Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

Canada's 'rights first' foreign policy could be costly

Saudi Arabia Went Nuts And Just Had To Delete This 9/11-Esque Tweet Saudi Arabia Expels Canadian Ambassador, To Withdraw Students From Canada Over Women's Rights Criticism
Priscilla Morrison | 09 August, 2018, 21:21

Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University, said the armoured vehicles contract was a big deal for Canada, which is why the Liberals - who inherited it from their Tory predecessors - agreed to uphold it despite clear human rights concerns.

But farm groups were already sounding the alarm about the loss of what they say is a small but not insignificant market.

GDLS, which in London operates one of the world's largest factories producing wheeled armoured military vehicles, has become a heavy hitter in the regional economy, employing almost 500 production workers alone in London and building vehicles for Canada, the United States and major allies.

The Saudis expelled Canada's ambassador, cancelled direct flights between the two countries and recalled some 16,000 Saudi students studying at Canadian universities and colleges, all in a response to a Friday morning tweet from Global Affairs Canada calling for the release of Samar Badawi, sister of dissident Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Canadian living in Sherbrooke, Que.

Saudi Arabia is by far the largest source of global medical residents and fellows training in Canadian hospitals, the result of a decades-old visa program under which the kingdom pays approximately $100,000 a year for each trainee it sends to Canadian medical schools.

The moves came in retaliation to a Canadian government tweet that said it was "gravely concerned" about the arrests of civil society and women's activists in the Saudi kingdom.

Human rights are a low priority for the United States and President Donald Trump - who has been effusive in his praise for the Saudis - meaning the Saudis have little to lose by taking a hard line.

She noted most of the Saudi students are not here short-term.

Jim Reid, president of Unifor Local 27, said the union officially supports the federal government's defence of human rights, but he acknowledges GDLS management and some of his own union members would prefer the federal government backed off from its position in the tweets.

"We're reaching out ... to identify their circumstances, what their needs are, whether they have families with them", she said.

GDLS Canada officials wouldn't comment on the issue, a stance they've maintained for some time.

The prince "aims for change but is unwilling to be guided by other countries, nor establish quick change that could trigger the risk of conflict inside the kingdom", said Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at the pro-Saudi think tank Arabia Foundation.

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"Canada will continue to advocate for human rights and for the courageous women and men who push for these fundamental rights around the world", she said in a statement.

"These are not huge numbers, although, in barley terms, it's more significant because we don't export that large a volume of barley to the world", said Tom Steve, general manager for Alberta Barley and the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Lashing out at Canada, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Monday said the kingdom "will deal with any interference decisively".

"This government has operated under their rules, their style of government for centuries and expecting them to turn things around overnight because Canada has different standards is unrealistic", he said.

Vice Provost Patti McDougall said in an interview Tuesday only nine students from the kingdom are registered for classes in 2018-19, but they suspect the number who were planning to return was much higher.

"The world stays silent because the world only cares about the money, the oil and contracts", said Neve.

In 2015, the latest year for which Alberta government figures are available, the province exported $46 million of agricultural products to Saudi Arabia, primarily cereal crops.

The supplier is General Dynamics Land Systems in London, a subsidiary of USA defence giant General Dynamics.

"It is now the largest employer in the London region".

Included is a 14-year support program, including training and maintenance.

David Chatterson, a former Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was blunt. "Locally the economy matters".

"Local people are understandably very upset - I've had lots of calls", said Irene Mathyssen, the New Democrat MP in whose riding the General Dynamics plant is located. However, he said he couldn't speculate on whether the Saudis might try to back out of the deal.

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