CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

Price of peace

  • January 14, 2016

Addressing U.S. congress last September, Pope Francis bluntly dissected the multi-billion-dollar international arms industry.

“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” he said. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money — money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. It is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

So there is little doubt where the Pope would stand in the debate about whether Canada should cancel a $15-billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. A copy of the Pope’s comments to congress should be read in Parliament as a prelude to the government rescinding a contract that was ill-advised from the outset.

That is unlikely to happen, of course. We won’t read the Pope in Hansard nor, according to the foreign minister, will we see the government rip up a contract it inherited when it took office last year. The Saudi deal promises 3,000 jobs over 15 years. As the Pope said, arms deals are always about the money.

The largest arms contract in Canadian history is being widely questioned due to the early January executions of 47 people, including a popular Shia cleric, by the Saudi regime. But calls to cancel the deal have gone unheeded.

“Almost all our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion. “It’s part of the world we live in.”

But is it the world we aspire to? World leaders are forever trumpeting peace but profiting from war. The Pope has chided those who profess to be Christian and yearn for peace, yet sell arms. He called them two-faced.

“There is that hypocrisy of speaking of peace and manufacturing weapons, and then even of selling the weapons to this one who’s at war with that one, and to that one who’s at war with this one,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is mostly at war with its own people. According to Amnesty International, the regime executed 151 people last year, many by beheading. Saudi leaders are merciless towards dissidents and generally disdainful of human rights. Amnesty International has cited Saudi Arabia for restricting free speech, intimidating and arresting critics, torturing prisoners, conducting dishonest trials, routinely imposing the death penalty and carrying out dozens of public executions.

Despite all this, Canada agreed last year to supply the Saudi internal security force, separate from the regular army, with a fleet of light armoured vehicles that can be fitted with powerful weapons. A nation notorious for human-rights abuses is to have made-in- Canada weapons that, at the whim of Saudi leaders, can be turned on its own citizens.

Shame on us.

Trading in weapons is a vile business. The Pope is right. It must stop.

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