On March 23, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, recognizing the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, stated, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
The secretary-general further pleaded, “[Let us] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.”
On April 10, CBC reported that “Canada ‘fully supports’ an appeal from the United Nations for an immediate global ceasefire so the world can fight the coronavirus pandemic together. On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould issued a statement, backing the UN leader’s concerns.”
And yet the day before, Champagne and Finance Minister Bill Morneau “announced the suspension of approval of new [arms export] permits for Saudi Arabia is now lifted,” The Globe and Mail reported.
“They cited a government review made public last September to tell Ottawa it had found no credible evidence linking Canadian exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabian human-rights violations. The same report also advised the government that 48 export permits were ready to be signed should the government lift its moratorium.”
Canada had quietly signed on to the global ceasefire on March 30, but its first public announcement on it on April 10 came after the news about lifting its brief moratorium on new arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
Adding to this concern, the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, the lobby group for the arms industry in Canada, announced on April 2 that the Canadian government had also recognized “defence and security in its definition of essential services and functions.”
That means that, despite the social distancing rules that the country has been asked to respect, the factory that builds armoured vehicles that may be being used by the Saudi military in Yemen remains open during the pandemic.
While not speaking to this situation specifically, the UN secretary-general has cautioned, “A substantial number of parties to conflict have expressed their acceptance for the call [but] here is a huge distance between declarations and deeds — between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people.”
Peace Brigades International-Canada launched a petition on April 8 asking the prime minister to endorse the global ceasefire and state that the arms industry is not an essential service. That petition generated more than 150 letters over the two days prior to the foreign affairs minister making a public statement in support of the global ceasefire.
PBI-Canada asks that letters continue to be sent to the prime minister through its Urgent Action platform. The letters can be personalized to reflect the news about the arms export permits as well as individual pleas for peace.
As the UN secretary-general says, “To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace.”