Saudi Arabia has made several aggresive political moves against Canada over the past few days after the Canadian Foreign Policies Twitter account tweeted concern over the kingdom’s human rights abuses. Global Affairs Canada wrote they are “gravely concerned” about Saudi Arabia’s jailing of civil and women’s rights activists and implored the government to release them immediately. In response, the Saudi Arabian government took quick retaliatory action by expelling Canada’s ambassador and calling their own home, suspending all new trade deals, cancelling all student exchanges between the two countries and suspending all flights to and from Toronto.
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.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Adel Aljubeir released a short statement on Twitter Monday saying that Canada was basing its assessment on “misleading information” and that Saudi Arabia “will not accept any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.”
2- الموقف الكندي المستغرب مبني على معلومات مضللة، وإيقاف المذكورين يخضع لأنظمتنا القضائية التي كفلت حقوقهم
— عادل بن أحمد الجبير (@AdelAljubeir) August 6, 2018
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement later in the day refusing to walk back Canada’s stance.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women’s rights and freedom of expression around the world,” she wrote, “We will never hesitate to promote these values and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”
The most high-profile case — and the one specifically referenced by Canadian Global Affairs — is that of Saudi activist Samar Badawi and her blogger brother Raif Badawi. Samar was recently arrested for her vocal protests and activism against the repressive “male guardianship system” within Saudi Arabia for which she won the U.S. International Women of Courage Award in 2012. Raif was arrested in 2015 and has been sentenced to seven years in prison as well as 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam.”
There has been a kingdom-wide crackdown on women’s rights activists in the past few weeks with many being detained without charges. So far, Canada and Amnesty International are the only global entities to speak out against the arrests and they have called on other states such as the U.K., the U.S. and France to follow suit. The United States responded by issuing an incredibly mild statement saying that they are aware of the situation and looking for more information.
Here’s the U.S. State Department’s statement on Saudi Arabia’s moves against Canada. pic.twitter.com/CuKzSOhnd4
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 7, 2018
Besides having immediate effects on global relations and students on exchange between the two countries, the Canada-Saudi tension could mean some serious economic problems for Canada. While the United States is Canada’s main supplier of crude oil by far, Saudi Arabia comes in second with a lot of its imports to Canada going to New Brunswick, which supplies other eastern provinces. If this hostility continues and Saudi Arabia chooses to cut off its oil supply to Canada, the East Coast might see an oil and gasoline shortage in the coming months.