On February 14 International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced that General Dynamics Land Systems Canada in London, Ontario had won “the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canada’s history” to supply armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Details from the government press release were sketchy but did confirm:
- A multi-billion dollar contract over 14-years. GDLS-Canada’s parent corporation, General Dynamics Corp in the U.S separately confirmed that the contract is worth a minimum of $10 billion (U.S.) and with options as much as $13 billion.
- The light armoured vehicles will be built in London with “a cross-Canada supply chain” of more than 500 Canadian firms. The General Dynamics release stated that the vehicles will be “military and commercial.”
- The Canadian Commercial Corporation, a crown corporation based in Ottawa, arranged the contract with Saudi Arabia. It will act as a go-between, signing back-to-back contracts with Saudi Arabia and GDLS-Canada.
- “the contract will create and sustain more than 3,000 jobs each year in Canada.”
Even so, troubling questions remain, especially when we compare the announced sale to recent and similar arms exports to Saudi Arabia. These include:
- Who are the end-users of the armoured vehicles? The largest recipient of the 1,800-plus armoured vehicles that Canada has shipped to Saudi Arabia since 1992 has been the Saudi Arabian National Guard. The SANG is responsible for protecting the Saudi royal family in the less-than-democratic regime.
- How many vehicles will be shipped and how many of those will be for military end-use? GDLS-Canada armoured vehicles have been sold to non-military personnel including police (the RCMP for example).
- What are the vehicle variants that will be exported? The SANG have received at least 10 armoured vehicle variants from Canada in the past, including a “mobile gun system” that is essentially a small tank on wheels. Other variants have been used as troop carriers, communications hubs, patrol-vehicles and mortar-carriers. And what are the “commercial” vehicles to which General Dynamics refers?
- Why was the export authorized by the Department of Foreign Affairs when under its own guidelines it is obligated to “closely control” arms exports to governments with “a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens” (in other words, the Saudi government)? The guidelines allow for authorization if “it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” Canadian-built armoured vehicles have been used by Saudi Arabia to support Bahraini troops in their repression of civilian demonstrators. Who in government was able to demonstrate that the “reasonable risk” has disappeared?
- Why is the government encouraging job and export dependency on arms sales to such a volatile region? The Middle East is already over-armed. In Syria we have witnessed the horror when a government with a plentiful supply turns its weapons on its own people. Why is Canada linking its economic well-being to the prospect of further tragedy?
This is not the Valentine’s Day gift that Canada needs.