United Nations Secretary-General calls for global ceasefire during pandemic, Canada continues to manufacture arms

Published by Brent Patterson on

On March 23, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, recognizing the urgency of the pandemic, stated, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

The UN Secretary-General further pleaded, “[Let us] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.”

Peace Brigades International-Canada is encouraging people to send an email to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau through this Urgent Action that asks him “to make a public statement – either through his Twitter account or ideally in his daily public address – that he supports the call for a global ceasefire and affirm that the arms industry need not be declared an essential service during the pandemic.”

The Prime Minister has not yet made such a statement, but Canada did quietly join a group of 59 countries backing Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire.

That said, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have now announced Canada has ended its brief moratorium on the approval of new permits for the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

With the lifting of the moratorium, there are now 48 export permits for “controlled goods” ready to be signed by the government.

Murray Thomson, who helped to found Peace Brigades International in 1981, also co-founded the disarmament group Project Ploughshares in 1976.

Its executive director Cesar Jaramillo comments, “It is utterly disappointing that only days after Canada endorsed the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada decides to continue arming one of the world’s worst human-rights pariahs, who is also the chief instigator of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Yemen – now in its fifth year.”

Arms production an essential service in Canada during the pandemic

Furthermore, Doug Wilson-Hodge, Manager Corporate Affairs, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, has stated, “Following critical infrastructure and essential service guidelines of the governments of Canada and Ontario we remain open and operational.”

The General Dynamics factory in London, Ontario is where the light armoured vehicles (LAVs) for export to Saudi Arabia are being manufactured.

In April 2018, the London Free Press reported, “The agreement [with Saudi Arabia], according to some reports, includes 928 LAV 6 vehicles in total. Of those, 354 are standard troop carriers, 119 are assault vehicles with 105-millimetre canons, another 119 are anti-tank vehicles and a further 119 have a 30-millimetre gun.”

By September 2018, CBC reported that the order had been reduced to 742 LAV 6s, but that, “delivery of the vehicles is already underway and has been for months.”

On December 22, 2018, peace activists in Saint John, New Brunswick successfully blocked for a full day the loading of 16 LAVs onto the Saudi-flagged ship Bahri Yanbu.

On April 9 of this year, Foreign Minister Champagne stated that the shipment of LAVs to Saudi Arabia is now about 50 per cent complete.

Canadian arms exports and human rights

Official figures show that Canada exported $2.069 billion in military goods and technology in 2018. While Global Affairs Canada does not collect data on most military exports to the United States, it acknowledges “an estimated half of all Canadian exports are to the U.S.”

That would suggest a total of $4 billion in arms exports in 2018.

Over the five-year period of 2013 to 2018, Canada has exported military goods to countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Kenya (where Peace Brigades International volunteers accompany at-risk human rights defenders).

Canada is now a signatory to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which means that an export permit cannot be granted if there is a “substantial risk” that exporting “the goods or technology” could be “used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.”

In practice, that appears to mean proof of Canadian weapons being used to violate human rights, rather than evidence of human rights violations.

For instance, The Globe and Mail reports, “In a Sept. 17, 2019, memo published on Global Affairs’ website, public servants told the government that while Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record ‘remains problematic’, with unlawful killings, forced disappearances and torture, Ottawa has no information or evidence linking Canadian military exports to unlawful conduct.”

Peace Brigades International

The founding statement of Peace Brigades International made an appeal to “all who work to preserve human life with dignity, to promote human rights, social justice and self-determination, and to create the conditions of peace.” PBI’s principles and mandate further highlights, “Enduring peace and lasting solutions of conflicts between and within nations cannot be achieved by violent means.”

To sign the PBI-Canada Urgent Action that sends a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to make a public statement in support of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire, please click here.

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