Closing the deal with Saudi Arabia would be futile, said the former Canadian ambassador to the kingdom



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Light armored vehicles (LAVs) are stationed at General Dynamics Land Systems' plant lot in London, Ontario, on April 13, 2016.

Dave Chidley / CP

The former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia warns that ending the shipment of Canadian armored vehicles to the kingdom, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says to seek, would be a futile gesture that would hurt employment in this country.

"I do not think this is anything honest," said Dennis Horak. "The Saudis – if they do not receive them – will be disappointed and angry. They will probably want some of your money back. But this will have no impact on your behavior. None."

His comments come as Trudeau spoke on Sunday of permanently shutting down remnants of light armored vehicles (VLAs) to Saudi Arabia, while Riyadh is condemned for the ruinous war it is wreaking on neighboring Yemen and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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"We are committed to export licenses to try to see if there is a way to no longer export these vehicles to Saudi Arabia," Trudeau told CTV. Question Time on Sunday.

His latest comments are the clearest sign that the Liberal government is determined to wrap up a massive deal that Ottawa has made to sell armored vehicles to Riyadh – estimated at $ 15 billion over 14 years.

Mr. Horak was Canada's envoy to Saudi Arabia this summer when Riyadh declared him persona non grata and expelled him after a serious discussion with Ottawa over the public call of the Trudeau government for the release of civil rights protesters jailed in the country the Middle East. He's already retired.

The former ambassador said that the cancellation or suspension of exports would not exert influence in Saudi Arabia, which already faces widespread criticism of Khashoggi's death and the loss of life in Yemen. The UN has called the Yemen war "the worst humanitarian crisis of our time".

Horak said he is not sure what the purpose of the Trudeau administration is "in addition to a political effort to send a message, but a message that will be ignored or ignored in any case.

The light armored vehicles are assembled in London, Ontario, where the Canadian subsidiary of General Dynamics, a US defense company, has its factory.

The contract supports about 1,850 direct jobs and indirect thousands.

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General Dynamics warned on Monday that the Canadian government will face heavy fines if it cancels the deal. "If Canada terminated the contract unilaterally, Canada would incur billions of dollars of liability for General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada," the company said in a statement. our supply chain across Canada and Canada's defense industry in general. "

The General Dynamics alert echoes what Mr. Trudeau said on Oct. 25 when he told Canadians "the possible penalties would be in billions of dollars" to overturn the deal.

In October, Trudeau raised the idea of ​​suspending existing export licenses that underpin the LAV agreement as a way to pressure Saudi Arabia to be closer about exactly what happened to Khashoggi.

Human rights defenders and former Trudeau policy adviser Roland Paris called for the suspension of those permits, a move that would halt shipments, at least temporarily. The LAVs, when leaving the assembly line, are currently shipped to the port at Saint John, where they are loaded onto cargo ships bound for Saudi Arabia.

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the Plowshares Project, a gun control advocate, said he was skeptical about Trudeau's willingness to act. Although the definitive cancellation could lead to penalties, the mere suspension of export licenses under the agreement could do the same without automatically incurring costly fines.

"If Ottawa is seriously considering ending LAV exports to Riyadh, why did it not suspend shipments of arms to Saudi Arabia while legal cancellation issues are resolved? Shipments of weapons to the kingdom have been suspended earlier, apparently without causing financial penalties for Canada, "he said.

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"It's been almost two months since the prime minister said Canada would not hesitate to freeze arms exports to Saudi Arabia, but all talks and no action give the illusion of firmness."

Horak said that suspending export licenses could ease demand for action.

The economic impact in London, Ontario and the region is a major challenge for liberals if they suspend or cancel LAV exports, he said, particularly after General Motors announced in November that it will close its plant in Oshawa, Ont. and lay off almost 3,000 people.

"I do not think this government has liked this deal from the outset, but they are worried about the jobs, the last thing they want is another 3,000 jobs out the door," Horak said.

One option might be for the Canadian military to take the LAV agreement and buy the rest of the armored vehicles. The agreement should include more than 740 vehicles and it is not known how many were delivered to Saudi Arabia to date.

It is not certain that the Armed Forces of Canada need more LAVs. A $ 1.8 billion program to substantially upgrade Canadian Army LAVs from a LAV 3.0 model to a LAV 6.0 model is already underway. More than 600 vehicles are being transformed with new technologies and parts.

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Retired General David Fraser said it is unclear how the Canadian military could accommodate another LAV purchase. The combat vehicles being assembled for the Saudis are another variant of the LAV 6.0 model.

"The government would have to answer the question: why would you buy vehicles when, in fact, you just reequip the army with new vehicles?

"You just bought a 2017 Chevrolet and now you're going out and buying the same model as a 2018 Chevrolet," he asked.

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