The diplomatic brawl between Canada and Saudi Arabia shows no signs of abating after the kingdom’s foreign affairs minister publicly demanded that Canada withdraw its criticism of his country’s human rights record — something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to do Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Adel al-Jubeir said there will be no reconciliation between the two countries unless Canada recants its condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s decision to jail prominent women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah.
“Canada knows what it needs to do,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will not apologize for standing up for Canadian values and human rights — even if it risks ruffling the feathers of a global partner.
“Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly and politely about the need to respect human rights around the world. We will continue to stand up for Canadian values and human rights. It’s something that I will always do,” Trudeau told reporters after an announcement in Montreal.
“We continue to engage diplomatically and politically with the government of Saudi Arabia [but] Canada will always speak strongly in private and in public on questions of human rights. People around the world expect that kind of leadership from Canada. We will remain firm.”
Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a Saudi dissident blogger who has been imprisoned by the Saudi government since 2012 on charges of apostasy and “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children have been living in Quebec since 2015 after fleeing the kingdom.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sent a tweet last week saying she was alarmed by Badawi’s imprisonment and calling for the release of “peaceful” human rights activists — a statement which drew the ire of the Middle Eastern kingdom’s governing monarchy.
“A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” al-Jubeir said Wednesday. “Canada needs to fix its big mistake.”
A subsequent tweet from the Saudi foreign affairs ministry said the country would not “accept dictates” or “interference” in its internal affairs from Canada.
“The matter is not about human rights; it is a matter of national security. Saudi Arabia build (sic) relations based on mutual respect, respect for the sovereignty of states and not interfering in the affairs of other countries,” one of the Saudi government tweets said.
Trudeau confirmed Freeland had a telephone conversation with her Saudi counterpart on Tuesday, and lines of communication between the two countries remain open.
Trudeau said he doesn’t want Canada to have “poor relations” with the kingdom.
“This is a country that has some importance around the world. It is making progress when it comes to human rights. But, at the same time, we have to speak out about the challenges there and elsewhere,” Trudeau said in French.
Al-Jubeir’s comments come as the country — an autocratic state controlled by the House of Saud — recalls Saudi nationals attending Canadian universities and pulls Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals.
The country’s rulers also have asked asset managers to sell Saudi-owned stakes in Canadian enterprises. The country also will stop purchasing Canadian wheat and barley — a trade move that is not expected to be all that damaging, since Canada hasn’t sold any wheat or barley to the kingdom this year.
The kingdom also is considering “other measures,” al-Juberi said without elaborating. Saudi Arabia already has expelled the Canadian ambassador.