Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Canada gets cozy with repressive Middle East monarchies

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan was on a tour of the Middle East last week.

While Justin Trudeau’s government embraces repressive Middle East monarchies, they want us to believe their campaign to oust Venezuela’s government is motivated by support for democracy and human rights.

On a tour of the Middle East last week Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan met his United Arab Emirates counterpart Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Bowardi in Abu Dhabi. According to Emirates News Agency, Canadian and UAE officials discussed “cooperation  in the military and defence sectors” at a time when the oil rich nation plays a key role in the horrendous violence in Yemen.

The Trudeau government is promoting arm sales to the UAE and other regional monarchies. With support from “15 trade commissioners and representatives from the Government of Ontario, National Defence, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation”, 50 Canadian arms companies flogged their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in February. To help the arms companies move their wares, Commander of the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150, Commodore Darren Garnier, led a Canadian military delegation to IDEX.

During his recent tour Sajjan met King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in Jordan. He discussed military cooperation with a monarch known for prosecuting individuals for “extending one’s tongue” (having a big mouth) against the King. At the end of March, Trudeau phoned King Abdullah II.

On April 9 the Canadian and Jordanian armed forces broke ground on a road project along the Jordanian-Syrian border. During a ceremony for the Canadian-funded initiative Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lieutenant General Michael Rouleau, said: “this important road rehabilitation project is a tangible example of the close relationship between Jordan and Canada. It will help keep the people of Jordan safe by allowing the Jordanian armed forces to deter, monitor and interdict incursions along the northern border with Syria, which will help to enhance security in Jordan and in the region.”

On his Middle East tour Sajjan also met Kuwait’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who is part of a family that has ruled for 250 years. According to the Kuwait News Agency, Canada’s defence minister “stressed deep relations between Kuwait and Canada and pointed out mutual willingness to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.”

Earlier in the month finance minister Bill Morneau and Parliamentary Secretary Omar Alghabra participated in the inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”

Military ties with Kuwait are important because the Canadian forces have a small base there. In December the Canadian Navy took command of Combined Task Force 150 from their Saudi counterparts. Canada also has a small number of troops in the monarchies of Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar.

Last month Canada’s Ambassador to Qatar Stefanie McCollum boasted of growing relations between the countries, claiming “our values structures are very similar.” In an interview with Al Bawaba the Canadian diplomat also said Ottawa is seeking to deepen business ties with the natural gas rich monarchy and that the two countries are in the final stage of signing a defence cooperation agreement.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic spat last summer, the Trudeau government has mostly continued business as usual with the most powerful and repressive monarchy in the region. Recently foreign minister Chrystia Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada — 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 suggests they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

According to an access request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January. 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.”

Despite their devastating war in Yemen and dismembering of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia continues to receive large shipments of Canadian weaponry. 2018 was a record year for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. $17.64 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom last year and another $1.896 million worth of guns were delivered in February. In the first month of this year Canada exported $367 million worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

As Fenton has documented in detail on his highly informative Twitter handle, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been repeatedly 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. The Saudi-led coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.

On Tuesday 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 has stayed mum on the Saudi’s recent effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

The close and friendly relationships between the Trudeau government and repressive Middle East monarchies demonstrates how little the Liberals care about democracy abroad and illustrates the hypocrisy of Canada’s claims that its efforts to oust Venezuela’s government is all about supporting human rights and democracy.

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Filed under Justin Trudeau, Middle East

SNC Lavalin scandal blowback from corrupt Canadian foreign policy

SNC Lavalin has long shaped Canadian foreign policy.

This story also appears on the Real News Network.

Canada’s corrupt foreign policy practices have come home to roost on Parliament Hill.

Justin Trudeau’s government is engulfed in a major political scandal that lays bare corporate power in Ottawa. But, SNC Lavalin’s important role in Canadian foreign policy has largely been ignored in discussion of the controversy.

The Prime Minister’s Office has been accused of interfering in the federal court case against the giant Canadian engineering and construction firm for bribing officials in Libya. Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould claims she was repeatedly pressured to defer prosecution of the company and instead negotiate a fine.

Facing a 10-year ban on receiving federal government contracts if convicted of bribing Libyan government officials, SNC began to lobby the Trudeau government to change the criminal code three years ago. The company wanted the government to introduce deferred prosecution agreements in which a sentencing agreement would allow the company to continue receiving government contracts. At SNC’s request the government changed the criminal code but Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure from the PMO to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with the company headquartered in Montréal.

