Short-term jobs and profits notwithstanding, Canada’s interests are not served by Saudi armoured vehicle sale

Posted on January 10, 2016, 1:35 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: A Canadian LAV III similar to the armoured vehicles to be sold by General Dynamics Land Systems (Canada) of London, Ont., to the Saudi National Guard. Below: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove and former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

It’s one thing to treat the execution by another country of a large group of political prisoners as a strictly internal matter, unsavoury perhaps, but none of our fine, principled Canadian business.

It is something else entirely to treat an apparent plan to commit genocide or something very much like it by that same country as if it were none of our business.

TrudeauFor us to sell equipment that seems to have been purpose built for use against civilians in a genocidal project, a plan for which we have significant evidence, is beyond the pale.

In the event, how could this be defined as anything but an act of complicity?

I am speaking, as readers will understand, of the decision by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal, to endorse the previous Conservative Government’s brokered sale of so-called light armoured fighting vehicles to the government of Saudi Arabia, which is about as bad a government as there is on this planet.

And I say this fully aware of how difficult it would be for any government, particularly at a moment when the economy is not exactly on the upswing, to give up a deal like the sale of $15-billion worth of LAV IIIs by General Dynamics Land Systems (Canada) of London, Ont., which can be counted on to generate both profits and jobs, over a question of moral principle. For this reason, I’m not going to claim an NDP government would have done anything very different.

Still, sometimes individuals and countries really do need to do the right thing. This is one of those times.

Mr. Trudeau tried during the election campaign that brought him to power to blow off criticism of this sale by saying the LAVs are just “jeeps,” shorthand for light military utility vehicles. They are not. Looking at a LAV III, many civilians would call it a “tank.”

DionThey’re not that either. They are armed military transports suitable for attacking lightly armed or unarmed civilians, but of limited utility against real soldiers with real weapons, or even insurgent forces that know what they’re doing. Indeed, Canada lost some 34 of the things to home-made bombs planted by lightly armed Afghan irregulars during our decade-long war in that unhappy country.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion had a better answer than the prime minister, though still not the right one: that our reputation as a business partner would be damaged if we backed out of the deal now.

The particular capabilities of the LAV III would indicate why these vehicles are being bought by the Saudi National Guard, which has a public order mandate, and not by the Saudi army.

Hard-hearted as it seems to say this, the principle here is bigger than just the personal and family tragedies of the judicial assassination by agents of the Saudi Royal family of a well-known Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, and 46 other political prisoners, at least some of them because of their religious convictions. It is about the potential for a much greater tragedy with more widespread consequences.

We don’t know, of course, the full extent of the Saudi government’s plans for the predominantly Sunni country’s significant Shia minority – officially about three million of the country’s 27 million souls, but probably more.

DearloveNevertheless, the indications are grave enough that, in the event, there is no way we Canadians will be able to escape the charge of knowingly contributing to a religious and cultural genocide potentially worse than what happened in Rwanda for our economic convenience and the profit of our corporate sector.

I wonder what our now missing-in-action Ambassador for Religious Freedom, appointed by the government of the thankfully departed prime minister Stephen Harper, would have to say about this, if anything?

In July 2014, Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on a speech by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, that country’s Secret Intelligence Service. During his remarks, Sir Richard had recounted an ominous conversation with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and later chief of the Saudi intelligence service.

The theme of the Independent’s article, by journalist Patrick Cockburn, was to make a case the Saudis are among the principal forces behind the creation, sustenance and success of the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The U.S.-led coalition of which Canada remains part is supposedly fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

Sir Richard’s memory of his chilling conversation with Prince Bandar, the fellow once known as “Bandar Bush” for his close relationship with America’s powerful and presidential Bush family, is very telling for Canadians as they to make sense of their government’s determination to sell the Saudis $15 billion worth of armoured vehicles that seem a perfect fit for crushing civilian uprisings.

Bandar“The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia,’” the MI6 head recounted the prince telling him. “More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

Journalist Cockburn put this in context: “The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria.” And now in Yemen, too, it must be added, where the Saudi armed forces are attacking Shia Yemenis directly, rather than through surrogates like ISIS, and apparently taking a beating from the Shia insurgents.

“Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today,” Mr. Cockburn went on, “has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.”

Now Saudi Arabia seems to be either confident enough or desperate enough to boldly provoke conflict with Iran, the predominant Shia power in the region and, with its large Persian population, also a cultural counterbalance to the Gulf Arabs led by Saudi Arabia and inevitably supported by the West.

