Tag Archives: Yemen

Rather than being critics, Liberals actually enable Saudi crimes

One has to admire the Canadian government’s manipulation of the media regarding its relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite being partners with the Kingdom’s international crimes, the Liberals have managed to convince some gullible folks they are challenging Riyadh’s rights abuses.

By downplaying Ottawa’s support for violence in Yemen while amplifying Saudi reaction to an innocuous tweet the dominant media has wildly distorted the Trudeau government’s relationship to the monarchy.

In a story headlined “Trudeau says Canada has heard Turkish tape of Khashoggi murder”, Guardian diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour affirmed that “Canada has taken a tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record for months.” Hogwash. Justin Trudeau’s government has okayed massive arms sales to the monarchy and largely ignored the Saudi’s devastating war in Yemen, which has left up to 80,000 dead, millions hungry and sparked a terrible cholera epidemic.

While Ottawa recently called for a ceasefire, the Liberals only direct condemnation  of the Saudi bombing in Yemen was an October 2016 statement. It noted, “the Saudi-led coalition must move forward now on its commitment to investigate this incident” after two airstrikes killed over 150  and wounded 500 during a funeral in Sana’a.

By contrast when the first person was killed from a rocket launched into the Saudi capital seven months ago, Chrystia Freeland stated, “Canada strongly condemns the ballistic missile attacks launched by Houthi rebels on Sunday, against four towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh’s international airport. The deliberate targeting of civilians is unacceptable.” In her release Canada’s foreign minister also accepted the monarchy’s justification for waging war. “There is a real risk of escalation if these kinds of attacks by Houthi rebels continue and if Iran keeps supplying weapons to the Houthis”, Freeland added.

Ottawa has also aligned itself with Riyadh’s war aims on other occasions. With the $15 billion LAV sale to the monarchy under a court challenge in late 2016, federal government lawyers described Saudi Arabia as “a key military ally who backs efforts of the international community to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen. The acquisition of these next-generation vehicles will help in those efforts, which are compatible with Canadian defence interests.” The Canadian Embassy’s website currently claims “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

In recent years the Saudis have been the second biggest recipients of Canadian weaponry, which are frequently used in Yemen. As Anthony Fenton has documented in painstaking detail, hundreds of armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have been videoed in Yemen.Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers – Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics Land Systems Canada– was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Between May and July Canada exported $758.6 million worth of “tanks and other armored fighting vehicles” to the Saudis.

The Saudi coalition used Canadian-made rifles as well.“Canada helped fuel the war in Yemen by exporting more rifles to Saudi Arabia than it did to the U.S. ($7.15 million vs. $4.98 million)”, tweeted Fenton regarding export figures from July and August.

Some Saudi pilots that bombed Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In recent years Saudi pilots have trained  with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada, which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montreal-based flight simulator company also trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East.

Training and arming the monarchy’s military while refusing to condemn its brutal war in Yemen shouldn’t be called a “tough line on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.” Rather, Canada’s role should be understood for what it is: War profiteer and enabler of massive human rights abuses.

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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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Complicity with Saudi crimes limits Canada’s response

Governments, like gardeners, reap what they sow. Trudeau’s continuation of Harper’s Conservative Mideast foreign policy has reaped the current mess with Saudi Arabia.

The Liberal brain trust must be wondering, “what do we have to do? We slavishly back the odious Saudi regime and they freak over an innocuous tweet.”

The Trudeau government has largely maintained the Conservative government’s pro-Saudi policies and support for Riyadh’s belligerence in the region. They’ve mostly ignored its war on Yemen, which has left 15,000 civilians dead, millions hungry and sparked a cholera epidemic. Rather than oppose this humanitarian calamity, Ottawa armed the Saudis and openly aligned itself with Riyadh.

