Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the temporary freeze on arms export permits impacted new permits, not those already issued by Canada for Saudi Arabia.
Canada will restore full diplomatic ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ottawa announced Wednesday, ending a five-year spat that soured relations between the countries.
The move comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok last November.
A push to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia follows a blow-up of relations in 2018.
- Global News obtained a massive trove of records in late 2018 into how the spat played out, including shocked emails from Canadian officials during the first 24 hours, threats to exit major trade deals and an exclusive portrait of the months Canada spent on diplomacy before the fight.
- Those documents also painted a chilling picture of Saudi threats to Canadian allies that led officials to acknowledge, “No one is going to stick their necks out.”
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and severely restricted trade between the nations after Canada’s embassy in Riyadh issued a tweet in Arabic urging the release of women’s rights activists held in the country. That tweet followed similar posts from then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada.
In her Aug. 2, 2018 tweet, Freeland called for the release of dissident blogger Raif Badawi and his sister, Samar. Raif was freed in March 2022, a year after Samar was released.
As Global News reported at the time from hundreds of pages of emails and memos released through access to information laws, the ensuing diplomatic feud left Canadian officials reeling and scrambling to make sense of the Saudi response.
In addition to the expelling of Canada’s ambassador and recalling of its own, Saudi Arabia ordered its students out of Canada, cut off air routes from its national airline and sought a freeze of all existing and future deals between its ministries and Canadian companies, documents showed.
Among the contracts that faced questions during the dispute was London, Ont.-based General Dynamics’ controversial deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. The $15-billion agreement was renegotiated in April 2020, the same month said it Ottawa would lift its ban on issuing new arms sales permits to the kingdom.
That tweet spat also preceded the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was widely condemned by Canada and other Western countries.
Jean-Philippe Linteau, formerly Canada’s consul general in Dubai, will serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada.
Dennis Horak, the Canadian ambassador who was expelled during the 2018 spat, said in an interview with The Canadian Press that Ottawa needs to seize on the momentum to build closer ties with Saudi Arabia, since it’s a key ally with an “increasingly prominent role” in countries from Syria to Yemen.
“Re-establishing ambassadorial relations is a good first step, but it needs to be accompanied by a sustained engagement at senior levels,” Horak told The Canadian Press.
He said his ouster partly stemmed from Canada not having connections with senior Saudi leadership through ministerial visits. This led Canada to be seen as expendable, he said.
“If you want to get your point of view heard, whether it’s in relation to commercial issues or human rights, you need to engage person-to-person,” said Horak.
“That’s the way to cement the relationship and make our views known in a way that it reaches the people that need to hear it — as opposed to relying solely on social media.”
— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, The Canadian Press, Reuters