Tuesday January 12, 2016

Tories demand Liberals do what they didn't: share details of Saudi arms deal

Left, Conservative MP and global affairs critic Tony Clement demands the Liberal government release more details on Canada's $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Right, Saudi forces in a graduation ceremony in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is widely criticized for its human-rights practices.

Left, Conservative MP and global affairs critic Tony Clement demands the Liberal government release more details on Canada's $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Right, Saudi forces in a graduation ceremony in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is widely criticized for its human-rights practices. (Adrian Wyld/CP and Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters)

Listen 8:11

The Liberal government has been defending its decision to go ahead with a $15 billion Saudi Arabia arms deal. But they're under increasing pressure to release the details of that deal — namely, how Canada justifies doing business with a country that has a controversial human rights record.

And that pressure mounted even further on Tuesday, when Samar Badawi, a Saudi activist and sister of Raif Badawi, was detained. Badawi's family has been seeking refuge in Canada, while Raif Badawi faced flogging in Saudi Arabia for his outspoken blog.

In the face of mounting calls for transparency, the Liberals have agreed to release a redacted assessment of the  government's report on Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

That response is not good enough for Tony Clement. The Conservative global affairs critic is calling for complete disclosure. But Clement was part of the same government that inked the Saudi arms deal in the first place. Just a few months ago, he and his colleagues were refusing to release the same report to the public.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Clement, to gain a bit of clarity on the situation. Here's part of that conversation, transcribed.

Carol Off: Mr. Clement, why should the Liberal government let the public see its analysis of Saudi Arabia's human rights record?

Tony Clement: I think this was a central element in approving the deal in the first place. There is a rationale for the equipment, but it was always predicated on Saudi Arabia not using it on their own people. I think in the spirit of transparency that the Liberals campaigned on, they can't very well say "we're being transparent but we're not going to release the report."

CO: But that analysis was done when you were the government, so—

TC: Absolutely.

CO: So was it not known by your government what the human rights record — that was discovered by this analysis — was?

TC: We were absolutely comfortable that the equipment was going to be used in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, since that report was created and since we left government, we've seen the execution of 47 individuals in Saudi Arabia [in one day] — that's what raised this issue up in the first place. And I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to expect that the Liberals, who promised transparency, would live up to that transparency in this particular instance as well.

CO: The Saudi executions, as you point out, are abhorrent, but the Saudis have been beheading people and executing them for many years — during the entire time that you were the government ... There are reports that even the LAVs that Canada had already sold to Saudi Arabia had been used in Bahrain when Saudi Arabia went in there to suppress a peaceful demonstration. This was available to you when your government approved this deal. 

TC: Right. So, you and I are discussing this, Carol, in a vacuum of not having a report before the Canadian public. That's the point I'm trying to make. We can argue on your show what the Harper government did and did not do, but we now have the Trudeau government. If they want to be judged differently than the Harper government, they have to behave in a way that's consistent with their promises.

CO: So you think the Liberals now must hold to their promise to be transparent, though you have no problems with the Harper government not being transparent?

TC: No. I'm saying, that if the judgement of the public was that we weren't transparent enough and that they elected a government that promises to be more transparent, I'm calling on the government to live up to their promises.