United States takes neutral tone, defends 'dissent, due process' in Canada-Saudi dispute


Saudi Arabia's move came followed a tweet Friday from Global Affairs Canada which expressed concerns about the arrests of civil and women's rights activists and asking the Saudi government to immediately release them.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, through a spokeswoman, justified the interference in the domestic affairs of another country by saying that Canada stands up for women's rights, human rights, and freedom of expression.

Riyadh said that amounted to "a blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic global norms and all worldwide protocols".

Saudi Arabia also froze all trade with Canada and, according to the Saudi government-owned Al-Arabiya news agency, will transfer all students studying in Canada who are receiving government scholarships to other countries.

There has been a kingdom-wide crackdown on women's rights activists in the past few weeks with many being detained without charges.

Describing both countries as "close partners" of the US, the US State Department on Tuesday referred inquiries about the spat to the Saudi and Canadian foreign ministries. He won Europe's top human rights prize in 2015. "Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this hard time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi".

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland said Canada was"seriously concerned about Saudi Arabia's actions

Saudi Arabia's market closure comes on the heels of ongoing trade disputes in other key Canadian grain markets including Italy, Peru, Vietnam, and India as well as increased protectionist sentiments within the United States. But Qatar, which has been locked in a diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia and other neighbours for over a year, said on its foreign ministry's official Twitter account that the GCC secretary general's statement did not represent its view of the situation.

The Toronto Star reported that in the past year, Canada sent 135,000 tonnes of barley to Saudi Arabia, a significant part of the 1.9 million tonnes of Canada's barley exports each year, and 70,000 tonnes of wheat, a smaller portion of the 16.5 million tonnes of wheat that Canada exported.

Human rights advocate and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler denounced the Saudi decision to pull students out of the country. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and received Canadian citizenship in July.

Since Monday, the Middle Eastern country began imposing a flurry of diplomatic sanctions starting with the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador, Dennis Horak, who was deemed "persona non grata" on Twitter by Saudi officials, giving him 24 hours to leave the Gulf country. Last year, the kingdom also recalled its ambassador to Germany following a testy exchange with that country's foreign affairs minister over Saudi Arabia's military presence in Yemen.

"The United Arab Emirates are going to want to maintain relationships with Canada".

It could also have an impact on Canadian oil imports: Canada imports nine per cent of its crude oil from Saudi Arabia, much of which goes to the Atlantic provinces.