Triggered by Ottawa's comments expressing concern over the arrest of women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, the dispute shows no sign of ending, with the Kingdom announcing one action after another to escalate the row between the two US allies.

Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment with Canada and expelled the Canadian ambassador this week, in an escalating row after Ottawa urged the country to free rights activists.
Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment with Canada and expelled the Canadian ambassador this week, in an escalating row after Ottawa urged the country to free rights activists. (AP and Reuters (Archive))

Saudi Arabia is selling Canadian assets in an escalating row after Ottawa criticised the arrest of women's rights activists, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

The Saudi central bank and state pension funds have instructed their overseas asset managers to dispose of their Canadian equities, bonds and cash holdings "no matter the cost," according to the report.

Commenting on the escalating row, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday his government will not stop calling out human rights abuses. 

“Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” the prime minister said, refusing to back down or apologise to the kingdom. 

“We do not wish to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia,” he added, saying Ottawa recognises that Riyadh “has made progress when it comes to human rights.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubei said on Wednesday the Canadian investments in Saudi Arabia are still ongoing, but the Kingdom is looking to implement additional measures against Ottawa.

The Saudi Central Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A representative with Canada's ministry of global affairs did not immediately have a comment.

Saudi Arabia froze new trade and investment with Canada and expelled the Canadian ambassador this week, in an escalating row after Ottawa urged the country to free rights activists.

TRT World's Jeff Harrington reports from Toronto.

More measures against Ottawa 

Jubeir said there's nothing to mediate in its dispute with Canada and that "Canada knows what it needs to do."

"We do not accept to be told what to do, and we do not accept for a country to interfere in our internal affairs, just as we do not interfere in any country's internal affairs. We think that what Canada did is unacceptable," he said.

He said the charges against women's rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al Sada will be made public once the case reaches the courts.

Badawi was arrested at the end of July along with fellow Saudi women's rights activist Nassima al Sada.

Another activist, Badawi's brother Raif, has been incarcerated since 2012.

"This started when the Foreign Minister tweeted asking for the immediate release of Saudi detainees, it was followed by tweets from the Canadian Foreign Ministry and the Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia," Jubeir said. 

"This is unacceptable, this has nothing to do with human rights, this has to do with state security, which is what the Kingdom stressed at the time of the arrests."

Harsh measures

Riyadh has also stopped all medical treatment programmes in Canada and is coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals to other hospitals outside Canada, the Saudi press agency reported early on Wednesday.

The agency cited Saudi Health Attache in the United States of America and Canada Dr Fahd bin Ibrahim al Tamimi.

The Saudis are angry because Global Affairs Canada, the government department that manages Canada’s diplomatic relations, on its Twitter feed on Friday urged the kingdom to "immediately release" Saudi women’s rights activist Samar Badawi and all other "peaceful human rights activists" it had detained.

US urges both sides to resolve dispute

"Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can't do it for them, they need to resolve it together," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Nauert's response was seen in Canadian media as a failure to back Canada, with the Toronto newspaper reporting that  "US refuses to back Canada in Saudi Arabia dispute".

Canada plans to seek help from United Arab Emirates and Britain to defuse an escalating diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia, sources said on Tuesday, as traders revealed the Arab state would no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley.

The Saudi government on Sunday recalled its ambassador to Ottawa, barred Canada's ambassador to Riyadh and placed a ban on new trade, denouncing Canada for urging the release of rights activists.

It has suspended scholarships for about 16,000 Saudi students attending colleges and universities in Canada and plans to relocate them to other countries, and the state airline Saudia is suspending flights to Toronto.

The Saudis have also threatened to exclude Canadian companies from participation in the lucrative Vision 2030 programme, where the kingdom is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to modernise its economy.

Saudi Arabia's main state wheat-buying agency has told grains exporters it will no longer buy Canadian wheat and barley in its international tenders, European traders said on Tuesday.

According to the Mail and Globe, which cited Statistics Canada, Canada sold more than $33.7 million (CAD$44-million) worth of barley to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

The Toronto Star reported that in the past year, Canada sent 135,000 tonnes of barley to Saudi Arabia, a significant part of the 1.9 million tonnes of Canada's barley exports each year, and 70,000 tonnes of wheat, a smaller portion of the 16.5 million tonnes of wheat that Canada exported.

According to the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest export recently has been armoured tanks and personnel carriers. General Dynamics Land Systems in London Ontario, signed a $11.4 billion (CAD$15-billion) deal four years ago with the Saudis to provide that country with light-armoured vehicles.

Riyadh accuses Ottawa of meddling
Riyadh accused Ottawa on Tuesday of interfering in its internal affairs.

One well-placed source said the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – which stresses the importance of human rights – planned to reach out to the United Arab Emirates.

Another source said Canada would also seek help from Britain. The British government on Tuesday urged Canada and Saudi Arabia to show restraint.

The office of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland did not respond to requests for comment.

Canada to continue raising voice for 'human rights'

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Canada would not be cowed by Saudi actions.

"Canada will continue to advocate for human rights and for the brave women and men who push for these fundamental rights around the world," she said in a statement.

Among the arrested activists is Samar Badawi, whose writer brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam while blogging. He won Europe's top human rights prize in 2015.

His case long has been raised by international human rights groups and Western diplomats, including Canadians, who have called on Saudi Arabia to free him. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, lives in Canada and received Canadian citizenship in July.

It's not the first time Saudi Arabia has lashed out diplomatically over the Badawi case. In 2015, Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing work visas for Swedes after the EU member country's foreign minister described the Badawi court decision as "medieval" and the kingdom's ruling Saud family as presiding over a "dictatorship."

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Palestinian Authority have all come out in support of Saudi Arabia, as did Comoros, Djibouti and Mauritania.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies