Canada and Saudi Arabia rekindle diplomatic ties after 2018 spat

Diplomatic rupture began in 2018, with tweets from Canada’s foreign ministry denouncing human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Justin Trudeau sits at the APEC conference behind a sign that reads "Canada"
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends November's APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand, where he began discussions with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [File: Sakchai Lalit/Reuters pool]

Saudi Arabia and Canada have both announced that they will resume diplomatic relations, ending a bitter 2018 dispute over human rights.

In separate statements, the two countries said they would “restore the level of diplomatic relations” that had been in place prior to the 2018 spat.

Each side will also appoint a new ambassador. Saudi Arabia has yet to announce its selection, while Canada named Jean-Philippe Linteau, a longtime member of its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The move was prompted by discussions between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum. Canada cited “mutual respect and common interests” as motivation for the rekindled ties.

Diplomatic ties first ruptured in 2018 when Saudi Arabia arrested several high-profile female human rights activists.

They included Samar Badawi, whose brother, the dissident Raif Badawi, was also imprisoned at the time. His wife and children had fled to Canada, where they were granted citizenship.

The new arrests prompted a series of social media messages in support of the activists, first from Canada’s foreign minister, then from the foreign ministry itself.

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi,” the ministry wrote on its official Twitter page in August 2018.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

Those messages prompted a Twitter feud with Saudi Arabia, which retorted that Canada’s interference in its affairs was a “breach of the principle of sovereignty”.

“The Canadian position is a grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom’s laws and procedures,” Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in response, in a string of messages announcing it would recall its ambassador to Canada.

It also declared Canada’s Ambassador Dennis Horak a “persona non grata” and gave him 24 hours to leave the country.

Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia remained frosty, particularly after allegations in October 2018 that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Canada, among other countries, denounced the killing as an “unconscionable attack on the freedom of expression” and imposed sanctions against Saudi nationals linked to the attack.

But recently, Saudi Arabia has been on the world stage for a series of rapprochements. In March, the kingdom re-established diplomatic relations with Iran in a deal brokered by China, and this month, it resumed ties with Syria. It also hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for Friday’s Arab League summit.

Saudi Arabia has also worked to broker peace in Sudan, hosting talks between representatives for the country’s two warring generals. The United States has also been party to those negotiations, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also met Saudi officials to discuss peace in Yemen.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies