Massive amounts of Canadian-made military goods continue to flow into Saudi Arabia, according to a new government report, despite an unresolved diplomatic rift between Ottawa and Riyadh and criticism over the kingdom’s role in the deadly war in Yemen.
Global Affairs Canada’s report on military goods exports, released on Tuesday, says Canada exported more than $1.7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2021, up from 1.3 billion in 2020. The report ranks the kingdom as Canada’s top export destination for these goods. after the United States.
This is at least the 10th year that Saudi Arabia, which is ranked among the worst countries in the world for human rights by Freedom House, has been Canada’s second largest customer of military goods. Freedom House, an American civil liberties group, gives the kingdom a 7/100 on its latest global freedom score. (Canada, by comparison, scores 98/100.)
Arms exports continued even after Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador in 2018 and withdrew its own envoy after the Department of Global Affairs and Chrystia Freeland, who was foreign minister at the time, took to Twitter to call for the immediate release of several prisoners. political activists of the kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy restricts nearly all political rights and civil liberties,” Freedom House said in its latest report.
“No official at the national level is elected. The regime relies on widespread surveillance, the criminalization of dissent, appeals to bigotry and ethnicity, and public spending funded by oil revenues to stay in power. Women and religious minorities face significant discrimination in law and in practice. »
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Almost all of Canada’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia are combat vehicles, under the $15 billion contract brokered by the Harper government but approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Most, if not all, light armored vehicles are equipped with machine guns or anti-tank guns.
Thomas Juneau, an associate professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said while Canada-Saudi relations remain calm, communications between the two countries are going “reasonably well,” even without ambassadors. He said he understands Ottawa remains open to repairing the relationship – but has shown little political will to do so – while Riyadh is not particularly interested.
“Trudeau is still not very popular in the Saudi government,” Professor Juneau said.
Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have also continued even after the Canadian government in 2021 was named by a United Nations panel of experts, for the second consecutive year, as one of the countries contributing to fueling the war. in Yemen – a conflict in which Riyadh intervened. The panel, which was monitoring the conflict and investigating possible war crimes among combatants, criticized the fact that arms sales from Canada and other countries, including the United States, Britain and the Iran, continue “regardless of the immense suffering caused to the people of Yemen.”
The Middle East in general was the largest export market for Canadian arms in 2021, with Algeria being the eighth destination for military goods with $34 million. Most exports come from a category that includes rifles, handguns and submachine guns. 2021 volume was a significant jump from over $6 million in 2020.
Arms deliveries have continued even as relations between Algeria and neighboring Morocco deteriorated in 2021, and an arms race between the two countries is said to have accelerated. The Algerian government severed diplomatic relations with Morocco in August 2021. Freedom House gives Algeria a score of 32/100 on its Global Freedom Score.
Separately, Canadian arms exports to Israel rose to more than $26 million in 2021, from around $19 million in 2020. Freedom House gives Israel a score of 76/100 in its Global Freedom Score.
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