The Canadian government is reviewing whether Saudi Arabia is using Canadian made military vehicles against its own population in the Shia-populated district of Awamiyah.
The district in Saudi Arabia has been under siege by its own government for close to three months now.
In 2014, the Canadian government led by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper struck a $12 billion deal to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Critics have repeatedly demanded the termination of the deal as they believe these vehicles would be used to wage war against Yemen. The current Liberal government helmed by Justin Trudeau has opted to honor that agreement despite drawing heavy criticism.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia ranked among the largest importers of Canada-made military goods. It was responsible for nearly 20% of all Canadian military exports for that year. Canada is now the second biggest arms exporter to Middle East, according to data from 2016.
In May 2017, violence erupted the Saudi Arabian district, Awamiyah, when there were attempts to evict its residents. The region is home to 30,000 people and the majority of the population are Shia Muslims (the rulers of Saudi Arabia are Sunni Muslims). The district has is now surrounded by siege barricades put up by security forces. According to local reports, somewhere between 12-25 people have died in the shelling and sniper fire.
If Saudi Arabia has used Canadian military vehicles to crush dissent at home, then it would put Canada in violation of the arms-trading rules.
Activists in the region have uploaded videos and photographs of the latest spurt of violence on social media. These photographs show Canadian equipment being used in the violent crackdown orchestrated by the Saudi Arabian government.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said that the Canadian government is “concerned” and officials are probing into the matter. She said, “I have instructed our department and my officials to very energetically and very carefully review the reports and review the information, and research what is happening. We are absolutely committed to defend the human rights and we condemn all violations of human rights. We also are very clear that we expect end users of any and all exports to abide by the terms of our export permits."
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau also spoke to reporters noting, “We are looking at these claims very seriously … and have immediately launched a review.”
The Saudi Arabian government has not commented.
Our assessment is that Canada has to carefully evaluate the merits of the deal and take action accordingly if rules have been violated. This development has brought forth the ongoing argument on the morality of arms deals struck between nations. In 2015, Sweden ended its long-standing arms deal with Saudi Arabia citing concerns about human rights violation.