• Ted Frasher

To Deal or Not to Deal

The Canadian government is poised to follow through on a $15-billion contract that would entail the selling of light-armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The potential deal is becoming more and more likely, which has brought some, namely Conservatives in the House of Commons, to ask the government to unveil its now-protected assessment of Saudi Arabia’s human rights status. The debriefing of the government document would help people who are unsure of or agnostic towards the deal decide.

Critics of the deal cite Saudi Arabia’s controversial actions towards freedom of speech and opposition to government. Earlier this month, their execution of an outspoken Iranian cleric spurred outrage and condemnation from across the globe. The Saudi embassy in Iran was peppered with stones from protestors and eventually was closed, as the two countries consequently severed relations. In the Middle-East, a region in the midst of a brutal civil war, bleak economic prospects and a refugee crisis, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the sole country that is stable, economically and politically.

However, the Saudi monarchy, a regime that rules under Wahhabism – a dated and relatively extreme version of Islam – has been criticized for their tactics, stifling any kind of political opposition or revolution. The situation presented by the Saudi arms deal is a complex one, the deal having the possibility of dealing serious and far-reaching consequences not only for the Middle East, but for the world.

So, should the government move forward with the deal? The benefits are mainly financial; the deal will support 3,000 Canadian jobs for those building the LAVs in London, Ontario. Additionally, if the deal is completed, Canada will receive a cool $15 billion from the Saudis. Relatively speaking, this is quite a large sum of money. Indeed, it is the largest arms deal Canada has ever partaken in. To put it into perspective, $15 billion is five times more than the costs of the middle-class tax cut, or roughly 60% of federal healthcare costs.

The downsides are plentiful as well. One thing to note is that the LAVs will not go to Saudi Arabia’s regular army, but to the Saudi Arabian National Guard instead, which is a private force whose task is to protect “internal security” and the royal family. Will these vehicles be used to quell any type of political uprising or protests that oppose the oppressive Saudi regime? Will they kill innocent, democracy-seeking civilians? It is unclear at the moment, however there is a possibility. This is not the first time we’ve sent Saudi Arabia combat vehicles. Advocates against the deal allege that, in 2011, Saudi Arabia dispatched Canadian-made vehicles into Bahrain in order to suppress a democratic uprising.

An important thing to keep in mind is that, despite its undemocratic and authoritarian attitudes, Saudi Arabia is essentially the only stable power in a currently chaotic area. It might even be in Canada’s interests to hinder the efforts of pro-democracy protestors, for a revolution in Saudi Arabia could result in yet another civil war in the region, destabilizing it further. This would make Saudi Arabia ripe for the picking for terrorist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the prospective deal. If the government cancels it (which is looking to be increasingly unlikely), then another country will manufacture the vehicles and we’ll lose out on $15 billion. On the bright side, Canadians will be able to sleep well knowing that Ontario-made LAVs aren’t patrolling the streets of Riyadh, possibly being used to suppress democratic protests and slaughter civilians. If Canada goes ahead with the deal, we keep 3,000 jobs, make $15 billion, and do our part in preventing dangerous uprisings that would leave fertile ground for extremist groups.