I guess the execution of 47 prisoners by Saudi Arabia — including dissident Shia cleric Sheik al-Nimr Nimr — tracks Dion’s moral arc as well as anything.
On the one hand, Canada’s foreign minister went through the pantomime of principled denunciation in the wake of the mass beheadings. He urged the Kingdom to “protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings.”
Dion’s director of communications, former State Department strategist Joseph Pickerill, later displayed the full emptiness of the minister’s token scolding of the Saudis.
Pickerill told journalists that Canada was sticking to the $15 billion arms deal with the Saudis — the world’s largest arms importer, now this country’s second-biggest arms market after the United States. His words implied that there was no real choice in the matter since the previous government of Stephen Harper had inked the deal.
“A private company is delivering the goods according to a signed contract with the government of Saudi Arabia,” Pickerill said. “The government of Canada has no intention of canceling the contract.”
Bottom line on that logic? Canada apparently would have sold tanks to the Chinese immediately after Tiananmen Square — providing, of course, there was a contract.
The hypocrisy was obvious at the time — the hogwash, less so. It has since come to light that all the previous Harper government had done by way of expediting the signed deal was to approve the export of technical data about the armoured vehicles. It was the Trudeau government — specifically, Minister Dion — who granted the export permits, which is where the commercial rubber really hits the road.
In other words, this was not quite the fait accompli the Liberals claimed it was in defending their deal with the Devil. It may have been the Conservatives who engineered it, but it was the Liberals who “green-lighted” the arms shipment to Riyadh. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair didn’t mince words: “The government lied to Canadians about who signed what when in the Saudi arms deal, and that is a very serious matter.”
(It’s worth mentioning at this point that all three parties forswore cancelling this arms deal during the recent federal election.)
Lying was the automatic reflex of the Harper government when cornered. It was not supposed to be the strategy of choice for the “sunny ways” crowd.
Dion, who has looked uncharacteristically insipid and a shade devious throughout this controversy, offered yet another flaccid defence of selling weapons to one of the world’s worst human rights violators. The minister actually claimed that Ottawa had seen no evidence that the Saudis had used any previously exported light armoured vehicles to violate human rights.
Codswallop. There is video out there of Saudi troops using LAV-3S vehicles to suppress protesters opposed to Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family back in 2011. Forty civilians perished in that crackdown and thousands more were arrested.
Is the minister really saying that he doesn’t mind if the Saudis commit gross human rights violations — as long as they use other people’s weapons and equipment to commit them? Is he really saying that this brutal regime will reserve Canadian weapons for fighting terrorists — while using other countries’ arms to crush dissent and protest at home? This is a little like Dion’s earlier argument that cancelling the arms shipment wouldn’t help human rights in Saudi Arabia because other countries would simply supply the weapons. It’s hard to imagine a more colossal sellout of Canadian values.
Why on earth would Dion resolve any doubts about the Saudis’ human rights record in favour of a regime so firmly on the public record as diabolical in its excesses? Has he forgotten that Abdullah Al-Zaher was condemned to be beheaded and then crucified for attending an anti-government protest when he was fifteen? Or that blogger Raif Badawi was nearly flogged to death for allegedly insulting Islam? Sweden stopped its arm shipments to Saudi Arabia after that. Not Canada.
Saudi Arabia is a country that detains and tortures dissidents and prisoners of conscience like Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon. It’s a country with more kangaroos in its Specialized Criminal Court than the Australian Outback can boast. This a country where the Shia minority is systematically discriminated against, and “migrants” are expelled without due process to face deadly consequences in their home countries.
Finally — as Mr. Dion knows perfectly well — this is a country where women are executed for alleged adultery, can’t walk into a Starbucks and remain the property of their husbands in what amounts to a medieval time warp. The Trudeau government prides itself on being “feminist.” But as Stephen Lewis asked aloud at the recent NDP convention, what kind of feminism sells weapons to a misogynistic state?
And just in case Minister Dion and his department haven’t noticed, Saudi Arabia does not allow public gatherings (except to witness state-conducted beheadings and floggings), prohibits political parties and arrests and prosecutes anyone who publicly criticizes Saudi Arabia’s barbarous war in Yemen.
The slaughter of Houthi rebels and civilians in Yemen by the Saudi coalition under the command of King Salman’s son and nephew has prompted U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to introduce legislation to halt arm sales to the Kingdom until it can be verified the Saudis are not committing war crimes. The two legislators want to ensure that American weapons are not being used in attacks on innocents and non-combatants.
As reported in the Washington Post recently, Human Rights Watch alleged that two deadly air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition used weapons supplied by the U.S. The attack killed at least 97 civilians — 25 of them children. An estimated 3,200 civilians have died in the year-long war that has received global attention.
Minister Dion claims Canada is carefully monitoring the human rights record of Saudi Arabia and will either suspend or cancel future arms deals if the Kingdom veers into repressive abuse. That would mean a whole lot more if the Trudeau government hadn’t decided to heavily censor its assessment of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia and share with Canadians only a “sanitized” version of what the government really knows about this repressive regime.
You can’t put lipstick on a LAV deal when the buyer’s idea of peace, order and good government looks a lot like a concentration camp.
Author: Michael Harris