Saudi suspends flights to Canada ahead of Hajj

Samar badawi

Samar badawi

Saudi Arabia's move came followed a tweet Friday from Global Affairs Canada which expressed concerns about the arrests of civil and women's rights activists and asking the Saudi government to immediately release them.

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

"And by hitting Canada - which is big enough to matter but small enough not to be a risk to Saudi - he sends a message elsewhere", Kliment said.

Canada said it was "seriously concerned" by the escalation but vowed to continue to "stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world". Samar's brother, Raif Badawi, is a blogger who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticizing the Saudi clerics, for which he was convicted of "insulting Islam".

Riyadh also suspended all new trade agreements with Canada, recalled its own ambassador and gave Canada 24 hours to leave the country.

The arrests last week brought criticism from the Canadian government.

The dispute appears to have been sparked by tweets from Canadian diplomats, including one from Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who said she was "very alarmed" by news of the arrest of Samar Badawi, the sister of prominent activist and writer Raif Badawi.

His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and three children were granted Canadian citizenship earlier this summer, and live in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

"As of Tuesday August 7, 2018, Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO) can no longer accept milling wheat or feed barley cargoes of Canadian origin to be supplied", a copy of the notice seen by Reuters said.

Amnesty International said the response to Canada showed that it was important Western countries not be intimidated into silence over Riyadh's treatment of dissenters.

'There isn't a strong bilateral trade relationship and poking the Trudeau government likely resonates with Saudi's hawkish regional allies.

The Shura Council in Bahrain, the kingdom's highest legislative body, also issued a statement condemning Canada's interference in Saudi's affairs.

Bilateral trade amounts to CAN $3-4 billion (US $2.3-3.1 billion) a year, according to Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

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.

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