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June 1, 2015

Does creating jobs for Canadians rate higher than respecting human lives and human rights in Saudi Arabia? The Canadian government would seem not to care.

Federal government approval of a $15-billion arms deal with the Saudis last year was given without performing a required assessment of the country's human rights record. The government proudly announced the sale of light armoured vehicles (LAVs), known colloquially as tanks. But when researcher Ken Rubin dug into the sale, the department of foreign affairs gave no evidence that it is monitoring human rights in the oil-rich country and said it has not assessed the human rights situation there for the past two years.

Saudi Arabia, in fact, has one of the worst human rights records in the world, notorious for its mistreatment of women, foreign workers and dissenters. Already this year, the country has beheaded 85 offenders and has had to advertise for more executioners to sustain the flow of blood.

Women in the Middle East kingdom are barred from driving their own cars and getting married without their guardian's approval. The rights of the more than nine million migrant workers are frequently violated. According to Human Rights Watch, some employers illegally confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrants to work against their will.

Peaceful dissent from the regime's policies will lead to a lengthy prison term. Those detained in jail "face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest, and torture and ill-treatment in detention," said Human Rights Watch. "Saudi judges routinely sentence defendants to hundreds of lashes."

To all of this and more the Canadian government has turned a blind eye in its eagerness to make a major arms sale. It is not the Saudi army that will use the LAVs, to be manufactured by General Dynamics in London, Ont., but rather the country's national guard whose role is to contain internal dissent.

Canadian export controls require assurances from countries with poor human rights records that military equipment will not be used against their own people. That no such assurances were given in this case should be of grave concern to all Canadians. We should reject any instance when Canadian goods may be used to violate human rights overseas, especially by a nation with as heinous a reputation as that of Saudi Arabia.

Instead, the Canadian government worked hard to facilitate the LAV sale, announcing it with bravado, and saying it will directly provide 3,000 manufacturing jobs for the 14-year term of the deal as well as indirect jobs to suppliers.

Those will be jobs drenched in blood, something we would not tolerate if it were the rights of Canadians up for grabs. That our government promotes arms sales to Saudi Arabia knowing the country will use those arms against its own citizens is a national scandal.