We must come together to end Canada’s complicity in the Yemen war!
Ever since the Harper government announced in 2014 that it had authorized the largest arms deal in Canadian history, worth $15 billion CAD with General Dynamics of London, ON, to provide and service a fleet of 928 light armoured vehicles (LAV’s) for Saudi Arabia, the deal has generated justifiable indignation among Canadians. The details of the 15-year-long contract were deliberately shrouded in secrecy, partly at the request of the Saudis and partly because of the kingdom’s dismal human right record. The Harper government feared pushback from Canadian human rights and peace organizations, as well as the parliamentary opposition, that the LAVs would be used in human rights violations inside and outside the Gulf kingdom. In fact, the Saudis deployed Canadian-made LAVs to support Bahrain’s monarch in brutally putting down peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The deal turned into a campaign issue during the 2015 federal election, during which Justin Trudeau, in his first run as Liberal Party leader, promised to scrap the deal until the week before the vote, when he changed his tune to “study the deal.” During the leader’s debate in French, Thomas Mulcair, the NDP leader, also vowed to scrap the deal. That prompted Fergo Berto, London-area Director of UNIFOR, the union representing 500 of 2200 of the workers at General Dynamics, to speak out, saying, “We asked the NDP to not make this an issue, that it be kept under wraps.”
Berto went on to say that Unifor President Jerry Dias, who openly supported Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party in the 2015 and subsequent elections, until resigning under a cloud last year, had himself called Mulcair to straighten the NDP leader out on the matter. The call apparently did its job. Mulcair has stayed mum about the arms deal in public from then on, not even mentioning it during the foreign policy debate a few days later.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Once elected, the Trudeau government moved expeditiously to approve the first export permits in the spring of 2016. In response, a coalition of eleven civil society organizations sent an open letter to the prime minister expressing profound concern, the first of five such open letters regarding this issue to be sent to the PM between 2016 and 2021. Facing increasing domestic criticism over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which his government was clearly complicit, Trudeau temporarily suspended existing permits for the sale of Canadian-made Terradyne “Gurkha” armoured vehicles (which Trudeau had described as “jeeps”) after photos appeared on social media in Canada showing they had been used to quell anti-government protests by the Shi’a minority in Al-Qatif. That suspension ended with Trudeau claiming that the penalty for terminating the contract would cost billions and his foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland adding, “…We can all understand… the fundamental importance of being able to trust Canada.”
Canadian-made LAVs used to quell civilian protest in eastern Saudi Arabia in August 2017
Following the Khashoggi assassination in 2018, several European countries terminated arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the Trudeau government temporarily froze new export permits and undertook a review of its own sales.
In December of that year, Canadian peace activists took their own direct action to stop the shipment of Canadian LAV’s to Saudi Arabia. They picketed the entrance to the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick. The Saudi Arabian ship, the Bahri Yanbu, due to pick up Canadian-made light armoured vehicles, remained offshore due to “bad weather” according to port officials. Dockworkers, members of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 273, refused to cross the picket line.
Regrettably, in 2020, the government published its final report claiming there was “no substantial risk” that Canadian weapons would be used for human rights violations. It then not only ended its freeze on sales, but doubled down on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, approving sales of Canadian sniper rifles and explosives. Moreover, the government began issuing brokering permits for selling them arms through other countries such as Brazil, Holland, and the USA.
But the popular resistance in Canada to arming Saudi Arabia only increased. On June 11, 2020, Labour Against the Arms Trade joined Project Ploughshares, Oxfam Canada, Amnesty International Canada, World Beyond War and other civil society organizations for the first pan-Canadian day of action against arms exports to Saudi Arabia. This day of action was endorsed by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). In early September of that year, Canada was publicly named (for the first time) as one of the countries helping fuel the war in Yemen by a United Nations (UN) panel of independent experts. This announcement only served to fuel the success of second pan-Canadian day of action against Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Civil society organizations sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for an end to arms exports to Saudi Arabia and for the Government of Canada “to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia.” The letter was signed by 39 civil society organizations, including the CLC and a number of national unions.
In that year as well, various peace groups in Canada came together to found the Canada-Wide Peace and Justice Movement (CWPJN). On January 25, 2021, the Network joined the Global Day of Action in solidarity with Yemen. It featured more than 300 organizations in 17 countries. In Canada, members of the CWPJN organized actions in Montreal, Nova Scotia, Hamilton, and Vancouver. This included the blocking of trucks outside of Paddock Transportation, the Hamilton trucking company responsible for shipping General Dynamic LAV’s from London, Ontario, to Saudi Arabia. Later, on March 26 of that year, the Network held another Canada-wide day of action, the sixth anniversary of the Saudi Coalition war on Yemen, using the hashtags #CanadaStopArmingSaudi and #YemenCantWait. Rallies were held in three cities: Hamilton, Vancouver, and Ottawa.
