“It all started with a tweet” is quickly shifting from a frivolous phrase used in celebrity tabloid stories to one used weekly to detail issues of international diplomacy. With Donald Trump leading the United States, that makes sense. Except this time, it was Canada doing the tweeting and now there could be some serious consequences.
Last week, Canadian Global Affairs tweeted the country’s position on Saudi Arabia’s recent crackdown on women’s rights activists in the country. The statement said that Canada is “gravely concerned” about the arrests of human rights activists by Saudi Arabia and urged the government to release peaceful activists — most of whom are being held indefinitely without charges.
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
Saudi Arabia retaliated immediately, telling Canada not to “interfere” in other country’s affairs, recalling their ambassador to Canada and ejecting the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia. They also suspended all pending trade deals with Canada, called for Saudi students studying in Canada to be relocated and the state airline suspended all flights into Canada.
Days later, it looks like things are going to be getting way worse before they get better. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to her Saudi counterpart Tuesday to no avail and none of Canada’s allies have come out to back Canada’s position. Amnesty International‘s calls for solidarity and a Washington Post op-ed written in both English and Arabic urging the United States to put its support behind Canada (although people have their theories as to why the U.S. probably won’t do that) are seemingly being ignored by the rest of the world.
Washington Post: “Every leading democracy — let’s start with the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations — should retweet Ms. Freeland’s post about the imprisoned Badawis. Basic rights are everybody’s business.” https://t.co/h2cP5a2KsE
— Roland Paris (@rolandparis) August 9, 2018
And Saudi Arabia isn’t letting Canada off the hook. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called Canada’s tweet a “big mistake” in a statement Wednesday and added, “Canada knows what it needs to do” — the implication being that the Canadian government should walk back their position and apologize. The country also began quickly selling off its Canadian assets and investments and called home Saudi doctors training in Canada regardless of how long they have been working in the country.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) August 8, 2018
Speaking at an event in Montreal Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answered questions about Canada’s position and if he will be apologizing for what could be interpreted as a political blunder — taking a stance on Twitter. He said that the government sees Twitter as just another way to convey their messages and beliefs and that Canada will not be backing down from their statement on human rights.
Tonight on #PrimeTimePolitics 5 & 8pm ET on CPAC TV:
PM Trudeau speaks w/ reporters about the ongoing diplomatic dispute between Canada & Saudi Arabia.
We’ll have his full news conference, plus NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s announcement that he’ll run in Burnaby South by-election. pic.twitter.com/w6kTX2A1b9
— CPAC (@CPAC_TV) August 8, 2018
“Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world and we will continue to do that,” he said, “We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and indeed, universal values and human rights at any occasion. It’s something that Canadians expect; it’s something I will always do.”
Trudeau added that he respects the progress Saudi Arabia has already made towards improving human rights conditions in the country (in the past few months, the country has lifted bans on movie theaters and women driving) but remained firm in his criticism.
“We continue to engage with Saudi Arabia both diplomatically and politically, we have respect for their importance in the world and recognize that they have made progress on a number of important issues,” he said, “We will, at the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad, wherever we see the need.”