Canadian defence industry defends controversial Saudi Arabian arms deal

The association representing Canada's defence industry is defending the controversial $15-billion sale of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia by an Ontario company.

Christyn Cianfarani, president of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, said Wednesday said it is the responsibility of her industry to follow the rules set by the government.

"As an industry association, we certainly don't take positions on the judicial practices of other nations," said Ms. Cianfarani, whose organization represents more than 700 defence and security companies.

"Nor are we responsible for setting the foreign policy of the country."

Groups such as Amnesty International, the NDP and others have criticized the Liberals for honouring the controversial deal approved by the previous Conservative government, for General Dynamics Land Systems to sell the vehicles to the Saudis.

They cite Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record, which includes crackdowns on dissent, mass executions and the subjugation of women. They also say the vehicles could be used against civilians.

"It's our responsibility to follow the rules, it's very simple," said Ms. Cianfarani. "The industry is heavily, heavily regulated and our job is to follow the rules that are set by the government of Canada."

Ms. Cianfarani was asked about the deal at the opening of CANSEC, a large, two-day defence and security trade show at the EY Centre. It features massive displays of weapons and high technology and boasts 11,000 participants from around the world.

Ms. Cianfarani's association unveiled its annual report that showed the defence industry contributed $6.7 billion in GDP and 63,000 jobs to the Canadian economy in 2014.

That was the year that the Saudi deal was announced by the government.

Ms. Cianfarani said she didn't have any specific figures to show how the Saudi deal contributed to the industry's performance in 2014.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said the deal means jobs for Canadian workers and that cancelling the contract would damage Canada's international reputation in future negotiations.

The government says there's no evidence the light armoured vehicles would be used against Saudi civilians and that they are meant to help the desert kingdom fight the common enemy of Islamic state militants in the region.

Mr. Dion visited Saudi Arabia this week for meetings of the Gulf Co-operation Council, a regional group of countries that Canada sees as a strategic partner.