Canada Doesn’t Need Saudi Arabia

Canada Doesn’t Need Saudi Arabia

As published in the Victoria Standard: January 1, 2019.

I last wrote about Saudi Arabia back in August when the Trudeau government demanded the release of human rights organizers held by Saudi authorities. At the recent G20 meetings in Argentina, Foreign Minister Crystia Freeland repeated these demands and also announced sanctions against 17 Saudis suspected of involvement in the 2018 Istanbul murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The 17 are barred from entering Canada and their Canadian assets have been frozen.

At the G20, Trudeau spoke directly to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi’s murder but avoided a direct accusation. Trudeau also expressed concerns about the ongoing war in Yemen, although Canadian arms sales to Saudi Arabia diminish the prime minister’s credibility as a critic. However, this seems a good time to approach the prince, who is increasingly vulnerable to both international pressure and influence from senior members of the Saudi royal family annoyed by the negative publicity.

Defenders of Canada’s sale of light armored vehicles (LAVs) to the Kingdom continue emphasizing the expense of contract cancellation while ignoring the inevitable human cost. Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly arm and deploy these war machines both in Yemen and against domestic protestors. In 2011 Saudi Arabia lent LAVs to neighbouring Bahrain who deployed the Canadian-built vehicles against pro-democracy demonstrators. As previously reported, Saudi LAV’s operating in Yemen were identified in 2015 by the Globe and Mail as Canadian-made.

Official Canada has long used the nation’s deep ties to both the U.S. and the UK as a ready excuse for inaction on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, parroting American and British claims about the Kingdom’s vital role in Middle East stability. While Canada has not provided military or security training to Saudi Arabia, the RCMP has been quietly considering a program of high-tech police training for the Kingdom since 2013.

While foreign locale is common to both Saudi’s October assassination of Khashoggi and the UK murders perpetrated by Russian operatives, sending covert killers on overseas missions is hardly unusual. In fact, it is hypocritical for Canada to criticize a behaviour that has been common practice among its U.S., UK and Israeli allies.

In fact, recent commentary creates the impression that Saudi Arabia’s real mistake was assuming it could engage in the sort of violence reserved for liberal democracies like the aforementioned trio. For example, Britain’s dark history in Northern Ireland and Israel’s frequent Gaza killings have been consistently and even successfully portrayed as regrettable but necessary acts of pre-emptive defense.

On a global scale, Barack Obama’s drone assassination program was noted for fatal mistakes and anonymous “collateral” deaths since even smart bombs are less precise than advertised. This conduct has been aided and abetted by every British and Canadian government since 911, enriching arms dealers, private mercenary contractors and other conflict profiteers.

The U.S. Special Forces have advised the Saudi military for decades while the UK provides ongoing military and police training to Saudi security forces like the brutal National Guard. This “elite” force was implicated in the arrest, torture and executions of dozens of pro-democracy activists during the Arab Spring and the British government was surely aware of the National Guard’s brutal history and contempt for political dissent.

The political and economic power derived from oil is vital to any discussion of Saudi Arabia. For Canadians, talk of Saudi petroleum inevitably leads to “ethical oil” and questions about the wisdom of importing crude into a nation already rich in fossil fuels. Since Canada’s clean energy transformation is still moving slowly, citizens may yet rely on the West’s vast bitumen reserves and the East’s offshore oil and gas to satisfy domestic needs and export. Unfortunately, while Canada has the technical ability and infrastructure to build more refineries, resistance lingers among bulk oil exporters who seek short-term profit.

Such thinking typically puts shareholder value ahead of the national good and forces Canada to continue importing Saudi oil and wasting time on diplomatic posturing and protecting ill-considered arms deals. Until clean energy replaces oil, pipelines and refineries can be built and operated with the best technology and construction methods to ensure environmental protection. Directing carbon tax revenues to domestic refinery construction and related infrastructure would make Saudi Arabia less relevant to Canada while enhancing the nation’s energy sovereignty.