Saudi Arabia to suspend Toronto flights as spat with Canada continues

Saudi Arabia to suspend Toronto flights as spat with Canada continues

Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador Monday and froze "all new business" with Ottawa over its criticism of the ultraconservative kingdom's arrest of women's rights activists - yet another warning to the West reflecting Riyadh's newly assertive foreign policy.

"Should this decision by the Saudi government disrupt the studies of our current students, we will help them in any way we can." said Cambrian's Kerri Jokinen in a statement.

The displaced Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who was given 24 hours to leave the country, has a lengthy diplomatic career.

The city's General Dynamics Land Systems plant has been providing light armoured vehicles to Saudi security forces, thanks to a $15-billion contract signed by the Canadian government in 2014.

The dispute ostensibly arose because of a tweet issued by Canada's Global Affairs Ministry decrying the arrest and detention of two female bloggers and activists, and urging Saudi authorities to immediately free the two women - one of whom was Samar Badawi, sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi - as well as "all peaceful human rights activists".

The announcement was made after, the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh said it was "gravely concerned" over a spike of arrests of human rights campaigners in the Saudi kingdom including gender rights activist Samar Badawi. He has launched a campaign of social and economic change, but has not eased the absolute monarchy's total ban on political activism.

Analysts say the dispute between Riyadh and Ottawa shows Saudi Arabia won't accept any outside criticism and will continue flexing its muscles overseas, especially as the kingdom enjoys a closer relationship with President Donald Trump.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Monday he believes Canada's position is based on "misleading information".

The moves, carried on the official Saudi Press Agency, caught diplomats in Riyadh off guard.

"As of Tuesday August 7, 2018, Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO) can no longer accept milling wheat or feed barley cargoes of Canadian origin to be supplied", a copy of the notice seen by Reuters said.

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Saudi state television later reported that the Education Ministry was coming up with an "urgent plan" to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools to take classes in other countries.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have publicly backed Saudi Arabia in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia's state airline is suspending flights in and out of Toronto amid an intensifying diplomatic row with Canada.

Also on Tuesday, the gulf between Ottawa and Saudi Arabia widened to encompass travel as the Middle Eastern country's state airline announced it was suspending operations in Canada.

Vice Provost Patti McDougall said in an interview Tuesday only nine students from the kingdom are registered for classes in 2018-19, but they suspect the number who were planning to return was much higher.

Canada has refused to back down from its human rights stance despite Saudi Arabia's expulsion of its ambassador.

Media reports suggested Saudi Arabia would cancel scholarships for more than 15,000 students now attending school in Canada.

Last year, Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia were nearly $1.5 billion, while imports from the Middle Eastern country were about $2.6 billion.

Saudi-Canadian trade consists largely of Saudi exports of petrochemicals, plastics and other products.

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