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Canada’s killer elite

John Bell

September 2, 2016

While the docile media swooned over our shirtless Prime Minister, his government was quietly endorsing changes to the export rules that prohibited arms trade with dictatorships and human rights abusers.

Well, the Trudeau Liberals promised “real change” and so we got it. Where the Harper Tories were happy just to ignore the rules and sell tanks and guns to human rights abusing regimes like Saudi Arabia and Thailand, Trudeau’s gang decided to change the rules to suit the arms trade. From here on in it will be a lot easier for the Canadian killer elite to ignore the fate of oppressed and vulnerable people, and sell weapons to any putrid theocracy or military dictatorship.

The fact that some of these questionable regimes are Canada’s “allies” only makes more glaring the fact that our government prizes profits over human rights.

I concentrated on the most glaring, the sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia, in a previous column. There are other eager buyers. Ontario-based Streit Group has been denounced by the UN for shipping tanks to Libya in violation of an arms sale embargo to that war torn regime (a disaster in part brought about by Canada’s role in the invasion of that country in 2011).

Streit has skirted the laws by selling the tanks to a variety of corporate middlemen based in the US and United Arab Emirates, who in turn “donate” the tanks to Libyan militias. Nothing says corporate generosity like the gift of a Typhoon armoured personnel carrier. Streit is using the same shell game to supply tanks to militias fighting in South Sudan.

Human rights organizations are raising the alarm. Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada told the Globe and Mail: “It is stunning and deeply disappointing to see that a Canadian company—whatever the nature of their offshore operations were—was selling military equipment to South Sudan, in the middle of that country's brutal civil war, and also to Libya in the midst of the chaos and lawlessness that has prevailed there over the last five years.”

The list of countries receiving arms from Canadian companies, or subsidiaries of multi-national corporations based in Canada, include Nigeria, the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, Peru and Turkey. All are home to documented human rights abuses. 

The devil in the details

To make it easier to sell weapons, the Liberals are watering down export regulations. “Wide ranging consultations” including on human rights and freedoms have been required before now. Now they “may be” done.

Of course some governments simply ignored those regulations. Stephen Harper was personally involved in negotiating the sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia. He even promised his friend King Abdullah that the terms of the deal would never be made public. In January of 2015 Aliya Mawani, a Canadian diplomat based in Riyadh, told Foreign Affairs colleagues that “we [the government] would be breaking the terms of the contract” with Saudi Arabia if details were made public.

“The contract is under a Canadian government guarantee in terms of fulfilment... This was confirmed in writing by our Prime Minister in his letters to the King.”

Fortunately Harper was unable to keep his promise, in part because of Saudi Arabia’s enthusiasm for using the new tanks against civilian populations in Yemen and Bahrain. This in itself was not only a violation of international law, but also broke Canada’s old trade regulations. Those stated that the purposes for which the arms were sold could not be altered or “diverted”. The tank deal was to arm the Saudi National Guard, charged with protecting the Saud regime from internal threats. Using them to interfere in civil conflict in neighbouring countries was an illegal “diversion”.

The previous wording of our regulations stated that Canadian arms exports would not be “diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies, or other countries or people.” The new, Trudeau-approved wording drops the crucial reference to other countries, and says “the security of Canada, its allies or civilians.” 

Thus a new loophole is born, one in the shape of a noose for victims of human rights abuse and violence. A new rule has been added to protect the privacy of Canadian corporations selling weapons abroad. Jack Lord forbid we should be allowed to know what the killer elite is up to, and with whom.

The bottom line is, well, the bottom line: profit. The purpose of the rewritten regulations is to “balance the economic and commercial interests of Canadian business” with this country’s “national interest.”

The preamble to the arms export regulations used to state: “Canada has some of the strongest export controls in the world.” The new rule book drops that boast: “Canada’s export controls are rigorous and in line with those of our principal allies and partners in the major export controls regimes.”

With friends like these

Ah yes, we’re now no worse than our allies. Next time you hear Trudeau talk about how Canada is a leader in the fight for human rights—and you probably won’t have to wait long for him to say it—remember this crucial change: Canada is no worse that its allies. 

No worse than the US which sells arms to virtually any regime that supports its imperial ends, including military dictatorships like Egypt. Look for Uncle Sam to double his arms trade with African regimes next year.

No worse than Britain, which we know (thanks to the Chilcott Inquiry) used a campaign of deliberate lies to manufacture support for the invasion of Iraq.

No worse than Mexico, Colombia, and a host of nations that Canada has bilateral trade deals with, despite their civil wars and human rights horrors.

No worse than Israel and Saudi Arabia, the twin pillars of Middle East slaughter and oppression.

We’re no worse than the killer elite—there’s a true motto for Trudeau’s Canada


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