Arms exports to Saudi Arabia doubled to $1.2-billion in 2018, which advocates say makes Canada “complicit” in human rights violations and “puts a lie” to Canada’s ongoing eight-month review of the munitions it’s sending to the desert kingdom. That amount suggests a ramping up of production on Canada’s controversial multi-year $15-billion deal to send light-armoured vehicles, said experts who questioned Canada’s sincerity in reviewing export permits to Riyadh amid “serious concerns” weapons could be used on its civilians and in the Saudi-led conflict in Yemen, where its forces are fighting in a devastating, years-long war. The Liberal government gave the green light on the permits for a Conservative-era contract to supply Saudi Arabia with reportedly up to 742 (originally 928) light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) in 2016, and three years later, the government continues to face pressure to suspend the permits. The latest export of military goods annual report, tabled June 20 on the House of Commons’ second-last day in session, shows Canada's military exports more than doubled the 2017 total to Saudi Arabia—$497.5-million—and accounted for 62 per cent of all 2018 arms exports (excluding the U.S., which isn’t covered by the annual report). CTV News reported last week, citing government sources, that Saudi Arabia has an outstanding debt to Canada of more than $1-billion. The annual report shows a picture beyond the LAV deal, revealing all arms exports sent to Saudi Arabia in 2018, which included 127 armoured combat vehicles, and 1,634 items classified under “rifles and carbines.” Covered by 36 permits, those Saudi sales helped Canada double its total military exports to $2.01-billion in 2018, up from $1.03-billion in 2017. Note: Weapons and military parts exported to the United States are not reported in annual figures. The Hill Times graph. Source: Global Affairs Canada Justin Mohammed, a human rights law and policy campaigner at Amnesty International Canada, called the latest report “troubling,” especially given the rise in sales to Saudi Arabia. Canada is lagging behind other allied countries, he said, which have been “making moves to stop their transfers,” like in the United Kingdom, where a court that ruled British sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful because no attempt was made to consider their use in Yemen and the potential for serious violations of humanitarian law. Belgium recently cancelled export permits given the same concerns. And, in the wake of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year, U.S. lawmakers have blocked billions in sales to Saudi and its coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates. Eight months to review permits ‘unacceptable’: Amnesty Eight months ago, the Canadian government launched a review on new export permits to Saudi Arabia. That delay is “unacceptable,” said Mr. Mohammed, while NDP MP Guy Caron (Rimouski Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.) said it makes it clear that Canada is “not sincere.” “We have a very absurd position right now,” said Mr. Caron, his party’s foreign affairs critic. “Our arms being are being used in the blockade and embargo at ports, which prevent the humanitarian aid that Canada is providing in part to arrive at the port.” Germany, which he noted has major sales contracts with Saudi Arabia, immediately suspended its exports and extended the suspension of arms sales, and he said Canada should follow suit. Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), his party's foreign affairs critic, did not respond to an interview request. NDP MP Guy Caron, his party's foreign affairs critic, says the government is taking too long to review Saudi Arabia weapons permits. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on May 28, Mr. Caron asked Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) three times where Canada is at with its review. She didn’t answer directly, and a month later, he said, the reason for the delay remains unclear. Her office forwarded questions from The Hill Times to Global Affairs Canada, and spokesperson Guillaume Bérubé said by email that Canada has taken “firm action” to strengthen the system by passing Bill C-47 to update the Export Act, which gained royal assent in December 2018. Most of its provisions won’t come into effect until September. The statement did not answer why the review has taken eight months and where Canada stands in that review process. Mr. Bérubé reiterated that while the review is underway “no new permits” to Saudi Arabia have been issued. But permits for the multi-year, $15-billion contract have already been approved, so advocates say it’s not enough to review new contracts, and Canada should suspend existing permits as other countries have done. Even so, the annual report describes 2018 as “a landmark year” for arms control, given the December passage of Bill C-47 amending the Export and Import Permits Act as well as the Criminal Code, which it said brings in “a number of measures to strengthen” Canada’s system. “We have implemented a new legal requirement that the Canadian government must deny export permits if there is a substantial risk that the export would result in a serious violation of human rights,” Mr. Bérubé said. Human rights advocates argue the risk is already too great that Saudi Arabia could use Canadian-made arms on civilians or in the war in Yemen. The civil war has devastated the country since 2015, and has claimed more than 70,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations for disarmament Peggy Mason said Canada is “complicit” with serious human rights abuses, calling the spike in arms sales “absolutely shocking.” “It makes one really question whether the review is just window dressing to placate the call … for Canada to immediately suspend its exports,” she said, and it “puts a lie to any serious consideration by the government” to offer a strong response. Ms. Mason and Anthony Fenton, a researcher completing his doctorate at York University on Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia, were among more than 100 academics and labour activists who last week wrote an “urgent” public letter calling on the Canadian Labour Congress to oppose the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The authors pointed to the “credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen.” But relying on evidence, which can be hard to find in a conflict zone, shouldn’t be the only requirement for the government’s humanitarian responsibilities to kick in, said Mr. Fenton. It should be enough that it could happen. “Clearly there’s a risk,” he said. On a separate matter, an investigation ordered by Ms. Freeland into concerns that Saudi Arabian forces were using Canadian-made vehicles against the country’s own citizens last year reported no “credible information” that was the case. Other exports raise alarms The Saudi Arabian munitions statistics could be even higher if one considers the final destination of weapons that Canada sends, said Mr. Fenton. He and others raised concerns about the spike in arms exports to the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen. In 2018, Canada exported $25.3-million worth of military goods to the UAE, nearly five times the amount sent in 2017, at $6.3-million. Mr. Fenton also pointed to the spike in exports to Belgium, saying some of those weapons may be destined for Saudi Arabia given Belgian companies also have contracts in the region. In 2018, Belgium was the second largest non-U.S. destination of Canadian military exports, with $153.9-million in military exports. That’s a fraction of the $4.6-million Canada exported to Belgium in 2017. Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions about those concerns, or whether its review of exports will widen to other countries, as some urge. Scrutiny of Canada’s “overt or indirect involvement in the war Yemen has been lacking,” said Mr. Fenton, who noted the military supply chain can be hard to track and there are a lot of grey areas, especially given Canada doesn't report what is sent to the U.S. “Mostly the attention has been understandably on the LAVs,” he said, which represent the largest arms exports to Saudi Arabia by far. But looking at other component parts and weapons, like sniper rifles, sent overseas, “you can connect the dots and see there’s a lot more Canadian content in this war than meets the eye.” The government has a responsibility to investigate those connections and respond if there’s a risk Canadian-made weapons can be used to commit human rights violations, several sources who spoke with The Hill Times said. “It’s incumbent on the government to analyze those risks, assess them on the basis of objective, verifiable information that speaks to those risks, and also be transparent to the Canadian public about what the outcome of analysis is if we’re going to continue to export weapons to places where we know these weapons can be used in armed conflicts,” said Mr. Mohammed. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has previously suggested Canada could lose $1-billion on the LAV contract, given how it’s written, should it opt to cancel the permits. That’s not a reason to ignore human rights violations, said Mr. Mohammed, who rejects “categorically” the notion that cost factors in the decision, adding it’s not a legal consideration. “This may be a steep price to learn the lesson of having a proper, up-front, diligent screening mechanism before the government of Canada goes and facilitates a contract where human rights violations are a serious concern.” firstname.lastname@example.org The Hill Times Editor's note: The figure in the headline has been corrected to say $1.2-billion, not $1.2-million.