Determined diplomacy needed to mend relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia, experts say

Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia are likely to be frosty for a considerable time in the wake of this week’s bruising diplomatic meltdown and it will take determined fence-mending to restore the relationship, experts say.“I think it’s going to take a cooling-off period, perhaps a significant cooling-off period for this brouhaha to pass over,” said Peter MacKay, who served as foreign affairs minister in the previous Conservative government. Roland Paris, a former foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Saudi Arabia’s “extraordinary, fierce and impetuous” reaction this week makes it tough to quickly get things back on an even keel.

“I think the chances of normalizing the bilateral relationship in the short term are quite low. The Saudis seem to have made a decision to turn Canada into an example for other countries,” said Paris, a University of Ottawa professor. Thursday passed with no further apparent recriminations from Saudi Arabia, which this week has enacted a series of measures to underscore its anger at Canada’s criticism of the detention of several activists in the country, comments it branded as “blatant and unacceptable interference.

Those measures include booting Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh, returning its own envoy home, ending the studies by more than 15,000 Saudi students at Canadian universities, halting the purchase of Canadian wheat and barley, suspending flights by its national airline to Toronto and freezing future trade and investments.
There has been no word whether a $15-billion contract inked in 2014 to supply Saudi Arabia with Canadian-made light armoured vehicles could also be in jeopardy. It started when Freeland and her department took to social media to protest the Saudi detention of rights activists, including Samar Badawi. Her brother Raif was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam in his blogging. Ensaf Haidar, his wife, was given Canadian citizenship last month.

MacKay framed Saudi Arabia’s reaction as “unreasonable,” adding, “they’ve really gone over the top.” But he said the original Twitter comments were a “misstep” that Freeland likely wishes she could take back.
“Taking to Twitter to chastise a country like Saudi Arabia is probably ill-advised. Not the wrong subject matter, not even the wrong words. But Twitter is a blunt instrument,” said MacKay, who said the tweets were done in a “hectoring, cavalier, righteous way.


Source: The Star