Media Awards 2016 - National Print Award
For the National Print category, the winner is Steven Chase, for three articles about the “$15 billion Light Armoured Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia”, The Globe and Mail, January 7, April 13, and May 11, 2016.
“These articles demonstrate the tenacious effort to get the facts and establish the human rights context for a massive sale of Light Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia that Canadians seemed initially inclined to ignore,” says John Tackaberry, one of the judges. “While the government was suggesting they are little more than ‘jeeps’, Steven Chase exposed the truth about these armoured vehicles that in some cases are to be armed and are being sold to a government implicated in war crimes in Yemen and serious human rights violations within Saudi Arabia.”
Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. He's had ink-stained hands for far longer though, having worked as a paperboy for the (now defunct) Montreal Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Vancouver Sun and the North Shore News.
By Steven Chase and Daniel Leblanc
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail
Some of the armoured combat vehicles Canada is selling to Saudi Arabia in a controversial $15-billion arms deal will feature medium- or high-calibre weapons supplied by a European subcontractor – such as a powerful cannon designed to shoot anti-tank missiles.
These details shine a light on how lethal a product the Saudi Arabian National Guard – a force that deals with internal threats in the Mideast country – will be getting from Canada.
This contradicts Justin Trudeau’s assertion during the federal election campaign that the deal brokered by the Canadian government was merely for what amount to “jeeps.”
It also puts more pressure on Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government to explain why it is allowing the transaction to proceed – particularly after mass executions in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2 that included a prominent Shia Muslim cleric.
Details about the turreted weapons have been slow to emerge because both General Dynamics Land Systems (Canada) and its Belgian supplier CMI Defence, part of CMI Groupe, are saying little about the contract and subcontract.
Some information has leaked out in Belgium, where one broadcast journalist called CMI’s work for the Canadian maker of armoured vehicles the “contract of the century” for the firm, which is based in Seraing, Belgium. Local media say it would be worth €3.2-billion ($4.9-billion) and last more than 15 years. In 2015, CMI announced it had bought a military base in northeastern France to be transformed into a campus to train the Saudis on the LAV weaponry.
The full number of combat vehicles Canada will sell to the Saudis has never been released – some arms trade experts estimate it could be in the thousands – but a French municipal official told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday the transaction CMI is involved with concerns about 700.
CMI, which manufactures turrets and cannons, announced in 2014 that it had signed a large contract with a “Canadian vehicle manufacturer” to supply two gun systems, including a medium-calibre weapon and the Cockerill CT-CV 105HP, which it advertises as a “high-pressure gun with an advanced autoloader to deliver high lethality at very light weight,” one with the capacity to fire 105-mm shells and a heavy-armour-penetrating missile. CMI did not name the Canadian company.
In France, where CMI’s campus is located, a local municipal official said CMI is doing work for General Dynamics and its armoured vehicle contract with Saudi Arabia. In an interview, Jean-Philippe Vautrin, president of the Communauté de Communes du pays de Commercy, said CMI will start training the Saudis on the turrets and cannons in 2017, using simulators on the campus site but also a nearby artillery range.
He said the Saudis will learn how to operate the wheeled portion of the LAVs on Canadian soil.
The former Harper government used diplomatic resources to lobby Riyadh for the $15-billion contract, which will support 3,000 jobs in Canada, mainly in London, Ont. A federal crown corporation brokered the deal and is the prime contractor to supply the Saudis with these LAVs.
Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has rejected calls to cancel or block the deal, saying Canada’s reputation would be hurt if it backed out.
His office on Wednesday refused to offer details on what kind of weaponry will be on the Canadian-made LAVs. It referred calls to General Dynamics. A spokesman for the company declined to confirm CMI Defence’s involvement, saying General Dynamics “will not respond to speculative inquiries related to our supply chain.”
Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that tracks arms sales, said the LAV weaponry shows how lethal this Canadian deal is.
“Such vehicles, far from simple troop carriers, are capable of major destruction, and given the ongoing deplorable human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, there is great risk that they will be used against civilians opposed to the Saudi government. This is why the new Canadian government should be reconsidering the Saudi contract,” Mr. Epps said.
During the 2015 election campaign, Mr. Trudeau played down the strategic nature of the sale, saying General Dynamics was merely exporting jeeps. Mr. Trudeau went on to characterize the sale as a private contract involving a manufacturing company – omitting Ottawa’s crucial role.
The gun subcontract is at the heart of growing controversy in Belgium, where critics are questioning the wisdom of selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and citing the CMI-General Dynamics deal.
Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International’s French-speaking section in Belgium, said the armoured vehicles could be used against civilians or to attack other countries.
“The repression of Shiite groups in the country could potentially be undertaken with these weapons,” Mr. Hensmans said in an interview. “The government argues we should be reassured by the fact that they won’t be used in countries like Yemen, but rather by police and law-enforcement authorities, but that is still a problem in our view.”
Federal rules oblige the Global Affairs department to conduct a special audit of requests to export military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Among other things, Ottawa must obtain assurances “there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”
A Belgian journalist who wrote on CMI’s subcontract with General Dynamics, and attended a presentation on the turreted weapons at a military show in 2014, said the firm promotes the versatility of its weapons systems.
“They have developed new technology that reduces the recoil on the cannons, which allows them to install a higher calibre weapon on relatively light vehicles, which … can then be airlifted for operations in different theatres,” Michel Gretry said in an interview.
Dion quietly approved arms sale to Saudi Arabia in April: documents
By Steven Chase
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion has quietly issued export permits for the bulk of the shipments tied to a controversial $15-billion sale of combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a crucial green light for the deal that many thought had already been granted.
Mr. Dion approved six export permits on Friday covering more than 70 per cent of the transaction, newly released documents show – a decision that represents the most vital step in the Canadian government’s arms-control process. The Liberals have long said they could not interfere with what they described as a “done deal” arranged by the Harper Conservatives.
The permits cover light armoured vehicles, spare parts and “associated weapon systems,” the memo signed by Mr. Dion says. The fighting vehicles will be equipped with machine guns and anti-tank weapons.
Information on Mr. Dion’s decision was released by the federal Department of Justice Tuesday in response to a lawsuit that seeks to block exports of these military goods – and the revelations in the documents run contrary to the Liberal government claim that their hands were tied on the Saudi file.
The remarkable department of Global Affairs Canada memo, stamped “secret” and obtained by University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp, who is challenging the Saudi deal in Federal Court, lays bare the Liberal government’s rationale for the mammoth Canadian arms sale.
Canada’s arms export control regime makes it clear that a transaction can only proceed after Ottawa has issued export permits, and the new Global Affairs memo reveals that the Conservatives had only approved minor permits related to the Saudi deal for the export of technical data.
It has fallen to Mr. Dion to approve the vast majority of the transaction and that is what he did last week.
A department of Global Affairs Canada memo shows Mr. Dion’s signature beside the words “I concur” below the memo recommending the issuance of six permits that cover $11-billion of the $15-billion deal.
This memorandum is sure to be controversial because it shows, among other things, that the department of Global Affairs recommended approval of the Saudi export permits because it could help Saudi Arabia wage war in neighbouring Yemen. The Netherlands has banned arms exports to Saudi Arabia in part because of Riyadh’s conduct in Yemen, where it is fighting Houthi rebels aligned with Iran, and the European Parliament has passed a motion urging an embargo on weapons exports to the Saudis.
Global Affairs tells Mr. Dion the light armoured vehicles will help Riyadh in its efforts at “countering instability in Yemen” as well as fighting Islamic State threats.
“The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia in these goals,” the memo says.
Records obtained and published by The Globe and Mail last year show Global Affairs staffers saying that export-permit approval is the stage at which Ottawa really sanctions shipments. In 2014, the department undertook an initial review of the deal to check for “red flags.” It found none but Debbie Gowling, a senior official in the export-controls division, reminded colleagues in an e-mail that there was no guarantee that the sale was officially approved by Ottawa until actual export-permit applications were processed.
“There has been no confirmation of any decisions/assurances … with regard to the export of these items,” Ms. Gowling wrote in February, 2014, adding “a more thorough analysis would be conducted when actual permit applications were received” and “there were no guarantees as circumstances could evolve.”
The memo requesting Mr. Dion approve the export permits is dated March 21, which happens to be the same day that Mr. Turp filed a lawsuit to try and stop the Saudi deal. Written across the memo is the phrase “approved by the foreign affairs minister April 8, 2016,” and a Justice Department lawyer in an accompanying letter said Mr. Dion’s decision on the exports was made “as of April 8.”
Critics, including former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, have opposed selling arms to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that it has among the worst human-rights records in the world.
The federal export-permit memo shows the department didn’t consult human-rights groups but rather asked only the Department of National Defence, several bureaus within the department of Global Affairs – such as defence and security-relations division – and Innovation Canada. “No concerns were raised,” the Global Affairs memo said.
The disclosed memo, which reveals Mr. Dion also approved the export of the jeeps’ weapon systems to Saudi Arabia, further undermines Justin Trudeau’s characterization of this deal with Riyadh as merely a sale of “jeeps,” as the Liberal Leader famously called them last October.
Top Trudeau aides expressed discomfort with the arms deal and the Saudi human-rights record as recently as 2015 when the Liberals were in opposition. Mr. Trudeau’s top adviser, Gerald Butts, criticized the Harper Conservatives for the Saudi deal. “Principled foreign policy indeed,” he wrote on Twitter last year, circulating a social-media post that compared Saudi Arabia to the Islamic State.
During the 2015 election campaign, University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris, now a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau, was quoted by the CBC as criticizing the armoured-weapons deal. “We don’t know whether assurances were obtained from the Saudis. “We’ve allowed an arms sale to trump human rights.”
One reason the Department of National Defence gave for supporting the deal, when it was consulted, was that it would keep defence contractor General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, Ont., in business and able to build similar machines for Canada when needed. “The export of these vehicles is key to ensuring a strong and viable defence industrial base in Canada,” the Global Affairs memo said.
Canada’s export-control regime clearly stipulates that Ottawa must not issue export permits for weapons sales to countries with poor human-rights records “unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” Saudi Arabia regularly ranks among the “worst of the worst” on human rights by Freedom House.
In the memo to Mr. Dion, Global Affairs officials choose their words carefully. They say that of the many light armoured vehicles sold to Saudi Arabia by Canada in years past, there is no proof they have been deployed to abuse people.
“To the best of the department’s knowledge, there have been no incidents where they have been used in the perpetration of human-rights violations,” the memo says.
The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year that older Canadian-made armoured vehicles appear to be caught up in Saudi Arabia’s fight in Yemen. Photos and videos posted on social media show the General Dynamics-made vehicles fighting in the Yemeni war.
Canada is supposed to consider whether the arms it is shipping to a customer may be used in an imminent conflict.
Again, the department of Global Affairs treads carefully when it comes to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has already been accused by a UN panel of violating international law. “There has been no indication that equipment of Canadian origin, including light armoured vehicles, may have been used in acts contrary to international humanitarian law.”
In submitting the request for export permits to Mr. Dion, the department notes that normally civil servants approve export permits.
In a nod to the controversy surrounding this arms sale – the largest manufacturing export deal in Canadian history – Global Affairs said it was seeking Mr. Dion’s approval because of the extraordinary circumstances. “This exceptional measure is warranted by the high public profile and dollar value of these proposed exports.”
Mr. Dion’s office defended approving the arms exports, saying that if it blocked the shipments and cancelled the contract it would have less leverage over Saudi Arabia. It noted that current Canada-Saudi relations have led to 16,000 Saudi students studying here “which will help to promote a greater appreciation of Canadian values, including the importance of diversity and gender equality.”
Joseph Pickerill, Mr. Dion’s director of communications, said ending the transaction could reduce Canada’s ability to influence Saudi Arabia.
“If we drop the contract, we set back the clock on positive efforts like this, too. And we will simply hand the contract to another non-Canadian – possibly more ambivalent – provider.”
This effort to justify the deal is different from what Mr. Dion’s new adviser Jocelyn Coulon wrote in January, weeks before joining the minister’s office, when he said Saudi Arabia has “bought the silence” of Western countries by awarding them lucrative contracts to supply it with military and civilian goods.
Mr. Pickerill said the Liberals are committed to improving export controls for weapons and reiterated Mr. Dion’s earlier statements that he could rescind export permits if evidence arises that the LAVs are being used to violate human rights.
The Global Affairs memo also warns Mr. Dion that the Saudis could sue Canada for damages if Ottawa cancels the deal.
Saudis use armoured vehicles to suppress internal dissent, videos show
By Steven Chase
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.
Footage analyzed by The Globe and Mail shows Saudi Arabia using armoured vehicles against minority Shia Muslim dissidents in the Mideast country’s Eastern Province, raising serious questions about Riyadh’s tendency to use these military goods against its own citizens.
Copies of the videos, which date from 2012 and 2015, were supplied by Saudi human-rights activists who want Canada to suspend shipments of combat vehicles to Riyadh in a $15-billion deal between Canada and the ruling House of Saud.
