OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure from civil society groups to update Canadians before the October election on his government’s review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The Liberals launched a review of the $15-billion contract to ship light-armoured vehicles to the Middle East kingdom last fall in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
A letter sent this week to Trudeau from a dozen organizations says the public has a right to know the status of the review now that more than nine months have passed since the government first announced the probe.
The letter says any further delays to the review or the government’s eventual decision could mean consequential actions come too late, especially since Canada has continued to ship the vehicles to Saudi Arabia — including 127 last year alone.
The Liberal government halted all new export permits to the kingdom last fall, sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals and started the review of arms sales to the country amid concerns about a lack of a credible, independent investigation into Khashoggi’s killing and Saudi participation in the civil war in neighbouring Yemen.
The co-authors of the letter, dated Sunday, wrote that they were disappointed the Trudeau government had yet to release details of the outcome of its review.
“No update with respect to the progress of the review has been offered, bringing the sincerity of the effort into question,” said the letter, signed by organizations including Amnesty International Canada, Oxfam Canada and Save the Children Canada.
“Canadians are entitled to know the outcome of the government review, and a clear answer with respect to your government’s position on the export of LAVs from Canada to Saudi Arabia.”
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says no final decision has been made in the ongoing review and no new export permits have been issued for Saudi Arabia.
The situation has put the government in a difficult spot — breaking the deal could eliminate domestic jobs, raise questions about Canadian contractual commitments and Trudeau has said would cost taxpayers “in the billions of dollars.”
The prime minister told CTV News in an interview last December that his government was trying to see “if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia.”
The deal was signed in 2014 by the former Conservative government and the vehicles are being built by General Dynamics Land Systems in London, Ont.
Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press