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It's one thing to treat the execution by another country of a large group of political prisoners as a strictly internal matter, unsavory perhaps, but none of our fine, principled Canadian business.
It is something else entirely to treat an apparent plan to commit genocide or something very much like it by that same country as if it were none of our business.
For us to sell equipment that seems to have been purposely built for use against civilians in a genocidal project, a plan for which we have significant evidence, is beyond the pale.
In the event, how could this be defined as anything but an act of complicity?
I am speaking, as readers will understand, of the decision by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal, to endorse the previous Conservative government's brokered sale of so-called light armoured fighting vehicles to the government of Saudi Arabia, which is about as bad a government as there is on this planet.
And I say this fully aware of how difficult it would be for any government, particularly at a moment when the economy is not exactly on the upswing, to give up a deal like the sale of $15-billion worth of LAV IIIs by General Dynamics Land Systems (Canada) of London, Ont., which can be counted on to generate both profits and jobs, over a question of moral principle. For this reason, I'm not going to claim an NDP government would have done anything very different.
Still, sometimes individuals and countries really do need to do the right thing. This is one of those times.
Trudeau tried during the election campaign that brought him to power to blow off criticism of this sale by saying the LAVs are just "jeeps," shorthand for light military utility vehicles. They are not. Looking at a LAV III, many civilians would call it a "tank."
They're not that either. They are armed military transports suitable for attacking lightly armed or unarmed civilians, but of limited utility against real soldiers with real weapons, or even insurgent forces that know what they're doing. Indeed, Canada lost some 34 of the things to home-made bombs planted by lightly armed Afghan irregulars during our decade-long war in that unhappy country.
Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion had a better answer than the prime minister, though still not the right one: that our reputation as a business partner would be damaged if we backed out of the deal now.
The particular capabilities of the LAV III would indicate why these vehicles are being bought by the Saudi National Guard, which has a public order mandate, and not by the Saudi army.
Hard-hearted as it seems to say this, the principle here is bigger than just the personal and family tragedies of the judicial assassination by agents of the Saudi Royal family of a well-known Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, and 46 other political prisoners, at least some of them because of their religious convictions. It is about the potential for a much greater tragedy with more widespread consequences.
We don't know, of course, the full extent of the Saudi government's plans for the predominantly Sunni country's significant Shia minority -- officially about three million of the country’s 27 million souls, but probably more.
Nevertheless, the indications are grave enough that, in the event, there is no way we Canadians will be able to escape the charge of knowingly contributing to a religious and cultural genocide potentially worse than what happened in Rwanda for our economic convenience and the profit of our corporate sector.
I wonder what our now missing-in-action Ambassador for Religious Freedom, appointed by the government of the thankfully departed prime minister Stephen Harper, would have to say about this, if anything?
In July 2014, Britain's Independent newspaper reported on a speech by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, that country's Secret Intelligence Service. During his remarks, Sir Richard had recounted an ominous conversation with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington and later chief of the Saudi intelligence service.
The theme of the Independent's article, by journalist Patrick Cockburn, was to make a case the Saudis are among the principal forces behind the creation, sustenance and success of the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The U.S.-led coalition of which Canada remains part is supposedly fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Sir Richard's memory of his chilling conversation with Prince Bandar, the fellow once known as "Bandar Bush" for his close relationship with America’s powerful and presidential Bush family, is very telling for Canadians as they to make sense of their government's determination to sell the Saudis $15 billion worth of armoured vehicles that seem a perfect fit for crushing civilian uprisings.
"The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally 'God help the Shia,'" the MI6 head recounted the prince telling him. "More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."
Journalist Cockburn put this in context: "The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria." And now in Yemen, too, it must be added, where the Saudi armed forces are attacking Shia Yemenis directly, rather than through surrogates like ISIS, and apparently taking a beating from the Shia insurgents.
"Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today," Cockburn went on, "has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940."
Now Saudi Arabia seems to be either confident enough or desperate enough to boldly provoke conflict with Iran, the predominant Shia power in the region and, with its large Persian population, also a cultural counterbalance to the Gulf Arabs led by Saudi Arabia and inevitably supported by the West.
Indeed, the Saudis are reflexively supported by the West, it would seem, even when they are waging a virtual economic war against certain Western countries, not the least of them ours!
Regardless, Prince Bandar's sinister words, and the Saudi government's recent actions at home and in the region, suggest a genocidal attack on the country's and the region's Shia minority is a real possibility.
If ISIS truly is a Saudi proxy, which naturally the Saudi Arabians deny, we have already seen what this might look like.
There is no way it is in Canada's interest -- notwithstanding the short-term business advantages of a large sale of military equipment -- to be complicit in such a catastrophe.
Canadians elected Justin Trudeau to do better than this.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.