At first glance, the row between Canada and the Saudis seems like a comedy of errors, which was initiated by the Canadians, and reciprocated by the Kingdom with prompt imprudence.
From the Canadian perspective, it was taking a justified stance against human rights violations by the Saudi government. In response, Saudi Arabia hastily came down with a monetary power show under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). However, Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau’s stance remained firm. As such, the Canadian government’s message was hear loud and clear; the Badawi family — which is currently held by the Saudis — are their prime concern.
In what seemed like a fit of insanity, the Saudi government kicked out the Canadian ambassador, suspended new trade, sold of its Canadian assets and ended funding for about 1500 Saudi students in Canada. However, there is minimal trade between the two countries, so we should not expect any major financial shockwaves.
The New York Times, in the latest publishing clearly sided with Canada, writing that “Saudi rulers did the kind of thing that backward, insecure despots often do — they lashed out and penalized their critics”. In Britain, The Guardian praised “Ottawa’s justified criticism” and wrote it was “time to back Canada.” While Financial Times felt that “the West should stand by Ottawa rebuffing a thin-skinned crown prince.”
Refusing to back down, PM Trudeau has stated Canada will not apologise for standing up “for Canadian values and human rights”.
Internationally, Ottawa has become a hero of human rights, while the Kingdom is being seen as juvenile, impulsive and reactionary. However, Saudi Arabia’s money and closeness with the Trump administration have still given it an edge.
It may be Canadian-Pakistanis who find themselves in the most awkward position, as Islamabad has come out in support of Saudi Arabia’s actions
However, some of Canada’s friends and allies have stayed tight lipped. The neighbouring Trump administration for example, indicated its point saying “It’s up for the government of Saudi Arabia and the Canadians to work this out”. “Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.”
Of course, Canada’s isolation was soon noticed. “We do not have a single friend in the whole entire world,” Rachel Curran, a policy director under former Canadian PM Stephen Harper, lamented on Twitter.
The UK was similarly muted in its response, noted Bob Rae, a former leader of the federal Liberal party. “The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say ‘we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians,’” Rae wrote on Twitter. “Thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure.” Speaking to reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister urged Canada to “fix its big mistake” and warned that the kingdom was considering additional measures against Canada.
But it may be Canadian-Pakistanis who find themselves in the most awkward position, as Islamabad has come out in support of Saudi Arabia’s actions. One cannot help but wonder what would be the stance of newly elected member parliaments of Pakistani descents on this issue would be. The Mullahs and Imams enjoying a lavish Canadian lifestyle funded by KSA have to be careful about which side they choose as well.
The writer is a social and civil right activist and vocal on Human Right violations across the globe. He works as Host/Producer (Current Affairs) at a leading news channel of North America. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @anis_farooqui
Published in Daily Times, August 13th 2018.