The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Weapons sales to Saudi Arabia reveal that Canada is willing to trade jobs for its principles

The Committee to Protect Journalists and other press freedom activists held a candlelight vigil Oct. 2 in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington to mark the anniversary of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold the world’s attention, Canada has decided to resume selling weapons to the butcher regime in Saudi Arabia. An April 9 release from Global Affairs Canada entitled “Canada improves terms of light armored vehicles contract, putting in place a new robust permits review process” stretches the limits of feel-good government double-talk, effectively stating that the country is willing to trade jobs for its principles, albeit with a bit more transparency and an “arms-length advisory panel of experts who will review best practices regarding arms exports.”

Well, that’s all sorted then. And never mind the timing. As journalist Martin Lukacs put it on Twitter, “Thursday afternoon before a four-day weekend in the midst of a global media-monopolizing pandemic… the perfect time for Liberals to announce they’ve green-lighted exporting more death machines to the Saudi dictators.”

I guess Canada is back, but hoping no one was watching.

Prior to this statement, Canada had put an indefinite hold on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia after the 2018 murder of journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The announcement of the renegotiated contract reiterates, “Under our law, Canadian goods cannot be exported where there is a substantial risk that they would be used to commit or to facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law or serious acts of gender-based violence.”

So what’s changed then?

In 2019, researchers Jeremy Wildeman and Anthony Fenton wrote, “[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s Canada also appeared the polar opposite of a conservative kingdom infamous for denying women basic rights, such as the right to drive or travel without a male guardian’s consent. The infamy includes frequent use of the death penalty. Public beheadings and crucifixions are regularly meted out in cases of public protest, homosexuality and sorcery.” Around the same time, Amnesty International warned the world that Canadian military equipment was being used in the Saudi war against Yemen — a conflict that has brought about extraordinary suffering and loss, including widespread famine and the death of more than 100,000 people.

Last year, Global Affairs Canada disputed the claim that there would be “negative consequences” from Canadian exports of military equipment to the Saudi regime. Experts immediately pushed back. I know who I believe.

Canada’s inconsistency and two-faced treachery is maddening. But at least the ministers of foreign affairs and finance are saying the quiet parts loud. “We can confirm that the cancellation of this $14-billion contract — or even the mere disclosure of any of its terms — could have resulted in billions of dollars in damages to the government of Canada, with potential damages amounting to the full value of the contract,” they said in the release.

The ministers add, “This would have put the jobs of thousands of Canadians at risk, not only in Southwestern Ontario but also across the entire defense industry supply chain, which includes hundreds of small and medium enterprises.” So, the deal, shared with the country and the world under cover of the covid-19 pandemic, is death and destruction abroad in exchange for jobs at home.

I’d call it a Faustian bargain, but it’s far worse. At least Faust wanted knowledge; Canada already has knowledge. We know this is a bad deal with bad people sending dangerous weapons abroad that have a significant likelihood of being misused — or, rather, used as intended.

The government of Canada ought to be ashamed of itself for going forward with this deal. And Canadians ought to be ashamed of their government for doing so. There is no “if…” to append to this judgment, no “what about…”

The decision is wrong. The decision is immoral. The decision ought to be condemned. The decision ought to be reversed. And, in the meantime, Canadians ought to give careful consideration to the chasm between what Canada says it prefers, values and represents, and how it behaves when put to the test.

Read more:

A missing voice, a growing chorus

Robert Menendez: Trump betrayed U.S. moral leadership with Saudi Arabia. So Congress had to act.

Ezzedine Fishere: Jamal Khashoggi symbolized the promise of reconciling political Islam and democracy

David Von Drehle: Hollywood loves triumphant journalism stories. This isn’t one of them.