Mr. Speaker, I rise today to proudly support our party's opposition day motion to create a House committee to provide parliamentary oversight of arms exports. This is a long-pressing issue that has become increasingly urgent, given the utter lack of transparency of our government's current system, as well as the increasing number of disturbing allegations that Canadian weapons are being used to commit human rights violations in countries where we have no business selling weapons, like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, and South Sudan.
Part of my duties as an NDP MP is my engagement in and monitoring of the international human rights file. Therefore, I would like to speak to our motion from the perspective of human rights, which is, I believe, the most important perspective. I know this perspective is something that many members would not argue with, and I know I am not alone in believing that human rights takes ultimate priority, as demonstrated by the throngs of people here in Ottawa today participating in the One Young World summit. That is extremely affirming for someone like me, who wants to go forward and not be cynical about how we embrace and advance transparency and accountability on something that directly impacts human rights.
The main reason we are debating a motion like this in the House is the outcry about Canada's decision to green-light the sale of $15 billion's worth of weaponized vehicles to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country that, as many know, is one of the most brutal and despotic regimes on the planet, on par with North Korea.
Distressingly, Canada is now the second-largest arms dealer in the Middle East, after the United States, as my hon. colleague noted and Jane's, the defence industry publication, reinforces, Moreover, reports have emerged this year that Canadian-made tactical equipment was used by Saudi forces in raids against dissidents. Military gear, stamped “Made in Canada” was found “at the scene of a deadly raid against Shia civilians in the Qatif region of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province”, according to Cesar Jaramillo, the executive director of Project Ploughshares.
Unfortunately, the situation is not just limited to the Saudis. Canada's government will not even confirm whether the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued an export permit for military sales to Thailand earlier this year, a country ruled by a military dictatorship. Just yesterday, Amnesty International had to cancel the public launch of a report on torture in Thailand after police in Bangkok warned the rights group that its representatives might be arrested and prosecuted for visa violations. Let us just think about that.
Activists are alleging that the Saudis sent Canadian-made vehicles into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. Canadian-made weapons have also made their way into South Sudan during a period in which grave human rights abuses have been committed. High-level reports from the United Nations and Human Rights Watch are sounding the alarm, including to our own Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
According to Global Affairs Canada statistics, Canadian arms sales to China, a country with a notorious human rights record, soared to the tune of $48 million in 2015. As is often pointed out in House, including as recently as this morning by the member for Winnipeg North, we have a troubling situation in China. In China, there is no freedom of speech or freedom of conscience. Human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists are routinely arrested, subject to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, politicized prosecution, and torture by authorities in response to their work. This is according to Human Rights Watch. Yet, for all this, China takes a back seat to Saudi Arabia in terms of human rights violations.
I would like to give a brief rundown on the appalling human rights record in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I use the word “brief”, as I could easily spend the remainder of my day cataloguing the endless horrors that constitute this regime's human rights record.
In January of this year, Saudi Arabia carried out a mass execution of 47 imprisoned civilians convicted of terrorism in 12 different provinces in the country. Forty-three were beheaded, and four were executed by firing squads. Under Saudi Arabia's reading of Islamic law, such attacks are interpreted as banditry and carry automatic sentences of death followed by public displays of the bodies.
Freedom of speech does not exist in Saudi Arabia, nor is there freedom of press. Authorities will arrest, prosecute, and imprison government critics, including bloggers and other online commentators; political activists; members of the Shia minority; human rights activists and defenders, including women's rights defenders. This is something that has been noted by the respected Amnesty International.
Reports of people being tortured while imprisoned are common. Routine punishments include public lashings, with prisoners being sentenced to upwards of 1,000 lashes. Prominent blogger, Raif Badawi, for instance, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes last year, with of 50 these being administered this last January.
Blogger and human rights activist, Mikhlif al-Shammari, was sentenced by a special criminal court to two years in prison, as well as 200 lashes. He has been arrested several times in recent years for his work on democratic reform and human rights within the kingdom. One of the crimes he was charged with was tweeting his intention to pray in a Shia mosque.
Worse still, Saudi Arabia is one of the most notoriously misogynist countries in the world. Women are not allowed to drive. They cannot open a bank account or get a passport, among other things, without written consent from a male family member. They are not allowed to walk down the street in broad daylight without being accompanied by a male relative or guardian, not to mention the fact that domestic violence is on the rise. While there are laws prohibiting spousal abuse, they are not enforced.
I mentioned earlier the prominent Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, a uniquely courageous man by any standard, who received a public flogging of 50 lashes in Jeddah this past January. This flogging was the first installment of his sentence of 1,000 lashes. Members might ask what his crime was. It was criticizing prominent religious leaders on his blog.
Earlier this year, Mr. Badawi's sister, Samar, was also arrested and interrogated before being released. I have met Mr. Badawi's wife, the formidable Ensaf Haidar, and their children, who have been granted asylum in Canada. It distresses me to think of how Ms. Haidar must feel about the Canadian government's support for the $15-billion deal to sell weaponized vehicles to that country. What a distressing, ironic, and discouraging situation it is for her, and a thousand other people just like her who know from firsthand experience what it is like. After all, the Prime Minister has stated publicly that he will not intervene on behalf of her husband with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, while at the same time, he has personally intervened and expended a good deal of political capital in making sure that the $15-billion deal goes through.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia's crimes extend beyond its border. The country is without doubt guilty of war crimes in Yemen, where it has been spearheading a coalition of nine Arab states attempting to affect the outcome of the country's civil war, according to the American journal, Foreign Affairs.
The UN Human Rights Council is set this week to discuss a Dutch resolution calling for an impartial monitoring body to travel to Yemen to collect evidence of human rights abuses there. Since peace talks were suspended in August, the UN has reported a sharp increase in civilian deaths.
I cannot believe I am asking this, but honestly, is this the sort of situation in which Canada should be involved, either directly or indirectly? I will answer my own question. No, emphatically, it is not. Let us have the confidence to assert our sovereign identity.
Human rights are not optional. Governments, like individuals, are defined not by their words or intentions, but by their actions. I therefore hope that in the matter of Canadian arms sales abroad, and indeed across our country's approach to international relations more broadly, that our reality soon becomes more closely attuned to the rhetoric—