Canada will restore full diplomatic relations with the Kingdom Saudi ArabiaOttawa announced on Wednesday, ending a five-year span that soured relations between the countries.
The move comes after the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok last November.
A push to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia follows a 2018 breakdown in relations.
BEHIND THE FEUD
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and severely restricted trade between the nations after Canada’s embassy in Riyadh issued a tweet in Arabic calling for the release of women’s rights activists held in the country. That tweet followed similar posts from then-Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada.
In her Tweet on August 2, 2018, Freeland called for the release of dissident blogger Raif Badawi and his sister Samar. Raif was released in March 2022, a year after Samar was released.
As Global News reported at the time from hundreds of pages of emails and memos released through access to information laws, the ensuing diplomatic feud left Canadian officials scrambling to understand the Saudi response.
The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud had Canadians scrambling
In addition to expelling Canada’s ambassador and recalling its own, Saudi Arabia ordered its students to leave Canada, suspended flights from its national airline and sought a freeze on all existing and future business between its ministries and Canadian companies, documents showed.
Among the contracts at risk during the dispute was London, Ont.-based General Dynamics’ controversial deal to sell light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The $15 billion deal was allowed to continue as of April 2020 after Ottawa lifted its ban on arms sales to the kingdom.
This tweet also preceded the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was widely condemned by Canada and other Western countries.
Jean-Philippe Linteau, Canada’s former consul general in Dubai, will serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.
Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador who was expelled in the 2018 spat, said in an interview with The Canadian Press that Ottawa must seize the momentum to build closer ties with Saudi Arabia, as it is a key ally with an “increasingly prominent role” in countries from Syria to Yemen.
“Re-establishing ambassadorial relations is a good first step, but it must be accompanied by sustained engagement at higher levels,” Horak told The Canadian Press.
He said his ouster was partly because Canada did not have connections with senior Saudi leadership through ministerial visits. This led to Canada being seen as expendable, he said.
“If you want your opinion to be heard, whether it’s in relation to commercial issues or human rights, you have to engage on a person-to-person basis,” Horak said.
“It’s the way to cement the relationship and make our views known in a way that reaches the people who need to hear it — as opposed to just relying on social media.”
— with files from Global News Amanda Connolly, The Canadian Press, Reuters
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