In a world turned upside down by Trump's unorthodox approach to, well, everything, replete with trade wars and diplomatic scandals, we now have one more, and this one was out of the blue. Late on Sunday, Saudi Arabia unexpectedly unleashed diplomatic hell against Canada when it announced it had suspended diplomatic ties and halted new trade and investment dealings with Canada in a dramatic escalation of a dispute over the kingdom’s arrest of a women’s rights activist.
Saudi Arabia also recalled its ambassador to Ottawa and ordered the Canadian envoy to the capital Riyadh to leave within 24 hours, according to a foreign ministry statement cited by the Saudi Press Agency.
The reason behind Saudi Arabian fury and the collapse in relations appears to have been a recent instance of Canadian virtue signalling: the Saudi foreign ministry cited remarks last week by Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, criticizing Saudi Arabia’s arrests of women’s rights activists including Samar Badawi. Badawi is a Canadian citizen whose brother Raif Badawi, a blogger who was critical of the Saudi government, was already in jail in the kingdom.
Freeland said in a tweet Aug. 2 that she was “very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” and that “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."
Canada's Foreign Policy echoed the statement on twitter one day later.
Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
According to the Saudi statement, "the kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty."
The statement also noted clear that the arrests "were in line with Saudi laws, and those detained have been provided with due process during investigation and trial."
The loonie slipped as much as 0.2 percent to 1.3019 per U.S. dollar in early trading, following three straight weeks of gains in Canada’s currency - the longest such winning streak since January.
That said, neither Canada nor Saudi trade will be crippled by the decision: according to Bloomberg, there was a trade flow of $3.23 billion between Saudi Arabia and Canada in 2017, with Saudi Arabia exporting $2.14 billion, or 1%, of its products to the North American nation, and as Bloomberg's Javier Blas said, "I don’t see how this is going to put much pressure on Ottawa."
In terms of trade, #SaudiArabia accounts for **less than 0.25% of total** Canadian exports (data from @WorldBank here: https://t.co/KgMjo1Adai). I don’t see how this is going to put much pressure on Ottawa. #OOTT— Javier Blas (@JavierBlas) August 5, 2018