Tag Archives: General Dynamics

Ottawa dances with Saudi kingdom

UnknownAs Canadians focus on the coronavirus pandemic the Trudeau government announced it was lifting its suspension of arms export permits to Saudi Arabia. It has also renegotiated the government’s $14 billion armoured vehicle deal with the belligerent, repressive, monarchy.

This is not surprising. The government set the stage for this decision when with its September review that found no evidence linking Canadian military exports to human rights violations committed by the Saudis. The Global Affairs review claimed there was no “credible” link between arms exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses even though the April 2016 memo to foreign minister Stéphane Dion originally approving the armoured vehicle export permits claimed they would assist Riyadh in “countering instability in Yemen.” The five year old Saudi led war against Yemen has left 100,000 dead. Throughout their time in office the Liberals have largely ignored Saudi violence in Yemen.

Despite a great deal of public attention devoted to a diplomatic spat, after Riyadh withdrew its ambassador over an innocuous tweet from the Canadian Embassy in August 2018, the Liberals have sought to mend relations and continue business as usual. In December 2018 HMCS Regina assumed command of a 33-nation Combined Maritime Forces naval coalition patrolling the region from Saudi Arabia. Last September foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Canada and we continue to work with Saudi Arabia on a number of different issues at a number of different levels.” For its part, the Canadian Embassy’s website continues to claim, “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

According to an access to information request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January 2019. In briefing notes for the (unannounced) discussion Freeland was encouraged to tell her counterpart (under the headline “points to register” regarding Yemen): “Appreciate the hard work and heavy lifting by the Saudis and encourage ongoing efforts in this regard.”

After Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MBS) thugs killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Trudeau treaded carefully regarding the murder. Ten days after the Canadian Press reported, “the prime minister said only that Canada has ‘serious issues’ with reports the Washington Post columnist was killed by Saudi Arabian operatives inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey.” Six weeks later the Liberals sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals over the issue but none of them were in positions of significant authority.

Foreign minister Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada last year — presumably with help from the embassy — to avoid sexual assault charges in Cape Breton. While Freeland told reporters that Global Affairs was investigating the matter, Halifax Chronicle Herald journalist Aaron Beswick’s Access to Information request suggested they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

In April 2019 the Saudis beheaded 37 mostly minority Shiites. Ottawa waited 48 hours — after many other countries criticized the mass execution — to release a “muted” statement. The Trudeau government stayed mum on the Saudi’s effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria in 2018/19 as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

While they implemented a freeze on new export permit approvals, shipments of Canadian weaponry continued. The year 2018 set a record for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. Over $17 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom in 2018 and a similar amount in 2019. Canada exported $2 billion worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis in 2019. In February Canada exported $155.5 million worth of “Tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to Saudi Arabia.

The Global Affairs review that claimed there was no “credible” link between Canadian weapons exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses noted there were 48 arms export permit applications awaiting government approval.

As Fenton has documented in detail, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have repeatedly been videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers — Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics — was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Fenton has shown many examples of the Saudi-led coalition using Canadian-made rifles as well.

The Trudeau government arming the monarchy’s military while saying little about its brutal war in Yemen should be understood for what it was: War profiteering and enabling of massive human rights abuses.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Middle East

When it comes to Saudi LAV sales, lobbyists will likely rule

Will they cancel the contract or won’t they? In order to understand Ottawa’s decision making process regarding General Dynamics’ massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia one must look closely at industry lobbyists.

While the Trudeau government is under substantial public pressure to rescind the $15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale, to do so would challenge the company and the broader corporate lobby.

Last week a senior analyst with the GD-financed Canadian Global Affairs Institute boldly defended the LAV sale.“There has been no behaviour by the Saudis to warrant cancelling this contract”, said David Perry to the London Free Press. Perry must have missed the Kingdom’s violence in Yemen, repression in eastern Saudi Arabia and consulate murder in Istanbul.

Two weeks ago Perry told another interviewer that any move to reverse the LAV sale would have dire consequences. “There would be geopolitical implications. There would be a huge number of economic implications, both immediately and in the wider economy… cancelling this, I think, would be a big step because as far as I understand the way that we look at arms exports, it would effectively mean that we’ve changed the rules of the game.”

Amidst an earlier wave of criticism towards GD’s LAV sale, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute published a paper titled “Canada and Saudi Arabia: A Deeply Flawed but Necessary Partnership” that defended the $15-billion deal. At the time of its 2016 publication at least four of the institute’s “fellows” wrote columns justifying the sale, including an opinion piece by Perry published in the Globe and Mail Report on Business that was headlined “Without foreign sales, Canada’s defence industry would not survive.”

Probably Canada’s most prominent foreign policy think tank, Canadian Global Affairs Institute is a recipient of GD’s “generous” donations. Both GD Land Systems and GD Mission Systems are listed among its “supporters” in recent annual reports, but the exact sum they’ve given the institute isn’t public.

The Conference of Defence Associations Institute also openly supports GD’s LAV sale. Representatives of the Ottawa-based lobby/think tank have written commentaries justifying the LAV sale and a2016 analysis concluded that “our own Canadian national interests, economic and strategic, dictate that maintaining profitable political and trade relations with ‘friendly’ countries like Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, is the most rational option in a world of unpleasant choices.” Of course, the Conference of Defence Associations Institute also received GD money and its advisory board includes GD Canada’s senior director of strategy and government relations Kelly Williams.

Representing 150 top CEOs, the Business Council of Canada (formerly Canadian Council of Chief Executives) promoted a similar position.In a 2016 iPolitics column titled “We can’t always sell weapons to people we like” the corporate lobby group’s head, John Manley, wrote that LAVs are not “used in torture or persecution of women. We are selling military vehicles — basically fancy trucks.”

Another corporate lobby group applauded GD’s Saudi sale. In 2014 Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters president Jayson Myers labeled the LAV sale “an Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers … All Canadians should be proud of this record achievement.”

The armament industry’s primary lobby group also backed GD’s sale to the Saudis. In 2014 Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries president Tim Page celebrated the LAV sale as a “good day for Canada” and two years later its new president, Christyn Cianfarani, defended the deal from criticism, telling the press “we certainly don’t take positions on the judicial practices of other nations.” GD is a member of CADSI and GD Land Systems Vice President, Danny Deep, chairs its board. With an office near Parliament, CADSI lobbyists have likely spoken to government officials about reversing the Saudi LAV sale.

For its part, GD has been lobbying decision makers aggressively. According to an October 24 iPolitics article “General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada has filed almost a dozen communications requests with government officials in the last week.” Like other military companies, the London, Ontario, armoured vehicle maker maintains an Ottawa office to access government officials.

GD has contracted former military officials to lobby on its behalf and offered retired Canadian Forces leaders senior positions. Before becoming Defence Minister, Gordon O’Connor, a former Brigadier-General, represented GD as a lobbyist while GD Canada hired former Navy commodore Kelly Williams as senior director of strategy and government relations in 2012.

GD also advertises at events and in areas of the nation’s capital frequented by government officials. Similarly, it promotes its brand in publications read by Ottawa insiders.

If the government does not cancel the Saudi LAV sale it will be further proof of the corporate lobby’s political influence.

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