Often, there is a price to pay for standing up for principle. The federal Liberal government could be facing that prospect very shortly.
A few years ago — before the last federal election — Canada allowed an export deal with Saudi Arabia to sell that country military equipment. The deal was worth billions of dollars, and it would mean jobs here in Canada. At the time the deal was made, however, it raised eyebrows, given Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a repressive, human-rights-violating regime. Ultimately, Canada chose to do business with the Saudis, with both the former Conservative and current Liberal governments giving their blessing (with the caveat that they’d cancel the export deal if the equipment was used by the Saudis against their own citizens).
Fast forward to present day: reports suggest that the same military equipment is being used by the Saudi government to — you guessed it — attack its own citizens.
The Trudeau government says it’s concerned about these reports, and that it’s investigating to determine the veracity of the reports. But, if the reports prove to be true, will Canada extract itself from this deal? Or, to put it another way, is the Canadian government willing to stand up for principle at the expense of Canadian jobs and prosperity?
Of course, we can try to exercise some ethical gymnastics in order to justify leaving the deal with the Saudis untouched. These aren’t our citizens, after all, but Saudi Arabian citizens; we’ve got no legal obligation to lift a finger to help them. And who are we to preach to sovereign nations about how they run their affairs, right?
On the other side of the coin, should we, as a country, actually profit from another government mistreating its citizens? We’d argue that we most certainly should not.
The principled position, however, would mean real hardship for those working at those Canadian plants that are building this equipment. We’re not sure the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ explanation would do much to satisfy someone who has just been handed a pink slip.
It does beg the question why we allowed ourselves to get caught up in this mess in the first place. Remember, this deal was signed off on by both Conservative and Liberal governments. No doubt, they did so with their fingers crossed hoping that Saudi Arabia would stop acting like Saudi Arabia and only use the military equipment for defence.
Canada does have regulations in place in this regard — it is not usual practice to do business with countries with poor human rights record. Perhaps these rules should be respected, or toughened.
And, perhaps the next time we get the opportunity to make a buck off of brutish regimes, we should take a pass.