OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says cancelling the controversial contract to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia would leave taxpayers on the hook for $1 billion.
“We have suspended export permits before, and we are more than willing to do it again,” Trudeau says in a one-on-one interview with 1310’s Cormac Mac Sweeney. “That’s certainly what we’re looking at. And we are working with the international community, including Chrystia Freeland who’s leading the efforts around the G7 to hold Saudi Arabia to account and actually get clarity on what absolutely happened.”
Trudeau says this is something “extraordinarily serious,” and adds Canada takes the freedom of journalists “as an essential building block of both democracies as well as safe and free societies.
“This is unacceptable,” he says.
The comments come as the Liberal government is facing new pressure to cancel the deal amid international outrage over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month.
Germany has already frozen sales to the KSA, and Turkey has called out the kingdom by saying the killing was a pre-planned operation.
Trudeau says Canada is looking at a broad range of options, but points to the contract between this country and Saudi Arabia by which Canada is bound.
“[The contract] was a very difficult one. It was negotiated by Stephen Harper and the Conservative government, and I do not want to be in a place where Canadians are forking over billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia because we’re standing up for human rights. We’re being very, very careful because I don’t want us to pay penalties on this. We’re being very, very careful about how we move forward.”
He adds he is not dismissing the possibility of suspending permits.
Human rights groups have urged Canada to cancel the $15-billion contract to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, which was signed in 2014.
On Monday, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said the federal government is “gravely concerned by the murder” of Khashoggi, adding there are “very important questions” about the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia.