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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.