The sale of weaponized Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia has raised a heated debate in Canada, pitting so-called realists against people who expect trade to be conducted according to a minimum set of moral values. Outgoing Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's swan song was the $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which Harper boasted would provide 3,000 jobs.
A poll by Nanos Research showed that 60% of Canadians feel it is important to ensure arms go only to countries "that respect human rights" vs providing jobs to a few Canadians. The same poll showed that 86% hold a negative or somewhat negative view of Saudi Arabia.
The proposed sale is now being protested in a class action law suit by University of Montreal professor Daniel Turp. Turp and his group's challenge--Operation Armoured Rights--points to how poorly Saudi Arabia treats its own citizens, their horrific bombing campaign in Yemen, and their support for Wahhabi extremists in the Syrian insurgency.
The Quebec and Federal Court challenges argue that the Canadian government is violating its own arms-export rules by permitting the armoured vehicles to go to Saudi Arabia. The law states shipments cannot proceed "unless it can be demonstrated there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population."
Despite the legal challenge, Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion forged on with the sale. He did bow to public pressure to reveal the contents of the special government report on Saudi human rights. The report criticized the Saudis, but insisted there is no possibility of the vehicles being used against Saudi citizens.
Defending a 'done deal'
Canadian Conservative icon Conrad Black makes the case for the sale forcefully in Canada's leading Conservative mouthpiece the National Post.
* The Saudis are our allies.
What can that possibly mean? Aren't allies those who share your positions on relevant issues? Who work towards the same goals? How can an authoritarian monarchy, draped in a rigid vision of Islam, share our interests? Canadians were shocked in January when 47 Saudis were executed, mostly public beheadings, including the leading Shia imam, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
* Okay, that's a weak argument. How about Iranophobe Black's second blast: "The Saudis are less dangerous and hostile to the West than their Iranian rivals, and the Saudis are effectively combatting Iranian surrogates mentioned above".
Let's deconstruct this argument. Who is causing the problems now in the region? ISIS and its spin-offs al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. If it wasn't for Saudi Arabia, there would be no ISIS. If there was no ISIS, there would be no Syrian refugee crisis. If there was no refugee crisis, the EU wouldn't be disintegrating. Where are the nefarious "Iranian rivals" in this plot?
The same suspect logic was used to justify the US-Saudi support for ISIS forerunners in Afghanistan in 1979, which led to 9/11 and the current chaos throughout the region. Iran played no part in this devil's pact.
A logical policy would be to not support such terrorists. Not to invade and bomb other countries. Not to waste billions on arms. Rather, to use one's oil wealth to help one's citizens, and build a strong economy. But countries that try to do this, say, Bolivia or Iran, face only unremitting hostility from the US and Saudi Arabia.
* According to Conrad Black, we must help Saudi Arabia as an ally in the fight against Iranian expansion and anti-Western terrorism.