Canada, Saudi Arabia rekindle diplomatic relations after 2018 human rights rift

Canada and Saudi Arabia agreed to resume diplomatic relations, ending a five-year dispute jumpstarted by human rights concerns, according to CNBC.

The decision, announced by both foreign ministries late Wednesday, was reached following discussions by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bangkok in November last year.

It reflects the “desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the countries on the basis of mutual respect,” Saudi Arabia and Canada said.

Canada has appointed Jean-Philippe Linteau, who has most recently served as the country’s consul general in Dubai, as Ottawa’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has yet to announce its own ambassador.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries fissured in the summer of 2018, mere months before the October killing of dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi earned Riyadh widespread criticism from Western partners. The rupture was sparked by Canada’s tweet expressing Ottawa was “gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists,” coupled with a plea for Saudi authorities to “immediately release them.”

Riyadh at the time qualified Canada’s position as “overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom” and a “contravention of the most basic international norms.” The kingdom swiftly retaliated by freezing new trade and investment transactions, giving the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to exit the country and stopping medical treatment programs in the North American country.

Official Canadian data indicates that the North American country’s exports to Saudi Arabia totalled $2.2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.62 billion) in 2021, of which 81% comprised transportation equipment. Canada’s imports from Saudi Arabia amounted to 2.4 billion Canadian dollars over that same period.

The normalization of relations with Canada is the latest in Saudi Arabia’s apparent steps to pursue diplomatic stability, fostering a growth environment for its plans to further diversify its more-than-$1 trillion economy away from a historical reliance on fossil fuels.

In early March, Riyadh agreed to resuscitate ties with arch-rival Iran in a China-brokered arrangement, while U.S. President Joe Biden finally met the crown prince in July last year, with an eye to “reset” Washington’s relationship with its Middle East ally.