Justin Trudeau Finally Weighs in on the Canada-Saudi Arabia Rift Over Women’s Rights

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t be scared off that easily.

Less than a week after a comment by Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland sparked a diplomatic dispute with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Trudeau publicly commented on the escalation.

When reporters at a news conference in Montreal gave him an opportunity to step back his government’s criticism of the kingdom, Trudeau declined. Instead, he explained that “Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and public on questions of human rights.”

“We will do so in a constructive and polite way,” he continued, “but we will also remain firm on standing up for human rights everywhere around the world.”

“We have always had a positive and constructive relationship with countries around the world while at the same time always making sure we’re bringing up human rights concerns, because Canadians expect that, and indeed people around the world expect that leadership from Canada,” Trudeau said.

Last Friday, Freeland criticized the arrest of Samar Badawi, a Canadian citizen and woman’s right activist on Twitter, calling for the release of her and her brother Raif, who is also imprisoned.

In response, Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own ambassador in Canada, cancelled Saudi Airlines flights to and from Canada, withdrawn Saudi citizens studying in Canadian universities, barred Saudi citizens from pursuing medical treatment in Canada, and suspended all new business and investment with Canada.

Noting that he doesn’t think that it’s “a big surprise for anyone” that Canada remains firm in its defense of human rights, Trudeau added that he will never “impose on another country what their reaction should be or what their responses should be,” implicitly making a dig at Saudi Arabia’s reaction to his own country’s comments. “I respect the rights of individual countries to make the right decisions and speak for themselves.”

In regards to the possible economic impacts of the dispute, Trudeau said that “obviously Canada will always stand up for our workers and our companies,” and emphasized the need to protect Canadian interests “in any situation.”

Trudeau conceded that there is an ongoing “diplomatic difference of opinion.” Nevertheless, he highlighted that Canada continues to “engage diplomatically and politically” with Saudi Arabia, saying that the country has “respect for [Saudi’s] importance in the world and recognize[s] that they have made progress on a number of important issues.” He added that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Freeland had spoken by phone on Tuesday and those conversations are expected to continue.

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