Incredibly, before Trudeau went to bat for SNC after the firm had either been found guilty or was alleged to have greased palms in Libya, Bangladesh, Algeria, India, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Cambodia and Zambia (as well as Québec). A 2013 CBC/Globe and Mail investigation of a small Oakville, Ontario, based division of SNC uncovered suspicious payments to government officials in connection with 13 international development projects. In each case between five and 10 per cent of costs were recorded as “‘project consultancy cost,’ sometimes ‘project commercial cost,’ but [the] real fact is the intention is [a] bribe,” a former SNC engineer, Mohammad Ismail, told the CBC.

While the media has covered the company’s corruption and lobbying for a deferred prosecution agreement, they have barely mentioned SNC’s global importance or influence over Canadian foreign policy. Canada’s preeminent “disaster capitalist” corporation, SNC has worked on projects in most countries around the world. From constructing Canada’s Embassy in Haiti to Chinese nuclear centres, to military camps in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factories in Belgium, the sun never sets on SNC.

Its work has often quite controversial. SNC constructed and managed Canada’s main military base in Kandahar during the war there; SNC Technologies Inc provided bullets to US occupation forces in Iraq; SNC has billions of dollars in contracts with the monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

Across the globe SNC promotes neoliberal reforms. The company greatly benefits from governments shifting to public-private partnerships. SNC is also a member or sponsor of the Canadian Council on Africa, Canadian Council for the Americas, Canada-ASEAN business council, Conseil des Relations Internationales de Montréal and other foreign policy lobby/discussion groups.

SNC has been one of the largest corporate recipients of Canadian “aid.” The company has had entire departments dedicated to applying for Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UN and World Bank funded projects. SNC’s first international contract, in 1963 in India, was financed by Canadian aid and led to further work in that country. In the late 1960s the firm was hired to manage CIDA offices in African countries where Canada had no diplomatic representation. In the late 1980s CIDA contracted SNC to produce a feasibility study for the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced more than a million Chinese. During the occupation of Afghanistan CIDA contracted SNC to carry out its $50 million “signature project” to repair the Dahla dam on the Arghandab River in Kandahar province ($10 million was spent on private security for the dam).

In 2006 SNC was bailed out by the Canadian aid agency after it didn’t follow proper procedure for a contract to renovate and modernize the Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniyar hydroelectric projects in the southern Indian state of Kerala. A new state government demanded a hospital in compensation for the irregularities and SNC got CIDA to put up $1.8 million for the project. (SNC-Lavalin initially said they would put $20 million into the hospital, but they only invested between $2 and $4.4 million.)

Company officials have been fairly explicit about the role Canadian diplomacy plays in their business. Long-time president Jacques Lamarre described how “the official support of our governments, whether through commercial missions or more private conversations, has a beneficial and convincing impact on our international clients.”

Even SNC’s use of bribery has a made-in-Ottawa tint. For years Canada lagged behind the rest of the G7 countries in criminalizing foreign bribery. For example, into the early 1990s, Canadian companies were at liberty to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, affording them an “advantage over the Americans”, according to Bernard Lamarre former head of Lavalin (now SNC Lavalin). In 1991, Bernard, the older brother to SNC Lavalin’s subsequent head Jacques Lamarre, told Maclean’s that he always demanded a receipt when paying international bribes. “I make sure we get a signed invoice,” he said. “And payment is always in the form of a cheque, not cash, so we can claim it on our income tax!”

In 1977, the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act outlawed bribes to foreign officials. Ottawa failed to follow suit until the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched its anti-bribery convention in 1997. The OECD convention obliged signatories to pass laws against bribing public officials abroad and two years later Canada complied, passing the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA). Still, for the next decade Canadian officials did little to enforce the law. The RCMP waited until 2008 to create an International Anti-Corruption Unit and didn’t secure a significant conviction under the CFPOA until 2011.

As the recent scandal demonstrates — and the Financial Post noted years ago — SNC has “considerable lobbying power in Ottawa.” Placing its CEO among the 50 “Top People Influencing Canadian Foreign Policy”,  Embassy magazine described SNC as “one of the country’s most active companies internationally”, which “works closely with the government.” The now-defunct weekly concluded, “whoever is heading it is a major player” in shaping Canadian foreign policy.

And, as it turns out, in shaping the way things are now done at home in Ottawa.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Uncategorized

Time for Trudeau to call the Saudi bluff

As every good poker player knows, sometimes the right move is to go all in.

Given his cards and the obvious over-the-top attempt by his opponent to scare him off a winning hand, Justin Trudeau’s next move should be to see Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (aka MBS) diplomatic break and raise him a wide-ranging ethical challenge.

