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Human rights issues in Saudi Arabia cast shadow on arms deal and education

Jessica Klaver | Interrobang | Opinion | February 1st, 2016

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
On Jan. 2, 47 prisoners were executed in Saudi Arabia, the largest mass execution in the country since 1980.

Since that horrific act, Canada has been questioning whether we should be doing business with the kingdom.

The number one issue that has been the centre of much debate is the arms deal that the former Conservative government approved.

General Dynamics Land Systems located here in London has a $15-billion contract to sell light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, which the Liberal government has announced they will honour despite their despicable human rights record.

“We have said during the campaign – the prime minister has been very clear – that we will not cancel this contract or contracts that have been done under the previous government in general,” Stéphane Dion told Rosemary Barton on CBC’s Power and Politics.

They would like us to believe that the deal cannot be cancelled as it has already been agreed upon. But an anonymous government official told the National Post that “if a situation in a country should change, the government of the day has at its disposal an important lever within the Export and Import Permits Act, which allows it to review whether or not continuing to send military goods to a specific country still passes muster on analysis against our foreign and defence interests.”

Another issue that has been brought to light more recently is that of Ontario colleges. Algonquin College and Niagara College are operating publicly funded male-only schools in Saudi Arabia.

Niagara College has been offering a selection of its courses to males in Saudi Arabia since 2014 and Algonquin College has been operating a campus for males since 2013.

The faculty associations of these two schools are speaking out against the international campuses and would like to see them shut down.

“This doesn’t reflect the values of our school, and it doesn’t reflect the values of our country,” said Niagara College’s faculty union vice president Ravi Ramkissoonsingh.

Warren Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, issued a statement saying that he reached out to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne 10 months ago about Algonquin College.

“As soon as I found out there was a possibility that women weren’t being offered programs, I asked questions about it, and it’s unacceptable to me,” Wynne said in a press conference last Friday.

The Conservatives are skeptical that Wynne did not know that this was taking place.

“I would have to view it as, to use her phrase, a stretch for her not to have been aware that for two years these colleges have been operating in Saudi Arabia under a program where only men were allowed as students,” PC critic John Yakabuski told CTV News.

But the question remains: why does the government not want to cancel the Saudi Arabia arms deal? And why are Ontario colleges being used to educate men in a nation that is known for its violence against women and children?
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