Explainer: Saudi Arabia's diplomatic dispute with Canada


Saudi Arabia is bringing the diplomatic hammer down on Canada, sending a warning to countries around the world: criticize our human rights record and pay the price.

The divestment came after Canada's foreign ministry condemned the kingdom's arrest of a prominent women's rights activist. The decision to freeze new trade agreements could threaten Canada's $15-billion arms deal that includes providing armoured vehicles to the kingdom, but Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was "premature" to comment on its status. This after it suspended direct flights to Canada by its state airline and ordered the withdrawal of 12,000 Saudi students who are in Canada on state-sponsored scholarships.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's main state wheat-buying agency, Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO), issued a notice to exporters that it will no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said the kingdom was still "considering additional measures" against Canada. The kingdom said today that it's transferring all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals to medical facilities outside the country.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists". Annual Saudi-Canadian trade hovers around $4bn.

Since then, the Saudi kingdom has pursued a scorched-earth policy towards anything related to Canada.

Responding to a question about the reason for the activists' arrests, Jubeir said that charges against them would be made public once their cases reach the courts, repeating earlier allegations that they had been in touch with foreign entities.

Several countries have expressed support for Saudi Arabia, including Egypt and Russian Federation, which both told Ottawa it was unacceptable to lecture the kingdom on human rights.

A source at a Saudi bank told Reuters the bank was contacted by the central bank on Wednesday afternoon asking for information about all their Canadian exposure - investments in Canada and foreign exchange positions. "We are always going to speak up for human rights, we're always going to speak up for women's rights, and that is not going to change".