A still image taken from a video posted on Twitter appears to show a Canadian-made Terradyne Gurkha APC (left) on the streets of Awamiya in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The APC is produced by Terradyne Armored Vehicles Inc. based in Newmarket, Ontario.

A still image taken from a video posted on Twitter appears to show a Canadian-made Terradyne Gurkha APC (left) on the streets of Awamiya in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The APC is produced by Terradyne Armored Vehicles Inc. based in Newmarket, Ontario.
Photo Credit: @SahatAlbalad/Twitter

Ottawa ready to review Saudi arms deals amid crackdown on Shia minority

The Canadian government is “deeply concerned” that Canadian-made armoured vehicles may have been used in a violent crackdown underway in Saudi Arabia and is prepared to take action if human rights were violated, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said Friday.

At least five people have been reported killed since Wednesday in a massive security operation involving hundreds of Saudi special police officers backed by dozens of armoured vehicles in the town of Awamiya, in the country’s restive Eastern Province, home to a large segment of Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia population.

Media reports and social media posts from the town of Awamiya, which has been under siege by Saudi security forces since May, and other towns in the district of Qatif report artillery shelling by government forces and show them using what appear to be armoured personnel carriers produced and exported to the oil-rich kingdom by Terradyne Armored Vehicles Inc., a privately-owned company based in Newmarket, Ontario.

Experts consulted by Radio Canada International confirm that vehicles pictured in news reports and social media posts are indeed Terradyne Gurkha APCs.

A still image taken from a video posted on Twitter appears to show a Terradyne Gurkha APC on the streets of Awamiya in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. (Anthony Fenton/Twitter)

“Combination/colour of vehicles (the one with turret is a UR-416) indicates they are Special Security Forces,” Jeremy Binnie, Middle East/Africa Editor at IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, confirmed on Twitter after studying news reports and social media posts of the Saudi security operation.

Global Affairs spokesperson John Babcock says Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland is “deeply concerned about this situation and has asked officials to review it immediately.” 

“If it is found that Canadian exports have been used to commit serious violations of human rights, the Minister will take action.”

Despite repeated attempts to reach officials at Terridyne since Wednesday, no one from the company was available to comment on the reported use of the company’s APCs by Saudi security forces.

Officials at the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa also did not respond to repeated phone calls and an email request for comment.

Cancel export permits

Experts consulted by Radio Canada International confirm that vehicles pictured in news reports and social media posts are indeed Terradyne Gurkha APCs. (Anthony Fenton/Twitter)

Human rights groups are calling on the federal government to cancel permits for the export of Canadian military and defence equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The unrest in the Eastern Province comes as Saudi Arabia’s top court has upheld the death sentences of 14 Shia men convicted of armed attacks after what Amnesty International called “a grossly unfair mass trial.”

At least 66 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of 2017, including 26 in the past three weeks alone — more than one execution per day, Amnesty said in its recent report on human rights in the country.

“Mounting tensions and conflict in eastern Saudi Arabia, about which the Canadian government has rightly expressed public concern, further indicate how fraught it is for Canada to have authorized the sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia at this time,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in a statement to RCI.

While the social media footage appears to show armoured vehicles produced by Terradyne, Amnesty International is also calling on the federal government to cancel the lucrative $15 billion deal to supply Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) produced by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada based in London, Ont.

“Indications that Canadian-made armoured 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.

LAV deal under fire
Human rights groups are calling on Ottawa to cancel the $15 billion deal to sell LAV 6.0 to Saudi Arabia amid concerns over growing violence in the kingdom’s Eastern Province
Human rights groups are calling on Ottawa to cancel the $15 billion deal to sell LAV 6.0 to Saudi Arabia amid concerns over growing violence in the kingdom’s Eastern Province © Mark Spowart/Canadian Press

While the social media footage appears to show armoured vehicles produced by Terradyne, Amnesty International is also calling on the federal government to cancel the lucrative $15 billion deal to supply military Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV 6.0) produced by produced by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada based in London, Ontario.

“Indications that Canadian-made armoured 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.

Questions about export risk assessments

If confirmed, the reports out of Saudi Arabia raise further questions about the thoroughness and reliability of Ottawa’s risk assessment for military exports, said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the peace group Project Ploughshares.

“Both Ottawa’s earlier public commitments and the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada will soon join, call for a reassessment of existing military export authorizations, should there be new, relevant information,” Jaramillo said.

“In the view of Project Ploughshares, recent reports — if confirmed — constitute exactly that: new, relevant information.”

‘Actively seeking more information’

Canadian officials are aware of reports that the Saudi security operations in the district of Qatif have led to casualties of civilians and security forces, Babcock, the Global Affairs spokesperson, said.

“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,” Babcock said. “Canada will review all available information as it determines an appropriate course of action.”

Canada expects the end user of any and all exports to abide by the end use terms in issued export permits, he said.

“The end use and end user of exports, as well as regional stability and human rights, are essential considerations in the authorization of permits for the export of military goods from Canada,” Babcock said.

“The government has expressed its concerns to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that its internal security operations be conducted in a manner consistent with international human rights law.”

Reasons to be concerned

It is the first time that the Terradyne APCs have been seen in one of the operations by Saudi security forces since the news of their export to Saudi Arabia became public knowledge about two years ago, said Anthony Fenton, an author, a PhD candidate at York University who studies Canada’s foreign policy, and a vocal critic of Ottawa’s relations with the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula.

Canadians should be concerned about the export of these vehicles to various Middle Eastern countries, Fenton said.

“This is just one Canadian company among a number of Canadian armoured vehicle manufacturers that that have used the last decade or more of conflict in the Middle East to gain a foothold in what is a highly lucrative market,” Fenton said.

(click to listen to the interview with Anthony Fenton)

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2 comments on “Ottawa ready to review Saudi arms deals amid crackdown on Shia minority
  1. Robert Lyman says:

    Everything about this issue is nonsense. There are no objective sources of information on human rights abuses, as each of the main organizations that publish surveys (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and the United Nations) uses different methodologies for evaluating abuses and each pursues a different political agenda. If one browses the most recent reports from each, more than half the world falls into the category of serious abuser. Saudi Arabia only makes the “top 10” list in the Amnesty International Report. The worst abusers include some of Canada’s most important trading partners, such as Mexico and China, and one of the main travel destinations for Canadian sunbirds (Cuba). The best way to use trade as a way of influencing other countries’ policies is by limiting imports, not exports, but neither works especially well. Canada has no effective way of monitoring human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, except by using the before-mentioned biased sources. Finally, once the sale is made, there is nothing that can be done except to express hollow moral outrage that the world is the way it is.

  2. Peter Ashcroft says:

    This pseudo-religious conflict is killing civilians in this starvation & cholera ridden country. All conflict should be replaced by humanitarian caring by both Shias and Sunnis throughout this country