During a town hall held at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, residents questioned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about a weapons contract between Canada and Saudi Arabia, despite Canada’s vehement criticism of the kingdom’s violation of human rights.
Trudeau’s response was consistent with the answer he’s given in the past when questioned about this issue: the federal government is grappling with the details of a complex, CDN $15 billion contract signed by Harper’s Conservatives and will continue to speak up for human rights.
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“Canada has been very very clear on issues around Saudi Arabia, that we have real concerns around human rights,” Trudeau said.
He added that, “Canada, under the previous government signed this contract to sell these light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” and hinted that the government is looking for a way out of the deal.
However, he noted that the government is also facing the challenge of jobs in London, Ont., secured by the arms deal between the two nations, and ensuring that the individuals who hold these jobs aren’t hit too hard.
He also added that his freedom to even discuss the deal is limited, as restrictions on discussing the terms were built into the contract.
“I can’t even talk about the contract much more than I already am,” Trudeau said.
Saudi Arabia has come under fire in recent months for the killing of former Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The summer before, Canada found itself in a diplomatic spat with the kingdom after criticizing its treatment of a women’s rights activist.
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On CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Trudeau gave his strongest indication yet that the Canadian government is likely to terminate the contract.
“We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said on the show.
Trudeau received more than one question about Canada’s dealings with Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.
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One woman asked the prime minister why Canada purchases Saudi Arabian oil. It’s important to note that between 2007 and 2017 Statistics Canada reports that Canada imported a total of CDN$20.9 billion in Saudi petroleum oils.
Trudeau assumed that the questioner was referring to headlines over the past few months indicating that Quebec’s oil supply primarily came from Saudi Arabia. In response, Trudeau proceeded to debunk what he called “misinformation.”
“That is false. Quebec actually gets its oil from the U.S. and from western Canada,” Trudeau said. “Quebec has gotten three times as much oil from the oil sands than it ever has before.”
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According to one energy economist, Canada could easily replace its Saudi oil supply if it needed to.
Eastern Canadian refineries import about 75,000 to 80,000 barrels per day of Saudi Arabian crude, said Judith Dwarkin, chief economist with RS Energy Group in Calgary.
That’s less than 10 per cent of total imports and amounts to a “drop in the bucket” compared with the United States, she told the Canadian Press, which accounts for two-thirds of imports and could easily cover Saudi’s share thanks to growing domestic production.
Trudeau also received questions about the carbon tax, the Trans Pacific pipeline, international student fees, immigration and the housing market.
— With files from the Canadian Press.