Canada opposition demands end to Saudi arms sales

Canada investigates reports of Saudi Arabia using armoured trucks made near Toronto against civilians.

Rights groups and opposition figures have called on Canada to suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, following the kingdom’s alleged use of Canadian-made arms in a crackdown against Shia Muslim civilians in an eastern province.

Images on social media showed armoured vehicles, which military experts say are almost certainly Canadian-made, being used by Saudi government forces in Qatif.

If confirmed, such sales could be in violation of Canada’s defence export policies which say Canadian military equipment cannot be sold to countries where there is a risk it may be used in human rights abuses. 

Saudi Arabia, which is often criticised by rights groups, is now the second largest buyer of Canadian arms, behind the US.

READ MORE: UK activists demand end to Saudi Arabia, UAE arms sales

“Very few countries have so-called democracy or human rights criteria attached to their arms exports and even if they do, for example Sweden, that does not mean they’re not going to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Srdjan Vucetic, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs in Ottawa, told Al Jazeera.

The Canadian wing of the US-based General Dynamics company has a 10-year, $11bn contract that guarantees thousands of well-paid jobs in a city near Toronto which has lost much of its manufacturing base.

Rights activists and opposition parties have called for the deal be cancelled.

“It is pernicious to argue that Canadian jobs should depend on the export of equipment which is going to be used to perpetrate atrocious abuses of citizens. That cannot be the way that we build our economy,” Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, told Al Jazeera.

According to Amnesty International, at least 66 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2017, including 26 over the past three weeks alone – more than one execution per day.