VICTORIA, British Columbia — A lawsuit that could potentially derail the largest weapons export deal in Canadian history will be heard in court as early as next month.
Daniel Turp, a law professor and former member of parliament, has filed the legal challenge in the Federal Court of Canada to prevent the export of CAN $14.8 billion (US $11 billion) of light armored vehicles by Canada to Saudi Arabia.
Turp argues that the sale of the vehicles, to be built by General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada of London, Ontario, violates Canadian law which prevents the export of military goods to a nation that abuses human rights or is engaged in an active conflict.
In his submission to the Federal Court, Turp noted that light armored vehicles previously built by General Dynamics Canada are being used by Saudi forces in fighting in Yemen. He has also wrote that Saudi Arabia "consistently, severely and systematically violates its citizens' human rights."
He has asked the Federal Court to cancel the export permits issued for the vehicles.
Doug Wilson-Hodge , manager of corporate affairs for General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, declined to comment on Turp's legal action. Production of the vehicles has not yet begun.
Canada's Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to cancel the contract, which is financially guaranteed by the government. "Fundamentally, this issue is a matter of principle," Trudeau told journalists. "The principle at play here is that Canada's word needs to mean something in the international community. It is important that people know when they sign a deal with Canada, when they sign a commercial agreement, a change in government isn't going to lead to that contract being ripped up."
The Saudi deal was announced in February 2015 by Canada's previous Conservative Party government.
The Canadian government has filed its rebuttal with the Federal Court; it acknowledged Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record but pointed out that the country is supportive of international efforts to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well as "countering instability in Yemen."
"The acquisition of state-of-the-art armoured vehicles will assist Saudi Arabia in these goals, which are consistent with Canada's defence interests in the Middle East," the Canadian government argued in its response.
The case will be heard by the court in Montreal in late May or early June.
The contract has largely been shrouded in secrecy with the Saudis not even acknowledging they are purchasing the Canadian-built light armoured vehicles. Numbers of vehicles to be purchased has not been released. But analysts say Turp's legal action may force Canada to reveal some of those details in court.
Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper also acknowledged human rights violations in Saudi Arabia but said that any of Canada's allies would have signed a similar defense export deal with that country.
General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada has sold more than 1,400 LAVs to the Saudis over the last 20 years. The vehicles have been equipped with a variety of weapon systems, ranging from 25mm cannons to 90mm guns.
Human rights observers point out that some of those vehicles were sent in 2011 to help Bahrain's rulers suppress a pro-democracy uprising.
David Pugliese has been Defense News' Canada correspondent since 1989. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. In 2020, he won the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. He is the author of two books on special operations forces.