Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia was a breach of its own military export policies. Thanks to a few tweaks in a document from the Department of Global Affairs, it’s not anymore.

The government recently released the 2014 and 2015 versions of the Report on Exports of Military Goods for Canada. On Monday, the Globe and Mail  revealed that they contain a few relevant edits, findings which were later confirmed by the Canadian Press and Le Devoir. It’s only three small changes in wording of a relatively obscure Global Affairs document, but they are indicative of the dangerous direction our arms trade policies are taking.

The section clarifying the goals of the control on exports of military equipment has been altered in two places.

Previous versions said that controls intended to ensure that military exports would not be “diverted to ends that could threaten the security of Canada, its allies or other countries or people.” Mentions of “other countries or people” have been edited out as it now only refers to “Canada, its allies or civilians.”

Yemen, for example, is another country, but not an ally. Therefore, the matter of Saudi Arabia using Canadian military equipment for shady operations in Yemen is officially none of Ottawa’s business.

The only sentence explicitly allowing Ottawa to restrict military exports has also been erased.  Hence, export controls are no longer meant to “regulate and impose certain restrictions” but to “balance the economic and commercial interests (with Canada’s) national interests.”

Furthermore, where it previously stipulated that “wide-ranging consultations are held” as a mandatory step, it now only mentions that they “may be included.”

The document still includes a general rationale for the control of military exports, in which the notions of ethics and concern for human rights remain untouched, but with no practical mandate tied to them. The power of regulating or restricting shipments of military goods to that effect has been edited out. In fact, there is no mention of restricting or regulating exports anywhere in the entire document.

The report still reads like a spirited commitment to ensuring that exports of Canadian arms do not threaten peace, security or human rights. This little rewriting just deprived it of any teeth.

Still, the authors did not dare to keep claiming that “Canada has some of the strongest export controls in the world;” which was the opening statement of previous versions. The sentence was substituted by the assertion that Canada’s export controls were “rigorous” and “in line with our allies.”

“For Clarity”

The liberals maintain that the edits were made only for “clarity, length and exactitude.”  The fact that all of them also serve to legitimize the massive sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia is probably just a happy coincidence.

Trudeau’s government authorized the $15 million deal in April, despite strong popular and political opposition.  Saudi Arabia’s lousy human rights record and its unsanctioned military intervention in Yemen should have disqualified it from the global arms trade. Both the International Arms Trade Agreement and the Directives of Exports of Military Goods of Canada – at the very least- implied as much.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion pleaded that the armoured vehicles were to be used to fight off ISIS and not against Saudi or Yemeni civilians. If the contrary was reliably demonstrated, Canada could rescind the deal, he promised.

Footage of Canadian equipment used in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is accused of breaching international law, apparently, was not considered substantial proof.  In June, Canadian-made tactical gear was used in a violent house raid in a neighbourhood mainly inhabited by Saudi Arabia’s oppressed Shia community. The debate over the arms deal had mostly died down by then and although it received moderate coverage, there was no political response.

If it wasn’t before, it is now clear that the Trudeau government never had any intention of backing off on its arms trade with Saudi Arabia. In fact, they seem committed to moving the country on its path to becoming one of the world’s biggest arms dealers.

Canada’s exports of military goods (outside the US) rose by 89% during the Harper years and the $15 million deal with Saudi Arabia further increased this number. Canada is now the most important arms exporter in the Middle East, after the United-States. The path might have been set by the Conservatives, but the Liberals are running down it at full speed.

* Featured image taken by Staff Sgt Christine Jones, Wiki Creative Commons

During past few weeks since the start of the Israeli operation of and collective punishment against the people of Gaza, which was supposedly triggered by the killing of three Israeli teens by the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas which controls the Gaza strip, the statements released by the Conservative government have come to dangerously resemble Ezra Levant type rants instead of thoughtful and thought through foreign policy.

