A woman stands with children at a makeshift camp for internally displaced people near Sanaa, Yemen, Jan. 28, 2019. The United Nations says one child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen. CNS photo/Khaled Abdullah, Reuters

Editorial: Break this deal

  • October 1, 2020

Canada joined an exclusive international club last month, but there is no reason to brag.

United Nations investigators released a report citing Canada as one of the Western nations that is helping fuel the six-year-old civil war in Yemen that pits a Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Houthi rebels supported by Iran. 

This is a war that is more than brutal. There have been more than 100,000 deaths and millions more are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The scathing UN report cites both sides for abuses that amount to war crimes.

It was the third report issued by experts commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council and the first time Canada was named as contributing to the conflict through arms sales, joining the club that includes Britain, France and the United States. That distinction came because Canada reportedly more than doubled its arms exports to Saudi Arabia last year to $2.9 billion, most of that from a $14-billion contract to deliver light armoured vehicles (LAVs) assembled in London, Ont.

There’s no question where Pope Francis stands on the issue of arms deals. He has addressed it many, many times during his pontificate, condemning the profits “drenched in blood,” the arms dealers who are “merchants of death” and the “hypocrisy” of arms-dealing nations: “It’s an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time promote or permit the arms trade.”

The push for Canada to end the arms deal with Saudi Arabia — a country with a long history of human rights abuses — has been ongoing since it was signed in 2014. The latest petition landed on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s doorstep Sept. 17, the one-year anniversary of Canada joining the multilateral Arms Trade Treaty that was designed to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists and protect human lives. And while we wish this Saudi deal might be an aberration, there have been other deals that suggest Ottawa isn’t living up to the spirit of the treaty, including the sale of targeting sensor systems to Turkey.

The plea to end the Saudi deal was signed by 39 groups, including several Christian organizations. It was the fourth such letter this coalition sent in the last two years and each one has been met with silence.

No wonder — what can the government say? Justifying business with a known human rights abuser only tramples on the image of Canada as a peace-loving nation. Yes, the deal has created jobs, but, in the long run, does Canada want to be a centre for producing arms and armoured vehicles?

The government continues to dance around the issue. In 2018, Trudeau said he was looking to get out of the deal. In 2019 we were tied even tighter to the Middle East kingdom with the LAV deal. Incredibly, Global Affairs Canada said at the time the arms shipments “contribute to regional peace and security.”

The UN investigators beg to differ, as do we. We need to get out of this arms sales club.

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