OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Monday his government is looking at freezing export permits to Saudi Arabia as pressure mounted on the Canadian government to follow Germany’s lead and suspend arms sales in the wake of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
In the Commons, the NDP pressed Trudeau to act as evidence mounts of the Saudi regime’s culpability not only in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also in the dire conditions facing citizens in war-torn Yemen.
New Democrat foreign affairs critics Helene Laverdiere said Saudi Arabia leads a military coalition accused of “war crimes in Yemen where 12 million people could starve to death.”
“They are one of the world’s worst human rights offenders. So can the government stop the double-speak and stop arming rogue nations like Saudi Arabia?”
Trudeau, who met with senior ministers Monday to discuss the Khashoggi case, said his government was working with its G7 allies to coordinate an appropriate response to Khashoggi’s death.
“We condemn the horrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Trudeau told the Commons, adding “we are deeply concerned about reports on the participation of Saudi forces.”
“We strongly demand and expect that Canadian exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. That’s why our government is committed to a stronger and more rigourous arms export system and to the Arms Trade Treaty. We have also frozen export permits before when we have concerns about their potential misuse and we will not hesitate to do so again.”
Trudeau’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that Canada views the Saudi regime’s explanations of circumstances around Khashoggi’s death as “not consistent,” “not coherent” and “not credible.”
However, when reporters asked if she is now considering a review of Canada’s sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, Freeland dodged a direct answer, saying it is “important” for G7 allies to coordinate a response.
“There are very important questions about the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia that need to be asked,” said Freeland. She said the ministerial meeting Trudeau convened Monday “was a very important part of that conversation inside our government and we are having these serious conversations with our partners and allies.”
“We are working together to press for a transparent and credible investigation and we are very clear that there must be an accounting for this murder; those responsible must be brought to justice and must face the consequences,” Freeland said, standing next to Mexico’s incoming foreign affairs minister.
“Canada is very mindful of the fact that this murder occurred in Turkey and it’s very important for Turkey to be a part of the conversation.”
However, cancelling Canada’s 14-year deal to export military transport vehicles that was signed in 2014 between Saudi Arabia and Canada under the previous Conservative government could prove politically difficult and costly.
As the Star first reported in 2016, Ottawa would have to pay a multibillion dollar penalty — up to the full value of the $15 billion contract by some estimates — if it cancels the contract to export light armoured vehicles to a country it has regarded as a Middle Eastern ally.
Ottawa concluded earlier this year that there was no evidence any LAVs already sold to the Saudis were used against civilians, however it moved to tighten its ability to scrutinize the use of such exports.
Conservative justice critic Tony Clement says Canada should invoke the new Magnitsky Act to sanction those responsible for the killing of Khashoggi.
Clement says Saudi Arabia has already identified some individuals who were partially responsible for Khashoggi’s death, adding that the Magnitsky law is a next step the government should consider.
“This may be a prime case for applying the Magnitsky law,” Clement told reporters Monday morning.
Canada passed a law last year called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, known as the Magnitsky Act, which gives the government the authority to freeze Canadian assets of foreign individuals who are found to have violated human rights.
With a file from the Canadian Press
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc