While most Saudi Arabian students are being forced to return to the country amid a diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Canada, medical students have been granted leave to stay and continue their training until other arrangements can be made.
“We value the contributions these medical students and residents make to the Canadian health system and we will always welcome them here. We are pleased that medical residents across the country will be able to complete their training here in Canada,” responded a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
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Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties, suspended future trade and recalled its students from Canadian schools earlier this month after a federal government tweet that criticized the Middle Eastern kingdom for the arrest of female social activists.
Saudi Arabian medical students completing their residency in Canada were previously told they’d have until Aug. 31 to leave the country, but recent developments reveal that they’ve been told by their government to continue their assignments here until an alternative posting could be arranged.
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Global Affairs told Global News in a statement that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has raised this issue with Saudi officials.
“Our Government continues to work collaboratively with provinces, territories and other partners – such as the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons – to provide support as needed,” the statement added.
Hospitals expressed relief at the decision, as such an abrupt departure of medical residents could potentially impact some hospitals’ abilities to provide some services.
“It eased the tension that existed, allowing them to continue to do their training in Canada,” Paul-Emile Cloutier, president and CEO of HealthCareCan, told The Canadian Press. He noted that his organization was informed of the development by hospitals and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, which oversees the medical student program.
“It also helps our institutions to really allow them to be more organized in their planning,” he added.
One Ontario hospital told The Canadian Press that despite the news that Saudi Arabian medical students could remain in their posts, many of its Saudi trainees had already left.
“We are still working with our partners to address the significant gaps as a result of those that have already left and the ongoing uncertainty about how this will impact our health-care system in the longer-term,” said Dr. Richard McLean, chief medical executive of Hamilton Health Sciences, a medical group of seven hospitals and a cancer centre.
It’s unclear whether the recent tensions between Canada and Saudi Arabia are a temporary blip in the relationship between the two countries or a long-term political hurdle.
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On Aug. 23, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that Canada continues to “engage diplomatically” with Saudi Arabia, but refused to back down on concerns about human rights and detaining activists.
“We have expressed our concern with the sentence handed down by Saudi Arabia, our concern for defending human rights and our shared values all around the world,” he added.
–With files from The Canadian Press