The Trudeau government in April approved export permits for the bulk of these vehicle shipments in what Ottawa calls the largest advanced manufacturing export contract in Canadian history. The vehicles, made in London, Ont., are expected to ship over four years, and will have machine guns and anti-tank cannons.
Saudi Arabia is an extremely closed society that U.S. rights and democracy watchdog Freedom House last year called “one of the most repressive media environments in the world.” The Globe and Mail requested access to tour Saudi Arabia through the country’s Canadian embassy in January, but received no reply.
The combat vehicles in the videos are not Canadian-made, but they demonstrate the regime’s inclination to use such military assets against its own people in a region that is very difficult for Canada to monitor. It also casts doubt on the Liberal government’s assurances that the massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia presents no risks for the country’s civilians.
Ali Adubisi, director of the Berlin-based European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights, says Saudi authorities have deployed armoured vehicles against Shia civilians in Eastern Province more than 15 times since 2011.
He says this should be reason enough to strike Saudi Arabia from Canada’s list of arms buyers.
“I think it’s clear now that Saudi Arabia doesn’t hesitate to use this weapon,” he said. “It’s totally clear [the Canadian deal] will help Saudi Arabia to [commit] more violence against civilians.”
Saudi human rights activists have gathered videos and photos, many of which have circulated on social media within the Mideast and more broadly, showing what they say are Saudi armoured vehicles firing on protesters or residential buildings in Eastern Province, or the damage wrought by these machines on people, residential areas and property. These records include photos of civilians allegedly killed by Saudi authorities.
The Globe and Mail undertook analysis of videos of two of these incidents in co-operation with Middle Eastern human-rights researchers to determine that the footage was indeed shot in Saudi Arabia. Excerpts from the videos, which activists say document events in the al-Qatif region in February, 2012, and April, 2015, can be seen on The Globe and Mail’s website.
In the first video, researchers identified a Saudi automatic banking machine and license plate, and were able to find the location on Google Maps’ satellite photo, including a nearby mosque. One researcher, Cilina Nasser, spoke with local residents to verify the location. In the video, masked protesters are seen evading armoured vehicles that are entering a town square. There are sounds of gunfire and protesters are hit. Voices can also be heard referring to a gun.
In analyzing two videos of the event in April, 2015, another Saudi bank machine sign, as well as fresh photos from the purported location, where a building is now being rebuilt, helped corroborate that the incident took place in Saudi Arabia. In those videos, armoured vehicles are seen outside a building and firing can be heard.
The Saudi government regularly says raids and operations in Eastern Province are necessary to combat terrorism. In the April, 2015, incident, in which a Saudi police officer died and the targeted Shia appear to be firing back, Riyadh told the local media it was going after “terrorist elements” as well as their weapons and communications equipment. In January, 2016, the Saudis allowed a CNN TV crew to visit al-Awamiya in the al-Qatif region but only after warning the journalists it was unsafe to visit.
The Globe recently invited officials from Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Canada to view the videos, either at the embassy or at Globe offices, and provide comment. The embassy’s response was to issue a brief statement that said: “Saudi Arabia has entered into a contract for the purchase of light armoured vehicles from a manufacturer in Canada. We believe the deal is good for both Saudi Arabia and Canada, creating jobs and investment.”
The Saudis’ use of combat machines against its Shia population goes to the very heart of the controversy over whether the Trudeau government is breaking Canada’s weapons export-control rules.
The export-control regime clearly stipulates that Ottawa must not issue export permits for weapons sales to countries with poor human-rights records “unless it can be demonstrated that there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”
Saudi Arabia is regularly ranked among the “worst of the worst” on human rights by Freedom House, and Amnesty International warned earlier this year of an erosion in rights there. A recent report from the Global Affairs department warned the Trudeau government of worrisome developments in human rights in Saudi Arabia before it approved export permits for the $15-billion arms deal in April. “During 2015, concerning human rights trends were reported,” the report’s summary says of Saudi Arabia, such as “a significant increase in the number of executions, restrictions on universal rights, such as freedom of expression, association and belief, lack of due process and fair trial rights.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion himself cited Freedom House’s work on May 3, when he saluted World Press Freedom Day in a statement.
In April, Mr. Dion was asked during a meeting with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board whether the Canadian government had seen videos of armoured vehicles being used against Saudi civilians before the Liberals decided to approve export permits.
He said Ottawa studied a wide array of information.
