Cease Arms Sales to Autocratic Governments

In recent years, Canada has soared in global rankings to become the second largest arms dealer to the Middle East. Its position as such is largely owed to its $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia—the largest military contract in Canadian history. Aside from Saudi Arabia, Canada also sells a considerable amount annually in defence and security equipment to Egypt ($2.8 million in 2017) and the United Arab Emirates ($6.3 million in 2017). Each of these countries has been deemed “not free” by watchdog organization Freedom House, with Saudi Arabia ranking among the worst of the worst on human rights. Nonetheless, the Canadian government has continued to sell weapons and military technology to these autocratic regimes. In order to comply fully with the requirements outlined in the Arms Trade Treaty, Canada must cancel what is left of its $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The Liberal Party cannot condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses while simultaneously arming the very same regime.

Overview

In recent years, Canada has soared in global rankings to become the second largest arms dealer to the Middle East. Its position as such is largely owed to its $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia—the largest military contract in Canadian history.[i] Aside from Saudi Arabia, Canada also sells a considerable amount annually in defence and security equipment to Egypt ($2.8 million in 2017), Algeria ($2.9 million in 2017), and the United Arab Emirates ($6.3 million in 2017).[ii] Each of these countries has been deemed “not free” by watchdog organization Freedom House, with Saudi Arabia ranking among the worst of the worst on human rights.[iii]

Amnesty International has repeatedly called upon the international community to cease arms sales to the repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Nonetheless, the Canadian government has continued to sell weapons and military technology to these autocratic regimes. Meanwhile, a poll conducted in 2016 by Nanos Research showed that a strong majority of Canadians object to the Canadian government’s sale of military goods to countries with poor human rights records.[iv] Another survey conducted by Angus Reid in 2018 found that nine out of 10 Canadians do not want any future arms deals with Saudi Arabia.[v] Evidently, Canadians do not support their government propping up dictatorial regimes.  

Questions for Federal Candidates

  • Do you believe that it is acceptable for Canada to sell arms to autocratic regimes?
  • How do you think the government should tighten arms controls to prevent arms deals like the one with Saudi Arabia from going ahead?
  • Do you believe that it is possible for Canada to defend human rights while selling arms to known human rights violators?

If elected:

  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of the contradiction between promoting human rights while selling arms to autocratic states?
  • Will you work within caucus to encourage party support for an arms embargo on autocratic regimes in the Middle East?
  • Will you work within caucus to raise awareness of the need to prevent sales like the Saudi arms deal?

Supporting Points

  • International Law and the UN Position. There is no international law against using an arms embargo as a means of sanctioning an autocratic state. States have the right to choose which countries they would like to sell weapons to. They also have the right to unilaterally impose an arms embargo on another state if they disagree with that state’s policies or practices. In fact, under international law, states have an obligation to cease arms transfers to governments whose practices violate international law. More specifically, states have a responsibility to exercise due diligence to prevent the transfer of arms to states who may use these weapons to violate international human rights law or international humanitarian law.[vi] This principle of state responsibility is outlined in numerous pieces of international law, such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility. The Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in 2014, also prohibits states from transferring conventional arms if there exists a possibility of these weapons being used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or other war crimes as defined by international law.[vii] In sum, if an autocratic state is breaking international law or committing human rights violations, states not only have a right, but also an obligation under international law, to cease transferring weapons to them.
  • Canada’s Official Position. Canada’s export assessment criteria are set out in a 1986 Cabinet policy. This policy states that Canada will closely control arms exports to countries with a persistent record of serious human rights violations, unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk of these weapons being used against the civilian population.[viii] In 2018, the Liberal government sought to strengthen these export assessment criteria in order to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. The Liberals introduced Bill C-47, which amended certain provisions of the existing Export and Import Permits Act. Included in the Bill is a clause which requires the Minister of Foreign Affairs to deny an export permit if there exists a substantial risk of those arms being used in a way that violates international human rights law, international humanitarian law, or any international conventions.[ix] Despite these seemingly strict export controls, Canada continues to sell arms to numerous repressive regimes in the Middle East. For example, the Liberal government has maintained a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, despite innumerable reports by international organizations detailing how Saudi authorities severely restrict basic rights and freedoms. Reports have even surfaced of Canadian arms being used to crush demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. [x] The Liberals also continue to sell arms to Egypt’s authoritarian government, despite that regime’s violent crackdown on activists. Not only do these arms sales violate Canadian export regulations, but they also run counter to Canada’s stated priorities in the Middle East. According to Global Affairs, Canada’s official priorities for the MENA region include the advancement of democratic practices and institutions, and the promotion of human rights. [xi] Arms sales to repressive Middle East autocracies completely undermine these goals. Both the NDP and the Green Party have called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
  • Actions Taken by Canadian Allies. In August 2013, the EU Foreign Affairs Council issued a Council Conclusion calling upon all EU states to place an arms embargo on Egypt.[xii] This Conclusion is in keeping with the European Union’s 2008 Common Position, which requires all EU states to deny an export license if there is a clear risk that the arms being exported could be used for internal repression.[xiii] In November 2018, the European Parliament also passed a nonbinding resolution calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.[xiv] Since then, the Netherlands has ceased all arms exports to both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, while Germany, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland have all stopped weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.[xv] [xvi]  

