By Barry Ellsworth
Canada called for the release of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia three years before the same request was made via Twitter sparking tension between the two countries, according to media reports Wednesday.
At the time Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion met privately with Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir on Dec. 15, 2015 and urged the release of Raif Badawi, who received a 10-year sentence in 2012 after promoting secularism, democracy and human rights on his blog.
The meeting demonstrates that Canada had tried quiet diplomacy and counters criticism that the Trudeau government made a mistake using public Twitter diplomacy to call for the release of activists.
Saudi Arabia, feeling the Canadian tweet meddled in its domestic affairs, took punishing action. That included expelling the Canadian ambassador from the kingdom, ordering its ambassador home, banning any new trade between the two countries and telling about 16,000 Saudi students and doctors to leave Canada.
The spat that broke out earlier this month continues and led to the recent video tirade of inaccurate, false news about Canada aired on the Saudi national TV station, Al Arabiya.
The report said Canada treated women worse than any other country and has the world’s highest suicide rate – neither claim is true.
The video went on to state that Canada treats its Indigenous people in the same manner as the Rohingya are treated in Myanmar. The UN has called the latter “ethnic cleansing.” Again, the claim about mistreatment of Indigenous people is false.
On the issue of human rights, the report accuses Canada of “imprisonment of non-violent cases” and that it has arrested people for “freedom of opinion.”
According to Saudi Arabia, one of those supposedly jailed is University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, whose outspoken ideas in his book “12 Rules for Life” have been criticized. But he has never been arrested and is still teaching.
The Canadian government has not reacted to the Al Arabiya video, just as it said it would not invoke countermeasures against the kingdom’s punitive steps.
Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic and trade measures were enacted earlier this month and the kingdom said Canada should apologize for its “big mistake.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted to that by saying that Canada would not apologize for standing up for Canadian values and human rights, even if it rankles an ally like Saudi Arabia.