By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 11, 2018.
Canada’s diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia made international headlines this week.
Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sent a tweet, apparently the preferred method of communication for diplomats in 2018, calling for the “immediate release” of two Saudi women’s rights activists who were recently detained.
The Saudis responded rashly, calling off new trade deals with Canada, expelling our ambassador, suspending Saudi Arabian airline flights to Toronto and recalling 16,000 Saudi students and medical patients.
While it’s easy to praise Canada for taking a principled stand against the Saudi monarchy’s myriad human rights abuses, it turns out that relations with the Saudis will be business as usual.
“We don’t want to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia,” self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of a country where women have just recently earned the (restricted) right to drive.
Canada will continue with its arms sales to the Saudis and the Saudis have said they will continue selling oil to be refined at Irving Oil in Saint John.
Conservative commentators jumped the gun in calling for the resurrection of the cancelled Energy East pipeline to bring Alberta crude to the east coast to make up for what they assumed would be a lack of Saudi oil.
It was the Conservatives, of course, who initiated the sale of $15 billion in armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia in 2014.
When Trudeau began issuing the export permits in 2016, he said Canada would continue with the sale, despite concerns from human rights groups, because the vehicles provided manufacturing jobs at the General Dynamics plant in London, Ont.
This is true, but horribly unprincipled.
Many pundits have criticized the United States for not taking Canada’s side in this spat, pointing to President Donald Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders. We are, after all, America’s democratic neighbour.
Due to its wealth, Saudi Arabia has for a long time wielded disproportionate influence in Washington, D.C., so it’s unlikely that this is the foreign policy equivalent of Trump’s “there are great people on both sides” remark after the neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville last year. A more conventional president would likely take a similar position to avoid upsetting the Saudis.
This desire for the U.S. to take Canada’s side also obscures the roles of Canada and the U.S. in propping up the Saudi regime, and giving cover to its genocidal war in Yemen, arguably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
After the U.S., Canada is the largest supplier of weapons to the Middle East, a fact that may come as a surprise to those who fancy Canada as a “peacekeeping nation.”
It would not be a negative development if Canada cut ties with Saudi Arabia, but this is not what’s happening.
The Saudis are trying to criticize the Canadians as harshly as they can without jeopardizing their country’s arms purchases, while the Canadian government decided only this past week to timidly criticize the totalitarian state’s atrocious human rights record to avoid having its oil purchases cut off.
The long-term solution would be to transform Canada into a renewable energy powerhouse and make fossil fuels live up to their name, so we don’t need any oil, whether from a medieval theocracy or Alberta’s oilsands.
If Global Affairs Canada truly wants to put pressure on the Saudis to meaningfully reform, it will have to do better than a critical tweet.
We’ll have to tell them goodbye and to not let the door hit them on the way out.
(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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