WEATHER ALERT

Peace advocates caught off guard by arms transfer

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Local politicians and peace advocates are chagrined that Manitoba is selling guns to Saudi Arabia, one of the most authoritarian countries in the world.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2009 (4791 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Local politicians and peace advocates are chagrined that Manitoba is selling guns to Saudi Arabia, one of the most authoritarian countries in the world.

"I think a Canadian company exporting small arms to the Middle East is a disgrace," said Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin. "Arms dealers fuel conflicts, plain and simple, and God knows what violence the Saudis are sponsoring this month."

Federal trade and export data shows that an unknown Manitoba gun manufacturer exported $1.2 million in rifles to Saudi Arabia last year. Manitoba’s total arms and ammunition exports have doubled to $3.1 million since 2004.

CHRIS WATTIE / REUTERS ARCHIVES NDP MP Pat Martin: ‘God knows what violence the Saudis are sponsoring’

Local peace advocates say they had no idea Manitoba was exporting guns to Saudi Arabia.

"This is completely out of the blue for us," said Paul Forget, program co-ordinator with Project Peacemakers. "Canada does export quite a lot of arms, so although this is unusual and it concerns me, unfortunately I’m not really surprised."

The guns — 110 of them —- also make an appearance in Canada’s latest report to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. And, according to more detailed data provided by Statistics Canada from export permits, the guns are classified as rifles meant for sport hunting. Local peace groups say the hefty price tag — $10,000 for each rifle — suggests they’re being used for more than hunting.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which regulates arms exports and issues permits to any company selling weapons abroad, would not provide information about who sold the guns or what they are being used for in Saudi Arabia, saying the information is confidential.

"The question is, if they are sniper rifles, what does Saudi Arabia need them for?" said Ken Epps, senior program associate with the Ontario-based peace group Project Ploughshares.

Epps and Forget, whose Winnipeg-based group is affiliated with Project Ploughshares, said Canada has a reasonably good record on international agreements limiting the flow of arms.

And, under federal export laws, automatic weapons can only be sold to the 20-or-so countries listed on the Automatic Firearms Country Control List. Most of the countries are NATO allies. But old loopholes also allowed automatic weapons to be sold to Saudi Arabia and Botswana. Those two countries topped Manitoba’s list of arms and ammunition buyers last year.

According to a 2006 report on Canada’s arms exports, Ottawa "closely controls" the export of weapons to countries with terrible human rights records, like Saudi Arabia.

"Since a large volume of Canadian firearms exports go to private end-users, steps are taken to ensure items are not diverted into the illegal arms trade or used to fuel local violence," reads the report. "As part of this process, the bona fides of the end-users are thoroughly investigated."

In the mid-1990s, then Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy toughened the human rights criteria and the checks done to ensure arms don’t slip into the black market.

But in the last couple of years, Ottawa has come under fire for releasing skimpy details of arms exports. Little information can be gleaned about individual arms sales, and DFAIT’s annual reports on weapons exports are often delayed by years. The last report covered 2003 to 2005, and included little detail about what Canadian-made arms are used for.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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