RIYADH – Canada’s trade strategy of arms-for-human rights hit a snag on Sunday when the Saudi government expelled the Canadian Ambassador and suspended any new business after asking for the release of an arrested women’s rights activist.
Canada’s polite request for the immediate release of Samar Badawi on the Foreign Affairs Twitter account was the country’s boldest statement on Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record since it left a friendly reminder to follow the Geneva Convention on a Post-it note left in an armoured car’s glove compartment.
“We had a deal with the Saudis,” said a disappointed Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. “We would give them one armoured vehicle in exchange for one human right. Canada’s foreign policy is based on trust, which we are confident will one day pay off.”
The LAVs-for-Liberties Agreement between the two countries allows Saudi Arabia to import $15 billion worth of arms while Canada exports its smug sense of superiority on human rights. The deal showed some promise after the oil-rich nation made some reforms such as permitting women to drive in a country they can’t leave without permission from a man.
“For a country that liberally dishes out lashes for dissent, and is currently bombing Yemen, I find this very disappointing that they would do something like this,” explained Freeland.
This is not the first time Canada has taken a bold stand for the rights of others in countries that buy Canadian arms. Earlier this year, the Philippines government cancelled a $234 million attack helicopter deal with Canada despite promises that strongman President Rodrigo Duterte would perform one less extra-judicial killing for every helicopter he received.