Canada is looking into ways to cancel a 2014 weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday, as criticism mounts over the kingdom’s role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Riyadh-led war in Yemen.
Trudeau had earlier said that it would be “extremely difficult” to withdraw from the contract, signed by the previous conservative administration, “without Canadians paying exorbitant penalties.”
However, as evidence emerged of direct Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s murder on Oct. 2, Canada late last month announced sanctions against 17 Saudi nationals linked to killing.
“The murder of a journalist is absolutely unacceptable and that’s why Canada from the very beginning had been demanding answers and solutions on that,” Trudeau said in an interview with CTV.
“We inherited actually a C$15 billion [US$11.21 billion] contract signed by [former Canadian prime minister] Stephen Harper to export light-armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau added.
The penalty for breaking the contract could exceed C$1 billion, Trudeau said in an interview with CBC Radio in October.
Trudeau has been criticized by political opponents and human rights advocates for failing to cancel the contract.
London, Ontario-based manufacturer General Dynamic Land Systems Canada inked the deal in 2014 to supply 928 LAV 6 armored personnel carriers to Saudi Arabia.
The deal was the largest arms deal in Canadian history.
However, the contract was scaled back earlier this year, amid protests, to 742, dropping heavy assault versions equipped with cannons that advocates and opposition politicians said could be used against civilians and to help Riyadh wage war in Yemen.
Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for the Washington Post and had been a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, killed and dismembered, according to Turkish officials.
After lengthy denials, Saudi authorities admitted responsibility for the murder and said 21 people had been taken into custody.
However, a CIA analysis leaked to the US media went further, pointing the finger at the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
In October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the murder.
Relations between Canada and the kingdom have been in crisis over the past few months.
Riyadh in August expelled Ottawa’s ambassador, and severed all trade and investment ties to protest Canada’s rigorous demands that jailed human rights advocates be released.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia yesterday said it rejects last week’s US Senate resolution that put the blame for the killing of Khashoggi squarely on Prince Mohammad.
The statement from the kingdom is an unusually strong rebuke of the US Senate.
Saudi Arabia said that the resolution “contained blatant interferences” in its internal affairs, and undermines its regional and international role.
The kingdom has denied the crown prince was involved in Khashoggi’s killing.
The kingdom “categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs, any and all accusations, in any manner, that disrespect its leadership ... and any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or diminish its stature,” the statement said.
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