Saudi Arabia Freezes Canada Trade Ties, Expels Canadian Ambassador

August 5, 2018 Updated: August 6, 2018    

Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian Ambassador and frozen trade ties with the nation after a rupture of relations over Canada’s “interference in the internal affairs” of the Islamic kingdom.

In a series of tweets on Aug. 5, the Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry declared they were expelling the Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak and were recalling its own envoy in Canada. The kingdom has also frozen all new trade and investment transactions between the two nations.

“We consider the Canadian ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” the tweet said.

It comes after Canada demanded the release of several jailed civil society and women’s rights activists in the Gulf kingdom last week.

In a statement on Aug. 3, Canada said the country was “gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”

Earlier that week Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted that she was “very alarmed” to learn that Samar Badawi has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

Badawi is the sister of blogger Raif Badawi, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels,” according to his website.

Raif Badawi’s wife lives in Canada and recently became a Canadian citizen, according to Reuters.

In response, Saudi Arabia rejected Canada’s characterization of the arrests calling the nation’s claims “entirely false” and “utterly incorrect.”

“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,” the ministry said in a statement released about an hour after the tweets.

The ministry called Canada’s position “an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States.”

They added that they considered Canada’s position “an attack” on the kingdom and deemed it a matter that required “a firm stance to deter who attempts to undermine the sovereignty of the KSA.”

Saudi Arabia also warned that any attempts to meddle with the kingdom’s internal affairs will be interpreted as a right to interfere with Canada’s internal affairs.

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The Canadian government is yet to provide a public statement on the situation.

Saudi Arabia is currently Canada’s second largest export market, according to the Canadian government’s website. The kingdom is also an important source of foreign students for Canada, where more than 15,000 Saudi students attend Canadian schools and universities.

The Canadian unit of U.S. weapons maker General Dynamics Corp won a 14-year contract worth up to US$13 billion in 2014 to build light-armored vehicles for the Gulf kingdom. It was considered the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history, Ottawa said at the time.