Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador and frozen new trade deals with this country in a growing dispute over the Canadian government’s criticism of human-rights violations in the Islamic kingdom.
This comes in the wake of statements by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her department last week where Ottawa called on the Saudis to release arrested civil-rights activists and signalled concern at a new crackdown in the Mideast country.
In public statements Sunday, Riyadh gave Canadian ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own envoy.
The Saudis said they will “put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action.”
In a statement released through the Saudi Press Agency, Riyadh bluntly condemned the criticism from Ms. Freeland and the department of Global Affairs, calling it “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols” and a “major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom’s sovereignty.”
The Saudis warned in a statement that any more criticism will be interpreted as licence to meddle in Canadian affairs.
“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudis said. The Canadian government did not immediately comment Sunday night in response to the Saudi action.
Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia exceeded $4-billion last year, a significant portion of it from a controversial multibillion-dollar deal to sell combat vehicles equipped with machine guns and cannons to the Saudis. Saudi Arabia is one of Canada’s biggest export markets in the Gulf region and more than 15,000 Saudi students attend Canadian schools and universities.
Last week, the Canadian government publicly took the Saudis to task after the kingdom arrested two women’s-rights activists, the latest to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists.
Those detained included activist Samar Badawi, sister of writer Raif Badawi who is already imprisoned in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.
Ms. Freeland said via Twitter last Thursday that she was “very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”
On Aug. 3, the Canadian government’s main foreign policy Twitter account followed this up by saying that “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.”
Amnesty International Canada secretary general Alex Neve said what has happened is a “clear indication that Saudi Arabia remains determined to rebuff and ignore any efforts to improve and address human rights concerns in the country.”
Omar Allam, a business consultant in Canada who advises companies looking to do business with Saudi Arabia, said the Saudis are angry at what they consider foreign interference in their domestic affairs.
Mr. Allam said the Saudi-Canadian relationship has been strained in recent years because of a public debate over whether to sell billions of dollars of armoured vehicles to Riyadh and the kingdom’s continued imprisonment of Mr. Badawi, whose wife and children now live in Canada. Ms. Badawi’s wife was recently granted Canadian citizenship.
Mr. Allam speculated that: “There’s such alienation on the Saudi side they just put their arms up and said ‘Enough is enough,’ “