Letter: Amnesty International questions Canada’s link with Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan [inundated with] the huge numbers of Syrian refugees…Saudi Arabia, has accepted none.

To the editor:

Amnesty International has put out an urgent action on behalf of a 21-year-old Saudi Arabian man who may be beheaded. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested when he was 17 for participating in demonstrations against the government. His confession was obtained under torture. Saudi Arabia has executed over 100 people already this year.

Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian whose wife is living in Montreal, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes and a huge fine on charges of insulting Islam and creating a website for social and political debate. There was such a world-wide outcry that after his first series of lashes months ago he has received no more but is still being held.

Despite this record, Saudi Arabia has been chosen to chair a United Nations Human Rights Council that oversees nominations to key special rapporteurs and experts. Also despite this record, in April the Canadian Commercial Corporation, a Crown corporation, brokered a deal to supply $15 billion worth of Canadian-made armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia over the next decade, in what is by far the largest military export contract in Canada’s history. Canada’s export control policy calls for a thorough human rights assessment to be conducted before a permit can be issued for a military export deal. However the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development was unable to produce any human rights reports for the year when the deal was announced (2014) or for the year before. Even if the assessments had been conducted the department has said that it would not reveal their contents to the Canadian public, citing “commercial confidentiality.”

In April the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) was announced—from control by western grain growers to a U.S. multinational grain dealer and a unit of the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Company established by Saudi Arabia’s king in 2011. The unit is known as SALIC Canada Ltd. The CWB was formed in Parliament in 1935 to guarantee farmers would get fair prices for their wheat and barley. Under CWB legislation a vote was required by farmers to decide whether or not they wanted to stay with the CWB. The vote was not held and since then growers are not getting anywhere near the return they used to under CWB.

Meanwhile Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are under enormous pressure from the huge numbers of Syrian refugees that have fled across their borders to safety. Their neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has accepted none.

Why are we supporting a country like Saudi Arabia, described by Washington-based Freedom House as among “the worst of the worst” of human rights offenders in the world? The kind of relationship our government has with Saudi Arabia has to be ended and this relationship is just one more reason not to vote for the Conservatives.

Peter Kerr, Kelowna