“They have looked at everything and they made their recommendations,” Mr. Dion said of Global Affairs, which advised him he should sign the export permits. “If you come with evidence that they didn’t see, they are professionals; they will look at that.”
A huge coalition of human rights, development and arms control groups in late April urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rescind what they called an “immoral and unethical” decision to approve export permits for the Saudi Arabian deal, warning there is a reasonable risk Riyadh will use the vehicles against its own citizens and in the Saudi military mission in neighbouring Yemen.
Mr. Adubisi is the latest opponent to add his voice to the debate, and he said he met with a Canadian government representative in March to make his case.
Only about 10 to 15 per cent of Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia’s population is Shia, largely concentrated in the Eastern Province, which is also home to most of the Mideast country’s oil production. Western human rights groups accuse Saudi Arabia of discriminating against the Shia minority.
Eastern Province is the birthplace of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a popular dissident cleric from the region who was killed by Saudi authorities in mass executions this past January. The Shia Muslim leader was an outspoken critic of the ruling House of Saud, had called for its removal and supported anti-government protests in the province.
Analysts and activists say the Shia protesters have grown more militant in recent years.
“The protest movement was largely peaceful since 2011. The security forces used harsh repression and some people started to shoot at the police, particularly in [al-Awamiya],” said Toby Matthiesen, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford. “Now there are frequent skirmishes at checkpoints, or when security forces try to raid a village and arrest people suspected of having taken part in the uprising,” he said, referring to local pushback against the Saudi government.
Mr. Adubisi said some Shia in Eastern Province began arming themselves with weapons such as guns after the Saudi government started killing protesters in the region in 2011 and 2012.
He said that while he thinks protesters should not take up arms, he does not believe these militants can be considered terrorists, adding that he agrees with the late Sheikh Nimr that words are stronger than bullets.
The 15 cases Mr. Adubisi cites do not include numerous incidents in which, he alleges, the armoured vehicles, stationed at checkpoints in al-Awamiya, drive through residential areas shooting at shop windows and cars in an apparently random fashion.
Although the $15-billion deal was signed by the former Harper government, the Trudeau Liberals have stood by the 14-year agreement. The approval given in April was for 70 per cent of the related exports. The Liberals have defended their actions by saying that cancelling the deal would not improve human rights in Saudi Arabia and would injure Canada’s international reputation for respecting contracts.
Critics of the Saudi deal say it should not matter which country’s armoured vehicles have been deployed against Shia Muslims in Eastern Province.
“Riyadh’s proclivity to use force against civilians – armoured vehicles, to be precise – is now beyond dispute, if there was still any doubt,” Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group in Waterloo, Ont., that monitors the arms trade.
“It matters little whether the vehicles used in these particular instances were actually made in Canada, though they could have been. And the chances of such abuses will only increase as Canada proceeds to ship $15-billion worth of armoured vehicles.”
Stephen Priestley, a researcher with the Canadian American Strategic Review, a think tank that tracks defence spending, said he believes the armoured vehicles featured in the videos supplied by Shia activists are Al-Mansour machines made by a company called Saudi Groups.
Mr. Jaramillo noted the threshold established by the human-rights safeguards of Canadian export controls is not evidence or certainty, but reasonable risk. “If Ottawa determines that Saudi Arabia’s documented use of armoured vehicles against civilians does not constitute a reasonable risk of misuse of similar vehicles manufactured in Canada, it should at the very least drop the claim that Canada’s export controls are among the strongest in the world.”
Mr. Adubisi, a writer and activist, says he was held in jail without charge for more than 325 days in Saudi Arabia between 2011 and 2012 and tortured during five interrogation sessions before being released. He fled the country in 2013 and lives in Berlin with his wife and children.
He said the Saudi government has social license to go after Shia Muslim citizens in the name of fighting terrorism. Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran, where Shia Muslims predominate, are strained at best.
“Any attacks, any violence against the Shia minority, few people will care – because they are Shia.”
The Sunni-dominated Saudi media is full of anti-Shia sentiment, and lumps together all Shia Muslims whether they are in Iran, Bahrain or elsewhere, Mr. Adubisi said. They say “those people are helping Iran, those people are part of Hezbollah, those people are helping [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad. They will put all the problems of the Middle East on the Shia in Saudi Arabia.”
He said Canadians should try to imagine what it would be like if Canada’s government were to blame Iranian-Canadians for problems with Iran.
“That is what is happening in Saudi Arabia,” he said.