Aug 12, 2018, 3:09 PM
News Code: 82998808
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Canada and business of human rights

Tehran, Aug 11, IRNA - Recent feud between Riyadh and Ottawa over the latter's criticism of the arrest of Samar Badawi, a Saudi women's rights activist, shows very well that when it comes to business, parties tend to review their approach toward all universal moralities and rights they ardently claim to uphold.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote on Twitter that she was 'very alarmed' to learn that Ms Badawi had been detained.

The Canadian government also tweeted on its official foreign-policy account that it is 'gravely concerned' about Saudi Arabia's move to arrest women’s rights activists in the kingdom, including Badawi, urging an immediate release of the detained human rights activists.

Infuriated about Canada's 'interference', Saudi Arabia considered the call by Canada as violation of its sovereignty and sharply reacted to eject the Canadian ambassador while recalling its own envoy to the North American nation for consultations.

Most importantly, however, Saudi Arabia froze trade ties with Canada, a move regarded by many as having both political and economic implications for Ottawa.

Canadians saw their dollar fall after the Saudi overseas asset managers were told to unload Canadian bonds, stocks, and cash holdings 'no matter the cost', the Financial Times reported.

The Canadian dollar was down by 0.2 percent against the US dollar to 1.3096. It slid to its lowest level in two weeks.

Too, Saudi Arabia declared that it will no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley.

“As of Tuesday August 7, 2018, Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO) can no longer accept milling wheat or feed barley cargoes of Canadian origin to be supplied,” wrote Reuters, citing a notice issued by Saudi government officials.

Total Canadian wheat sales to Saudi Arabia excluding durum stood at 66,000 tonnes in 2017 and 68,250 tonnes in 2016, according to Statistics Canada, the Canadian government’s statistics agency.

Canadian barley sales totaled 132,000 tonnes in 2017.

Riyadh is also said to have suspended scholarships for the roughly 16,000 Saudi students studying in Canada.

But the single most significant deal between Saudi Arabia and Canada threatened as a result of the recent feud is a 2014 military accord that will allow General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS) to provide Saudi Arabia with more than 1,000 armored vehicles.

The 15-billion dollar deal has already provoked public protests in Canada as it is widely believed that Riyadh will use the light-armored vehicles to suppress civil protests.

According to the Canadian laws, the government is required to curb shipments to countries with a 'persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.'

'Under Canada's own guidelines, this sale should not have gone forward, and in the future similar sales should not go forward,' said Kenneth Epps, senior program officer with Project Ploughshares, a Canadian non-governmental organization that advocates non-violence.

'[We have] concerns about human rights violations that the Saudi regime is known for,' Epps told Al Jazeera.

But, Justin Trudeau and his liberal government have appeared to be supportive of the hefty deal that is expected to ensure a bright future for General Dynamics in northeast London, Ont., in the face of a badly battered domestic manufacturing sector in Canada.

“Permits are only approved if the exports are consistent with our foreign and defense policies, including human rights,” said Trudeau.

“Our approach fully meets our national obligations and Canadian laws,” he added.

The fact is that the Saudi deal has saved General Dynamics.

'This deal literally saved the General Dynamics Land Systems operation in London, Ont., and made it the hub for the next generation of light-armored vehicle,' said. Adam Taylor, a former aide to then-international trade minister Ed Fast.

Roughly 3,000 jobs and millions of hours’ worth of manufacturing would be at stake if the deal were axed by either side.

About 2,200 of those jobs are in London, Ont.

Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau has appeared to play down the financial impact of the diplomatic dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa, saying that Canada could compensate for the loss by relying on its 'very strong trading relationships around the world.”

Yet, many are of the view that the arms deal is vital for Trudeau and his Liberal cabinet as it could hurt their prospects in 2019. So, it is a key consideration for the governing Liberals in how they respond.

“This is something where we know we need to lead with our values,” Morneau argued.

The million-dollar question is what is the centerpiece of Canada's foreign policy?

Whatever the so-called Canadian or Western values are, they are 'We the Peoples' who are paying the price with our lives for the business to go forward: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere; in the so-called global hotspots where even human rights are traded as commodity.

Human rights in such a sense are going to help promote businesses and guarantee political gains.

Even policymakers today tend to make business and trade the centerpiece of their political approach and foreign diplomacy. This is the main trend followed by policymakers in the West. By establishing successful business ties, they can generate money and improve their countries' trade balance. They can improve social welfare and create jobs and above all they can gain the upper hand and achieve hegemonic ends.

US President Donald Trump, during his visit to the Middle East in May 2017 secured a lucrative 110-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia he said would secure jobs for Americans.

No doubt, for promoting trade ties and doing business, Western nations should be in pursuit of regulations and values, both internal and global, but here again values and laws tend to be overshadowed by the simmering Machiavellian trends that have gradually become the norm and have been placed above all moralities to affect the collective conscience of the people who are directly or indirectly benefiting from the businesses promoted by their political leaders.

And that is where the West turn a blind eye on the killing of innocent people despite the activism by some people who want to stop violence and act against illicit trade of arms.

And that is where there is a clear gap between the rhetoric and actions.

But again 'We the Peoples' should fill the gap, with our lives or displacement.

*Reza Bahar is on the editorial staff of IRNA English news

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