Justin Trudeau has defended his government’s decision to sign off on the sale of more than 900 armoured vehicles – including dozens described as “heavy assault” and equipped with cannons – to Saudi Arabia, arguing that the deal is in line with Canada’s foreign and defence policies.

The C$15bn ($11.63bn) deal – struck by the previous Conservative government in 2014 and given the green light after Trudeau became prime minister – has been in the spotlight in recent years amid growing concerns about Riyadh’s human rights record.

Trudeau’s response as “flawed logic”, as it is up to his government to set out the parameters of Canada’s foreign and defence policy.

“We also think it flies in the face of this feminist agenda of the Canadian government, which is now being sold as the centrepiece of Canadian foreign policy. Yet at exactly the same time we are arming one of the most repressive regimes on the planet for women,” said Jaramillo. “So I think there’s a clear gap between the rhetoric and the action of the Canadian government.”

Saudi Arabia reportedly using Canadian military trucks against its own civilians

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The deal came under renewed scrutiny last summer, after videos and photos posted on social media allegedly showed Riyadh using Canadian-made equipment in a violent crackdown on minority Shia dissidents in eastern Saudi Arabia.

After launching an investigation, Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said in February that no conclusive evidence had been found to suggest that vehicles made in Canada were being used to violate human rights in the kingdom. The government has since refused to release a copy of the investigation, despite campaigners’ questions over how it arrived at its conclusion.

As the international organisations that track human rights continue to rank Saudi Arabia among the world’s worst violators, countries such as Germany and Belgium have denied export applications for arms headed to Saudi Arabia. In 2015, Sweden cancelled a longstanding defence agreement with the Saudis, citing similar concerns.

In contrast, Britain has pushed forward with arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with government data showing sales climbing to £1.1bn ($1.56bn) in the first half of 2017.

On Tuesday Donald Trump touted US arms sales to Riyadh as he welcomed Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to Washington. “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world,” the US president told reporters.

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