NEWS

Canada’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia hit record

Justin Trudeau said last year that he was exploring options to stop exporting light armoured vehicles

Justin Trudeau said last year that he was exploring options to stop exporting light armoured vehicles

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Canada sold a record amount of military hardware to Saudi Arabia last year despite a ban on new export permits after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The revelation is likely to put pressure on Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, who has criticised Riyadh’s human rights record but declined calls by his liberal base to rip up a deal inherited from a previous administration. Last year Canada sent nearly C$2.9 billion (£1.7 billion) of military hardware to Saudi Arabia, double the previous year. The exports were primarily light armoured vehicles (LAVs), as well as 31 large-calibre artillery systems and 152 heavy machineguns. The C$14.8 billion LAV deal, signed in 2014, made Canada the second largest weapons supplier to the Middle East.

Canada placed a moratorium on new export permits after Khashoggi was murdered in October 2018 by Saudi agents in Istanbul. The ban did not affect existing export permits, meaning shipments continued.

In an interview last year, Mr Trudeau said he was exploring “if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles”.

The deal was already extremely unpopular amid mounting civilian deaths in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where some Canadian LAVs have been used, Thomas Juneau, a University of Ottawa professor, said. Canada insists it would face huge financial penalties if it reneged on the agreement. “This deal is associated with about 3,000 high-paying, quality jobs in crucial political ridings [constituencies] in southern Ontario, so to just cancel the deal means a big economic hit for Canada,” Professor Juneau said.

Despite the arms sales, relations between Ottawa and Riyadh have been frozen since 2018, when Canada called for the release of Saudi activists. In response, Riyadh expelled the Canadian ambassador and cut bilateral trade.

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