European Ban on Saudi Arms Sales Bolsters Foes of Canadian Deal

Move puts pressure on government to justify $15-billion contract, says Amnesty.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 25 Feb 2016 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.

A move to ban weapons exports to Saudi Arabia by members of the European Union bolsters the case of Canadians who oppose their own government selling military vehicles to the kingdom, says a human rights group.

On Thursday, the EU passed a non-binding resolution "to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia" over its involvement in the conflict in Yemen.

"The resolution acknowledges that Saudi Arabia and Iran are instrumental in resolving the crisis in Yemen," said an EU press release.

The civil war in Yemen has intensified since last March, according to Amnesty International, resulting in the shelling, bombing and deaths of thousands of people.

Saudi Arabia heads a nine-country coalition of nations in the region who have intervened in the conflict on the side of Yemen's central government.

The coalition has engaged in a heavy-bombing campaign and has been accused by the United Nations of major human-rights violations.

In 2014, the Conservative government facilitated a $15-billion contract for light-armoured vehicles for the Saudi military to be made by General Dynamics Systems Canada in London, Ontario.

The new Liberal government has said while it may not approve of the $15-billion deal in principle, it will not cancel the contract.

Hilary Homes, spokesperson for Amnesty International Canada, said the EU resolution strengthens the case of those pushing for Canada to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, or at least be more transparent about the deal.

"It certainly increases the pressure to explain their ongoing position around the deal," she said.

Homes said her group is concerned about the contract because Canada could be providing military equipment used to suppress the local population in Saudi Arabia.

She said the Saudis' use of the vehicles to help nearby Bahrain suppress its own uprisings and to carry out operations in Yemen are also an issue.

"All of these things are demonstrating that there are genuine risks here and the government has some explaining to do," she said.

Canadian vehicles used by Saudis: report

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail confirmed through an anonymous source that Saudi vehicles seen in photographs tweeted out by the Saudi Arabia National Guard were made in Canada.

The vehicles were used to mobilize troops near the nation's border with Yemen.

The government had to that point remained silent on whether or not the vehicles were made in Canada.

The EU's resolution demands the shelling of civilians in Yemen be stopped immediately so that "life-saving" aid can reach the areas it's needed.

"Only a political, inclusive and negotiated solution to the conflict can restore peace and preserve unity in Yemen," said the statement, urging all parties to join in UN-led peace talks.  [Tyee]

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