A group of academics and labour activists is calling on the Canadian Labour Congress to publicly oppose an arms deal between Canada and Saudi Arabia, calling the organization’s silence on the issue “deafening.”
In a letter expected to be sent Wednesday, academics and activists says there is “credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen,” where an estimated 70,000 people have died over the past three years. It calls on the CLC to demand the Canadian government “immediately cancel” the deal.
The CLC endorsed a 2016 letter written by human rights groups to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concerns about export permits issued for arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
“Since then, the silence of the CLC has been deafening,” says Wednesday’s letter.
The letter has 125 signatories including former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations for Disarmament Peggy Mason, former NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, and Sam Gindin, an adjunct professor at Ryerson and the research director of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union from 1974 to 2000.
Trudeau has said his government is exploring getting out of its $14 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, as pressure over Yemen’s mounting death toll and the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi grows. The arms deal was reached in 2014 under the previous Conservative government, but the Liberals approved the required export permits.
General Dynamics has warned that Canada would “incur billions of dollars of liability” to the company if the government cancels the deal, and could jeopardize more than 1,800 jobs.
“The fact of the matter is, given a choice, workers would much rather be manufacturing, transporting and loading high-speed rail cars or electric vehicles necessary to the fight against climate change, than weapons used to fight a devastating war that has displaced millions and contributed to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” said Simon Black, assistant professor of Labour Studies at Brock University and a co-author of the letter.
Last year, a Star investigation found that Canada has exported more than $284 million in weapons and military goods to the countries bombing Yemen. Of that, $240.4 million worth of goods went to Saudi Arabia.
In December, the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 273 in Port Saint John, N.B., refused to cross picket lines set up by peace activists seeking to block a shipment of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
The union had previously refused to move military equipment — so-called hot cargo — bound for the Middle East during the Iraq War.
“These workers received little in the way of solidarity from the rest of the Canadian labour movement,” Black said. “The CLC must be vocal in its opposition to this immoral arms deal.”
Wednesday’s letter calls on the CLC to declare military goods destined for Saudi Arabia as “hot cargo” and co-ordinate the labour movement opposition to the deal.
It also notes that unionized dockworkers in Italy and France have recently refused to move military cargo destined for Saudi Arabia.
“The CLC must stand for a green, peaceful, socially just economy where good jobs do not depend on developing, building, and shipping machinery used to make war,” the letter says.
“Labour can and must be a voice for peace.”
With files from Brendan Kennedy and Bruce Campion-Smith
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour-related issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz