0715 GMT November 20, 2018
The Saudi government on Sunday recalled its ambassador to Ottawa, barred Canada’s envoy from returning and placed a ban on new trade, denouncing Canada for urging the “immediate release” of jailed rights activists. Riyadh accused Ottawa on Tuesday of interfering in its internal affairs, Reuters reported.
One well-placed source said the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – which stresses the importance of human rights – planned to reach out to the UAE.
“The key is to work with allies and friends in the region to cool things down, which can happen quickly,” said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Another source said Canada would also seek help from Britain. The British government on Tuesday urged the two nations to show restraint.
The US, traditionally one of Canada’s most important friends, stayed on the sidelines. US President Donald Trump has forged tighter ties with Riyadh.
“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them; they need to resolve it together,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.
The dispute looks set to damage what is a modest bilateral trade relationship worth nearly $4 billion a year. Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia totaled about $1.12 billion in 2017, or 0.2 percent of the total value of Canadian exports.
Canada says it does not know what will happen to a $13-billion defense contract to sell Canadian-made General Dynamics Corp. armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
European traders said the main Saudi wheat-buying agency had told grains exporters it will no longer accept Canadian-origin wheat and barley.
The kingdom has suspended educational exchange programs with Canada and moved Saudi scholarship recipients to other countries, while Saudi state airline said it was suspending flights to and from Toronto.
Saudi Arabia has ordered roughly 15,000 Saudis studying in Canada to leave, two senior university officials said Tuesday.
University of Toronto vice-provost, Joseph Wong, told The Canadian Press that Saudi students have received notification telling them they have a month to finish their studies and leave Canada.
Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that it had stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and was working on the transfer of all Saudi patients from hospitals there.
State news agency SPA said Riyadh had stopped sending patients to Canadian hospitals and “is coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals ... according to directives by the leadership.”
It was unclear how many Saudi patients would be affected by the decision and how many were covered by the kingdom’s health care system. The government provides health care services through several government agencies for public employees.
Saudi Arabia’s main state wheat buying agency, the Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO), has told grains exporters it will no longer accept Canadian-origin grains in its international purchase tenders, European traders said.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has apparently initiated broad reforms to diversify the economy from oil and update deeply conservative social norms.
But critics say the reforms have not extended into politics in an absolute monarchy where all public opposition to the authorities is still banned.
Since rising to power in 2015, the 32-year-old crown prince has courted Western allies to support his reform plans, offering billions of dollars of arms sales and promising to fight radicalism in the kingdom. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments were discussed during his trips to the US and Europe.
The dispute with Canada has shed light on scores of political and rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia over the last two years.
At least 15 government critics were arrested since mid-May, some of whose whereabouts are unknown amid a serious lack of transparency in the processing of their cases, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on July 31.