Ottawa releases redacted report on human rights in Saudi Arabia
Release comes amid criticism over Saudi arms deal
The Canadian government has released a redacted version of its 2015 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, bowing to demands from opposition MPs and other critics calling for more transparency about a controversial arms deal with the kingdom.
The release of unclassified portions of the 22-page report comes after CBC News reported on the U.S. government's release of its own 2015 human rights report on Saudi Arabia.
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The Liberal government has come under heavy criticism for defending "as a matter of principle" Canada's $15-billion sale of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said in January he would release an unclassified version of the report, but wanted to ensure that "the safety and security of identified sources" was respected.
Friday afternoon, the Department of Global Affairs released under access to information the report reviewing human rights in Saudi Arabia.
The report is undated, but provides Dion with an "update" following the Jan. 2 execution by Saudi authorities of 47 individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences.
It is unclear when the full report was presented to Dion, who met with Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's minister of foreign affairs, in Ottawa on Dec. 17.
Many sections or paragraphs in the report are blocked out and noted as "Classified" or "Confidential," while the final two pages are withheld under sections of the law that protect information obtained from a foreign source or that could be "injurious to the conduct of international affairs" or the defence of Canada.
But some of the redactions are specific.
"Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and — ," the report said, with the end of that sentence blacked out.
"It faces a deteriorating regional security situation; a growing domestic terrorist threat; including from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); a young and expanding population; growing unemployment; and domestic economic pressure resulting from its heavy reliance on the oil sector and the decrease in oil prices."
"The Kingdom tends to refute outside criticism on human rights issues," the update to the minister said, with the sentence following it blacked out.
Two paragraphs listing "ongoing human rights challenges to watch for in the next year" have been redacted in their entirety.
The last report on Saudi Arabia was prepared in 2011 and was not made public by Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
Université de Montréal law professor Daniel Turp, who is leading a court challenge against the federal government's Saudi arms deal, questioned the government's decision to withhold various sections of the report.
"I wonder why one would redact an assessment for human rights for a country like Saudi Arabia, or any other country," said Turp in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.
Today's redacted assessment of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia also comes on the same week that Turp's legal challenge revealed that Dion quietly approved export permits for more than 70 per cent of the sale to the kingdom.
"For this contract to be implemented, for those vehicles to be exported, you needed to deliver those export permits and that's what Mr. Dion did," Turp told CBC host Chris Hall.
"The Liberals can't blame the Conservatives, they're the ones going ahead with this deal, they're the ones who will make possible the export of these armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia."