Saudi suspends flights to Canada ahead of Hajj

The move will suspend four flights a week between Riyadh and Toronto

An Airbus A330 flight from Saudia with Indian Haj pilgrims on board prepares to depart from Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on August 13, 2017, as they undertake the Haj Pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. 
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Saudi Arabian airlines announced the suspension flights to and from Toronto from August 13 in the latest escalation in the diplomatic spat that broke out earlier this week.

The news comes just weeks before thousands of Canadians are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. No ban has been placed on Canadians entering the country, but it is still unclear how the new measure will affect their Hajj arrangements.

The airline said cancelled tickets will be refunded with no charges and that all efforts to find solutions for passengers affected by the decision will be undertaken.


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The latest on Saudi-Canada relations

Saudi Arabia has blasted what it calls Canadian interference in its domestic affairs after a tweet on Sunday from the official Global Affairs Canada Twitter account saying there were "grave concerns" over the recent arrests of activists and calling for their "immediate release."

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir countered shortly after in an Arabic tweet saying the "surprising Canadian position is based on inaccurate information, the arrests are subject to our judicial systems that guarantee their rights".

The former head of the Human Rights Commission in Saudi Arabia, Dr Hadi Bin Al Yami, said that the Canadian government’s actions violate diplomatic norms governing state relations.

“Canada does not understand its place and it tried to impose itself on the Kingdom’s policies in its ministry of foreign affairs statement as if to place itself above other countries in the world,” he said.

He said that the authorities in Saudi Arabia made it clear that those arrested committed legal violations that necessitated law enforcement.

Mr Al Yami said Saudi Arabia conducted all the necessary legal procedures as dictated by its own law.

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Alzayani expressed full support to the measures taken by the kingdom.

"This Canadian stance represents an affront to the relations binding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Canada", said Mr Alzayani.

Mr Alzayani criticised Canada’s statements and unsubstantiated allegations that he said violate the international diplomatic norms and represent a flagrant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs and encroach on the UN charter, the Bahrain News Agency reported.

The Shura Council in Bahrain, the kingdom’s highest legislative body, also issued a statement condemning Canada’s interference in Saudi’s affairs.

In its first response to the row, the Canadian foreign ministry said: "we are seriously concerned by these media reports and are seeking greater clarity on the recent statement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. Spokeswoman Marie-Pier Baril reiterated her country’s position “for the protection of human rights, very much including women's rights, and freedom of expression around the world".