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Dion's dubious defence of Saudi arms deal raises more questions than it answers

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The fact that foreign minister Stéphane Dion chose to sit down with the editorial board of one of Canada's largest newspapers on Monday to discuss the controversial $15-billion arms deal between Saudi Arabia and Canada is as encouraging as it is revealing.

Encouraging in that it reflected a serious desire on the part of the Liberal government to deliver on their election promise of "open and transparent" government -- by directly addressing the rising dispute around this deal.

International human rights organizations, legal experts, government advisors and ordinary Canadians alike have condemned Ottawa's lucrative deal to sell weaponized combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia. For the most obvious of reasons: How can we sell arms to a pariah state? 

Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the Middle East, is bombing Yemen, the poorest, as we speak. They are amassing troops to counter potential Arab Spring-type protests in their own and other Gulf States. And they continue to purport Wahhabism, their own warped interpretation of Islam that has inspired every terrorist act since September 11, 2001: From the Parliament Hill shooter in 2014, to the Paris attacks last November, to the Brussels bombers in March.

But Dion's meeting with the board was also telling. Telling in when he chose to have this conversation. Just a week before, The Globe and Mail had revealed that the Liberal government -- not the Conservative government -- had signed off on six export permits enabling the Saudi arms deal to go through. This -- after Dion telling reporters repeatedly in previous months that it was a "done deal" arranged by the Conservatives. 

The deception didn't end there. By Canadian law, Ottawa is supposed to assess whether there is a reasonable risk that goods might be used against civilians before exporting them to countries with questionable human rights records.

Was this risk fully assessed? Yes, Dion told the board. The foreign ministry consulted with a range of organizations outside of federal departments.

But wait a second. The two key bodies at the forefront of the campaign against the arms deal, Amnesty International and Project Ploughshares, said they never heard from the government.

So much for the Liberal promise of inclusive, honest government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes a bold assertion on his party manifesto: "After a decade of Stephen Harper, Canadians' faith in government has never been lower. The reason is simple: Canadians do not trust their government, because it does not trust them."

If the Liberals continue down this path of deceit, they risk losing something much more than Saudi wrath: The trust of the people who voted them in.

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