Toronto, Canada – Activists from the Canadian province of Ontario staged a protest at the site of a transport company they say is involved in transporting Canadian-made light armored vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia.
About 30 protesters blocked Paddock Transport International trucks in Hamilton, a town about 70 km west of Toronto, for a few hours on Monday as part of a global day of action against the ongoing war in Yemen.
The conflict erupted in late 2014 when Yemen’s Houthi rebels took over much of the country, prompting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to assemble a Western-backed military coalition to attempt to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Since then, rights groups and activists around the world, including in Canada, have sought to end their government’s support for the Saudi-led coalition, as well as halt sales of weapons in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which could exacerbate the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen. .
“We say very clearly to any company complicit in arms exports to Saudi Arabia and therefore complicit in the war against Yemen and the humanitarian crisis in that country, that there will be economic costs that you will have to pay. face, ”Simon Black, professor at Brock University and lead organizer of the Labor Party against the arms trade who took part in the protest, told Al Jazeera.
Today, members and allies of @WBWCanada & @LAATCanada called @PaddockTrans to end his complicity in the brutal war waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. #CanadaStopArmingSaudi#YemenCantWait#WorldSaysNo https://t.co/McjNSvm87z
– World BEYOND War (@WorldBeyondWar) 25 January 2021
The activists remained at the site for several hours Monday afternoon. No arrests have been made, Hamilton police said.
The Canadian Department of Global Affairs and Paddock Transport International did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment at the time of publication.
Canada’s previous Conservative government, led by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, negotiated a C $ 15 billion ($ 11 billion) deal in 2014 to export LAVs manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada to Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government then gave final approval to the deal after the 2015 election.
Dozens of civil society organizations in Canada have signed four open letters to Trudeau since March 2019 asking him to rescind the arms deal.
The Prime Minister had previously said it would be “extremely difficult” to break the contract as it could result in a heavy financial penalty. But in December 2018, as pressure mounted over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trudeau changed his tone, saying that “Canada is looking for a way out of the Saudi arms deal.”
The Liberal government then decided to freeze approvals of new arms export permits for Saudi Arabia pending review. But the suspension was lifted in April 2020, with Canada citing “significant improvements” in the deal, which it said would secure thousands of jobs in Canada.
Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the Canadian peace research institute Project Plowshares, told Al Jazeera that Monday’s protest was “a manifestation of increased dissatisfaction” with the way Ottawa has handled the issue.
“It is utterly disappointing that Ottawa has authorized the export of over $ 1.8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since Canada joined the Arms Trade Treaty. [in 2019], which aims to promote responsible arms transfers, ”Jaramillo said.
“While the Canadian government agrees to arm a human rights pariah, many Canadians are not.
Human rights activists cited evidence – videos and photographs uploaded and verified by experts – showing Canadian LAVs as well as sniper rifles used by the Saudi-UAE-led coalition Arabs in the conflict in Yemen.
About 233,000 people have been killed in the war to date, according to the United Nations, which warned in December that the window to prevent famine in Yemen was narrowing, as many faced record levels of acute food insecurity.
Eighty percent of Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
Meanwhile, in September, the United Nations Panel of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen named Canada – for the first time – as one of the countries “perpetuating the conflict” in Yemen by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Canadian civil society groups say the country’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia now account for over 75% of its non-US military exports, while Canada has pledged $ 40 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen Last year.
Protesters noted in a statement Monday that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and UN calls for a global ceasefire, Canada has exported more than $ 720 million in arms to Saudi Arabia. since the start of the pandemic.
“We have to ask ourselves what kind of humanitarian cost the government is prepared to pay for preserving a number of jobs,” Black told Al Jazeera.