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Canadian PM backtracks on talk of scrapping Saudi arms deal

Trudea at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 October, 2018

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Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has for years come under fire for the $13 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be very hard to walk away from a $13 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, just one day after he warned the deal could be cancelled over the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi. 

The 2014 agreement to supply Riyadh with light armoured vehicles was signed under the prior government of Conservative PM Stephen Harper.

Trudeau said the agreement was drafted in a way that would result in steep penalties for cancelling the contract.

"The contract signed by the previous government ... makes it very difficult to suspend or leave that contract," Trudeau told the CBC, but added his government was mulling several options.

"I do not want to leave Canadians holding a billion-dollar bill because we're trying to move forward on doing the right thing," he added, calling the contract's terms "incredibly frustrating".

Turkish media has reported that a 15-person hit squad reportedly tortured Khashoggi, cut his fingers off and decapitated him with a bone saw brought from Saudi Arabia for that purpose on 2 October.

Canada-Saudi relations boiled over earlier this year after Riyadh suspended ties with Ottawa after in August it called for the "immediate" release of jailed human rights activists.

The kingdom at the time expelled the Canadian ambassador, recalled its own envoy to Ottawa and froze new trade and investment between the two countries.

In the years prior to the diplomatic dispute, Trudeau's Liberals had come under fire at home for the multi-billion arms deal with the autocratic and ultraconservative kingdom. 

But thousands of jobs in Canada, particularly in Ontario, a crucial voting bloc for the Liberals, could be at risk if the arms agreement is scrapped. 

In August, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, amid the diplomatic spat, that she "looked forward" to hearing from Riyadh about the future of the deal. 

Separately, on Monday Germany's Angela Merkel vowed to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

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