RIYADH : Saudi Arabia and Canada on Monday showed no signs of backing down in an escalating row over human rights, after Riyadh abruptly cut ties over Ottawa s vigorous calls for the release of activists jailed in the kingdom.
The Saudi government expelled Canada s ambassador, giving him 24 hours to leave the country, and recalled its own envoy to Ottawa, while freezing all new trade over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs.
Ottawa did not give any ground over the shock expulsion of the envoy, Dennis Horak, with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland saying Canada would continue to defend human rights around the world.
The rupture, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada denounced a new crackdown on women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom.
“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted early Monday.
The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”.
Later Monday, the row appeared to escalate as Riyadh said it will relocate thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada to other countries, and state airline Saudia announced it was suspending flights to and from Toronto.
A pro-government Saudi Twitter account provoked outrage when it posted — and then deleted — a 9/11-style digitally altered image showing a plane flying towards the Toronto skyline.
The account later apologised and the image was reposted with the plane removed, but screenshots of the original tweet spread quickly. Saudi Arabia s media ministry said it was investigating the incident.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia “will deal with any interference decisively”, dismissing Canada s position as “built on misleading information”, in a statement carried by state media.
Last week, Canada said it was “gravely concerned” over the new wave of arrests of rights campaigners, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi, and called on Riyadh to “immediately release them.”