Human rights groups blasted the Liberal government on Wednesday urging them to halt the $15-billion sale of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country with serious human rights concerns.
Several organizations said during a press conference in Ottawa Wednesday that the deal goes against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to take a stronger stance on human rights issues around the world.
WATCH: Peggy Mason from the Rideau Institute speak on the Saudi arms deal
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Trudeau has previously defended the deal saying it would be bad for Canada’s trading reputation, and pointed out that Canadian jobs are at stake.
“It is a pernicious argument to assert that Canadian jobs must depend on the killing, maiming, injuring and repressing of innocent civilians abroad,” Rideau Institute president Peggy Mason, told reporters in Ottawa.
In a letter to Trudeau, the coalition of groups – which includes Amnesty International Canada, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, and other agencies – said the deal contravenes Canada’s export laws.
“We urge you to consider seriously whether our export controls have served their intended purpose with the authorization of this deal,” the letter reads.
“To provide such a large supply of lethal weapons to a regime with such an appalling record of human rights abuses is immoral and unethical.
“The government has had every opportunity to uphold this position, but has chosen not to.”
READ MORE: The changing nature of why the Liberals stand behind Saudi arms deal
Initially made by the Conservative government in February 2014, the deal would see General Dynamics Land Systems manufacture light-armoured military vehicles, known as LAV3s, for the Saudi Arabian National Guard.
The contract is estimated to create about 3,000 jobs in London and southwestern Ontario.
The Liberal government had initially said they could not cancel an agreement that had been negotiated by a previous government, but documents released to the Canadian Press found the Conservatives had only approved minor-level export permits for the vehicles.
The documents showed that Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion quietly signed off on $11 billion worth of LAVs to Saudi Arabia.
“We believe deeply that the integrity and the credibility of Canada’s export control regime has been utterly compromised with the authorization to proceed with this deal,” said Cesar Jaramillo, the executive director of Project Ploughshares.
The Trudeau government has faced mounting pressure from human rights groups that have decried the country’s human rights record.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups issued a joint statement last month calling for a halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia over human rights violations in the Saudi-led bombing campaign aimed at rebel Houthi forces in the neighbouring country of Yemen.
Hilary Homes, Amnesty’s spokesperson on the arms trade, told Global News last week her organization hopes that evidence surrounding human rights violations in Yemen are examined.
“Given the way forces are conducting themselves in that conflict … anything you sell those parties in the context of the conflict, we don’t feel confident that they will use it properly,” Homes said.
*With a file from Monique Muise