Canadian complicity and the Saudi-led war on Yemen
Photo by Ibrahem Qasim
On October 9, 2016, Saudi Arabia bombed a crowded funeral for a prominent family in Sana’a, Yemen. As first responders attended to the victims, the Saudis bombed the site again. The Red Cross prepared 300 body bags. At the time of writing, 140 people are confirmed dead and over 500 are injured.
Included in the dead are prominent Yemeni political and military leaders, as well as the Mayor of Sana’a. This was clearly no accident, but it is the innocent who pay the highest price and civilians who will bear the brunt of the political fallout that is sure to arise. This is the latest episode in a war that has already claimed the lives of 3,799 civilians. The official death toll now sits at well over 10,000.
Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, published a press release of just four sentences, gutlessly “condemning” the attack and “urging” an investigation. Just six months and one day prior, Dion defended the Trudeau government’s sale of $15 billion of armoured vehicles and military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—the truth having been wrestled out from beneath him by a tenacious professor at the University of Montreal, Daniel Turp, who pressured the government to disclose details of the deal.
Dion signed off on the export deal, the last possible barricade to shipping weapons overseas. This, of course, was after the Liberals spent an entire election cycle criticizing the Harper government for selling weapons to an atrocious human rights abuser. “We’ve allowed an arms sale to trump human rights,” Roland Paris said. And after the election? “We need to make sure we are respected on the world stage by keeping our word,” Trudeau said. So much for electoral posturing. Saudi Arabia has “bought the silence” of Western countries, Jocelyn Coulon said.
The sentiment was reinforced on September 30 2016, when the Saudis proclaimed to the Globe and Mail that the arms deal was an “act of friendship,” even as video evidence emerged of what appeared to be Canadian-made LAVs targeting civilian targets in Yemen. Friendship must then mean taking the Saudis at their word that our LAVs are not to be used in Yemen. Amnesty International warned Canada about this eventuality, but the admonition was drowned out by the shouting of assurances from our valued business partners.
Dion would claim that by selling the Saudis weapons, Canada maintained “leverage” over the Saudis. All that “leverage” amounts to, it would seem, are four pathetically crafted sentences in a bland press release published on a lazy Thanksgiving afternoon.
The time for leverage was on April 8, 2016, when Dion signed off on the export deal. Already 12 months into their bombing campaign, the minister could have used leverage to get them to stop the war, to initiate a cease fire, or broker a peace deal. Dion could have refused outright on the basis of humanitarianism and “Canadian values.” He could have followed the lead of Sweden and Belgium and refused to sell weapons.
This is what critics have been arguing since day-one of this arms deal: that selling to a horrendous dictatorship like Saudi Arabia is morally impermissible. Nothing is changing, and why would it? Is Canada’s “leverage” not having the noble effects Dion and Trudeau thought it would?
Did the government really believe that the respect we supposedly retained by honouring the deal would translate into some kind of restraint? One wonders what the Canadian public is supposed to believe from statements like this. Are we meant to believe that, before deciding to bomb a Doctors Without Borders hospital on August 15, the Saudis wondered what the Canadians would think? Before dispensing with their political adversaries and bombing a crowded funeral on October 9, nervously wonder how Dion’s press release would read?
Dion may urge an investigation into this horrendous funeral attack, but an investigation needs to happen here at home, in Ottawa. We all saw through the facade of this deal, we all knew the “leverage” was a toothpick applied to lift a hellfire missile, we all knew something out of the ordinary was going on when a lawsuit was required to pry the most basic of information from the government. Were it not for the journalism of Steven Chase of the Globe, we wouldn’t be able to string together this year-long-and-counting farce.
Today, it is hard to see Canada as anything but fully complicit in the currently one-sided, year-long bombing crusade by Saudi Arabia, supported fully by the US. Nothing we can say will stop them, and I suppose Dion rests peacefully at night knowing he injected 3,000 jobs into the Canadian economy so that a violent dictatorship could continue to bomb its neighbours at will, and without a shred of resistance from Western governments. Here, the perils of ruling on a platform based on respect for human rights, progressivism, and moral clarity are exposed. When push comes to shove, Dion shrivels and contorts into the kind of politician we all love to hate, and regrettably, have come to expect. May a future government who actually believes in their pre-election rhetoric have the courage to stop arming regimes around the world.
Graham Moon is an artist and political activist. He is the front man for rock band Hearing Trees and calls Winnipeg home.