Justin Trudeau Refuses To Back Down On Human Rights Defense In Saudi Spat

Justin Trudeau Refuses To Back Down On Human Rights Defense In Saudi Spat
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OTTAWA, CANADA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday refused to apologize for calling out Saudi Arabia on its human rights record, after Riyadh said it was considering further punitive measures against Ottawa over its criticisms of the kingdom.
Tensions have been high between the two countries since Monday, when Riyadh expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments.
Riyadh also said it will relocate thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to other countries, while state airline Saudia announced it was suspending flights to Toronto.
The kingdom was angry at Ottawa for openly denouncing a crackdown on rights activists in Saudi Arabia.
“Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” he said.
“We do not wish to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia,” he added, saying Ottawa recognizes that Riyadh “has made progress when it comes to human rights.”
Trudeau noted that his foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, had “a long conversation” on Tuesday with her counterpart Adel al-Jubeir to try to resolve the dispute.
On Wednesday, Saudi state media said the kingdom has nevertheless also stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and was working on transferring all Saudi patients there to other countries.
Further straining ties, the Saudi central bank has instructed its overseas asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings “no matter the cost,” the Financial Times reported.
But in an apparent effort to safeguard its economic interests, Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said the dispute will not affect state oil giant Aramco’s clients in Canada.
Saudi oil supplies are independent of political considerations, Falih was quoted as saying by state media.
‘Matter of national security’
Last week, Canada sparked fury in Riyadh by calling for the “immediate release” of rights campaigners, including award-winning women’s rights activist Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi.
That arrest came after more than a dozen women’s rights campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state.
When asked about the jailed activists, Jubeir on Wednesday reiterated the government’s stance that they had been in contact with foreign entities, but did not specify the charges against them.
“The matter is not about human rights, it is a matter of national security,” Jubeir told reporters.
“Saudi Arabia does not interfere in the affairs of Canada in any way. Therefore, Canada must correct its actions towards the kingdom.”
Jubeir ruled out mediation as a way to put an end to the row.
“There is nothing to mediate,” he said.