Analysis

Canada sanctioned 17 Saudis over the Khashoggi killing - but is it enough?

The Canadian government announced this morning that it's sanctioning 17 Saudi nationals in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Should the government go further?

'I don't think it has much practical effect' - former Canadian ambassador

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second day of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Oct. 24, 2018. (Amr Nabil/Associated Press)

The Canadian government announced sanctions today against 17 Saudi nationals in connection with the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

It's the first concrete action taken by Canada on the file since the Saudi journalist was allegedly killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

But what impact will these sanctions actually have? And do they go far enough?

Mostly symbolic

The sanctions announced today by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland effectively do two things. They freeze the assets in Canada of the individuals sanctioned and they render those individuals inadmissible to Canada.

"I don't think it has much practical effect, but I think that kind of signal-sending is important at this stage," said former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak in an interview today with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

Former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dennis Horak and former middle east analyst for the Department of National Defence Thomas Juneau joined Power & Politics Thursday to debate what Canada should do about arms exports to Saudi Arabia. 9:38

Horak was joined by former national defence middle east analyst Thomas Juneau, who said he agrees with the former ambassador.

"At this point, its mostly symbolic," said Juneau. "We don't have a lot of information on the details, but as far as I know, at least most if not all of these individuals don't have assets in Canada. Did not have any specific plans to travel to Canada."

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada wouldn't confirm today whether any of the of the sanctioned Saudis actually hold assets in Canada.

Guillaume Berube would only say that "individuals and businesses, including financial institutions, are responsible for ensuring they are in compliance with Canada's sanctions regime."

Cancelling arms exports?

For years, the Canadian government has been facing calls to cancel a controversial multi-billion-dollar armoured vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia. Since Khashoggi's death and the reported revelations about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's alleged involvement, those calls have only gotten louder.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's former foreign policy adviser Roland Paris joined the chorus by urging the federal government to suspend any further deliveries of military equipment to the kingdom.

"There are moments when you have a stark decision. And the stark decision before us is whether we stand up for the rule of law or succumb to the law of the jungle, and we need to make that decision," Paris said in an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

Paris' call to cancel the deal is significant because he was privy to its terms through his former role in the Trudeau government. The prime minister has said that cancelling the deal would be difficult and costly.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said this morning (and has been saying for weeks) that Canada is reviewing Canadian arms sales to the kingdom, in part due to the circumstances of Khashoggi's death.

Despite growing calls to cancel the deal, Horak said he thinks Canada should continue to honour the agreement.

"When Canada makes an agreement, I think it's important that we stick to it. In my view, this deal has nothing to do with the Khashoggi affair. It has nothing to do with human rights concerns that we have about Saudi Arabia. We have a deal. It's in place, we need to stick to our guns," he said.

"I think its also important to recognize that were we to cancel the deal, I don't think it would have a major impact on Saudi Arabia. The real impact it would have would be on Canadian workers in London."

What's at stake?

The armoured vehicles being exported to Saudi Arabia are manufactured at the General Dynamics factory in London, Ont., which employs nearly 2,000 workers. Cancelling the deal would jeopardize those jobs.

But one defence and procurement analyst said such an action could have much wider implications for Canada's $10-billion-a-year defence industry.

"The defence industry is quite heavily reliant on exports. And those exports rely upon an export regime which is viewed to be predictable," said David Perry, vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. "If they made a change based on the optics of the journalist's death related to this export contract, basically it would be a change of the rules after signing the contract."

CGAI Vice President David Perry on the potential implications for the Canadian defence industry if the federal government decides to cancel the armoured vehicle deal with Saudi Arabia. 7:08

The Canadian Global Affairs Institute receives funding from defence companies, including General Dynamics.

Perry said that if big defence companies like General Dynamics were to lose confidence in Canada's regime, they might decide to move their operations to other countries.

He also said that refusing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia would have little impact on the kingdom, because they could purchase arms from other G7 allies, or from Russia and China.

'The status quo is not acceptable'

Juneau said he doesn't think Canada should cancel the deal entirely, but rather suspend it temporarily.

"There's been in the last three and a half years a pattern of absolutely reckless foreign policy by Mohammed Bin Salman, by Saudi Arabia under his rule — the embargo of Qatar, the war in Yemen, the murder of Khashoggi, the kidnapping of the Lebanese Prime Minister — and this is a pattern," he said.

"We've been voicing our concerns timidly, we the West to Saudi Arabia, for three and a half years now and that has had no impact. To MBS, as long as Western countries voice their concerns, it is a license to continue.

"Right now, MBS is 33. There's a strong likelihood that he could be the ruler of Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years. And if that is the case, and there is a strong possibility that will be the case, the status quo is not acceptable."