Light Armoured Vehicles: Judicial Control Against the Minister of Foreign Affairs
The serious and repeated violations of human rights by Saudi Arabia are indisputable and well documented. In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the poorest human rights records amongst all world governments.
Despite all this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion still reaffirmed that he would respect the contract with Saudi Arabia for the export of light armoured vehicles. Yet, there was a real risk that these armoured vehicles would be used against civilian populations, whether inside or outside the Saudi borders, such as in Yemen where a coalition headed by Saudi Arabia had already been accused of breaching international humanitarian law in attacking civilian targets.
In the face of the Canadian government’s obstinacy, Professor Daniel Turp, represented by Trudel Johnston & Lespérance, applied to the Federal Court to cancel the permits for the export of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that the Minister had contravened the Export and Import Permits Act, its regulations and the guidelines adopted by the Cabinet in 1986, in addition to contravening the Geneva Conventions Act.
Justice Danièle Tremblay-Lamer denied Mr. Turp’s application. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal this decision.
Despite the disappointing court decisions, this application was not in vain. It has forced the Canadian government to be more transparent regarding the process followed in granting those permits. In addition, media coverage of the action raised awareness of arms trade issues among Canadians and, thanks to public mobilization and the insistence of several NGOs, Canada finally acceded to the Arms Trade Treaty in 2019.
The Government of Canada has also been more vigilant in subsequent arms export contracts, ordering for example the revision of an agreement to deliver helicopters to the Philippines. Following this announcement, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled the contract, confirming that he wanted to acquire helicopters to “finish off” the rebels in the south of the country.
TJL is proud to have worked with Professor Turp on this important file that helped change Canada’s approach to arms sales abroad.