MLI Research Advisory Board Member Elliot Tepper joined Erin Paul on CTV News to discuss recent actions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against Canada.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Canada has quickly deteriorated following a critical tweet from Global Affairs Canada about Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment of women’s rights and civil society activists.
Over the span of just a few days, the Kingdom has expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled their own ambassador, suspended new trade investment in Canada, and withdrawn the enrollment of thousands of Saudi students in Canadian universities.
Professor Tepper expressed surprise at the Saudi’s actions, calling the dismissal of Canada’s ambassador “a major step in terms of the way international diplomacy is carried on.” He also noted the seriousness of follow-up actions to freeze future trade and investment with Canada as well as plans to withdraw all Saudi scholarship students studying at Canadian universities.
Tepper characterized this “unusually sharp shot across the diplomatic bow,” exacerbated by additional measures, as a “highly unusual international diplomatic event.”
When asked about the particular actions he believed were most likely to have triggered this strong Saudi response, Tepper noted the plausible role of recent calls from Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland for Saudi officials to immediate release jailed human rights activists Raif and Samar Badawi. He also eluded to broader international pressures—which include trade disputes, conflict with Iran, and erratic American leadership—as potential instigating factors
Finally, placing the discussion in a broader context, Professor Tepper qualified that “neither country is really all that vital to the other” in terms of trade, despite Canada receiving roughly 10% of its oil imports from Saudi Arabia. As such, these diplomatic outbursts may really be about “picking on Canada” to deter other states from “criticizing the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.”