The ties between the United States and Canada have recently been frosty — to say the least.
And it seems the final nail in the coffin came as the spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia — over the release of arrested activists — escalated into a full-clown clash and the U.S. chose to stay on the sidelines.
The spokeswoman for the State Department, Heather Nauert, said, “Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them.”
The message was clear: The U.S. would not call out KSA for their blatant disregard for human rights despite fashioning itself as the voice of civil rights across the world.
And the absence of support from America was noticed across the northern side of the border.
Rachel Curran, a policy director under former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the country does not have a “single friend” in the world.
We do not have a single friend in the whole entire world. That takes some doing.— Rachel Curran (@reicurran) August 7, 2018
Bob Rae, a former leader of the federal Liberal party, said Canada would remember the U.S.’ criminal silence on the issue of human rights. Similar concerns have been cast by the United Nations over the reclusive kingdom’s stance on civil rights.
The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say “we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians” - thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure. Saudi reaction is completely over the top. #dontshootthemessenger— Bob Rae (@BobRae48) August 7, 2018
The row between the two nations started with a tweet when Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland expressed her concern over detained activists in Saudi Arabia.
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
In May, Saudi Arabian authorities reportedly arrested 17 activists. Among those who were detained included women who challenged the kingdom by getting in cars and driving. The men who supported these women were also reportedly detained.
In an over the top retaliatory measure, Saudi Arabia did not only call out Canada for interfering in the kingdom’s “internal relations” but also expelled the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom.
Furthermore, the kingdom suspended all new trade and investment deals with the country. Shortly after, Saudi state airlines also cancelled flights in and out of Toronto.
In another attempt to sever ties with Canada, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, which is a wing of the country's Ministry of Education, has ordered all Saudi students attending Canadian universities, colleges and other schools on government-funded scholarships and grants to leave the country and seek admission elsewhere.
Analysts claimed the reaction from Saudi Arabia was not just for Canada, it was, in fact, a silent message for western nations and an example of what would follow if they choose to raise their voice on what goes on the ultraconservative Islamic kingdom.
While Saudi Arabia received support from the likes of Jordan, Russia and Egypt, Canada found no nation standing beside them, even as KSA crucified a man to death in the holy city of Mecca.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, yet, stood by their criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations.
“We have respect for their importance in the world and recognize that they have made progress on a number of important issues,” he told reporters in Quebec. “We will, at the same time, continue to speak clearly and firmly on issues of human rights at home and abroad wherever we see the need.”
Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said while he was not worried about the spat with Saudi Arabia, he claimed the two countries have limited ties for Canada to be hugely disturbed because of the breakdown. But the silence from U.S. represented something much more ominous.
“But this should be a source of major anxiety: when a real crisis comes and we are alone, what do we do?” he asked.
“We are starting some serious soul-searching in the sense of what does it mean for Canada to have a U.S. that is much more unilateral, much more dismissive of the rules and the norms and of its leadership role in the international order that it has played for 70 years?” he continued.
Juneau did not see the political brawl to end anytime soon.
Saudi Arabia, as its history would show, has shown little inclination towards changing its norms over civil rights violations and Canada, facing an election in 14 months would not be caught conceding to Saudi “bullying” as it already faces rebuke over the signing off on the sale of more than 900 armored vehicles to Riyadh.
And not only America, the UK and Europe have also opted to stay mum on the subject; Juneau thinks the response is quite unsurprising.
“When Saudi Arabia had comparable fights with Sweden and Germany in recent years, did Canada go out of its way to side with Sweden and Germany? No, not at all,” he said. “We stayed quiet because we had nothing to gain from getting involved. So on the European side, the calculation is the same,” he said.
However, Canada might not be entirely alone in its fight for human, especially women, rights in Saudi Arabia.
Canada’s stance saw editorials from The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post, commending the nation and urging other super powers to join hands in condemning Saudi Arabia and its long-standing tradition of shunning of basic human rights.
While the U.S. presents itself as a human rights champion, only a few prominent names came forward to speak on behalf of the detained Saudi activists.
This is an outrageous move. It's entirely legitimate for democratic governments to highlight human rights issues with undemocratic governments. We must continue to do so. The US must be clear in condemning repression, especially when done by governments that receive our support. https://t.co/M0sLs2iyGg— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 6, 2018
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Christinne Muschi