In fact not only has this Conservative government lent a blind eye to the majority of the violations of international law that the Israeli government has committed during this military operation, our Canadian government has thrown its support and whatever leverage it has on the international scene behind the Israeli hawks, taking a unilateral position which favors Israel in any given circumstance or situation.

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Ezra Levant at the PetroCultures conference (photo Jay Manafest)

Unfortunately this neo-conservative stance is far from being a novelty. It appears that in the eyes the Conservative war room, international affairs is merely an extension of domestic affairs by other means, another tool to assert their domestic agenda and garnish support among certain sections of the Canadian electorate in view of 2015.

But as for all pre-fabricated position of ideological purity, this doctrine or approach to international affairs has it’s Achilles heel and that is the hypocrisy and double speech on which it is founded.

During the heated debate revolving around the PQ’s  Charter of Quebec Values, the Harper Government, much like Don Quixote jousting against invisible windmills, took the bold position to cut down the nascent legislation, using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the ultimate rampart against xenophobia and racism used as political vectors for short term political gains. But while the Conservative Government supposedly crusades against such intolerance and xenophobia on domestic turf, on the international scene it promotes its antithesis, an international policy which refutes basic human rights and international conventions favoring instead a Manichean vision of the world, rooted in profound demagogy and fueled by fear.

Other governments of the same vein through the globe have pushed forward Islamophobic legislation with the intent to preserve the sanctity of some mythical antique society, refuting one religious dogma for another in the name of secularism. This Conservative regime prefers to promote pseudo multiculturalism within its borders and support racist and xenophobic policy and segregation and inequality on the outside. Unfortunately, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

This government’s reaction to the suffering of the people of Gaza, slandering them and belittling them at every possible occasion as “terrorists” and “fundamentalists,” not the victims of Israeli aggression but the makers of their own oppression in some sort of twisted Stockholm Syndrome way, is but the culminating point in a decisive shift in foreign policy taken by the current regime.

On the African continent, the current Canadian government has allocated funds to extreme-right, homophobic and xenophobic evangelistic groups, thus aiding them in their mission to propagate the light of Christ throughout the world. In South America, the Conservative Government has lent their support, through enhanced free trade deals, to Canadian multinationals that run amok, with devastating consequences for entire communities, especially for indigenous communities resisting the violation of their habitats. Such a policy endangers their way of life and is pushing them to the brink of extinction.

When it comes to international cooperation in terms of climate change or within the United Nations, the current government has undermined much of Canada’s international status as a deal broker, preferring to sign alliances with the newly anointed group of “weasels”—composed of the ideological brothers of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada—and push for climate deregulation.

The hard right might not have found its niche with the Conservative government domestically, many on that side of the spectrum would like to see this government be more assertive with its social conservatism and push for the criminalization of abortions and the repeal of gay marriage legislation. But in John Baird and his Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have found a champion.

They are several types of power in terms of international affairs; the two main strains are described as soft and hard. Hard power is referred to as the usage of brute force, military force, and domination through physical submission. On the other hand, soft power is domination through cultural influence and diplomacy. Canada might have once had a strong stock of soft power, but today it has given up on both approaches to fully endorse the Ezra Levant archetype of Sun News power.

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This is a power that serves only the ideological purposes of the most radical sections of the Conservative Party of Canada and the vision of a planetary struggle of Ying versus Yang. Any pragmatism or rationality are sidelined in favor of an outright xenophobic foreign policy which asserts through the rants of it’s spokesperson—John Baird has taken the role of Ezra Levant in this case—that some human beings have more rights than others, some populations are more valuable than others, some communities have more a right to live a dignified life than others.

A government that is honest with itself cannot appeal to the high moral standards of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when dealing with domestic xenophobia and disregard such values aboard. Canada must promote human rights for all.

What better role could Canada play on the international scene than being the sole defender of human dignity and human rights, with the values and ethics invested in it through the charter of Freedoms and Rights. That must be our banner on the international scene.