PQ to Trudeau: What about Peace? Continues!

The following post documents correspondence between PeaceQuest, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the office of Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

Already been following this thread? Skip ahead to the Epigraph at the bottom of the page.

A close up shot of an annonymous, presumably American, soldier in Iraq with a peace symbol drawn on his hand.

A close up shot of an annonymous, presumably American, soldier in Iraq with a peace symbol drawn on his hand. Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Jayel Aheram

The Initial Letter, June 7th, 2016

Dear Mr. Prime Minister Trudeau,

We are writing on behalf of PeaceQuest, a non-profit, non-denominational, and non-partisan organization based in Kingston, Ontario that supports and facilitates peace-building initiatives across Canada. We have affiliate groups in Kingston, Regina, Sydney/Cape Breton and Victoria.

We have been encouraged by several decisions taken by your government in the months since you took office, particularly in the areas of humanitarian and refugee support.

Putting an end to Canada’s participation in the aerial attacks in Iraq and Syria was a positive step. Ensuring that a Mother Canada statue would not mar the peaceful character of Cape Breton Highlands National Park with its message of bellicose patriotism was also welcome, particularly to PeaceQuest Cape Breton.

On the positive side of the ledger, your government’s announced intention to recommit to multilateralism and support for the United Nations shows great promise. We welcome your March 16 statement at the UN in which you committed Canada to revitalize our “historic role as a key contributor to United Nations peacekeeping…” Of particular note was your promise to increase Canadian “engagement with peace operations, not just by making available our military, police, and specialized expertise, but also by supporting the civilian institutions that prevent conflict, bring stability to fragile states, and help societies recover in the aftermath of crisis.”

We are keen to learn the specifics of your plans for supporting peace promotion and conflict prevention institutions. Will Canada be supporting NGOs in other countries, here in Canada, or both? What will the criteria be to receive support? What will the nature of the support be?

On a wider front, along with so many other Canadians, we were dismayed by your government’s decision to proceed with the LAV sale to the regime in Saudi Arabia given its deplorable track record of human rights violations. We fully support the April 25, 2016 letter you received from the wide range of Canadian peace, social justice and development groups, spearheaded by the Group of 78, urging Canada to adhere to our own policies with respect to arms export controls and human rights safeguards.

We are concerned that the louder voices of the defence and security lobbies too often tend to overwhelm civil society organizations advocating  peace and arms controls – “the civilian institutions that prevent conflict” that you wisely highlighted in your United Nations speech. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whom you met in New York, has warned that “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.” Pope Francis underlined the urgency of controlling the trade in deadly weapons when he asked the US Congress recently “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade.”

Your ministers and staff recently attended the controversial CANSEC trade show in Ottawa, where arms merchants proudly peddle their deadly wares. We urge you to reconsider any official participation in such displays in the years to come. And reconsider the purchase of any multibillion dollar attack aircraft that serve no purpose related to real human security. The weapons trade flourishes, however, not simply because it is supported by powerful special interest groups with a vested interest in weapons profits; it is also spurred by insecurity arising from poverty, a race for resources and the lack of political will to establish a comprehensive and viable United Nations system that would counter aggression while promoting security.

Your speech at the United Nations suggests that your government has a good understanding of that organization’s origins. The UN was established to promote peace. We realize that proposals for a standing UN peace force have been around for decades. Supporters have long argued that the global community needs a way to operationalize the protection of civilians and the prevention and cessation of armed conflict. This will not be easy, but it cannot be scorned as a utopian fantasy.

If Canada really is going to “revitalize Canada’s historic role as a key contributor to United Nations peacekeeping” – your words on March 16 in New York – we suggest that Canada launch a major diplomatic and political effort to do something really new and vitally important. Leading a campaign for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service would re-establish our reputation.

We hope that the review of Canada’s defense policy will be the opportunity to address the aforementioned questions and we look forward to learning more about how this process will unfold.

With respect and best wishes,

Michael Cooke                                                           Bronek Korczynski

Co-Chair                                                                     Co-Chair

Response, June 22nd 2016

On Wed, Jun 22, 2016 at 5:06 PM, Prime Minister/Premier Ministre wrote:

Dear Mr. Cooke and Mr. Korczynski:

On behalf of the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail regarding Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations.

You may be assured that your comments, offered on behalf of Peace Quest, have been carefully reviewed. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your message to the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who, I am certain, will wish to give your views every consideration.

Thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.

M. Bredeson
Executive Correspondence Officer
for the Prime Minister’s Office
Agent de correspondance
de la haute direction pour le Cabinet du Premier ministre

Response, November 16th, 2016

Dear Mr. Cooke and Mr. Korczynski:

The Office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau forwarded to me on June 22, 2016, your correspondence concerning several important peace and security issues. I regret the delay in replying to you.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the encouragement you have given to the new government, the concerns you have raised, and the suggestions you have made.

On August 26, 2016, Global Affairs Canada has launched the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs). Formerly known as the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, PSOPs will support the full range of peace operations, including conflict prevention, mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Canada will strengthen collaboration with its partners, particularly like-minded countries, the United Nations and civil society organizations (both international and domestic), and focus on women, peace and security as a cross-cutting theme. For more information, please visit the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program.

With respect to the arms trade, the government has pledged that Canada would become a State party to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The Canadian government is committed to prevent the illicit trade in conventional arms in order to contribute to international and regional peace, security and stability, reduce human suffering, and promote cooperation, transparency and responsible action by states. Canada is also dedicated more broadly to addressing the potential impacts of arms exports on international human rights law, international humanitarian law and gender?based violence. To make good on this commitment, government officials have undertaken internal legislative and policy reviews to put in place the necessary changes that would allow Canada to join the ATT. On June 17, 2016, I tabled the Treaty in Parliament, which is the first formal step in this process. As part of Canada’s commitment to transparency and rigour in export controls, I issued a statement on June 30, 2016, announcing plans to accede to the ATT and new measures that will allow Canada to demonstrate compliance with the Treaty while enhancing Canada’s already robust export controls. While it will likely take some time to ensure that Canada can meet all of its obligations under the Treaty, Canada’s accession to the ATT remains a priority.

Canada has sold light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the 1990s and has no evidence that these LAVs have ever been used against the Saudi population. The Government of Canada ensures that all proposed exports of goods and technology controlled under the Export and Import Permits Act are carefully reviewed and that human rights considerations are taken into account before a permit is issued.

Your correspondence mentioned the review of Canada’s defence policy led by National Defence. The Honorable Marie?Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, has been leading on a similar review of Canada’s international assistance.

The international assistance review aims to rethink Canada’s international assistance policies and programs in order to better respond to the challenges and opportunities of the new global context. The review will determine how best to focus Canada’s international assistance so that it can help the poorest and most vulnerable populations and support fragile states.

From May to July 2016, Global Affairs Canada consulted a wide range of partners, including civil society, on the following key issues: health and rights of women and children; clean economic growth and climate change; governance, pluralism, diversity and human rights; peace and security; and responding to humanitarian crises and the needs of refugees and displaced populations. The outcomes of this review will provide a set of evidence?based recommendations to inform Canada’s international assistance policy and funding framework in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thank you again for taking the time to write and share your thoughts and insights. I look forward to learning more about the important peacebuilding initiatives supported and facilitated by your organization.


The Honourable Stéphane Dion, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Foreign Affairs


“There is more regulation of the trade in bananas than weapons”

– Cesar Jaramillo, Project Ploughshares.

Canada has sold light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the 1990s. There is  no evidence that these LAVs have never been used against the Saudi population. The Government of Canada argues that all proposed exports of goods and technology controlled under the Export and Import Permits Act are carefully reviewed and that human rights considerations are taken into account before a permit is issued.

In October PeaceQuest hosted a plenary featuring Cesar Jaramillo of Project Ploughshares and Peggy Mason of the Rideau Institute. Mr. Jaramillo spoke passionately against the Saudi Arms deal, identifying it as the largest sale of conventional weapons in Canadian history.  At $15 billion, this deal accounts for 95% of all contracts awarded in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will continue until the 2020s.  He repeated a now familiar fact: Saudi Arabia is among the “worst of the worst” human rights violators in the world. It beheads more people than ISIS. The state enforces its views of religious truth and imposes harsh penalties, including beheadings, for crimes such as witchcraft, apostasy, sorcery, and fornication

The sale of LAVs to Saudi Arabia is a flagrant contravention of Canadian military export controls.  Before a sale of weapons is approved, there must be “no reasonable risk” that this equipment could be used against its citizens. Minister Dion writes that there is “no evidence that these LAVS have ever been used against the Saudi population”.

But the test is “no reasonable risk”.

The Canadian government has said that it is willing to reconsider the sale if new, relevant information emerges. But abundant evidence exists of human rights abuses by the Saudi government.  That regime regularly executes its citizens. Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger whose wife fled to Quebec after her husband’s arrest, has been sentenced to 1000 lashes. His case has become a cause celebre in Quebec.

Saudi Arabia’s large scale participation in the civil war in Yemen is a huge cause for concern among countries exporting death machines to the regime. . The Saudi have been implicated in mass killings as part of its involvement in Yemen.

Canada is apparently  ignoring its own guidelines in the pursuit of commercial gain from military exports.

Civil liberties are virtually unknown in Saudi Arabia. Freedom of speech is severely censored; freedom of association, freedom of the press, and academic freedom are restricted. Hundreds of thousands of websites have been blocked. Women, banned from driving,  are subjected to systemic discrimination.

Sub Head  Bananas or Death Machines?

If a country with Saudi Arabia’s despicable human rights record is deemed eligible to receive Canadian-made military goods, it is hard to comprehend what sort of record a country must have to actually trigger the pertinent human rights safeguards.

It is hard to fathom that there is “no reasonable risk” that the Canadian-made vehicles will be used against the civilian population. In fact, documentary evidence shows the Saudi government’s proclivity to use force against civilians. In Bahrain in March 2011, it sent armoured vehicles to help quell civilian protests (Bronner & Slackman 2011; Chulov 2011).

 The Canadian government has neither confirmed nor denied that the armoured vehicles used by Saudi forces in Bahrain were made in Canada. In May 2015, The Globe and Mail reported, “Asked if it believes the Saudis used made-in-Canada LAVs when they went into Bahrain, the Canadian government doesn’t deny this happened” (Chase 2015a).

The weapons Canada is exporting to the Saudis include troop carriers, communications hubs, and mobile gun systems that can operate in both rural and urban settings. Should an Arab Spring-type uprising occur in Saudi Arabia, there is little doubt that the vehicles would be utilized to quell protests and suppress the civilian population.

According to Canada’s export control guidelines, “once an application to export goods or technology has been received, wide-ranging consultations are held among human rights, international security and defence-industry experts” at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and the Department of National Defence and “as necessary, other government departments and agencies” (FATDC 2014).

Canada’s deal with Saudi Arabia raises many questions. How credible are Canada’s export control policy guidelines if the pertinent human rights safeguards are not triggered? What sort of record must a country have to actually trigger those safeguards? Should the review process include the views of experts outside government?

Canada’s export control policy guidelines state that Canada “closely controls” military exports to governments with “a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.”

The facts of the Saudi LAV deal seem at odds with Canadian policy. It’s no wonder that this is an issues that just won’t go away.