Canada probes possible Saudi use of its equipment in crackdown

Canada warned Saturday it was reviewing reports that Saudi Arabia is using Canadian armored vehicles in a crackdown in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's Shiite-majority east.

Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has called for a review after it was reported that light armored vehicles sold by Canada to Saudi Arabia had been used against Shia civilians
Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has called for a review after it was reported that light armored vehicles sold by Canada to Saudi Arabia had been used against Shia civilians (AFP)

Canada warned Saturday it was reviewing reports that Saudi Arabia is using Canadian armored vehicles in a crackdown in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's Shiite-majority east.

"We are looking at these claims very seriously... and have immediately launched a review," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in French, said in during a visit in central Canada.

The Globe and Mail reported earlier that light armored vehicles sold by Canada to Saudi Arabia had been used against Shia civilians in a major operation in the town of Awamiya in Eastern Province.

Experts told the newspaper that vehicles appearing in photos and videos of the Saudi operations were Gurkha RPVs produced by Terradyne Armored Vehicles near Toronto.

Earlier, a spokesman indicated that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was "deeply concerned about this situation and has asked officials to review it immediately."

"If it is found that Canadian exports have been used to commit serious violations of human rights, the minister will take action," added spokesman John Babcock.

"The government is actively seeking more information about Saudi Arabia's current efforts to deal with its security challenges, the reports of civilian casualties, and the reports that Canadian-made vehicles have been used by Saudi Arabia in its current security operations," he said in a statement.

"Canada will review all available information as it determines an appropriate course of action."

Babcock said Ottawa had shared its concerns with Saudi Arabia, demanding that "its internal security operations be conducted in a manner consistent with international human rights law."

Controversial deal

The controversial $13 billion US contract to supply Riyadh with light armored vehicles was struck by the previous Conservative government.

Trudeau's Liberal government has had to defend this contract against criticism that it may have violated Canada's export control rules that bar arms exports to countries with a poor human rights record and the prohibit using these weapons against civilians.

Freeland's predecessor, Stephane Dion, had stated in April 2016 that the government would halt or revoke the export license for the military equipment if credible information showed it was being used inappropriately.

"We have contracts in which people commit to respect Canadian laws, the terms of the contract and Canadian values, and we expect these contracts to be respected," Trudeau said.

Earlier this week, Canada had already expressed concerns about the growing violence in Saudi Arabia, and urged Riyadh to "defuse tensions."

"All such challenges must be addressed in a manner that abides by international human rights law," the statement added.