Some of the Saudi pilots bombing Yemen were likely trained in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since 2011 Saudi pilots have trained with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada (NFTC), which is run by the Canadian Forces and CAE. The Montreal-based flight simulator company trained Royal Saudi Air Force pilots in the Middle East, as well as the United Arab Emirates Air Force, which joined the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen.

As Anthony Fenton has demonstrated on Twitter, Saudi backed forces have been using Canadian-made rifles and armoured vehicles in Yemen. Saudi Arabia purchased Canadian-made Streit Group armoured vehicles for its war, which have been videoed targeting Yemeni civilians. The Trudeau government signed off on a $15 billion Canadian Commercial Corporation Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) contract with the kingdom. Over a decade and a half, General Dynamics Land Systems Canada is to provide upwards of a thousand vehicles equipped with machine guns and medium or high calibre weapons. The largest arms export contract in Canadian history, it includes maintaining the vehicles and training Saudi forces to use the LAVs.

With the LAV sale under a court challenge, in late 2016 federal government lawyers described Saudi Arabia as “a key military ally who backs efforts of the international community to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the instability in Yemen. The acquisition of these next-generation vehicles will help in those efforts, which are compatible with Canadian defence interests.” In a further sign of Ottawa aligning with Riyadh’s foreign policy, Canada’s just-expelled ambassador, Dennis Horak, said in April 2016 that the two countries have had “nearly similar approaches on Syria, Yemen, Iraq and the Middle East Peace Process” and the Canadian Embassy’s website currently notes that “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

Within six weeks of taking up his new post, Trudeau’s first foreign minister Stéphane Dion met his Saudi counterpart in Ottawa. According to briefing notes for the meeting, Dion was advised to tell the Saudi minister, “I am impressed by the size of our trade relationship, and that it covers so many sectors …You are our most important trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.” The Trudeau government also sought to deepen ties to the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose members almost all intervened in Yemen. Announced in 2013, the Canada–GCC Strategic Dialogue has been a forum to discuss economic ties and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Dion attended the May 2016 meeting with GCC foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia.

Canada is a major arms exporter to the GCC monarchies. Canadian diplomats, the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), and the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) promoted arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC. With support from Global Affairs Canada and the CCC, a slew of Canadian arms companies flogged their wares at the Abu Dhabi-based International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in 2016, 2017, 2018 and are already preparing for 2019.

Canadian companies and officials sold weapons to monarchies that armed anti-government forces in Syria. In an effort to oust the Bashar al-Assad regime, GCC countries supported extremist Sunni groups, which have had ties to Daesh/Islamic State.

The Trudeau government continued with the previous government’s low-level support for regime change in Syria. It provided aid to groups opposed to Assad and supported US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian military base in April.

With the Saudis, Israel and the US generally antagonistic to Iran, there has been only a minor shift away from the Harper government’s hostile position towards that country. The Trudeau government dialed down the previous government’s most bombastic rhetoric against Tehran but has not restarted diplomatic relations (as Trudeau promised before the election) or removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list. One aim of the Canada-GCC Strategic Dialogue is to isolate Iran. A communiqué after the May 2016 Canada-GCC ministerial meeting expressed “serious concernsover Iran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region.” An April 2016 Global Affairs memo authorizing the LAV export permits noted that “Canada appreciates Saudi Arabia’s role as a regional leader promoting regional stability, as well as countering the threat posed by Iranian regional expansionism.”

The Trudeau government continued to criticize Iran for their human rights abuses while regularly ignoring more flagrant rights violations by the rulers of Saudi Arabia. In the fall of 2017, Canada again led the effort to have the United Nations General Assembly single Iran out for human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia’s over the top response to an innocuous tweet has given the Liberals a unique opportunity to distance Canada from the violent, misogynistic and repressive regime. If there were a hint of truth to Trudeau’s “feminist”, “human rights”, “Canada is back”, etc. claims the Liberals would seize the occasion. But the Saudis are betting Canada backs down. Based on Trudeau’s slavish support for the kingdom so far it is a safe bet.

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