On August 21, 2021, Amnesty International Canada and Project Ploughshares issued a joint report entitled, “No Credible Evidence: Canada’s Flawed Analysis of Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia” which noted that “…weapons exported from Canada to Saudi Arabia… risk being diverted for use in the war in Yemen. Reports… illustrate that the Saudi-led coalition’s participation… has contributed to gender-based violence, forced displacement, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.” The two organizations were vindicated in their critique of the Canadian government when the UN panel of independent experts slammed Canada for fuelling the war in Yemen for the second year in a row.
On December 13 of that year, a coalition of over 50 civil society organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress, sent their fifth open letter calling on the Liberal government to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia and to work with unions to ensure a just transition for arms industry workers.
The hypocrisy of the Trudeau government about the war in Yemen has been illustrated in two further ways. According to Azza Rojbi,
The Trudeau government claims to be a champion of human rights but quietly continues to expand its economic and political relationships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE while disregarding the suffering and plight of the Yemeni people. Once a year, Canada ceremonially contributes to the United Nations’ fundraising efforts for humanitarian relief in Yemen to wash off some of the blood that’s on its hands. According to the government website, Global Affairs Canada, since the start of the war in 2015, Canada has committed over $411 million in humanitarian funding to Yemen. In contrast, only in one year, in 2022, Canada made $709 million in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia!
The Trudeau government has recently shown that it can implement quick resources to welcome and help settle refugees when it opened the door for Ukrainian refugees and created the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel. One wonders why Yemeni refugees aren’t welcomed in such a way! Where are the resources to help the millions of Yemenis internally displaced inside of Yemen and the hundreds of thousands stranded in transit countries?
Recently, the Breach published a story, based on the release of a previously secret document, that indicates what other motives prod the Trudeau government to support the Saudi war on Yemen, beyond helping Canada’s own sizeable military-industrial complex to win lucrative contracts with the Saudi kingdom. These motives include that “the weapons business is crucial to maintaining Saudi Arabia as an ‘integral and valued security partner’”; that the Saudis are a ‘principle guarantor’ of affordable oil for western countries; that the Saudi kingdom is a “regional bulwark against Iran, as well as reduces the need for potential Canadian and allied troop deployments in the Middle East.”
None of the above reasons are likely to satisfy the Canadian people. Back in 2016, half of Canadians polled by the Angus Reid Institute disagreed with the Trudeau government sticking with the Saudi arms deal. By 2017, 64% of Canadians indicated that they opposed the deal. In 2018, a full 90% of Canadian respondents were in agreement that there should be no future arms deals made between the two countries, though they were split when it came to the current agreement.
The Canada-Wide Peace and Justice Network continues to harness popular opposition to the Saudi arms deal. On the weekend of March 25-27, 2023, it held a weekend of action which include rallies in six Canadian cities, online action, and a webinar featuring speakers from Oxfam, Project Ploughshares, and other humanitarian organizations. In its statement, the Network called for the following:
Cancel active and pending sales of Canadian arms (light armored vehicles and other weapons) to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Call on the Saudi-led coalition to end its illegal military offensive.
Call on the Saudi-led coalition to fully lift the land, sea, and air blockade on Yemen.
Open unconditionally the door to all Yemeni refugees under the same terms as has been done for Ukrainian refugees.
Increase humanitarian aid to Yemen to an amount that will be meaningful given the scale of misery and destruction that Yemenis have suffered in this eight-year war. After the Canadian government cancels the $15 billion LAV sale, they must donate the refunded amount (after penalties) for humanitarian aid in Yemen.
Clearly, Canadians should do more to pressure the Trudeau government to suspend the current contract with the Saudi government and not to negotiate any further arms sales with its partners until the Saudi Coalition enter into a peace agreement that ends its brutal and illegal war on the people of Yemen.
In addition, Canadians need to press harder for our country to adopt a foreign policy independent of Washington, one that prevents us from being dragged into every war of the US empire. An independent Canadian foreign policy would support Ansar Allah as a popular movement struggling to achieve national self-determination for the Yemeni people and to restore the territorial integrity of the country.
Published by the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War
May 13, 2023
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