Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday it could cost "billions of dollars” to break a contract providing light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia but the government is looking at it to assert Canada’s commitment to human rights and protection of journalists.
The prime minister also defended the importance of a free press in democracies after U.S. President Donald Trump blamed journalists for triggering a mail bombing campaign against Democrats and some of his critics.
Trudeau said the government is actively reviewing export permits to Saudi Arabia, which it has suspended temporarily in the past. That would fall short of cancelling the $15 billion contract with Saudi Arabia.
Trudeau made the comments about Canada’s response to “the horrible murder” of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after an event with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Parliament Hill.
He noted that the “extremely difficult" contract was agreed by the former Progressive Conservative government of Stephen Harper and total confidentiality is among the terms of the deal.
“I cannot give details at this point of what is in the contract,” Trudeau told reporters. “Suffice it to say possible penalties would be in the billions of dollars but that is something we are looking at right now.”
The Trudeau government has been under pressure to cancel the contract since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
“We will continue to work with our allies around the world in order to get better answers on this incident and talk about the consequences for that but our government is right now actively reviewing existing export permits to Saudi Arabia.”
He said the government is working with the international community on ways “to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to give better answers as to what actually happened to Jamal Khashoggi and to understand that protection of a free press is fundamental to protecting human rights and upholding the stability and prosperity of countries around the world.”
Rutte said that many countries have grave concerns about Khashoggi’s murder and seek full clarity from Saudi Arabia about what happened to him.
Netherlands PM calls for justice
“As the Saudi authorities have not provided that clarity we have decided that our Finance Minister Bob Hoekstra will not take part in the future investment initiative in Fiat and also the planned trade mission in December at governmental level will not take place,” Rutte said. “There needs to be clarity and also justice on the total issue as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the EU High Representative and the Secretary General of the UN have all asked for.”
Trudeau also said Canada is "closely monitoring" a mail bombing campaign targeting prominent Democrats and Trump critics.
He used his opening statement at the event with Rutte to stress the importance of the media, following a Trump tweet which blamed the media for triggering the attacks in the first place.
"These reports are deeply concerning," Trudeau said. "All citizens deserve to live in peace and security and a free press is foundational in any democracy. We must ensure that they can do their important work without fear."
Rutte, standing next to Trudeau on Parliament Hill, said "I completely agree."
At least 10 bombs were mailed in recent days to homes and offices of former President Barack Obama, Trump's presidential campaign opponent Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, and a number of other politicians and public figures including actor Robert De Niro.
One of the packages was sent to former CIA director John Brennan, at CNN's offices in New York City.
Trump used Twitter to suggest the media are to blame.
"A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News," Trump tweeted Thursday morning. "It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!"
U.S. officials are scrambling to trace the mail bombs, the first of which appears to have been sent to philanthropist George Soros who has been openly critical of Trump, calling him a "danger to the world."
Additional bombs were intercepted by the Secret Service agents protecting Clinton and Obama on Wednesday.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Walters, Biden, and De Niro also received bomb packages.
Brennan responded to Trump's tweet with a sharp rebuke, saying his critics would not be "intimidated into silence."
"Stop blaming others," he wrote. "Look in the mirror. Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, and encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act. Try to act Presidential. The American people deserve much better."
Canada "as always" is ready to help if the United States needs and asks for assistance, Trudeau said.