Government to investigate report Canadian military vehicles used against civilians by Saudis

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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has asked Canadian officials to investigate reports “immediately” that Canadian-made military vehicles are being used against civilians in an escalating conflict in Saudi Arabia.

If confirmed, the use of armoured vehicles against civilians would be in violation of Canada’s arms deal with the Saudis.

“We are aware of reports that the current security operations have led to casualties of civilians and security forces,” Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock told the Star via email.

“The government is actively seeking more information about Saudi Arabia’s current efforts to deal with its security challenges, the reports of civilian casualties, and the reports that Canadian-made vehicles have been used.”

Reports are stemming from videos posted across social media, which appear to show Canadian-made Terradyne Gurkhas. Middle East editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jeremy Binnie, confirmed the identification of the vehicle via Twitter.

“Combination/colour of vehicles (the one with turret is a UR-416) indicates they are Special Security Forces,” Binnie wrote.

The new reports come on the heels of a statement made by a “concerned” Freeland on Thursday surrounding the escalating violence in eastern Saudi Arabia, which has resulted in the deaths of both civilians and security forces.

Death sentences for 14 people, which came from what Amnesty International called a “grossly unfair mass trial,” were upheld this week by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty has recorded a “worrying increase in death sentences against political dissidents in Saudi Arabia since 2013, including the Shia Muslim minority,” according to an update from the group this week.

“At least 66 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2017, including 26 in the past three weeks alone — more than one execution per day,” it reported.

In her Thursday statement, Freeland urged local authorities to work with “all communities to defuse tensions,” but noted that all challenges had to be addressed in a way that conforms with international human rights law.

Twenty-four hours later, Freeland’s concern became “deep concern.”

Global Affairs’ Babcock noted that the minister would certainly “take action” if Canadian exports were confirmed to be involved in cases that involved human rights violations. However, his email statement didn’t specify potential actions or sanctions should this be confirmed.

“The end use and end-user of exports, as well as regional stability and human rights, are essential considerations in the authorization of permits for the export of military goods from Canada,” he wrote.

Canada expects export customers to abide by the terms in the permits issued to them, Babcock added.

In June, the Star reported that the government would face a multibillion-dollar cancellation penalty if it broke a contract signed by the previous Conservative government to provide Saudi Arabia with light-armoured vehicles.

Earlier this year, the Federal Court dismissed a challenge by a Quebec law professor to condemn the deal, citing Saudi Arabia’s poor record in upholding human rights. In June 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would be seen as a “banana republic” if it scrapped the deal.

Former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion noted two months before that there was no reason to think Canadian-made vehicles have been misused in Saudi Arabia in the violation of human rights, but that he’d monitor the circumstances.