Toronto Canada – Activists in the Canadian province of Ontario protested on the premises of a transport company that claims to be involved in the transport of Canadian-made light armored vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia.
About 30 protesters blocked Paddock Transport International trucks in Hamilton, a city 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 invaded much of the country, prompting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to form a western-backed military coalition to try to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government .
Since then, rights groups and activists around the world, including Canada, have sought to end their governments’ support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and suspend arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which could exacerbate Yemen’s devastating humanitarian crisis.
“We say very clearly to any company involved in arms exports to Saudi Arabia and therefore involved in the war against Yemen and the humanitarian crisis there that you will have an economic cost,” said Simon Black, Professor at Brock University and Labor Against the Arms Trade chief organizer who attended the protest, said Al Jazeera.
Today members and allies of @WBWCanada & @LAATCanada urged @PaddockTrans to end its complicity in the brutal Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen. # CanadaStopArmingSaudi # YemenCantWait # WorldSaysNo https://t.co/McjNSvm87z
– World Beyond War (@WorldBeyondWar) January 25, 2021
The activists stayed for several hours on Monday afternoon. No arrests have been made, Hamilton police said.
Canada’s Department of Global Affairs and Paddock Transport International did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Canada’s former Conservative government under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement in 2014 to export LAVs manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada to Saudi Arabia for $ 15 billion ($ 11 billion).
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then gave final approval to the deal after the 2015 elections.
Dozens of civil society organizations in Canada have signed four open letters to Trudeau since March 2019 calling for the arms deal to be lifted.
The Prime Minister previously said it was “extremely difficult” to break the treaty as it could result in a major financial penalty. But in December 2018, as the pressure on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi increased, Trudeau changed his tone and said, “Canada is looking for a way out of the Saudi arms trade.”
The Liberal government then decided to freeze the approval of new arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia pending review. However, the suspension was lifted in April 2020, with Canada citing “significant improvements” to the deal that would save thousands of Canadian jobs.
Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of the Canadian peace research institute Project Plowshares, told Al Jazeera that Monday’s protest was “an expression of increasing dissatisfaction” with how Ottawa had dealt with the problem.
“It is extremely disappointing that Ottawa has approved the export of more than $ 1.8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since Canada joined the Arms Trade Treaty [in 2019], which aims to promote responsible arms transfers, ”said Jaramillo.
“While the Canadian government is okay with arming a human rights pariah, many Canadians are not.”
Human rights activists have cited evidence – videos and photos posted online and peer-reviewed – showing Canadian LAVs as well as sniper rifles used by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the Yemen conflict.
According to the United Nations, which warned in December that the window to prevent a famine in Yemen is narrowing, around 233,000 people have been killed in the war to date as many of them faced record levels of acute food insecurity.
Eighty percent of Yemenis need humanitarian aid, says the UN.
In September, the UN group of eminent international and regional experts on Yemen named Canada for the first time one of the countries “perpetuating” the conflict in Yemen by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
Canadian civil society groups say the country’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia now account for over 75 percent of its military exports outside the U.S., while Canada pledged $ 40 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen last year.
Protesters noted in a statement Monday that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the United Nations’ call for a global ceasefire since the pandemic began, Canada has exported over $ 720 million in arms to Saudi Arabia.
“We have to ask … what humanitarian costs the government is willing to pay to keep a certain number of jobs,” Black told Al Jazeera.