Indeed, the Saudis are reflexively supported by the West, it would seem, even when they are waging a virtual economic war against certain Western countries, not the least of them ours!

Regardless, Prince Bandar’s sinister words, and the Saudi government’s recent actions at home and in the region, suggest a genocidal attack on the country’s and the region’s Shia minority is a real possibility.

If ISIS truly is a Saudi proxy, which naturally the Saudi Arabians deny, we have already seen what this might look like.

There is no way it is in Canada’s interest – notwithstanding the short-term business advantages of a large sale of military equipment – to be complicit in such a catastrophe.

Canadians elected Justin Trudeau to do better than this.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

11 Comments to: Short-term jobs and profits notwithstanding, Canada’s interests are not served by Saudi armoured vehicle sale

  1. bloozguy

    January 10th, 2016

    “Canadians elected Justin Trudeau to do better than this.”

    A-MEN

    Reply
  2. Tom in Ontario

    January 10th, 2016

    Jobs jobs jobs. Welcome to the War Machine.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      January 10th, 2016

      War machine being challenged in U.K.

      FWIW News on the issue in UK… may be in Canada’s future?

      excerpt: “UK weapons have been central to a bombing campaign that has killed thousands of people, destroyed vital infrastructure and inflamed tensions in the region,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT. “The UK has been complicit in the destruction by continuing to support airstrikes and provide arms, despite strong and increasing evidence that war crimes are being committed.”

      from link in tweet by Glenn Greenwald ‏@ggreenwald 10h10 hours ago

      Impressed how British pundits remain on their moral high horse as their Govt lavishes Saudis w/weapons for Yemen

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/09/saudi-arms-sales-lawyers-warn-break-international-law-yemen

      excerpt: “The government has been put on notice that it is in breach of international law for allowing the export of British-made missiles and military equipment to Saudi Arabia that might have been used to kill civilians.

      The hugely embarrassing accusation comes after human rights groups, the European parliament and the UN all expressed concerns about Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen. Lawyers acting for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) have stepped up legal proceedings against the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which approves export licences, accusing it of failing in its legal duty to take steps to prevent and suppress violations of international humanitarian law.”

      Reply
  3. Athabascan

    January 10th, 2016

    Blame Harper for locking us into that, and so many other dreadful deals. Some can be reversed at no cost, and others can’t.

    Selling arms and the Wheat Board to the Saudis, or appointing Harpercons (enemies of the state) to key positions for extended periods. Something tells me we will all be living with his despicable legacy for many years to come.

    Reply
  4. January 10th, 2016

    The Saudi are moderate by the standards of the middle east. They are smarter, better educated than most from what I read. Reportedly they have taken in over 100,000 Syrian refugees them holding a finished degree was the key to entrance.

    The Saudi are looking at a 65 billion dollar deficit in their budget. They have only one revenue income aside from their multi billions in foreign holdings around the world. That is oil and they have a fearsome neighbour, Iran. Iran has been spawning violence around the middle east for the past 20 years; large enough that no single entity can call them on it.

    Escalations in violence between the Saudi and Iran in these past month has the capacity to escalate and bring down the middle east in general. Israel keeps an armed nuclear sub in international waters off of Iran waiting for them to wiggle in the wrong direction. This sub does one month’s duty then, its exchanged with a second sub of the same venue.

    The future over there is presently very bleak and will envelope the whole world if it goes sideways. The Saudi want these vehicles to stay on a “civilized” footing. I say its a good, even great move on the part of Canada to provide this alternative.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 10th, 2016

      Never say never with secret military matters, but there is no evidence Israel has nuclear-powered submarines, and, if they did, the Iranians would be able to detect them in the constricted waters of the Persian Gulf because nukes are noisier than “conventional” submarines. Israel does have two new German-built Dolphin-2 diesel electric submarines, which are said to be very quiet, so perhaps this is what the commenter is referring to. Janes Defence Weekly says the Dolphins are nuclear armed. To say the Saudis are “moderate by the standards of the Middle East” is preposterous by almost every measure. They only seem so because they are our “allies” – despite practically engaging in an economic war against Canada and especially Alberta – and hence treated with kid gloves by mainstream media.

      Reply
  5. political ranger

    January 10th, 2016

    What’s preposterous here David, is the idea that you can pick one sect, Shia or Sunni, or the other as more civilised or less barbarous than the other and still claim sanity. It’s frankly and patently ridiculous.
    You say, “For us to sell equipment that seems to have been purpose built for use against civilians in a genocidal project, a plan for which we have significant evidence, is beyond the pale”. I say good call.
    Then you say, “… the decision by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal, to endorse the previous Conservative Government’s brokered sale of so-called light armoured fighting vehicles …” I think you’re trying to manufacture a bit of story here. There is no evidence of Trudeau ‘endorsing’ this deal, in fact much to the contrary.
    This is not his deal; this is harpers deal. It stinks! But to cancel a contract is to open a whole universe of unintended consequences. Who do you choose to sell to? Who do you support and which groups are not supported and why?
    And David, your argument smacks of harperism too. There is no sane rational reason to get involved in any of the nonsense in the Middle East, from Isreal on through to Pakistan. Individuals are going over there at present because they ‘feel’ like they have something to contribute. We see them as the crazed nutbars they are. Fomenting some kind of local brouhaha by picking sides in such a malignant affair is well beneath your usual insightful commentary.

    Reply
  6. Expat Albertan

    January 10th, 2016

    As your unofficial observer of the Sun and National Post letters-to-the-editor pages, I’ve noticed, recently, a number of letters to the Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton Sun’s condemning the sale of the LAVs to Saudi Arabia. FUNNY (but not surprising) that the papers are printing such critical letters now that it is a Liberal government in power.If there ever has been a better example of editorial hypocrisy in a newspaper, this would come as a close second.

    Reply
  7. Skeptical?

    January 11th, 2016

    Agreed, Trudeau was elected to do better than this, particularly after running, in many ways, a social democrat and Jack Layton-style campaign. This campaign was a positive campaign and full of Jack Layton’s words: “love, hope and optimism.”
    However, what the federal NDP, and Conservatives, could have both done, during the campaign, was defined the Liberals much more efficiently. The NDP could have reminded Canadians of the Liberal tradition of doing a social democrat campaign, but much differently, have been, traditionally, right wing when in power. The Conservatives could have pointed out how the Liberals say one thing during campaigns but are just like them when in power.
    So, for those of us who are old enough to know this Liberal tradition, it is not surprising to see the Trudeau Liberals take this slant on this arms deal with the Saudis.
    We will also be watching to see what will happens with too low corporate tax rates, corporate offshore tax havens, electoral reform (and not Preferential Ballot either), the TPP, and much more.
    Will it still be the situation of the black cats and the white cats, all cats? Time will tell, and many of us are still waiting.

    Reply
  8. Albertastani

    January 11th, 2016

    Let me just say: fu(* Saudi Arabia! It’s high time Canadian wake up to the fact that we are in a cultural fight to the death against religious extremism, and the Saudis are NOT on our side. (Which isn’t to say that the Iranian Mullahs are lovely folks). ISIS exists because the Gulf monarchies discreetly allow private funding and recruits to flow there, just like Pakistan and the Taliban they are trying to play both sides. ISIS is at war with us, so if any country supports them, even tacitly, they are NOT our “allies”.

    They, like David said, are also our DIRECT ECONOMIC RIVALS in the world of energy. The whole “Ethical Oil” thing that Ezra Levant tried to peddle was nonsense because he didn’t actually believe in any of it, it was simply an excuse to do nothing on the environment. But he was right that the Saudis and other Gulf monarchs are UN-ethical.

    Thousands of Indian and Pakistani migrant workers are dying of heat exhaustion in Qatar so they can build air conditioned stadiums for World Cup soccer. That is moral and ecological madness. When are we going to say so?!

    America is too deeply implicated in the current troubles in the Middle East to take the kind of stand that is needed. We could be that voice.

    Down with Saudi Arabia, down with the Gulf monarchies!

    Reply
  9. Darrell Stokes

    January 19th, 2016

    I’m with Athabascan although Harper didn’t sell the Wheat Board.
    He gave it away, along with millions of dollars of assets that farmers paid for over the 75 years of history.

    Good deal for Saudi’s….you bet.
    Costs them nothing, and once they alienate all their allies (coming soon) they will have a ready source of food at locked in prices, right in Canada’s backyard. They buy cheap from desperate farmers. They no longer have to deal with world prices.

    Canadian farmers are bent over and abused once again.

    Reply

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