Tag Archives: Saudi arms deal

On Saudi arms deal, the new boss in Ottawa is just like the old boss

Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion's memo green-lighting the bulk of the Saudi arms deal could have been written by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Neil Macdonald writes.
Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion’s memo green-lighting the bulk of the Saudi arms deal could have been written by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Neil Macdonald writes. (Canadian Press)

By Neil Macdonald, reposted from CBC News, Apr 14, 2016

Well. If further proof was needed that the sunny new regime in Ottawa is perfectly capable of behaving just like the un-sunny previous regime, we now have it, in amemo that was stamped “Secret,” then rather inconveniently laid bare in the Federal Court of Canada.

The document, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, is a gem of hair-splitting, parsing, wilful blindness and justification for selling billions worth of fighting vehicles and weaponry to Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes on Earth.

It employs the death-merchant logic of a long list of other countries that have profited for decades by arming despots: The deal means jobs and the customer assures us it won’t misuse the weapons and we can’t prove otherwise.

Besides, anti-tank weapons and heavy machine-guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

With a single checkmark, Dion concurred with everything in the memo.

Backers of global extremism

Among other things, Dion explicitly endorses Saudi Arabia’s ruinous military campaign in Yemen, the victims of which, according to the United Nations, are overwhelmingly civilian.

The Saudi-led campaign, Dion agrees, is an attempt to “counter instability” in Yemen and is “consistent with Canada’s defence interests in the Middle East.”

Graph 1
(CBC News Graphics)

Another view would be that Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Sunni regime is grimly determined to suppress, violently if need be, any demands for autonomy by Shia populations living on the Arabian peninsula.

When Shia demonstrations erupted in Bahrain during the so-called Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia sent armoured columns across the causeway linking it to the Sunni-ruled island, which proceeded to pitilessly crush the dissent, imprisoning and killing and torturing and demolishing Shia mosques.

The kingdom was also an eager and early bankroller of the Sunni rebels in Syria. That some of those groups were affiliated with al-Qaeda was irrelevant to Riyadh.

The Saudis, like ISIS, are fans of public beheadings, and for many years rich Saudis have financially supported extremists worldwide. It has been reported that a portion of the congressional report on the 9/11 attacks, still officially secret, concludes Saudi officials gave consular support and help to some of the hijackers, most of whom were… Saudi.

Women executed for ‘sorcery’

Then there is the little matter of how the Saudis treat their own citizens.

They have a hideous record of torture, oppression, arbitrary arrest and mistreatment of detainees, suppression of speech and religion, and institutional misogyny. They execute women for sorcery. Homosexuality is a grave crime.

This is a regime Canada wants to supply with arms and war-fighting vehicles?

As Gerald Butts, now the prime minister’s most senior adviser, tweeted when the Liberals were in opposition: “Principled foreign policy indeed.”

Once in government, though, moral outrage is a less affordable luxury.

While the Dion-approved memo acknowledges that the Saudi airstrikes have left Yemen strewn with dead civilians — to quote Human Rights Watch, “strikes against populated residential areas, hospitals, schools, markets and mosques may constitute war crimes” — it notes that there is no proof that any of the armoured fighting vehicles Canada has so far provided have been involved in such slaughter.

(That bit is crucial, because Canadian law forbids selling arms to regimes that are likely to use them against civilians).

It also carefully notes that “to the best of the department’s knowledge,” the Saudi troops sent into Bahrain were merely there to “protect key buildings and infrastructure, and had no part in suppression of peaceful protests.”

And in any event, says the memo with which Dion so fully concurs, the Saudis have stated “their respect for and compliance with the rules of international humanitarian and human rights laws.”

Ah. Well. Good to hear.

Oil, oil, oil

Perhaps more to the point, the memo also notes that the Saudis have the world’s largest oil reserves.

None of this is to suggest that Canada is any more hypocritical than other countries that shill vigorously for their arms manufacturers.

But the Dion memo could have just as easily been signed by Stephen Harper or one of his ministers.

Saudi Blogger Flogging 20150611
Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal in January. He been sentenced to a brutal flogging in Saudi Arabia for writing about Shia rights. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

So far, the Liberal message has been that while it wouldn’t have negotiated the deal, it was stuck with it, and it is a legal contract and therefore must be honoured.

But Dion could have checked any one of three boxes when presented with the memo by department staff: “I concur,” “I don’t concur” or “I wish to discuss.”

You’d think, if this was a deal he truly thought should never have been negotiated, and was only signing because he had to, that he’d at least have wanted to discuss some of the more strained logic and reassurances in the memo. Or snip them.

But he didn’t. He concurred, completely.

Somehow different?

I wrote to Butts, now in the Prime Minister’s Office, asking him to square his tweet last year denouncing the Conservatives’ lack of principle with Dion’s wholehearted concurrence, which the Prime Minister’s Office had surely approved.

I promised I would print his response, so here it is:

“That tweet,” he replied, “is from a period when Jason Kenney and others were routinely posting vile (and often incorrect) photos and graphics about the Middle East conflict.”

(Butts later clarified that by “Middle East conflict” he meant ISIS.)