Recommendations for Canada

  • If Canada is to maintain any sort of credibility when it conducts its foreign policy and calls for the protection of human rights around the world, it must end its arms sales to autocratic governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Arms deals are not merely a financial transaction; they are a powerful expression of political support and partnership between two governments. Therefore, Canada ought to be considerably more cognizant of how these arms sales are enabling and supporting the continuation of autocratic regimes in the MENA region.
  • In order to comply fully with the requirements outlined in the Arms Trade Treaty, Canada must cancel what is left of its $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The Liberal Party cannot condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses while simultaneously arming the very same regime.

 

 

[i] Chase, S. (2016). “Majority of Canadians oppose selling military goods to countries with poor human rights records: poll.” The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 4, 2019 from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/majority-of-canadians-oppose-selling-military-goods-to-countries-with-poor-human-rights-recordspoll/article30889264/ 

[ii] Global Affairs Canada. (2017). “Exports of military goods.” Government of Canada. Retrieved March 5, 2019 from https://www.international.gc.ca/controls-controles/report-rapports/mil-2017.aspx?lang=eng

[iii] Freedom House. (n.d.). Freedom in the world 2018: Table of country scores.  Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2018-table-country-scores

[iv] Chase, S. (2016). “Majority of Canadians oppose selling military goods to countries with poor human rights records: poll.” The Globe and Mail. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/majority-of-canadians-oppose-selling-military-goods-to-countries-with-poor-human-rights-recordspoll/article30889264/

[v] Dangerfield, K. (2018). “Should Trudeau keep arms deal with Saudis? More than half of Canadians say yes: poll.” Global News. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://globalnews.ca/news/4634137/saudi-arabia-arms-deal-canada/

[vi] Cassimatis, A., Drummond, C., & Greenwood, K. (2016). “Traffic in arms.” Oxford Public International Law. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from http://opil.ouplaw.com/view/10.1093/law:epil/9780199231690/law-9780199231690-e98

[vii] United Nations. (2013). The Arms Trade Treaty. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://thearmstradetreaty.org/hyper-images/file/ATT_English/ATT_English.pdf?templateId=137253

[viii] Global Affairs Canada. (n.d.). “Report on exports of military goods from Canada – 2017.” Government of Canada. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.international.gc.ca/controls-controles/report-rapports/mil-2017.aspx?lang=eng

[ix] Government of Canada. (2018). Bill C-47: An Act to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and the Criminal Code. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from http://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-47/royal-assent

[x] Lukacs, M. (2018). “Is Saudi Arabia deploying Canadian-made weapons in Yemen?” Canada’s National Observer. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/11/30/news/experts-say-theres-proof-canadian-made-weapons-are-being-used-saudi-war-yemen

[xi] Global Affairs Canada. (n.d.). “Canada and the Middle East and North Africa.” Government of Canada. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/mena-moan/index.aspx?lang=eng

[xii] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (n.d.). EU arms embargo on Egypt. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.sipri.org/databases/embargoes/eu_arms_embargoes/egypt/eu-arms-embargo-on-egypt

[xiii] Middle East Monitor. (2018). Amnesty: France violates international law by selling arms to Egypt. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181017-amnesty-france-violates-international-law-by-selling-arms-to-egypt/

[xiv] Aries, Q., & McAuley, J. (2018). “European Parliament passes resolution urging arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.” The Washington Post. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/european-parliament-passes-resolution-urging-arms-embargo-on-saudi-arabia/2018/10/25/cb324140-3172-4dc8-b373-4acc065fdb69_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7afbe31edca3

[xv] Stone, J. (2018). “Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Finland stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in response to Yemen famine.” The Independent. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/saudi-arabia-arms-embargo-weapons-europe-germany-denmark-uk-yemen-war-famine-a8648611.html

[xvi] Middle East Monitor. (2018). Holland extends arms export freeze to include UAE, Egypt. Retrieved March 14, 2019 from https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181130-holland-extends-arms-export-freeze-to-include-uae-egypt/

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  • Kate Thomas
    commented 2019-11-11 13:15:28 -0500
    Oh Canada! In global rankings Canada has become the second largest dealer of arms to the Middle East and North Africa. Now is the time to end these arms deals to autocratic governments in the region.