In the wake of the killing of a journalist that the Canadian government is now deeming a “murder,” the “entire relationship” between Canada and Saudi Arabia is facing serious questions.
In a press conference Monday morning in Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland offered the government’s most strongly-worded condemnation yet of the horrific killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2.
The brutal reported details of the killing, including dismemberment by way of a bone saw, have forced the international community into a stark reckoning of their ties with the oil-rich kingdom.
But for weeks, the Canadian government said only that officials here were “concerned” and “troubled” by the disappearance of the journalist.
“We are gravely concerned by the murder of Jamal Khashoggim” said Freeland during a press conference from Ottawa.
“There are very important questions about the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia that need to be asked … We are having these serious conversations with our partners and allies.”
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Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who had been living in self-imposed exile as a resident of the United States, was a vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He had walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey to retrieve paperwork needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, then never walked out.
Shortly after, Turkish officials told journalists and officials they had recordings from inside the consulate that proved Khashoggi was dismembered and decapitated after being tortured.
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Saudi Arabia had for weeks insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate, before finally admitting on Oct. 19 that he did not.
Instead, the Saudis claimed he died after a fight broke out in the consulate.
As recently as this weekend, the Canadian government referred only to Khashoggi’s “killing” in their public statement issued in response to Saudi Arabia’s confirmation of his death.
Directly calling his death a murder implies planned, criminal intent.
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The Prime Minister’s Office also released a statement during her press conference which said the prime minister had convened a meeting of a new emergency committee known as the Incident Response Group.
Created in August 2018, the committee is “convened in the event of a national crisis or during incidents elsewhere that have major implications for Canada.”
It is designed to bring together ministers and senior government leaders to come up with a response.
Whether that response will include any changes to the export permit granted to allow the sale of hundreds of armoured vehicles to the kingdom remains unclear.
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Freeland was mum when asked during the press conference, despite saying that she had spoken with her German counterpart about the situation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Sunday night that country will freeze arms sales until the matter is resolved.
The deal between London-based General Dynamics and the Saudis is politically sensitive as the government heads into an election year.
The Liberals won three of the four seats in London in 2015, flipping one from the Conservatives.
The NDP continue to hold the fourth seat.
If the export permit is revoked, the question is whether the impact on local jobs at General Dynamics could cost the Liberals seats in the region they would need to hold onto to maintain their majority in the next election.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly refused to revoke the permit despite evidence over the last two years that the Saudis have been using similar vehicles to repress dissent among their citizens.
But questions about the deal are not going away any time soon.
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In question period on Monday, he said that the government has the power to stop the sale if they think the vehicles would be used to abuse human rights.
“We have frozen export permits before when we had concerns about its use, and we will not hesitate to do so again,” he said.
It is not clear what criteria the government would use if it were to revoke the permit.
The controversial deal is subject to a sweeping non-disclosure agreement that bars almost all details from being released.