Ottawa’s controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia has been under scrutiny over the past few months, especially after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A survey released by Angus Reid on Tuesday found that while most Canadians don’t want any future weapons sales with Saudi Arabia, more than half said the current $15-billion agreement to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the regime should stay in place.
The controversial agreement with Saudi Arabia was negotiated under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, but sign-off and decisions about its future now fall on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Nine out of 10 of the respondents in the survey said “no” to a future arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
But when it comes to the current deal, 44 per cent said the Liberals should leave it in place and ban future arms exports. Ten per cent said to maintain the current deal and continue to sell weapons to the Saudis. And 46 per cent said they would prefer to cancel it now.
For the Canadians who want Trudeau to end the current arms deal with the Saudis, Khashoggi’s murder didn’t seem to impact the decision.
“Those most supportive of cancelling the deal are the group who had not even heard of the incident in Istanbul [in October],” the survey found.
Who else should Canada not sell military weapons to?
The Angus Reid poll asked Canadians to choose from a list of countries that they would allow trade with and those they would ban.
Three-quarters of those asked said that Ottawa should not sell military defence and technology to Iran or Saudi Arabia. Fifty-four per cent of the respondents said Canada should not sell to China and 20 per cent said we shouldn’t sell to the United States.
The poll also found that compared to last year, the number of Canadians who don’t want an arms deal with the Saudis has risen substantially.
In September 2017, Angus Reid asked respondents about the same countries (with the exception of Iran and China). Sixty-two per cent of Canadians asked said the federal government should not sell military weapons to the Saudis. In October 2018 the number spiked to 76 per cent.
One-quarter of those who originally said it’s OK to sell arms to Saudi Arabia later said they would prohibit future deals.
“While Saudi Arabia makes up nearly half of all non-U.S. arms exports from Canada, it would be fair to say that many do not feel comfortable with commerce when it comes to this industry and that country,” the poll stated.
“Canada’s own assessment of Saudi Arabia found a ‘high number of executions, repression of political opposition, arbitrary arrest, suppression of freedom of expression and discrimination against women.’”
What’s changed in a year?
In September 2017 Ottawa was facing criticism over allegations that the Saudi military had used Canadian light armoured vehicles to stifle opposition among their own citizens.
In August 2018 the rift between Canada and Saudi Arabia was ignited when Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted to call for the release of two Saudi human rights activists.
The reaction from Saudi Arabia was swift. Hours after the tweet, the Saudi government recalled its ambassador, barred Canada’s envoy from returning and placed a ban on new trade. The Saudis also demanded an apology from Canada.
But Trudeau refused and said Canada would not apologize and would “speak out wherever we see the need.”
When Angus Reid asked Canadians about Ottawa’s fight with the Saudis, 32 per cent of the respondents said the feds should be “even more vocal” in criticizing the regime. Another 32 per cent said Trudeau should “maintain the current approach” and level of criticism. And 19 per cent said Canada should “be more guarded” in its criticism of the Saudis.
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Oct. 24 – Oct. 29 among a representative randomized sample of 1,500 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.
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