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

Homa Hoodfar, a professor of anthropology at Concordia University, is currently held in the infamous Evin prison charged with “co-operating with a foreign state against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Her family hasn’t been allowed to contact her and received no explanation about the charges brought against her. The same goes for her lawyer. While Ottawa is insisting that the case is a priority for them, they have been tight-lipped about it.

The Iranian born anthropologist has been living Montreal for thirty years, and was traveling back both to see family and for professional purposes. Relatives stated that she “was in Iran conducting historical and ethnographic research on women’s public role. Her visit coincided with the elections in Iran, during which many new women candidates were elected to the parliament.” Professor Hoodfar is a leading expert on gender and sexuality in Islam.

She was intercepted by the counter-intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary guards in March, a few days before she was set to leave the country. Her passport, her personal computer and her cellphone were confiscated. She was released on bail and her family had been trying to get her out of the country since then, to no avail. In the months that followed, authorities repeatedly interrogated her without a lawyer present. Three days ago, she was arrested again and sent to the Evin prison.

Evin House of Detention in Iran (image: WikiMedia Commons)
Evin House of Detention in Iran (image: WikiMedia Commons)

Nicknamed Evin University because of the high number of scholars, students and journalists detained there, the Evin prison is famous for the torture and inhumane conditions it subjects its detainees to. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian freelance photo-reporter, died there in 2003, after being raped and severely beaten. It was one of the first cases to bring international attention to the horrific human rights abuses in Iranian prisons. Hoodfar’s sister declared to The Guardian that she is especially worried because Hoodfar suffers from a rare neurological disease (Myasthenia Gravis) and needs constant medication.

Crackdown on Dual Citizens

Although Homa Hoodfar is of Iranian, Canadian and Irish nationality, she has been refused consular assistance because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The hard-liners of Iran’s Islamic system distrust foreigners, especially dual citizens, who can travel to the country without visas.

In fact, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards – a national police force tasked with protecting the country’s Islamic system- had been systematically targeting them for several months. Analysts believe it’s an effort to undermine President Rohani’s policy of opening the country’s borders.

Hadi Ghaemi, from the New York-based international campaign for human rights in Iran (ICHRI), has no doubt that “these arrests are politically motivated.” He told The Guardian that “Ms Hoodfar is a very respected academic who has hugely contributed to the Iranian civil society by her research and trainings. [The arrest] reflects a security and intelligence apparatus out of control in Iran. They are snatching and detaining people without cause and with total impunity, creating a virtual quarantine of Iranian society so that they may more firmly hold it in their grip.”

A Diplomatic Mess

Some experts believe that the detained dual citizens could serve as bargaining chips for Tehran in eventual prisoner swaps. Last January, four Iranian-Americans (including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian) were released in exchange for seven Iranians charged in the U.S for violating sanctions.

Iran has been demanding for years the extradition of Mahmmoud Reza Khavari, an Iranian who took refuge in Toronto. Iranian Ministry of Justice suspects Khavari of participating in a two-million dollars finance scandal. The minister publicly reiterated the extradition demand, shortly after Hoodfar’s case was made public.

Canada had cut all diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012. In a controversial move, Canada lifted long-standing economic sanctions against Iran last February, but the reopening of an embassy could take a couple more years.

Foreign Affair Minister Stéphane Dion said that Canadian officials “are working closely with our like-minded allies in order to best assist Dr. Hoodfar.” His spokesperson added that they couldn’t give details on the government actions due to confidentiality concerns, but asserted that they were “actively engaged” in the case.

According to CBC news, Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, doesn’t share those “confidentiality concerns.” As a fellow at the Canadian Centre for International Justice, she would have preferred the government be more open about the actions in progress.

But apparently, the government wanted to keep even this bit of information out of the public eye. When the professor’s family first got in touch with Canada’s Department of Global Affairs, they were reportedly advised to keep the story out of the media. Meanwhile, the Department would try to repatriate Hoodfar via “some back-door channels.”

Two months later, Hoodfar is in jail. Understandably worried that the back-door channels aren’t working, the family issued a press release on Wednesday.

This doesn’t mean that we have to sit on our hands while we wait to know more about Ottawa’s progress. The impact of public attention and pressure on human rights abuse cases should not be underestimated. Amnesty International’s 50 successful campaigns of 2015 testify to that.

A petition was started to “call on the international community, including the Canadian Government, the United Nations, the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as Canadian NGOs to pressure the Iranian government in order to secure the release of Professor Hoodfar.” You can sign it via Avaaz.

Anti-abortion activists are once again upset after the federal government announced last week that the Department of Foreign Affairs has funded the “morning after pill,” also known as Plan B, to give out in their maternal health program in Afghanistan.

The contraceptive was given out as part of a program which began in 2010 under PM Harper. The pill recently made the news for the announcement that the current federal government would also seek to add an additional 3.5 billion dollars of funding over the next five years to improve maternal health across the developing world.

One part of this program – a very, very small part of it – is focused on family planning, in which funding for Plan B is included. The drug, which is available over the counter (though access to it varies province to province) has been distributed by the Afghan Family Guidance Association, which is partnered with the international branch of Planned Parenthood and the Canadian government.

The anger over Plan B appears to be in the way the drug operates. It actually does nothing to end pregnancy, only preventing the fertilized egg from being able to stick to the uterine wall, as well as delaying the fertilization of the egg and temporarily stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.

Why is important that the federal government actually stands by their decision to fund Plan B, not only in Afghanistan but all other countries that receive funding for maternal health? Essentially one of the most fundamental elements of maternal health is the decision of whether or not to have a child. Funding this contraceptive – as it is a contraceptive, not a drug that causes abortion – is just one part of maternal health and this should continued to be respected by this government.

By listening to anti-abortion “activists” the Conservative government will be denying women around the globe options to access resources for family planning and maternal health. If this money is going toward family planning and maternal health, than it should be funded, since decided not to have a child is a huge part of family planning, as well as an important component in the health of the mother.

Another thing to point out is the fact that a very small amount of the money that the Conservative government has gifted for maternal health is for family planning – only 0.55 per cent, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The Federation is even calling on the government to continue to show more commitment to the issue of family planning, stating that over 222 million women around the globe lack access to a range of modern contraceptive options.

Recently the IPPF, along with a number of civil society groups from around the world, came together to address the Harper government, calling on them to recognize the role that family planning has in the health of women and children. The federal government should listen to these civil society groups and continue to fund Plan B, along with other forms of contraceptives and family planning options and not be afraid of the backlash from anti-abortion activists, if they are as committed to maternal health as they claim they are.