Global Affairs Canada (GAC) announced last week that it is restoring diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia after a nearly five year spat that nonetheless saw trade between the two countries largely continue apace.

The news of the formal restoration of diplomatic ties came between rounds of executions carried out by the Saudi dictatorship and that have been described as "callous" and "unfair" by international human rights monitors. Meanwhile, there is little sign the kingdom is taking meaningful action to address a range of other serious human rights abuses.

On May 24, GAC stated:

"In light of what has been discussed between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok on November 18, 2022, and the desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and common interests; it has been decided to restore the level of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia to its previous level."

The statement announced that a new Canadian diplomat, Jean-Philippe Linteau, will be posted in Saudi Arabia. Linteau is a career diplomat who most recently served in the United Arab Emirates, and prior to that as a "clean tech" trade commissioner.

In a nearly identical statement, the Saudi foreign ministry stated: "It has been decided to restore the level of diplomatic relations with Canada to its previous state."

Dennis Horak, Linteau's predecessor, told CBC News "it's about time" relations were restored with the Saudi dictatorship.

"They're an important player and they're hard to ignore. And I think having full diplomatic relations with them allows us to have our voices heard at senior levels, which in Saudi Arabia is what matters," Horak explained.

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, a vocal advocate in favour of the Saudi dictatorship, also applauded the announcement. In a tweet, he wrote: "The Kingdom is a longtime regional partner, one with whom we share many interests. Congratulations to Jean-Philippe Linteau on his appointment as Ambassador."

The diplomatic row between Canada and Saudi Arabia emerged in the summer of 2018 when then-foreign minister Chrystia Freeland called on the Saudis to release dissidents Samar and Raif Badawi from jail (a call which had been part of a longer push for their release behind the scenes).

In response, Saudi Arabia cancelled flights to Canada, cut investment and recalled foreign students from Canada. On Aug. 6, 2018, an official Saudi Twitter account published a graphic that appeared to threaten a 9/11-style attack against Canada (a majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens). During the dispute, powerful allies like the United States and the United Kingdom were unwilling to support Canada's position.

Despite the diplomatic row, Canada continued to trade with Saudi Arabia. Notably, Canadian exports of light-armoured vehicles to the Gulf state - part of a $14-billion agreement first brokered under Harper but given the final green light by Trudeau - were uninterrupted, despite pressure from human rights advocates on the Trudeau government to terminate the deal.

The arms deal proceeded against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia's brutal bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen and its dire domestic human rights record, which includes lengthy prison sentences for peaceful dissident, harassment of human rights activists and unfair trials resulting in executions.

In October 2018, the Saudi monarchy orchestrated the assassination and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Responding to the announcement that diplomatic relations between Canada and the Saudis had been restored, York University researcher Anthony Fenton tweeted that "all signs have pointed to this for many months now."

In an article for The Breach last year, Fenton revealed that the Canadian government had purchased two aircraft for a fleet used by the prime minister from a company controlled by bin Salman. Canadian companies also participated in a “Saudi-Canadian Health Care Forum” in Riyadh this year, an event credited with “achieving a new positive outlook on relations between the two countries."

GAC documents obtained by The Breach also revealed that despite Canada's spat with the Saudis, the Trudeau government's motives for arming the dictatorship centre around its concerns for access to cheap Saudi oil, Canadian corporate interests in the region and military posturing against geopolitical adversaries, like Iran.

Ongoing Abuses

In the months leading up to and in the days immediately following GAC's announcement, the Saudi monarchy ordered executions following trials that were slammed as unfair by human rights group Amnesty International.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported:

"Saudi Arabia said it executed two Bahraini men on Monday after being convicted of belonging to a militant group wanting to destabilize the two Mideast kingdoms. Amnesty International and other rights groups have criticized their trial as being grossly unfair."

The AP report explained:

"Amnesty ... had criticized their October 2021 trial and conviction, adding they also had faced charges for 'participation in anti-government protests in Bahrain' ... 'Jaafar and Sadeq [the two men who were executed] had no access to legal representation throughout their pre-trial detention and interrogations,' the rights group said in a statement in May 2022. 'According to court documents, they told the court that they were tortured and that their so-called confessions were extracted under duress.'"

Back in March, Amnesty also condemned the Saudi dictatorship's "callous disregard for human life" after it executed a Jordanian man following an "unfair" trial for a drug-related offence.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

"By executing Hussein Abo al-Kheir without even notifying his family, the Saudi authorities have yet again revealed their callous disregard for human life. Saudi authorities keep boasting that new legislative reforms bring human rights protections, yet their execution of Hussein following an unjust trial exposes their utter failure to follow through on these assurances."

Morayef added: "Saudi Arabia’s international allies must ... make it clear that Saudi authorities cannot continue to execute with impunity, and they must speak out strongly in support of others on death row who may be at risk of execution.”

Now, let's turn to the members' corner...

Members' Corner

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Canadian officials and businesses have wasted no time in pushing to take advantage of Canada's restored diplomatic relations with the Saudi dictatorship, all while military cooperation between the Saudis and Canadian military allies continues apace. Here's what else you need to know.

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