Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland doubles down on support for women's rights in Saudi Arabia
One day after Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador and began freezing trade with Canada, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland declined to back down on previous remarks she made that were critical of the oil kingdom's record on human rights.
"Let me be very clear with everyone here and with Canadians who may be watching and listening," Freeland said at a press conference in Vancouver today (August 6). "Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women's rights are human rights.
"There is nothing new or novel about Canada's support for human rights," she continued. "Including women's rights in Saudi Arabia."
Saudi Arabia's expulsion of the Canadian ambassador, Dennis Horak, followed an August 2 message that Freeland wrote on Twitter in support of Saudi human-rights advocate Samar Badawi.
"Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia," that message reads. "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."
Samar is a high-profile advocate for women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation. She was arrested on July 30 as part of a crackdown on human-rights activists that Saudi authorities began last May. Since then, authorities have detained and imprisoned dozens of activists like Samar, the majority of them women.
One day after Freeland posted her message of support with her personal Twitter account, a Twitter account with Global Affairs Canada made Freeland's position on the matter that of the Government of Canada.
"Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi," the August 3 message reads. "We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists."
In response to those messages, the government of Saudi Arabia declared the Canadian ambassador personae non gratae and gave Horak 24 hours to leave the country. Saudi Arabia also recalled its envoy to Canada and announced it would freeze trade between the two countries.
An English version of a statement issued by the Saudi government maintains its arrests were warranted and legitimate.
"The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed disbelief by this negative unfounded comment…the persons referred to were lawfully detained by the Public Prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law, which also guaranteed the detainees’ rights and provided them with due process during the investigation and trial," it reads.
Today (August 6), Saudi Arabia announced additional measures it is taking in response to Canada's criticsm.
The kingdom said it was recalling Saudi exchange students studying in Canada, of which there are roughly 15,000. Authorities have now also suspended flights to Toronto.
Shortly after Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister in 2015, his Liberal government came under heavy criticism for refusing to cancel a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia that was organized by the former Conservative government.
Today, Steven Chase, a foreign-affairs reporter with the Global and Mail, noted it appears Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia will continue despite this week's diplomatic row.