“I was pointing out the hypocrisy of their justification of their government’s Middle East campaign on the moral ground of human rights, while simultaneously pursuing deeper ties and expanded trade with a country that has a less than stellar record on that front.”

He continued: “At that time, Trudeau had already stated our party’s support for honouring a signed contract, so to suggest I had a different position then, as his principal adviser, is to misunderstand the context.”

And there it is.

This is different, somehow. SOURCE

Five reasons to kill the Saudi arms deal: Burman

The Liberal defence of the $15-billion contract with Saudi Arabia is even being attacked by party stalwarts.

Theo Moudakis’s editorial cartoon from Feb. 25, 2016. THEO MOUDAKIS / TORONTO STAR

By Tony Burman, reposted from TheStar, Apr 2, 2016

So “Canada is back,” is it? Who says so? And who is advising this new Trudeau government on foreign policy? Then again, isn’t that Stephen Harper I see slipping furtively in through Parliament’s side door?

In spite of increasing criticism both at home and abroad, Canada seems determined to go ahead with the largest arms export contract in the country’s history, to Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

Once again, we see the triumph of profit over human rights, and pragmatism over principle. I thought those days were over. Didn’t Canadians vote last October to get rid of Harper in an effort to open a new chapter for Canada’s role in the world?

At issue is a controversial 14-year, $15-billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia, a deal brokered by the former Conservative government and supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says it is in the country’s interests to go ahead with the deal.

Here are five reasons why Dion and Trudeau are wrong:

1. Canadians oppose it

The view of Canadians on this issue is rarely mentioned but it should be. In a poll taken in February by the Angus Reid Institute, 48 per cent of Canadians said the government’s determination to go ahead with the deal was a “bad decision.” Fewer than one-in-five (19 per cent) supported it. The view extended across party lines. Even among those who voted for Conservatives in the 2015 election, the majority opposed the deal. Also striking in the poll was the hostility among Canadians toward Saudi Arabia. More than half of Canadians say that the Saudi government should be condemned rather than respected.

2. Canada is being bought off

Perhaps the sharpest criticism of the deal has come from a man who now works in Dion’s office. Jocelyn Coulon wrote a column for Montreal’s La Presse newspaper a few weeks before joining Dion’s staff. He wrote that Western countries stifled their criticism of Saudi Arabia because of money: “For a long time now, Saudi Arabia has bought the silence of Westerners with its juicy civilian and military contracts.” He wrote that the Saudis purchase billions of dollars of “unnecessary armaments” from Western manufacturers, but “its armies barely know how to use them.”

3. Saudi Arabia is an awful regime

The Washington-based Freedom House ranks Saudi Arabia as among the “worst of the worst” human rights violators in the world. The Saudi regime receives similar condemnations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Freedom of speech, freedom of association and academic freedom are restricted. And its treatment of women is regarded as the worst in the world.

4. Canadian arms are undoubtedly killing innocent people

Canada claims not to know whether any of the armoured vehicles already sent to Saudi Arabia have been used against civilians. There is also no indication that Canada has made much effort to find out. In 2011, Saudi troops — with armoured vehicles — were sent to neighbouring Bahrain to crush the popular protests. More recently, Saudi Arabia’s violent efforts in the war in Yemen have been devastating, with more than 6,000 people already dead. Reports from the war suggest that Canadian-made vehicles are being used by the Saudi army.

5. Canada’s arguments have no moral core

Dion said in a speech this week that cancelling the Saudi deal would have no effect on human rights. The Saudis would simply go elsewhere for their arms. Louise Arbour, former UN high commissioner for human rights, was in the audience for the speech. She correctly told reporters that Dion’s point was “the weakest argument” he could make: “It is not infused with moral, ethical values.”

Another influential critic is former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler. An acclaimed law professor and human rights lawyer, Cotler has stated that Canada should not sell arms to a country with such a pattern of human rights violations.

In the face of all this criticism, how can long the Liberals cling to their position?


Tony Burman, former head of CBC News and Al Jazeera English, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. Reach him @TonyBurman or at tony.burman@gmail.com .




Dion’s blunders undermine Trudeau’s claims that Canada is back on international stage

Cancelling Saudi arms deal would have no effect on human rights: Dion

by Michael Harris, reposted from iPolitics, Apr 3, 2016

Not much that Justin Trudeau has done since winning government has worked out badly, but appointing Stephane Dion as his foreign minister is threatening to become the rookie prime minister’s first major clunker.

Dion’s most recent blunder was an ill-considered Tweet questioning the appointment of respected Canadian professor Michael Lynk as the UN’s new Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian Territories.

Based on denunciations advanced by interested lobby groups supporting Israel, Dion asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to review their selection of Professor Lynk – a move that the Canadian Association of University Teachers said “damaged” the accomplished academic’s reputation. Dion made no effort to contact the man at the centre of the storm – Michael Lynk, before publicly questioning his qualifications for the job.

It didn’t matter. Despite Dion’s superficial intervention, the President of the UNHRC confirmed Lynk’s appointment. Interestingly, the minister’s office didn’t respond to a request from iPolitics for a response to the UN’s reaffirmation of Professor Lynk – a position endorsed by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and 40 other countries. Nor has Minister Dion given the “independent” reasons he tweeted his request for a review.

