Saudi Arabia to force its patients receiving care in Canada to leave as spat continues

Saudi Arabia to force its patients receiving care in Canada to leave as spat continues
3 min read
08 August, 2018
Saudi patients in Canada are being transferred to hospitals abroad after Saudi Arabia stopped all medical programmes in the North American country.
Saudi patients in Canada are being transferred abroad [Getty]

Saudi Arabia pulled the plug on all medical treatment programmes in Canada, in the latest measure targeting the North American nation after it condemned the arrest of a Saudi human rights activist in the kingdom.

Saudi patients being treated in Canadian hospitals are being transferred to other hospitals outside Canada, the Saudi Press Agency said early on Wednesday.

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

The latest move came after Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic and trade ties with Canada on Monday when it released a statement rebuking Riyadh for the arrest of a number of human rights activists.

Saudi Arabia also recalled its ambassador from Ottawa and ordered Canada's chief envoy out of the country, while freezing all new trade over what it slammed as "interference" in its internal affairs.

In a sign of the escalating situation, Riyadh also ordered Saudi students studying in Canada out of the country and announced its airline Saudia will halt all flights to Canada.

Canada has remained publically defiant, but privately appears to be turning to its friends for help.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland vowed Canada would continue to defend human rights around the world.

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women's rights and freedom of expression around the world," she said.

Saudi Arabia's diplomatic move underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and comes after Canada denounced the arrest of women's rights activist Samar Badawi, but some commentators say it is a sign of the crown prince's "fragility".

In April, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his "serious concern" over the continued jailing of Samar Badawi's brother, the blogger Raif Badawi, to Saudi King Salman.

Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar has been granted asylum by Canada, where she is raising their three children.

But Trudeau's Liberal government has also come under fire for approving a $15 billion (Canadian) arms deal to Saudi Arabia, which includes "heavy assault" vehicles, signed under his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper.

Thousands of jobs in Canada could be at risk if the arms agreement is scrapped.

When asked about the contract, Freeland said the government "looks forward" to hearing from Riyadh about the future of the deal.

Riyadh's singling out of Canada appears to be aimed at strongly discouraging other Western governments from criticising its human rights violations. 

Canada's economic relationship with Saudi Arabia is not particularly significant to Riyadh, unlike the US or other Western partner governments, which experts say makes Ottawa an easier target.  

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