In response to Saudi Arabia suspending diplomatic ties, withdrawing medical students and selling off assets in Canada over an innocuous tweet, the Trudeau government should:

  • Demand an immediate end to Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. More than 15,000Yemenis have been killed, including dozens of children on Thursday, since Riyadh began bombing its southern neighbour in 2015. Ottawa should suspend air force training until they stop bombing Yemen. In 2011 Saudi pilots began training in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Cold Lake, Alberta with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada (NFTC).
  • As Trudeau promised before the 2015 election, the Liberals should re-establish diplomatic relations with Riyadh’s regional competitor Iran.
  • Labour minister Patricia Hajdu should hold a press conference in Ottawa or at the International Labour Organization in Geneva to call on that country to adhere to international labour standards. Exiled Saudi labouractivists could be invited to discuss how unions have been outlawed in the kingdom since 1947.
  • Culture minister Pablo Rodriguez should launch an investigation into Saudi funding of mosques, Islamic schools, universitiesand Arabic language media in Canada. The objective would be to ascertain the extent to which this money promotes an extremist Wahhabi version of Islam and the reactionary politics of the Saudi monarchy.
  • Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland should forcefully criticize the fourteen-month old Saudi blockade of Qatar and visit that country in a demonstration of solidarity.
  • Trudeau should condemn any effort by MBS to impose the Donald Trump/Jared Kushner “deal of the century” on Palestinians.
  • Global Affairs Canada should closely monitor repression in the largely Shia eastern region of the country and be prepared to strongly condemn it.
  • Call for an end to Saudi interference in Bahrain, a small island nation sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi forces (with Canadian made Light Armored Vehicles) intervened to squelch pro-democracy protests there in 2011 and continue to support the 220-year-old monarchy.
  • Withdraw any Canadian military personnel training Saudi forces.A Canadian colonel, Mark Campbell, leads the General Dynamics Land Systems Saudi Arabian LAV support program.
  • Cease public support, including via the Canadian Commercial Corporation, for weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until the monarchy re-establishes full diplomatic ties, ends the blockade of Qatar and stops bombing Yemen.

One of the most misogynistic and repressive countries in the world, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote reactionary social forces in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Saudi monarchy may be the worst regime in the world. (The US, of course, is responsible for far more violence but it is relatively free domestically.)

In an odd twist the Liberals have been given a unique opportunity to turn the highest-profile “stain” on their “supposedly principled, feminist, rights-promoting foreign policy” into a human rights image boosting campaign. Standing up to a wealthy international bully could be exactly what the party needs to be re-elected.

Of course Trudeau may fear MBS’ relationship with Trump/Kushner, Saudi’s growing alliance with Israel and ties to some Canadian corporate titans. But to win the big pots a poker player must be willing to gamble.

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Conservatives promote Canada as arms dealer

Psst. Looking for arms? Guns, ammunition, high tech supplies, armoured vehicles, and more, all quality Canadian made. Background check? We can get around that. Not democratic? No worries. Tools of repression? Sounds good to us.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are working to expand Canadian arms exports and the focus is Middle Eastern monarchies entangled in a great deal of violence.

At the start of last year the Conservatives announced Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement. Over the next 10 to 13 years General Dynamics Land Systems Canada will supply $14.8 billion worth of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military.

Ottawa pushed this deal, which is expected to top 1,000 combat vehicles, even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. That year the Conservatives approved arms export licences worth $4 billion to this bulwark of religious and political conservatism in the Middle East. Domestically, the House of Saud has outlawed labour unions, stifled independent media and ruthlessly suppressed dissent. One could reasonably argue that the Saudi monarchy is the worst regime in the world. (The U.S., of course, is responsible for far more violence but it is relatively free domestically. North Korea is as repressive but its foreign policy is benign compared to Saudi Arabia’s.)

General Dynamics isn’t just selling the LAVs to Saudi Arabia. An industry analyst speculates that about half of the $15 billion sale is for the equipment while the other half of the money is for training Saudi troops and maintaining the vehicles. A Canadian colonel, Mark E.K. Campbell, leads General Dynamics Land Systems Saudi Arabian LAV support program.

It’s not clear if this sale — or previous ones to Saudi Arabia — are actually legal under existing arms control measures. Ottawa is supposed to restrict arms deliveries to “governments [that] have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens” unless they conclude there’s no “reasonable risk” the weaponry will be used against civilians.

But federal government involvement in the sale goes beyond simply allowing it. A slew of ministers have visited Saudi Arabia in recent years and a Crown Corporation signed the LAV contracts. The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) is responsible for the $14.8 billion sale with the Saudis while General Dynamics has a separate agreement to fulfill the Canadian government’s terms.

