Canada's NDP


October 2nd, 2023

Letter to Minister Joly regarding Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia

The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Global Affairs Canada

October 2, 2023

Re: Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia

Dear Minister Joly,

I write to you today regarding Canadian arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Canada’s potential complicity in human rights abuses and the horrendous war in Yemen.

I wrote to you about this same issue last year. Since then, Canada has only strengthened its diplomatic and trade relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Canadian weapons continue to flow to the country that Amnesty International has called “a kingdom of cruelty.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents. It is widely known that this murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose officials recently visited Alberta for the World Petroleum Congress and were greeted as heroes by Premier Danielle Smith, despite the atrocities committed by their government.

Minister, I am sure you are aware of the Human Rights Watch report this summer that alleged Saudi border guards have murdered hundreds of Ethiopian refugees. You will also be aware that, in addition to light armoured vehicles, Canada has sold Saudi Arabia other Canadian-made weapons, including rifles. I ask you to inform Canadians whether Canadian-made weapons were used by the same Saudi border guards who murdered Ethiopian refugees.

You will also be aware of multiple reports of the regime’s crimes against Saudi civil society, including human rights advocates. Human Rights Watch has said that “Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman has presided over one of the biggest crackdowns on human rights in the country’s history.”

In addition, Saudi Arabia is one of the primary perpetrators of suffering in Yemen, alongside the United Arab Emirates and other countries participating in the Saudi-led coalition. Prior to the ceasefire and peace talks, the Saudi-led coalition – supported by states including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada – was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, including children, and engaged in indiscriminate and illegal attacks on schools and hospitals. As a result of the war, Yemen continues to face one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with more than 17 million Yemenis suffering through a severe hunger crisis. Child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world.

The United Nations Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen has twice urged Canada to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. When I have raised this issue in Parliament, you have said that Canada supports a political solution as the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian crisis. Minister, ending arms sales is a crucial part of this political solution.

You have also said that you “will deny any permit application where there is a substantial risk of human rights violations.” Surely, Minister, recent reports of Saudi forces murdering Ethiopian refugees constitutes a “substantial risk.” Moreover, as Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, you also have the responsibility to cancel existing permits where there is risk of human rights violations. Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights violations – against its own citizens, against refugees, and against civilians in Yemen - is extensive, and certainly justifies the cancellation of all existing permits, as the Arms Trade Treaty requires you to do.

Minister, in May you announced Canada and Saudi Arabia had agreed to name ambassadors after five years of tense diplomatic relations. Five years ago, when Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered by bone saw, your government said it would revisit arms exports to Saudi Arabia. But those exports have continued, diplomatic relations have been restored, and your Liberal government seems to have forgotten - or worse, deliberately ignored - the reality for millions of Saudis and Yemenis who continue to suffer under this regime. Saudi Arabia remains the top export destination of Canadian weapons after the United States. This is unacceptable.

The NDP has been advocating for Canada to change its policy for more than eight years. We have repeatedly asked your government to develop a just transition plan, in conjunction with labour, to secure the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the cessation of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Canadian workers shouldn’t be put in this position in the first place: Canada should work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures their livelihoods without relying on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It's time for Canada to develop a robust, thoughtful economic conversion strategy that will decrease our reliance on arms exports and build a manufacturing sector that benefits Canadians - and doesn't contribute to violations of human rights abroad.

Minister, I find it impossible to reconcile your government’s claims regarding feminist foreign policy with its ongoing arms exports to Saudi Arabia. I urge you once again to immediately end Canada’s complicity in murder, abuse, and one of the world’s most horrendous conflicts.

This week, as we mourn five years without Jamal Khashoggi, and as we continue to mourn so many dead Yemenis lost to this war, it is time for you to act and to do what is right. I urge you to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia now.

Heather McPherson, M.P. for Edmonton Strathcona
NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs