Sanctioning or publicly condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing of a journalist inside its consulate in Turkey three weeks ago would not be effective, says Canada’s former ambassador to the kingdom. .
And while raising the matter privately might not be as “emotionally satisfying,” doing so is still the best option, says Dennis Horack.
READ MORE: Saudi Arabia says missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead after fight
In an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Horack said the approach being taken by Canada, the United States and other G7 allies over the last three weeks to communicate concern about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but not condemnation are the best of the severely limited available options.
“It’s a difficult dilemma for a number of countries. There’s not a lot of good options to anyone,” he said. “It’s a horrific incident. There’s a real natural desire to lash out and to punish, but the tools available to do that are hard to find. Saudi Arabia’s a very difficult country to isolate.”
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Khashoggi, a frequent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to pick up paperwork needed to marry his Turkish fiancée and never walked out.
Turkish media had initially reported they had audio records of him being tortured and murdered by what has been described as a hit squad of Saudis who had flown into Turkey just days prior, then used a bone saw to dismember and decapitate the journalist inside the consulate.
Saudi Arabia denied for weeks that Khashoggi had been killed, but failed to provide any evidence of him ever leaving the consulate.
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Then, on Friday night, Saudi state media reported that Khashoggi is in fact dead.
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Their reports suggest he died as of a result of a fight that broke out inside the consulate and that 18 Saudi suspects have been arrested.
Horack, who spoke with Global News on Friday prior to the Saudis confirming Khashoggi’s death, said that if the journalist had in fact been killed, sanctions remain unlikely.
“Sanctioning Saudi Arabia is very difficult,” he said.
“They’re such an important part of the oil market that people will continue doing business with them because they have to. There are other sanctions available, you mentioned the LAV deal. I’m not sure what impact that would have apart from losing Canadian jobs and damaging Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier for a gesture that’s really going to have no impact on Saudi behaviour.”
The LAV deal referenced by Horack is the export permit granted by the Liberal government to allow General Dynamics to sell hundreds of armoured vehicles to the Saudis.
The government has refused to revoke the permits despite evidence in recent years the Saudis were using similar armoured vehicles to repress dissent in the kingdom.
Horack, who was expelled earlier this year by Saudi Arabia after the kingdom picked a fight with Canada for criticizing its arrest of women’s rights activists on Twitter, said Canada and other Western countries that want to make the consequences of the matter clear should focus on targeting investment.
For example, the slew of Western officials including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who have withdrawn from the Future Investment Initiative conference are sending a signal to which Saudi Arabia will be more likely to listen than public criticism.
“Those are important messages in an area Saudis really care about,” Horack said.
“That will hit home more than statements of condemnation.”
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Horack’s expulsion followed a tweet by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland and the Global Affairs Canada account, criticizing the arrest of women’s rights activists in a sweeping crackdown in August.
Saudi Arabia responded by kicking out Horack, withdrawing their own ambassador here, freezing business investment and ordering its students studying in Canada to transfer elsewhere.
Another former Canadian ambassador described the reaction as Saudi Arabia turning Canada into its “whipping boy” to send the message to other countries that it would not tolerate criticism.
Despite that, Canada defended its issuance of the tweet, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowing to continue to do so.
But for three weeks, Canada did not issue any independent statement condemning the disappearance or widely reported killing of Khashoggi.
Instead, all of the G7 foreign ministers issued a joint statement, saying they were “very troubled” by the disappearance of Khashoggi.
Freeland also tweeted out a link to a statement issued by France, Germany and the U.K. expressing concern over the matter — but Canada’s name was not officially on that statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has so far said only that he is “concerned” by the matter.
Not until Saturday night did Freeland issue a statement condemning the killing.
That statement did not, however, contain any direct criticism of Saudi Arabia.