Canadian actions 'escalation' of row: Foreign Minister

A reported ban on Canadian ministers flying on UAE carriers described as an 'escalation' of a diplomatic row between the two nations – despite a denial such a ban was in place.

ABU DHABI // The UAE’s foreign minister today described a reported ban on Canadian ministers flying on UAE carriers as an “escalation” of a diplomatic row between the two nations.

Canada has denied such a ban was in place.

"I don't think it's a very smart decision," Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said in comments seen as the latest in a diplomatic stand-off between the UAE and Canada.

Tensions were triggered after talks for more landing rights for the UAE's two carriers, Etihad and Emirates, collapsed almost exactly a month ago.

Sheikh Abdullah was commenting on reports Stephen Harper's government in Canada had instructed its ministers not to fly with Emirates and Etihad.

He was speaking after a ministerial meeting in preparation for a Gulf Co-operation Council Summit in Abu Dhabi next month.

The Canadian daily The Globe and Mail last week reported Prime Minister Harper's office had banned Cabinet ministers from flying on Emirates and Etihad.

"The last thing I heard is that Canadian ministers cannot go on UAE carriers, so I think this is an escalation that came from Canada, not from the UAE," said Sheikh Abdullah.

Canada's foreign office has denied that it issued such an order to its ministers.

"There has been no such directive," said Melissa Lantsman, the director of communications for Lawrence Cannon, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, in an email to The National.

Canada's Blue Sky policy does not place restrictions on the travel of its citizens for official or unofficial purposes, she said.

The UAE wants to expand the number of flights between the two countries, but Canada's government has refused despite five years of negotiations, saying the number of flights now is sufficient.

"The UAE is disappointed that despite intensive negotiations over the last five years the UAE and Canada have been unable to arrive at an agreement on expanding the number of flights between the two countries," said Mohammed al Ghafli, the UAE's ambassador to Canada, last month.

He called the talks process "protracted and frustrating", and their failure would impact bilateral relations.

The UAE will start requiring Canadian visitors to the UAE to apply for a visitor's visa beginning in January.