The future looks good for Canadian arms manufacturers, says journalist Paul Christopher Webster in this in-depth look at the sale of Canadian-built light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia — a sale approved by the Conservative government and supported by the Trudeau administration despite concerns the vehicles could be used against civilian populations.
Mystery surrounds the sale of $15-billion worth of light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) made by London, Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems Canada to Saudi Arabia — a sale that represents the largest arms export contract in Canada’s history. In “The Silent Partner,” published by the Globe & Mail, journalist Paul Christopher Webster describes the deal as the “holy grail for anyone in the armoured-vehicle industry.” But the coup for Canadian manufacturing has many concerned the vehicles, Justin Trudeau described as “jeeps”, will be utilized for combat and used against civilians in Saudi Arabia — a country recognized as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Writes Webster:
Like darts targeted with growing accuracy at a highly political bull’s eye, the questions have accumulated, unanswered, ever since the deal was publicly announced in early 2014: How many LAVs (light-armoured vehicles) are the Saudis buying from General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLSC)? What weapons will be mounted on them? How will the Saudis use the vehicles? Is the sale legal under Canadian law? Why did General Dynamics, a U.S. corporation with annual revenues exceeding $30 billion (U.S.), need the federal government’s Canadian Commercial Corp. (CCC) to backstop the deal? What exactly was CCC’s role? And why will neither GDLSC nor CCC allow their employees to discuss any aspect of the deal?
The deal, shrouded in secrecy, was brokered by the Canadian government-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation — an international contracting and procurement agency that sources Canadian goods and services on behalf of governments in other countries while “avoiding the otherwise lengthy international tendering process.” The secret nature of the Saudi Arabia deal is intrinsic to CCC’s culture, Patricia Adams, of Toronto-based foreign-aid watchdog Probe International, told Webster. Adams’ organization reported on CCC’s involvement in helping corruption-plagued Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin land a $163-million hospital contract in the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago in 2013, a deal Adams described at the time as “untendered, secret, and guaranteed by Canadian taxpayers.” The T&T government subsequently pulled out of the arrangement.
Webster notes that, according to CCC’s corporate plan, “the most significant determinant of CCC’s success in a given market tends to be the openness of a foreign government buyer to CCC’s value proposition.” For that approach to be successful, the plan continues: “… a foreign government buyer must be willing to politically defend a decision to undertake a directed, sole-source contract with the Government of Canada as an alternative to an open-tender process.” Says Webster: “This despite open tenders for public works being a traditional hallmark of Western democracy and trade.”