by Azza Rojbi, published on Fire This Time, Volume 16, Issue #3/4
“Sometimes I sleep two, three hours, and then I wake up and stay up until morning… I remember my children and my home…Our lives were humble, but it was a quiet life, a good life, we were happy…we lost everything.”
Those are the words of Abdullah al-Ibbi in an interview with BBC in 2016. Abdullah lost 27 members of his family during a Saudi airstrike on his home in Saada, Yemen.
Abdullah’s family is one of many Yemeni families that have suffered under years of brutal U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen. March 26, 2022, marked seven years since the start of the war and bombing campaign. The Saudi-led coalition also imposed a naval, aerial, and land blockade on Yemen. The blockade has caused critical medicine, fuel, and food shortages, aggravating an already disastrous situation.
According to the United Nations, almost 400,000 people were killed, and over 4 million Yemenis were displaced because of the war. Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 70% of the population, including 11.3 million children, desperate for humanitarian assistance. This humanitarian crisis is the direct result of the war in Yemen led by the Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates coalition with the full support of the United States and its imperialist allies, including Canada. They are all complicit in the atrocities of this war.
Canada’s Complacency with the War
Canada has exported over $8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war on Yemen in 2015. Canada continues to make billions of dollars at the expense of the Yemeni people. According to Canada’s annual report on exports of military equipment, Saudi Arabia has been the largest non-U.S. buyer of Canadian military exports for five consecutive years, from 2016 to 2020. Twice the UN Human Rights Council has named Canada as one of the countries fueling the war in Yemen by continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Canada also has a direct link to the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. CAE Inc., a Montreal-based Canadian company, is known for training fighter jet and drone pilots. Canada’s National Observer reported in 2018 that CAE “has trained U.S. pilots who refueled Saudi fighter jets in mid-air during bombing raids” … “CAE has also trained drone pilots from the United Arab Emirates, whose drones have been deployed in Yemen.” So, in addition to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Canada-based company has been involved in training some of the people directly responsible for the cruel airstrikes on Yemen.
Canada also has close trade ties with Saudi Arabia in other industries, not only the weapons industry. In 2020, Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at $1.9 billion. This makes Saudi Arabia Canada’s second-largest export market in the Middle East and North Africa, after the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s partner in the bombing campaign against Yemen. Multiple Canadian corporations are making millions of dollars in profit from investments and contracts with Saudi Arabia while the people of Yemen are on the brink of starvation. An example is SNC-Lavalin, the global engineering and construction company in Montreal, Quebec. SNC-Lavalin has made millions on numerous multi-year contracts in Saudi Arabia developing large infrastructure projects. Another example is Tim Hortons, the famous Canadian coffee chain. Tim Hortons’s Middle East franchise, AG Cafe, has 90 coffee shops in Saudi Arabia and has recently announced they will expand to over 200 coffee shops by 2024. Hesham Almekkawi, CEO of AG Café, stated,
“Saudi Arabia is one of the most important markets for the growth and expansion of Tim Hortons cafes in the Middle East. “AG Café seeks to continue offering its guests an unparalleled Tim Hortons® experience to become everyone’s café of choice.”
The government of Canada and Canadian corporations turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Yemeni people and continue making billions of dollars off trade and investment with Saudi Arabia.
Since the start of the war on Yemen in 2015, Canada has donated $357 million to help with humanitarian assistance in Yemen. In comparison, the Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) deal that Canada brokered with Saudi Arabia is worth $15 billion. This is more than 42 times the amount of money that Canada donated during seven years of war in Yemen. This is shameful for a country that claims to advocate for human rights and peace. Canada makes a profit with $15 billion to destroy Yemen, then spends $357 million as token money to help rebuild what the Saudi lead coalition destroys – hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure, education, and health centers. That’s insane!
Open the Border to Yemeni Refugees
In addition to profiting from the war by selling weapons, Canada completely ignored the Yemeni refugee’s dire situation by blocking the acceptance of Yemeni refugees in Canada. Millions of Yemenis are internally displaced inside of Yemen, and hundreds of thousands are stranded in transit countries. A report released in February 2022 by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies titled “A Precarious Refuge: Yemeni Asylum-Seekers in Jordan” examines the challenges facing Yemeni refugees in Jordan. The report stated:
“Many Yemeni asylum-seekers interviewed in 2020 stated that they did not wish to return to Yemen, largely due to the prospect of political persecution and a lack of viable work opportunities. They are now waiting and hoping for resettlement by the UNHCR to a third country, such as Canada, the United States, or a European country. However, less than one percent of refugees living in transit countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon are resettled in a Western country.”
These western imperialist countries, such as the U.S., France, Spain, Germany, Canada, the U.K., and Italy, made billions in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries in its military coalition against Yemen. All while keeping their doors closed to Yemeni asylum-seekers who had to leave everything behind to seek safety away from the brutal Saudi-led war on their country.
According to the monthly report by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the government of Canada has only admitted 350 resettled refugees from Yemen between January 2015 to February 2022. In contrast, Canada has opened its doors wide for Ukrainian refugees, creating a Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, eliminating standard visa requirements with no limit to the number of Ukrainian nationals who can apply, and prioritizing their applications. Where is the Canada-Yemen Authorization for Emergency Travel? This outright racist approach indicates how the government of Canada is indifferent to the life and safety of the Yemeni people, who are bombed by Canadian weapon sales to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Another clear sign of Canada’s hypocrisy is continuing to fuel the Saudi-led war on Yemen while ignoring the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Road to a Real Peace
On April 2, 2022, the United Nations announced a two-month ceasefire in Yemen between the Ansarullah
movement and the Saudi-led coalition. This latest ceasefire is a positive step toward alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people. It comes from their continuing resistance for over seven years against the U.S.-backed Saudi-led war on their country. For this ceasefire to lead to lasting peace in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition must fully and permanently open all ports and airports in Yemen to facilitate the entry of much-needed humanitarian aid to the country. All foreign troops and mercenaries must be out of Yemen, and Yemen’s sovereignty must be respected. Any real solution needs to include all Yemeni voices without foreign intervention or coercion. The Yemeni people suffered enough under this brutal war; they deserve to freely determine their country’s future.
As for peace-loving people across the U.S. and Canada, we need to continue to hold our respective governments accountable for their complicity in the war in Yemen. For a real, lasting peace in Yemen, we must multiply our efforts against the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We must continue to organize against this brutal war and demand an end to all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is the urgent time we act upon our human responsibility to join the Yemeni people in fighting for peace, freedom, and self-determination without imperialist military interventions, occupation, and aggression.
Let Yemen live!
Azza Rojbi is a Canadian activist and blogger.
Follow Azza on Twitter: @Azza_R14