Canada court dismisses challenge to controversial arms deal

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian court on Tuesday dismissed a challenge to the government’s controversial arms deal with Saudi Arabia, ruling that the former foreign affairs minister considered the relevant security and human rights factors.

Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and the Liberal government came under fire last year for signing off on a $13 billion General Dynamics Corp contract to supply light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite concerns about the country’s human rights record.

The Liberals have argued they had no choice but to honor what they said was a binding contract made in 2014 under the previous Conservative government. Dion signed the key export permits last April.

The application for judicial review was brought before the Federal Court last year by Daniel Turp, a professor at the Universite de Montreal and former member of parliament for the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Turp argued that the issuance of the permits was against Canada’s export rules, as well as the Geneva Convention, and that there was a reasonable risk that the armored vehicles would be used against Shi’ite minorities in Saudi Arabia.

The government countered that Dion’s sole obligation was to take into account all the relevant factors, which he did.

Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer found that it was up to Dion to assess whether there was a reasonable risk the vehicles might be used against civilians, noting that there have been no incidents in which light armored vehicles have been used in human rights violations in Saudi Arabia since trade relations began with Canada in the 1990s.

“The role of the court is not to pass moral judgment on the minister’s decision to issue the export permits but only to make sure of the legality of such a decision,” Tremblay-Lamer wrote.

“The court is of the opinion that the minister considered the relevant factors. In such a case, it is not open to the court to set aside the decision.”

Turp was not immediately available for comment. Joseph Pickerill, a spokesman for current Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the minister thanked the court for its decision.

Dion was replaced as foreign affairs minister earlier this month by Freeland, who was previously in charge of trade.

Tremblay-Lamer dismissed the judicial review without costs. Turp has 30 days to appeal.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Andrew Hay