Sunday November 08, 2015

Should Canada do business with Saudi Arabia? Michael's essay

Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh, January 27, 2015.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh, January 27, 2015. (REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

Listen 4:13

In the last convulsive days of Election 2015, two clearly embarrassed Harper ministers stood nervously before television cameras to unveil a "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line. The idea, I think, was this: if one of your neighbours or perhaps your boss or school principal was engaging in barbaric cultural practices, you would call the snitch line and something -- nobody knows what -- would happen. 

I'm sorry the snitch line didn't happen. I wanted to use it to report on the Canadian government's great good friend and wartime ally -- Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and barbaric cultural practices go together like peanut butter and strawberry jam.

It has long been clear that various regimes of The Kingdom persecute women, dissidents, non-Muslims, so-called blasphemers. At the same time, it finances and sponsors terrorist cells all over the Middle East with its propagation of violent Wahhabism.

The latest outrage proposed by the Saudis was ably reported last week in his New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. A young man named Ali al-Nimr has been sentenced to be beheaded, and then to be crucified in a public place, to deter others from committing his crime. Which was participating in anti-government protests. As Kristof pointed out, this backward, barbaric regime also executes witches, and publicly flogs and imprisons gay people.

Western governments have historically sucked up to the Saud family and its thousands of princes, because of what lies beneath the country's sands. Oil, and the fatuous idea that Saudi Arabia is a stabilizing force in the area, fuel the relationship. 

In turn, Western countries, including Canada, have benefited from huge trade deals with the Saudis, trade deals involving military equipment and arms. In 2012 and 2013, Saudi Arabia was the largest purchaser of Canadian military goods, with sales of more than $575-million over those two years. Ground vehicles and military components account for about 92 per cent of all our exports to The Kingdom.

 General Dynamics' trade deal with Saudi Arabia

Canadian soldiers are shown in an upgraded light armoured vehicle, at a news conference at a General Dynamics facility in London, Ont., in January, 2012. General Dynamics won a $10-billion US deal to provide armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. (Mark Spowart/Canadian Press)

It is quite possible that Saudi Arabia will soon replace the United States as Canada's largest arms customer, with deals over the next few years running into the billions. Under Canadian law, the Department of Foreign Affairs is supposed to carry out a human rights assessment of any country with a dubious record before trade deals are concluded. But according to the Globe and Mail, no such assessment of Saudi Arabia has been done over the past two years, even while the multi-billion dollar trade deal was being negotiated. Foreign affairs officials apparently could offer no reason as to why they were issuing export permits without the human rights assessment. Stephen Harper's government called the Saudi contract a major success which over the next decade or so would provide three thousand manufacturing jobs.

Saudi Arabia is a country where forced marriage of girls under 15 is permissible. Where a woman may not wear a car seat belt because it might outline her body. Where conversion to another religion is punishable by death. 

So far this year, the regime has beheaded more than 102 people. It is now advertising for more executioners to deal with the increasing workload. 

Perhaps someone in our new government could slip our new Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion a piece of paper with a question on it: 

Do we really want to do business with these  people?