The Canadian Government led by Justin Trudeau and the Canadian Foreign Ministry led by the controversial Chrystia Freeland have an incredibly poor diplomatic record, one that would seemingly shame that of the current Prime Minister’s father Pierre Trudeau, a man who actively pursued multipolar relations throughout the world, even when it irked the United States.
In the age of Donald Trump, the Trudeau government stands out as relic of North American liberalism that was widely rejected in the United States after eight years of Barack Obama. But in Ottawa, a confused atmosphere of ultra-liberalism continues to serves as a guiding force in foreign policy making and diplomacy. This when combined with the hypocrisy which inevitably arises from such policies is a surefire recipe for diplomatic meltdown.
Last year, Trudeau infuriated the Indian government by appearing at an event where the separatist flags of the Khalistan movement were flown. Adding insult to injury, during his now infamous trip to India where Trudeau dressed up in Bollywood style costumes and even started dancing like a man possessed, it was later revealed that he was initially scheduled to meet with Jaspal Atwal, a man convicted of a terrorist related offence. Try as he did, Trudeau was not able to dance his way out of the embarrassing situation.
Trudeau and his Foreign Ministry then lost Canada millions in revenue when it threatened to delay a deal with The Philippines to purchase military grade helicopters. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded furiously to the ignorant insinuation from Ottawa that somehow the helicopters would be used to “gun down civilians”. Duterte stated,
“So this is my reaction. I want to tell the armed forces to cut the deal … and somehow we will look for another supplier. We respect the stand of Canada.
So from here on now, I am directing the armed forces of the Philippines, since most of the guns, bullets and whatever, weapons of war … invariably to be used against the rebels and the terrorists, do not buy any more from Canada. Or from the United States, because there is always a condition attached”.
This is of course the same Canada that violated historic international norms of remaining neutral in a nation’s civil war when it decided to allow the sale of lethal weapons to the Kiev faction in the Donbass conflict in December of 2017. Canada also stands accused of selling weapons to factions participating in the Yemen conflict which the UN has classed as a humanitarian crisis. Thus, while Canada had reservations of selling weapons to The Philippines, a country fighting only internationally proscribed terror groups and drug traffickers, it had no problem in selling weapons to countries in the midst of violent wars.
Now though, in spite of Saudi Arabia being one of Canada’s clients in terms of the defence industry, the Canadian Foreign Ministry saw fit to issue a provocative statement relating to the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia. Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland issued the following statement via Tweet on the 2nd of August, complaining in public of Riyadh’s imprisonment of the duel Saudi-US citizen Samar Babawi.
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 2, 2018
While it is highly undiplomatic for a foreign state to concern itself with the judicial process of another state, not least because no Canadian citizen was involved in the issue at hand, even if Canada had some overarching concerns about the matter, the proper way to address such an issue would be through private diplomatic channels rather than through Twitter. Instead, Freeland saw fit to publicly virtue signal to her Liberal Party’s domestic feminist base and in so doing, she infuriated the Saudi government.
The result of this exercise in domestic political pandering has been to create a serious rift in normally positive Saudi-Canadian relations. Saudi Arabia has vowed to freeze all trade and other economic relations with Canada while Ottawa’s ambassador to Riyadh has been expelled. Likewise, Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Canada over the matter while issuing a threat to retaliate against the Trudeau government by meddling in internal Canadian affairs. The full statement from the Saudi foreign ministry reads as follows:
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been made aware of the statement by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Canadian Embassy in the Kingdom, on the so-called civil society activists who have been detained, urging Saudi authorities to release them immediately.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed disbelief by this negative unfounded comment, which was not based in any accurate or true information. The persons referred to were lawfully detained by the Public Prosecution for committing crimes punishable by applicable law, which also guaranteed detainees’ rights and provided them with due process during the investigation and trial.
The Ministry also affirmed that the Canadian statement is a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols. It is a major, unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process, as well as a violation of the Kingdom’s sovereignty.
Throughout its long history, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never accepted any interference in its domestic affairs by, or orders from any country. The Kingdom views the Canadian position as an affront to the Kingdom that requires a sharp response to prevent any party from attempting to meddle with Saudi sovereignty. It is quite unfortunate to see the phrase “immediate release” in the Canadian statement, which is a reprehensible and unacceptable use of language between sovereign states.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – whilst expressing absolute rejection to the Canadian political stand regarding this matter – confirms its commitment to refrain from intervening in the internal matters of other countries, including Canada, and in return categorically rejects any intervention in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens. Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgement of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs”
Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the Kingdom over its citizens. Thereby, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recalls the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Canada back to Riyadh and considers the Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia as Persona-Non-Grata who must leave the Kingdom within the next 24 hours. The Kingdom will put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”.
In this sense, the oil rich Kingdom has put Canada squarely in its place for making a provocative statement in public that could have potentially yielded the results that Ottawa apparently desired if it had been addressed privately. The lesson that Canada ought to learn is twofold. First of all, it is not the job of the Canadian Foreign Ministry to act as a one-nation UN and comment on alleged civil rights issues in foreign states. Secondly, if the issue was so pressing to Canada, it should not have been dealt with in a public Tweet that was bound to cause consternation and achieve no tangible results.
While Saudi Arabia’s internal human development model has been widely criticised, it is ultimately a Saudi issue rather than an international one. The immature vainglorious grandstanding of the current Canadian government has now been rebuffed in a very serious way but a country that is nominally a Canadian ally. In the age where Trump style aggressive statements are increasingly becoming the norm in geopolitical discourse, liberal holdouts like Canada will find that nations which had previously been reserved in their responses to a provocative statement will now take a more robust approach to defending their sovereignty. This is the case whether Saudi Arabia, The Philippines, Russia or any other state that Canada sees fit to openly provoke without a clear end game in mind.