What did Canada say to the Saudis? Diplomatic flap heats up…
What did Canada say to the Saudis – Canada has suddenly found itself embroiled in a fierce diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia. After the Desert Kingdom kicked out our ambassador and withdrew their own, the conflict quickly spilled over into trade sanctions.
Now the Saudis have slapped a freeze on new trade deals with Canada, stopped buying Canadian grains and their national airline, Saudia, is no longer flying here. Perhaps the biggest concern locally is that the Saudis are ending their lucrative educational exchange programs with Canadian universities, including McGill, which had 327 Saudi exchange students last year.
It all started with a Tweet on Aug. 3 from Foreign Policy Canada: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came to power in 2015 promising to modernize the country. While pursuing economic reforms, he has not eased on the total ban against political activism in his kingdom. His government termed Canada’s comments: “a blatant interference in the kingdom’s domestic affairs.”
The repressive Saudi regime—an absolute monarchy with a dismal human rights record–has been described as “allergic to criticism”. The Saudis are now demanding that our country recant its criticisms.
Times readers might remember former Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, debating this very issue during the 2015 election. Duceppe criticized the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper for “putting jobs before human rights.” Harper signed a $15 billion deal to build armoured cars for Saudi Arabia. Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems employs some 3,000 workers on this contract.
Harper then justified the contract by saying any other Western nation would have signed it, notwithstanding the Saudis’ human rights violations. He also trumpeted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to fight the Islamic State (Daesh). Incidentally, Daesh claimed responsibility for a recent mass shooting in Toronto.
Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger with connections to Canada, was then at threat of receiving 1,000 lashes from a whip and 10 years imprisonment for his criticisms of the Saudi regime. His sister has now been arrested and is the Samar Badawi referred to by Foreign Policy Canada.
Beheadings, crucifixions, cutting off hands, and public floggings are common punishments in the Desert Kingdom where prisoners are also often held without trial. In 2017, Saudi Arabia was the last country on Earth to finally grant women the right to drive cars. Religious minorities are repressed.
And while Canada accepted some 25,000 refugees from war-torn Syria in 2016, no Syrians claiming political asylum were taken in by Saudi Arabia according to BBC. Saudi Arabia is also not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.