 The CCC, whose board is appointed by the federal government, has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. According to a June 2011 Embassy article, “the Canadian Commercial Corporation has been transformed from a low-profile Canadian intermediary agency to a major player in promoting Canadian global arms sales.” Traditionally, the CCC sold Canadian weaponry to the U.S. Department of Defense under the 1956 Defence Production Sharing Agreement but during the Conservative government it began emulating some aspects of the U.S. defence department’s Foreign Military Sales program, which facilitates that country’s global arms sales. In June 2012 Embassy noted: “In the last few years, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, has helped Canadian firms sell everything from military hardware and weapons to wiretapping technology, forensics for ballistics, surveillance, document detection, sensor systems, bulletproof vests and helmets, training, and other services.” According to CCC president Marc Whittingham, who wrote in a May 2010 issue of Hill Times that “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission,” the agency is “partnering with government ministers to get the job done.”

Ottawa has helped arms manufacturers in numerous other ways: Last February they announced the creation of a Defence Analytics Institute to study trends in the global arms market; Over the past four years the list of countries eligible to receive Canadian automatic weapons (Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List) has increased from 20 to 34 states and Ottawa is looking to add a number of other countries; To help companies navigate arms export regulations the federal government embedded a trade commissioner with the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI); Ottawa has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to the arms industry’s main lobby group.

CADSI has also benefited from direct political support. In December 2011 senior representatives from the Department of National Defense, the Canadian Forces, Foreign Affairs and the CCC participated in a CADSI trade mission to Kuwait. According to the official press release, they “discussed with Kuwaiti government and military leaders how Canadian and Kuwaiti businesses in the defence and security sector can work together effectively in Kuwait and more generally in the Gulf.” CADSI president Tim Page applauded what he described as the Conservatives “whole of government effort” with the Kuwaiti monarchy. CADSI’s costs for the mission were partly covered by the Global Opportunities for Associations program. The government-backed corporate lobby group also led trade missions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the previous year.

In February of last year, 25 Canadian companies flogged their wares at IDEX 2013, the largest arms fair in the Middle East and North Africa. “We’re excited to see such a large number of Canadian exhibitors,” said Arif Lalani, Canada’s ambassador to the UAE, where arms bazaar was held. “These companies represent the best Canadian capabilities and technologies in a number of areas of the defence and security sector.” As part of their effort to promote Canadian weaponry, Ottawa sent naval frigate HMCS Toronto to the UAE during IDEX.

At CANSEC 2014, CADSI’s annual arms fair in Ottawa, the CCC toured delegates from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait (and a number of Latin American countries) across the “exhibition floor,” reported a press release. Officials from the crown corporation also “introduced representatives to new Canadian technologies, facilitating meetings between foreign delegations and Canadian companies.”

In recent years Saudi Arabia and the other Middle East monarchies have actively suppressed pro-democracy movements and stoked violence in Syria, Iraq and Libya. At the same time Ottawa has helped Canada’s arms industry ramp up sales to the region.

This is what Harper has in mind when he talks about a “principled” foreign policy.

This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Canadian Dimension.

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Canadian arms sale promotes misogyny, royal repression

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to take “strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.” But, even the most ardent Conservative supporters must wonder what principled position is behind the recent government-sponsored arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will send over $10 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles to one of the most anti-woman and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as its constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in Saudi Arabia are banned from owning Bibles or attending church while the Shia Muslim minority face significant state-sanctioned discrimination.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the “Arab Spring” democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of authoritarian political movements and by deploying 1,000 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain.

The Conservatives have ignored these abuses, staying quiet when the regime killed “Arab Spring” protesters and intervened in Bahrain. Worse still, the Harper government’s hostility towards Iran and backing of last July’s military takeover in Egypt partly reflects their pro-Saudi orientation. In a stark example of Ottawa trying to ingratiate itself with that country’s monarchy, Foreign Minister John Baird recently dubbed the body of water between Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states the “Arabian Gulf” rather than the widely accepted Persian Gulf.

Ottawa hasn’t hidden its affinity for the Saudi royal family. Baird praised a deceased prince for “dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia” and another as “a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.”

“I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going,” Ed Fast told the Saudi Gazette in August. On his second trip to the country in less than a year, Canada’s International Trade Minister boasted about the two countries’ “common cause on many issues.”

Fast is not the only minister who has made the pilgrimage. Conservative ministers John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, and Stockwell Day (twice) have all visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes.

These trips have spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. SNC Lavalin alone has won Saudi contracts worth $1 billion in the last two years.

As a result of one of the ministerial visits, the RCMP plan to train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” The Conservatives have also developed military relations with the Saudis. In January 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel and, in another first, Saudi pilots began training in Alberta and Saskatchewan with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada in 2011.

The recently announced arms deal will see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada deliver Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement, it’s reportedly worth $10-13 billion over 14 years.

The LAV sale is facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. The Conservative government has okayed and underwritten this deal even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

This sale and the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate exactly what principles Harper supports: misogyny, military repression, monarchy over democracy and commercial expediency, especially when it comes to the profits of a U.S.-owned branch plant arms dealer.

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