Federal court rejects bid to block Canada’s $15B Saudi Arabia arms deal

A Canadian LAV (light armoured vehicle) arrives to escort a convoy at a forward operating base near Panjwaii, Afghanistan at sunrise on Nov.26, 2006.
A Canadian LAV (light armoured vehicle) arrives to escort a convoy at a forward operating base near Panjwaii, Afghanistan at sunrise on Nov.26, 2006. Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – The Federal Court has dismissed a challenge by a Quebec law professor to condemn the federal government’s $15-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.

University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp, a former Bloc Quebecois MP, challenged export permits authorizing the deal, saying Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record should give the court the ability to review it.

Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer ruled that the court’s role was not to “pass moral judgment” on the decision by then-foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion to issue export permits allowing the deal.

She said the court simply had to ensure that the decision was legal.

READ MORE: Arms Trade Treaty won’t stop Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

“Of course, his broad discretion would have allowed him to deny the permits,” Tremblay-Lamer’s ruling said. “However, the court is of the opinion that the minister considered the relevant factors.”

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The previous Conservative government negotiated the deal and the current Liberal government opted to honour it. The armoured vehicles were produced by General Dynamics Land Systems of London, Ont.

Turp initially sought an injunction to block the deal last March, but one month later Dion signed a series of permits allowing the sale to proceed.

Turp was asking the court to exercise its authority to review the government’s decisions to see if they were legal.

The Liberals have been heavily criticized by advocacy groups who said the government should not be selling military hardware to a country with a poor human rights record.

The government acknowledged concerns about the mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia, as well as the stifling of political dissent by the Saudi government, among other abuses.

READ MORE: Human rights advocates blast Trudeau on Saudi arms deal

But it said it had no evidence that Saudi Arabia specifically used the military hardware to crack down on its own population. It also said that there was no evidence that they were linked to UN-documented rights abuses in neighbouring Yemen, where Saudi Arabia was conducting airstrikes.

The federal government concluded that Saudi Arabia was a strategic ally in the Middle East in the fight against Islamic militants.

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Turp argued that Dion’s approval of the exports was flawed because it was “guided by considerations other than respect for fundamental rights and international humanitarian law.”

Turp argued that the approval of export permits violated the Export and Import Permits Act and the Geneva Conventions Act.

The government countered that it properly assessed the decision and took the human rights issues into consideration – a position that the Federal Court has accepted.

“The fact that there have been no incidents in which LAVs have been used in human rights violations in Saudi Arabia since trade relations between that country and Canada began in the 1990s is significant evidence in the context of this assessment,” the ruling said.

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