Bottom line? Dion has ended up looking petty, petulant and ill-informed. Worse, his meddling in a UN matter made the Trudeau government look a lot like its predecessor – an impression that will not help this country get a seat on the Security Council in 2020, or restore Canada’s battered relationship with the UN, left in tatters after a decade of Stephen Harper’s antipathy toward the world’s most important international institution.

This was not the first time that Dion failed to make good on the promise that Canada’s role in the Middle East, and in particular its relationship with the Palestinians and the Israelis, would not be a matter of partisan politics. The Liberals, including the Foreign Minister, supported a motion by the Opposition Conservative Party to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.


And what was Dion thinking when he defended the disgraceful $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia by saying that if Canada didn’t sell weapons to one of the most repressive regimes on earth then someone else will?

The BDS movement sprung up in 2005 around the contention that Israel denies equal rights to Arabs both inside the Jewish state and in the occupied territories. It’s goal is to impose non-violent, punitive measures aimed at pressuring Israel into doing three things: ending its occupation and colonization of Arab lands; dismantling the wall cutting off Palestinian communities from Israel; and accepting UN resolution 194 which guarantees the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes.

And that is why the government’s, and Dion’s, support of the Conservative motion was so contradictory and disappointing.

Canada has traditionally been a staunch supporter of international law. Accordingly, it has adopted the policy that Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. So how could a movement dedicated to redressing those illegalities be rejected as anti-Semitic or an existential attack on Israel? Is official Canadian foreign policy also anti-Semitic and a threat to Israel?

It gets worse. The Conservative motion put forward by Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel also called for the government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here and abroad.”

In one supportive vote, the Trudeau government agreed that trying to hold Israel to account for illegal acts was equal to “demonization” and “delegitimization”.

Again, the motion also said that anyone who didn’t see it that way would now be “condemned” by their own government. Perhaps that’s why Liberal MP Rene Arsenault told iPolitics that he voted against the Conservative motion:

“From my point of view, it restricts too much of freedom in Canada to criticize any state,” he said.

And of course he was as right in voting against the motion as Dion was wrong in voting for it.

And what was Dion thinking when he defended the disgraceful $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia by saying that if Canada didn’t sell weapons to one of the most repressive regimes on earth then someone else will? No wonder Louise Arbour, a former member of Canada’s Supreme Court and past United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, denounced the minister’s argument as hopelessly weak.

Dion has apparently forgotten that in King Salman’s Saudi Arabia, women can’t even enter a Starbucks store; that the regime arrests, imprisons, tortures, and executes human rights advocates and government critics; and is conducting a brutal war against neighbouring Yemen in which 6,200 Houthis, half of them civilians, and 934 of them children, have been killed. Dion’s defence makes Canada a commercial accomplice of these practises.

The point is this: Whether human rights would have remained unchanged in Saudi Arabia if Canada didn’t sell the Sunni dictatorship weapons is irrelevant. The heart of the matter is what does Canada become by putting the weapons that kill into their hands for profit. In law, a person providing the weapon or driving the getaway car is just as guilty as the person who pulls the trigger if he had reason to believe that violence was planned. Dion, and the Canadian government, know full well what those armoured vehicles will be used and what they are intended to do.

Louise Arbour nailed the obvious flaw in Dion’s argument: “It is not infused with moral, ethical values.” And one of Dion’s own staffers, Jocelyn Coulon, was not far off the mark when he told the Globe’s Stephen Chase that Saudi Arabia had simply “bought the silence” of Western countries through lucrative contracts like the one negotiated by the Harper government and endorsed by its Liberal successor.

Now there are media reports that the Trudeau government’s response to flak about the Saudi arms deal is information control. A new government assessment of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record will be “sanitized” for the public.

The technical justification to one side – that such redactions will protect Canada and Saudi relations, can’t hide the obvious intention. The government wants to turn down the heat on the deal – and itself — by minimizing the Kingdom’s dire offences. While countries like Belgium, Sweden and Germany are declining to sell weapons to the Saudis, the Trudeau government is looking for ways to lull Canadians into the notion that they aren’t such bad business partners after all.

The puzzle in all this is how far Dion’s actions are from the new government’s stated mantra of real change, transparency, and a return to Canadian values compared to the Harper years. What happened to the Dion who has done such great services for the country in earlier years?

Dion was the lonely federalist who stood up to the hatred of Quebec nationalists and delivered the Clarity Act, a piece of legislation that made it much harder for separatists to break up Canada. He is also the man who got the Kyoto Accord extended beyond 2012, a visionary and principled stand that made him a hero to the Canadian environmental movement. What became of that politician?

Perhaps it is true of Dion what former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff once wrote of his own political career: “I pursued the flame of power and saw hope dwindle to ashes.”

“Fire and Ashes” is no substitute for the promised sunny ways.


Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one best-seller and has been shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for English-language non-fiction.

Readers can reach the author at michaelharris@ipolitics.ca. Click here to view other columns by Michael Harris.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

Michael Harris

Author: Michael Harris

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His eight books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies.

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker.