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NDP MP Hélène Laverdière demanded the Trudeau government launch an independent investigation Friday, in the wake of new evidence compiled by National Observer showing Canadian weapons are likely being used in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Military and weapons experts, including a former White House and Pentagon official, reviewed images posted on social media and by media outlets and found Canadian-made weapons being used on the ground in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of governments in a war in the Middle East country since 2015, a conflict that has created a humanitarian crisis.
While the Canadian government has said it is working to ensure Canadian businesses are not exporting weapons that are used in Yemen, the new evidence shows Canadian armoured vehicles and rifles on the scene, Canadian surveillance technology being used, and Canadian companies training pilots.
"We are talking about potential complicity in war crimes," Laverdière, the New Democratic Party foreign affairs critic, said Friday during Question Period in the House of Commons. "Will the government wake up and launch an immediate independent investigation?"
Liberal MP Pam Goldsmith-Jones, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, did not directly respond to the call for an investigation, but reiterated Canada's call for "an immediate ceasefire in Yemen."
"We require and expect (that) Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights and if there is evidence that Canadian arms are being misused or have been diverted, we will suspend those export permits as we have done in the past," she added.
Goldsmith-Jones's response echoes that of Global Affairs Canada, which did not address the images reported by National Observer, but did say Canada does not export items that are destined or could be destined for Yemen.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had publicly supported the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government had also expressed support for Saudi Arabia “countering instability.”
A 2016 internal federal memo recommending export permits, signed by former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and reported in The Globe and Mail in 2016 said: “The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia” in “countering instability in Yemen.”
The Walrus reported the internal government memo also described Saudi Arabia as a “key military ally supporting international efforts to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
On Friday, Laverdière called on the federal government to stop exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia altogether because of its human rights record.
The Saudi kingdom has been under international scrutiny following the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This week Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced sanctions against 17 Saudi nationals linked to Khashoggi's murder, but would not say whether Canadian officials will meet with Saudi officials while at G20 meetings in Argentina this week.
1/2 The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on freedom of expression + freedom of the press. This case is not closed. Canada continues to call for a credible & independent int’l investigation. Those responsible must be held to account.— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) November 29, 2018
2/2 Today, Canada is imposing targeted sanctions -- under our Magnitsky legislation – against 17 individuals who, according to our government, are responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial and extraterritorial killing of Mr. Khashoggi.— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) November 29, 2018
Responding to Laverdière's question in Ottawa, parliamentary secretary Goldsmith-Jones said the Canadian government condemns the murder of Khashoggi and is "deeply concerned" by reports of the participation of Saudi officials.
"We strongly demand and expect that Canadian arms exports are used in a way that fully respects human rights. As the prime minister said, we are actively reviewing existing export permits to Saudi Arabia and of course during this review no permits are being issued.”
Earlier this year, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described Yemen as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." The UN estimates three-quarters of the population need humanitarian aid and protection. A UN report released in August documented evidence of war crimes in Yemen dating back to 2014, including attacks on civilians, restrictions to people accessing humanitarian aid, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill treatment, violations of freedom of expression, sexual violence, and recruitment of child soldiers.
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