The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Canada is now at a nadir, with a number of measures being escalated to reflect Riyadh’s disapproval of comments from Ottawa where Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Canadian Embassy in the kingdom called for the “immediate release” of Samar Badawi and other activists. Badawi holds Canadian citizenship and his brother, activist and blogger Raif Badawi, is already in jail in the kingdom.
Since the weekend, Riyadh has rightfully ordered the Canadian Ambassador there, Dennis Horak, to leave within 24 hours, a sign of the displeasure of the kingdom at the inappropriate, unhelpful and ill-advised remarks from Canada, its minister, its officials and its diplomats — frankly, ones that constitute blatant interference in the sovereign, domestic and judicial matters of Saudi Arabia.
Certainly, by using Twitter as a means for diplomatic communication, Ottawa seems to have forgotten the rudimentary basics of diplomacy and its comments are akin to the actions of teenagers who use spray paint to write a message in graffiti. Its comments and means of communications are not what one would normally expect from a nation that normally charts a course of least resistance, and show a lack of judgement that one can only hope reflects a sudden loss of diplomatic sensibilities. Yes, given the tendencies of the president of the United States to tweet freely in his own inimitable style, shame on Ottawa for taking a play from his playbook and using Twitter to antagonise and carelessly meddle in Saudi affairs.
As a sovereign nation, Saudi Arabia has every right to condemn this highly inappropriate interference and intervention in its domestic affairs, and by suspending direct air links between it and Canada and choosing to relocate the estimated 7,000 Saudi Arabian students studying in Canadian institutions to beyond its borders, makes it clear that Freeland and her department in Ottawa has crossed the line. Indeed, it certainly seems as if Freeland has now forsaken her diplomatic role and is now reverting to her previous profession as a columnist to offer ill-founded and ill-judged opinions at will.
As with any nation with a significant proportion of immigrants, Canada officials should be fully aware that holding a Canadian passport does not protect individuals when they break the laws of other nations. In Saudi Arabian, the law is blind when it comes to the nationality of those accused or convicted of offences and a Canadian passport does not offer a get-out-of-jail card. Ottawa has misspoken and is mistaken.