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Canadian FM’s Stance is Game Changer in Saudi-Canadian Relations – Ex-Minister

© AFP 2023 / MICHAEL BRADLEY Chrystia Freeland the Minsiter of International Trade from Canada (File)
Chrystia Freeland the Minsiter of International Trade from Canada (File) - Sputnik International
Canada has engaged in a diplomatic spat over human rights issues with Saudi Arabia. Speaking to Sputnik, ex-Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler shared his views on the ongoing row between Ottawa and Riyadh.

A diplomatic row between Ottawa and Riyadh is continuing to escalate after Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland subjected the Saudi Arabian leadership to criticism over the arrest of women's rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah.

"The appointment of the new foreign minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, has affected the relationship between Ottawa and Riyadh," Irwin Cotler, the former minister of justice of Canada (2003-2006) told Sputnik. "Chrystia Freeland has taken a more assertive position towards the kingdom, and at recent talks expressed dismay over the observance of human rights in Saudi Arabia."

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In 2012 Samar Badawi's brother, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes and a fine for publications which were contrary to the values of the Saudi kingdom.

After Raif Badawi's imprisonment, his wife, Insaf Haidar, was forced to immigrate to Canada together with her three children. Nevetherless, Haidar continued to make efforts to free her husband. As a result, in 2015, the Raif Badawi Foundation for Freedom (RBFF) was established in Montreal.

Initially, the government of Justin Trudeau distanced itself from the activists, who called upon Ottawa to exert pressure on Riyadh. The Canadian prime minister came under heavy criticism for what the activists regarded as overlooking the human rights issue while maintaining military cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Freeland's firm stance has become a game changer: "Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi's sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi," she tweeted on August 2.

After the Canadian foreign minister publicly resented the arrest of Samara Badawi, Riyadh signaled that Canada had interfered in Saudi Arabia's domestic affairs, and expelled Canada's ambassador.

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In response, Freeland expressed "deep concerns" over Riyadh's move and stressed that "Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women's rights and freedom of expression around the world."

Commenting on the matter, Cotler, an official representative of Raif Badawi, highlighted that "the decision of Saudi Arabia to boot out the ambassador is bad news."

"This indicates a closed nature of [Riyadh's] diplomacy," the former minister of justice said. "At the same time, judging from this decision, Canada defends its principles on the international arena."

Cotler opined that the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador by Saudi Arabia shows that the government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud is following in the footsteps of its predecessors.

"The reform promised by the new head of state has not begun yet, and maybe it's just an illusion supported by the media," he suggested.

According to the former Canadian official, Ottawa "must continue to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia so that this country starts respecting human rights and encouraging the development of a more moderate Islam."

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Meanwhile, The Financial Times reported on August 8 that Saudi Arabia had started to sell Canadian assets: "The Saudi central bank and state pension funds have instructed their overseas asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings 'no matter the cost'," the media outlet wrote, citing two people with the knowledge of the matter.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a press conference Wednesday that the kingdom had suspended its investments in the Canadian economy.

"Canada made a mistake and they know what they need to do to correct it," al-Jubeir said, as quoted by the media outlet.

The views and opinions expressed by Irwin Cotler are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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