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Canada mishandled situation with Saudi Arabia, says former Canadian envoy

Hard truth here is that the world is not waiting for Canada to preach to them or to criticise them, David Chatterson says

Image Credit: Supplied
Ambassador Chatterson
Gulf News

Dubai: Canada should have been more professional and more respectful in its approach with Saudi Arabia, a former Canadian ambassador to Riyadh has said.

“In my view, the purpose of foreign policy is to advance Canadian interests. Put simply, that is what we are trying to do,” David Chatterson, who was Canada’s diplomatic envoy from 2009 until 2012, said.

“So when I heard about the tweet, my question was ‘Well, what is our objective here? Was it to mitigate the circumstances of Badawi? If so, we failed. Was it to influence the broader direction of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Again, I do not think we have done that. Have we advanced Canadian interests? Definitely not! My suggestion would have been to approach these kinds of issues in a much more professional, much more respectful manner, underlying and understanding of our counterpart in the kingdom,” he said on CBC News.

Chatterson was commenting on the crisis that broke out last week after Saudi Arabia rejected statements by Canadian officials as unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs.

 My suggestion would have been to approach these kinds of issues in a much more professional, much more respectful manner, underlying and understanding of our counterpart in the kingdom.”

 - David Chatterson | Former Canadian ambassador to Riyadh 


Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Canada, labeled the Canadian envoy as persona non grata, froze new investment and trade deals, relocated its thousands of students and patients out of Canada and suspended flights to and from Toronto.

“The hard truth here is that the world is not waiting for Canada to preach to them or to criticise them. That’s not really what most countries do. Most countries engage in a dialogue. They work in a very strategic manner. They work with like-minded countries, but issuing critical tweets is typically not the best way to build a dialogue,” Chatterson said.

“Saudi Arabia is a G-20 country, with a growing economy, very young demographic and a market that is extremely interesting to countries like, the US, the UK, France, South Korea, China, many European countries. They are there to do business and that is where they see their opportunities.”

The diplomat explained that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was “a reformer, a very, very active leader.”

“His overriding ambition is to reform the Saudi society and the Saudi economy. He is not inter-ested in emulating any kind of Western multicultural society like Canada. It is being driven by domestic demographic and economic imperatives. So he is forcing change in a very traditional society.”

The dispute is centered on a Canadian government tweet that called on Saudi Arabia to release detained women’s rights activists.

The tweet referred to Samar Badawi and her writer brother Raif Badawi. He was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging.

Raif Badawi’s wife and three children became Canadian citizens earlier this year

Saudi Arabia has affirmed their stance that no country has the right interfere in its domestic affairs, in a growing assertive stance.

The kingdom expelled the Canadian ambassador and ordered 15,000 Saudi students, including about 800 medical trainees, to halt their studies in Canada. The Saudi state airline also announced it was suspending operations in Canada. The kingdom also cancelled new trade with Canada and barred Canadian wheat imports.

The Financial Times reported that the Saudi central bank and state pension funds instructed their overseas asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia said it was “considering additional measures” against Canada, adding that there was no room for mediation in the kingdom’s escalating diplomatic dispute with Canada and that Ottawa knew what it needed to do to “fix its big mistake”.

“There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told a news conference in Riyadh.

Several countries sided with Saudi Arabia and Russia warned that it rejected attempts to politicise human rights issues and to interfere in the internal affairs of other states.

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