Stéphane Dion open to partial release of Saudi human rights report

The Canadian government says it would be prepared to release a portion of its assessment on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, but not the details of a $15-billion arms deal, citing commercial confidentiality.

But foreign affairs minister's office resists calls to release details of $15B arms deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion says he has asked his officials to look at how the government's reports on the state of human rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia could be released, without jeopardizing security. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Canadian government says it would be prepared to release a portion of its assessment on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, but not the details of a $15-billion arms deal, citing commercial confidentiality.

The Liberals have come under increasing criticism from human rights groups to cancel a contract signed by the previous government for the sale of General Dynamics armoured vehicles built in London, Ont., to the Saudi National Guard.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said he has instructed officials in his department to review existing practices and provide him with advice on making public a redacted version of country reports on human rights practices.

"The documents are intended for internal use and are classified," Dion said in a written statement Monday.

"I would be pleased to release, upon request, unclassified versions," said Dion, adding, "I want to ensure that we respect the safety and security of identified sources."

The last report on Saudi Arabia was prepared in 2011 and was not made public by Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

The most current report is in the final stage of preparation, an official for the Department of Global Affairs told CBC News on Monday.

The same official said on background the minister would not be in a position to release the details of the $15-billion arms deal with the Saudis, citing commercial confidentiality.

Defence analyst Dave Perry and Amnesty International's Alex Neve discuss whether Canada should sell military equipment to Saudi Arabia 9:43

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called on the government to make public the upcoming report, pointing to the Liberals' commitment to running a more open and transparent government.

"I am deeply concerned that government officials have refused to release its own assessment on the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia," May said in a written statement Monday.

"This government must now keep its word and honour those commitments."

Under Canada's export control rules the government can allow the foreign sale of arms if there is no reasonable risk that those arms will be used against civilians.

Dion condemned Saudi Arabia's execution of 47 individuals on Jan. 2, expressing concern that it could further inflame sectarian tensions in the region.

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