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How to build on the opportunity for change created by the Saudi Arabia spat

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Human rights campaigners protest against arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Campaign Against Arms Trade/Flickr

There has been an important debate raging in Canada. No, it is not about John Baird's interview which is best discarded in the trash heap of pathetic partisan hypocrisy. It is about how we apply pressure to push for changes in the relationship with Saudi Arabia which really matter to those of us who believe in Canada being a defender of human rights and our interests.

1. Stand against the larger apparatus cracking down on activists.

We can talk about whether the fact that Trudeau and Freeland have criticized Saudi Arabia is a publicity stunt or a baby step. However, as activists we must also use it as an opening that human rights advocates can use to make the Canadian government pressure Saudi Arabia. 

Since 2014, Saudi authorities have tried nearly all peaceful dissidents facing broad, catch-all charges in the Specialized Criminal Court, which the authorities set up in 2008 to investigate terrorism-related crimes. This is about more than Riaz and Samar Badawi and we need the Canadian government to continue to stand with human rights defenders. To learn more about what has been going on in Saudi Arabia and advocate for a more comprehensive approach read reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. Then email or call Chrystia Freeland to demand that Canada support the movement to stand against the systemic criminalization of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. 

Right now, albeit on a different scale and where the real impact on activists is not equivalent, Bill C-59 is conflating anti-terrorism and expanding the government’s power to crackdown on activism here in Canada. Therefore, it is also worthwhile to work with the CCLA campaign to stand for the rights of Canadian activists.    

2. Stand against the Saudi weapons deal.

The Harper government pursued one of the largest arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the Liberal government persisted in approving the deal, despite continued alarms raised by the public and experts. We now have evidence that Canadian-made armoured vehicles have been used against civilians in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, causing numerous casualties and destruction of infrastructure, as Open Canada points out. Here is an old petition by Avaaz to Chrystia Freeland, but you can also write to her directly or call her office to find out whether the Saudi arms deal is being cancelled. 

The work of rabble.ca has always been to stand against weapons trading and for peace. Here are some links to important peace movement groups nationally and in provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta.

3. Stand for the Canadian Wheat Board.

The fact that the Canadian Wheat Board was sold to Saudi owners has been an issue. Now that the Saudi Grains Association has been instructed to no longer accept Canadian grains, perhaps it is time to write to Trudeau to undo the privatization. He used our tax dollars to buy back a leaky and questionable pipeline; it is far more important to Canadian farmers who are having their product boycotted to stand for the Wheat Board instead. Here is a great podcast from Rank and File Radio-Praries where Anthony Fenton gives more information about the issue. 

Photo: Campaign Against Arms Trade/Flickr

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