Ottawa probes claims Saudi Arabia used Canadian-made weapons against own citizens

Ottawa said it is investigating local media reports claiming that Saudi Arabia deployed Canadian-made combat hardware against its own civilians. Opposition and human rights groups are calling on the government to suspend arms exports to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia launched a military operation against suspected militants in Shia-dominated Awamiya in the Eastern Province in May. The ongoing mission has resulted in casualties, both among police and local residents, Reuters reports, citing witnesses and activists.  

Reports that Saudi Arabia is using Canadian-produced military vehicles against its own citizens later emerged in the Globe and Mail newspaper in July. The Canadian outlet claimed that photos and video distributed on social media pointed to the use of the country’s equipment in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. 

Mark Hiznay, associate director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch, confirmed to the Globe and Mail that the vehicles in the pictures are Gurkha Armored Vehicles, built by Ontario-based Terradyne Armored Vehicles. 

This is what Terradyne Armored Vehicles Gurkha looks like, according to photos on the company’s website: 

The allegation that the vehicle pictured on social media is indeed the Gurkha was also confirmed by a retired Canadian general who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Globe and Mail said. 

Terradyne President Durward Smith told the Canada-based National Post that the company “can’t really provide any comment on any of our customers or potential customers and what they’re doing with the vehicle.”

“I can’t really comment on just seeing some social media pictures. I don’t have any context. I don’t even know where it might be,” Smith said on Monday. 

On Friday, Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock said that Canada “will review all available information as it determines an appropriate course of action.” Global Affairs Canada is a government’s department, managing diplomatic and consular relations.

“The government is actively seeking more information about Saudi Arabia’s current efforts to deal with its security challenges, the reports of civilian casualties, and the reports that Canadian-made vehicles have been used by Saudi Arabia in its current security operations,” the statement added.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Ottawa is reviewing the controversial reports. “We are looking at these claims very seriously… and have immediately launched a review,” Trudeau said, as cited by the Sun Daily. 

Riyadh is one of the importers of Terradyne Gurkha vehicles, according to the Canadian government website. 

On Monday, opposition parties and human rights activists addressed the country's authorities on the issue. 

READ MORE: Canada in hot water over April approval of $11bn arms sale to Saudis despite int’l criticism  

The New Democratic Party (NDP) sent a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, calling for arms exports to Saudi Arabia to be suspended, the Globe and Mail reported. 

“The Liberal government is continuing to allow the export of billions of dollars in arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Sudan, even though they have some of the worst human rights records in the world,” the party said in a statement. 

“Should abuses with Canadian-made military equipment be confirmed, suspension should lead to cancellation,” said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, said. The group says its main policy is to “advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence.”  

Amnesty International Canada Secretary-General Alex Neve also called on Ottawa to suspend the deal with Saudi Arabia.

“Indications that Canadian-made armored vehicles are perhaps being utilized as Saudi forces mobilize in the east of the country highlight how crucial it is that the government intervene and put an immediate end to the Canadian/Saudi LAV deal,” Neve said in a statement.  

Also a petition was launched, calling on the Trudeau government to “ban the sale or shipment of Canadian-made arms to Saudi Arabia.” 

Saudi Arabia has not yet commented on the reports in the Canadian media.