli regime. Support for the Israeli strategic plan was enough incentive for the Conservatives to allow Canada’s own rules to be violated, and to maintain a high level of secrecy.
Despite clear violations of Canada’s best interests and international human rights, Canada’s opposition parties have been tepid in their opposition to this deal. While the New Democrats spoke out against it, they were pressured by the union Unifor to protect jobs by dropping their opposition. New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair maintained his opposition to the deal but said he would not stop an ongoing commercial transaction, thereby making his opposition irrelevant. He said that under a New Democrat government there would be more ‘transparency’.
Incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also against the deal while speaking in Parliament, but is expected to provide no opposition to it while in power. In the lead up to the election he minimised the LAVs as ‘jeeps’, claimed that the deal was between the Saudi and a private commercial company, dodging the involvement of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and the responsibility of the Canadian government to respect its own laws on military exports.
Decide for yourself. Are they ‘jeeps’, or ‘tanks’?
(Last link added, somewhat unfairly, after the fair comment below).