March 24, 2016 11:18 pm
Updated: March 25, 2016 3:39 pm

Dion breaks bread with Saudi ambassador, but ‘can’t reveal nature of discussion’

WATCH: Just under three months after decrying the beheading of 47 people in Saudi Arabia, Global News has exclusive pictures of Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion breaking bread with the Saudi Ambassador to Canada. Vassy Kapelos reports.


OTTAWA — Just under three months after decrying the mass execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion attended a “congratulatory reception” at the Saudi Embassy.

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Hosted by the Saudi Ambassador to Canada Naif Bin Bandir Alsudairy Thursday evening, the reception was held to praise Canada’s efforts to support the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia thanks Canada for helping Syrian refugees. But but how much is it doing?

Dion greeted Alsudairy warmly and the two sat next to each other for the duration of a 30-minute dinner.

Global News attended the event and tried to ask Dion what he and the ambassador discussed, but he declined to be interviewed.

WATCH: Stephane Dion spends evening at Saudi embassy but won’t take questions

Follow up questions on Thursday evening to his spokesperson about whether Dion raised the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the mass beheadings or the arms deal went unanswered.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the nature of the discussion or the issues raised,” Chantal Gagnon wrote in an email.

On Friday Gagnon called Global News and said the minister takes every opportunity he has to raise human rights issues.

New Democrats want to know what Dion discussed with Alsudairy.

“Canadians needs to know if Mr. Dion raised human rights issues during this meeting,” foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said.

“We have been asking the government to be transparent and make public all information  related to the deal, it’s unfortunate that once again, Mr. Dion refuses to be honest with Canadians.”

READ MORE: Saudi arms deal will still stand, despite Liberal disapproval: Dion

Dion and the Liberals have faced intense scrutiny over Canada’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The controversial deal, to manufacture light armoured vehicles for the Saudi Arabian National Guard, was struck by the former Conservative government in early 2014. After January’s mass executions of 47 people in 12 cities in Saudi Arabia, the Liberals came under pressure to re-evaluate the agreement.

After January’s mass beheadings, the Liberals came under pressure to re-evaluate the agreement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada wouldn’t renege on the deal, but promised any future arms sales would undergo a more rigorous review.

In a rare media availability at the embassy following the reception, Alsudairy avoided questions over his country’s human rights record and the arms deal.

“Today we are here to celebrate something different than this,” he said. “Maybe we can talk about Saudi Arabia and Canada at [another] event.”

WATCH: Saudi ambassador avoids questions about human rights, arms deal

Alsudairy, flanked by his counterparts from five other Gulf states, insisted his country’s relationship with Canada is a good one.

“As a GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) country we believe our relationship is very strong, and we maintain this relationship with the new government,” he said.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record. Why are they still Canada’s ally?

The six countries together presented the United Way with a $31, 000 cheque at the reception, to support Syrian refugee resettlement efforts.

Other attendees included Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Speaker of the Senate George Furey.

WATCH: Trudeau announces Security Council plans, but faces Saudi human rights questions

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