It is now clear that Saudi Arabia planned and murdered a journalist, a permanent resident of the United States, literally luring him to his own death. Even though this diplomatic crisis is ostensibly only about one man, and many Canadians may feel it is not worth risking Canada’s relationship with a country over one man, there is much more at stake. Canada needs to acknowledge what it means to sell to and trade with a nation that regularly violates human rights.
So far, the international pressure on Saudi Arabia has merely been to be honest about what happened. They have not been, but the truth has slowly come out. Now it seems that Canada, and the rest of the world, including even Donald Trump, hopefully, have woken up. The Saudi royals and government have savagely carried out a premeditated murder on a loved and respected journalist, and it should be the last straw. Canada must now hold strong as a human rights leader and try to unite the international community.
Many are advocating for companies, financial investors, and universities to divest from Saudi Arabia as well. Richard Branson, Virgin CEO was one of the first to publicly and strongly condemn Saudi Arabia, in addition to freezing his partnership and mass investment in space exploration, risking $1 billion. Of course, Saudi Arabia punished him by cancelling a deal with his company, Virgin Hyperloop One.
Many companies also bowed out of a massive conference, the Future Investment Initiative, hosted in October by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the New York Times, CNN, NBC, and other media outlets, and Uber. Those that have cut business ties are primarily private investors, but billions of dollars are being risked. If these private individuals are willing to put their own assets on the line, where are the leaders of the free world? The developed world must stand together to demand better and force the leaders of Saudi Arabia to change.
Both Canada and the US are hesitant to act, citing lucrative arms deals as being too important. Trudeau is finally considering cancelling arms deal, but he seems reluctant, saying that it is difficult, as well as suspending export permits, but a strong response is needed. One option is the Magnitsky Act, which authorizes Canada to freeze Canadian assets of foreign individuals who violate human rights, but there should be consequences for the country, not merely the individuals involved.
In terms of our economic trade, Saudi Arabia essentially buys weapons, primarily from the US, Canada, and Britain. In exchange, they sell us oil, which is essentially their sole export, and which they must sell to maintain their disgusting level of wealth and power in the Middle East.
The $15 billion arms agreement at risk is for heavy assault vehicles; it was approved in 2016, with little debate and the assault vehicles were originally described as trucks and jeeps. Canada, and other countries, purchase oil from Saudi Arabia, knowing that the money contributes to the violation of human rights on a large scale and to enabling those violators to purchase military weapons that are primarily used against civilians.
Canada only imports about $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia annually, and the last time that trade was interrupted was when Saudi Arabia sentenced a Canadian citizen in 2009, a citizen that maintained his innocence and was freed in 2013. In fact, even recent precedent shows the risks of engaging with Saudi Arabia, whether economically or diplomatically.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland criticized Saudi human rights violations in a fairly diplomatic tweet, as is her job, and it led to an international incident in which Saudi Arabia forced out the Canadian ambassador and ordered their students out of our universities. Almost no one stood by her; fellow politicians, citizens, and international allies criticized her for daring to call out Saudi Arabia or simply looked away. Clearly, Freeland was right to be alarmed, and even Khashoggi himself had defended her stressing the need for world leaders to make those types of statements.
In an interview with Global, Khashoggi noted, “The Arab world makes up five per cent of the world population, but we produce 50 per cent of the world’s refugees,” he said. “More attention should be given to the Arab world and the human rights abuse that is taking place every day in many countries in the Arab world.” This observation may seem to be an overstatement, two-thirds of refugees globally are from five countries, Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia (many Somalians are displaced and in Yemen, which is under attack by Saudi Arabia), all Muslim refugees. Canada should be helping to solve the problem, not make it worse, especially anyone concerned about the refugee crisis and increase in asylum-seekers, no matter the reason. If we can also mitigate the global refugee crisis in even a small way, all the better.
We need to make our values and priorities clear, by refusing to sell military weapons to violators of human rights, and also focusing on weaning off fossil fuels. Without oil, the excessive economic power of Saudi Arabia, and other oil rich nations that allows them to feel they above the law is limited. Canada must maintain its place as a defender of human rights, which holds greater value than any arms deal, will be seen around the world, and will last throughout history.