Saudi arms deal will still stand, despite Liberal disapproval: Dion

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says the Liberal government does not necessarily approve of Canada’s sale of $15 billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country with a dismal human rights record.

But Dion says the government is simply allowing a previously negotiated contract to stand.

In a rare appearance before the Senate by an elected member of the House of Commons, Dion pointed out that the current government did not approve the sale of the LAV3s, a deal that was negotiated by the Conservatives.

“The government simply refused to cancel a contract that had been given the go-ahead by the previous government; a contract between a private company and Saudi Arabia,” Dion said.

“This is an important distinction, because if we would cancel a contract that has been approved, there would probably be stiff penalties that Canadian taxpayers would have to pay.”

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Dion said doing so would also have weakened the credibility of the Canadian government when it signs other contracts.

READ MORE: Saudi executes 47, including top Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr

Dion’s spokesman Joseph Pickerill said Dion was reiterating the government’s position on the deal – it didn’t approve it, but it’s not cancelling it either.

Pickerill also said Saudi Arabia “is a strategic partner and deals such as this have been agreed over successive governments.”

Dion reiterated his government’s commitment to review future deals, as he criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The government has faced repeated calls to the cancel the deal between the Saudis and an Ontario company for the vehicles, citing its imprisonment of blogger Raif Badawi and its treatment of women.

Dion answered a range of questions in the 30-minute exchange with senators, including on Russia and Iran.

Dion continued to defend his government’s decision to engage diplomatically with them, even if it disagrees with them.

He condemned Russia’s behaviour in the Ukraine, but said that’s not a reason to stop talking to the country. He said the country’s scientists could co-operate on Arctic issues.

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He also said Canada looks forward to hosting the leaders of Mexico and United States in a “three amigos summit.”

In December, Global Affairs Minister Stephan Dion spoke to The West Block’s Tom Clark about the deal, as well as Saudi Arabia’s human rights records.

WATCH: Tom Clark speaks with Stephane Dion

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