For Saudi Military Vehicle Deal, Canada Weighs Jobs And Human Rights An agreement for Canada to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia continues to stir debate.
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For Saudi Military Vehicle Deal, Canada Weighs Jobs And Human Rights

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For Saudi Military Vehicle Deal, Canada Weighs Jobs And Human Rights

For Saudi Military Vehicle Deal, Canada Weighs Jobs And Human Rights

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NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. Congress recently voted to block the sale of some weapons to Saudi Arabia, although President Trump might use his veto to keep that sale going. But now Canada is facing the same dilemma. Do they prioritize human rights over the possible loss of well-paying jobs in the defense industry? NPR's Jackie Northam has this story from Canada.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: On a busy street on the edge of London, Ontario, is the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum. Late last year, a new monument was installed outside of the museum. It's a Light Armored Vehicle III - an LAV III. It's eight wheels, olive green and there's a turret on top. The 25-ton military vehicle is produced by General Dynamics Land Systems at a sprawling factory here in London. In 2014, the Canadian government signed a $15 billion multi-year deal to produce the armored vehicles for Saudi Arabia.

KEVIN GEORGE: I don't think they could've known or made this deal knowing full well where this was all headed.

NORTHAM: Kevin George, the rector at St. Aidan's Anglican Church in London, has been a vocal opponent of the deal since it was signed, frequently speaking out against it because of Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record. Then came the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen. George says Canadians have looked on with increasing alarm at the conflict, particularly reports of Saudi planes killing civilians, including children.

GEORGE: We know what's happening in Yemen, and I think that we're selling arms to a regime which is doing what it's doing in Yemen, which is really paramount to war crimes.

NORTHAM: George says it was the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October that brought the issue of the armored vehicles to a boil in Canada. That prompted calls across the country to break the contract with Saudi Arabia.

SHACHI KURL: It is the type of issue that really speaks to sort of a matter of principle for Canadians. Is this the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do?

NORTHAM: Shachi Kurl is the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a public opinion research foundation. It conducted a nationwide poll after the death of Khashoggi to gauge Canadian views on the deal with Saudi Arabia. She says the results were stark.

KURL: The vast, overwhelming majority of Canadians said that we should no longer be selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

NORTHAM: At one point, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted that he may kill the deal. General Dynamics warned that could cost the Canadian government billions of dollars.

Gerry McCartney, the CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce, says London's economy would be devastated if the Saudi contract was pulled.

GERRY MCCARTNEY: General Dynamics is one of our larger employers and manufacturers not only in London, but in the region. So these are very valued jobs in our community and across the country.

NORTHAM: McCartney says, over the years, London has seen major companies, such as Caterpillar, Ford and Kellogg's, shut their production facilities in the region.

MCCARTNEY: A lot of manufacturing jobs left and never came back. It's taken us this long to get back on our feet, to have a reasonably good economy going forward. The last thing we need is another hit like that.

NORTHAM: McCartney says roughly 1,800 people work at the General Dynamics factory in London. But he says that number is multiplied several times over when you take in the full supply chain for the military vehicles. He says there are more than 240 suppliers just in the London area. One of those is the Rho-Can Machine and Tool Company.

DJ DEJESUS: We assemble in that area over there.

NORTHAM: DJ DeJesus is co-owner of the company, which employs about 100 people. He says General Dynamics is an important customer.

DEJESUS: It's 35% of my business - so contract goes away, 35% of the people lose their job. So that would be just horrific.

NORTHAM: DeJesus said it would be misguided to think that Saudi Arabia's behavior would change if it didn't have the light armored vehicles manufactured in Canada.

DEJESUS: The bottom line is we have countries all over the world lined up to take on this contract the minute we decide we don't want to do it.

NORTHAM: Bryan Smith with the Oxford Coalition for Social Justice says a Canadian government should find other customers for the armored vehicles, such as the United Nations.

BRYAN SMITH: People here would continue to have their good jobs, and they would be put to good purposes, such as with peacekeeping troops in Yemen.

NORTHAM: The Canadian government says it's reviewing the contract with Saudi Arabia.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, London.

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