Canadian PM refuses to apologise on rights defence in S Arabia spat

Cheryl Sanders
August 13, 2018

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced they are freezing all trade agreements with Canada after a human-rights disagreement between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia also recalled its ambassador in Ottawa and halted all new investment and trade transactions with Canada, ordered almost 15,000 Saudi students in Canada to transfer to other countries, and suspended flights to Canada. But on Wednesday, Trudeau stood firm. Instead, he explained that "Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and public on questions of human rights".

"We're paying close attention to this situation, of course, because we wanted to understand the impacts", he said in Ottawa after being asked if the government meant to hit back at Saudi Arabia with economic reprisals of its own.

Trudeau noted that his foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, had "a long conversation" on Tuesday with her counterpart Adel al-Jubeir to try to resolve the dispute.

The 140-character limit, or 280 in some cases, is not enough to allow for the level of nuance that is required in diplomatic relations and tweets may not be subjected to the same rigorous review process, including sign off by the ambassador, that an official statement would be, he said. That, the Saudi government said, was meddling in its domestic affairs and would not be tolerated.

Further straining ties, the Saudi central bank has instructed its overseas asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings "no matter the cost", the Financial Times reported.

The dispute has threatened to undermine Riyadh's foreign investment drive, a campaign already unsettled by a series of assertive political and diplomatic initiatives by the top oil exporter.

Canada's public call for the kingdom to "immediately release" jailed human rights activists angered Saudi Arabia and the kingdom took punitive action, including canceling all flights to and from Toronto, beginning August 13. That arrest came after more than a dozen women´s rights campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state.

Saudi Arabia plans to pull out thousands of students and medical patients from Canada over the spat.

Morneau later said he "can't yet fully quantify" the impacts in Canada of the Saudi actions, since Ottawa is still trying to collect information on their full scope.

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