Saudi’s spat with Canada continued on Monday as Riyadh announced the suspension of training, scholarships and fellowships for its students in that country, and Saudi Airlines suspended flights to and from Toronto from August 13.
The Saudi government is cancelling its funded scholarships for almost 12000 students in Canada, local media reported on Monday. It also announced that plans were under way to transfer those students and their dependents to other countries.
Shortly after, Saudi Arabian airlines announced the suspension of its flights to and from Toronto. The airline said it would cover cancellation fees, find alternative flights and issue refunds.
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".
"Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy” she said.
The Saudi government had rejected Canadian interference in its domestic affairs after calls by Canada for the release of Saudi activists who have been detained.
The Secretariat General of the Arab League and of the Gulf Co-operation council issued statements supporting the Saudi position on Monday.
Also according to the Saudi Press Agency, The Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) expressed “full understanding of the Kingdom's position calling for non-interference”.
Saudi Arabia said on Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy, while freezing business ties with Ottawa over what it called interference in its internal affairs.
"The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada [Naif bin Bandar Al Sudairi] for consultation," the foreign ministry said.
The ministry said Canada’s ambassador had 24 hours to leave the country, and announced the “freezing of all new commercial and investment transactions” with Ottawa.
Ambassador Dennis Horak is also the Canadian representative to Yemen, Bahrain and Oman.
The Canadian embassy in Riyadh had said it was “gravely concerned” over the news of arrests of activists in the kingdom, accompanied by a tweet by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland expressing similar concerns.
“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists,” the embassy tweeted on Friday.
Saudi Arabia’s response was unequivocal.
“It is very unfortunate that the words ‘immediate release’ appeared in the Canadian statement ... it is unacceptable in relations between countries,” the ministry said.
Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir issued a short statement through a number of tweets, stating "the Kingdom does not interfere in the affairs of other countries and will not accept any attempts to interfere in its internal affairs and we will deal (with interference) with strong resolve". He went on to say in Arabic that the "surprising Canadian position is based on inaccurate information, the arrests are subject to our judicial systems that guarantee their rights".
Full Saudi statement: 'A blatant interference in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs'
The UAE expressed support for the Saudi stance.
“We cannot but stand with Saudi Arabia as it defends its sovereignty and its laws, and takes the necessary steps to do so. We cannot accept that our laws and standards be pressured or compromised," said Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Commenting on the spat, a US State Department Official told The National that both Saudi Arabia and Canada are "both close allies." The official refrained from taking a position but said that the US has asked for more information on the detentions, and encouraged Riyadh "to respect due process."
Bahrain said it supported Saudi Arabia’s decision, as did the Gulf Cooperation Council. A statement from the interior ministers of the League of Arab states declared it rejected interference in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia .
A Bahrain foreign ministry statement said Canada’s criticism of Saudi Arabia was “based on totally erroneous information that has nothing to do with reality”.
The Saudi arrests come weeks after more than a dozen women’s-rights campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state. Some have since been released.
A spokesman for the Human Rights Council in Saudi Arabia said the kingdom was among only 36 out of 197 countries that had submitted their annual human-rights report to the UN.
The Saudi action against Ottawa could further affect Canada’s economy after the United States imposed tariffs on imports of Canadian steel and aluminium in May.
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