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Human Rights Advocate Sees Bias in Canada's Accusations of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has suspended Toronto flights amid an ongoing row with Canada. According to reports, Riyadh has also frozen all trade and expelled the Canadian ambassador from the country. The news comes after Canada criticized human rights in Saudi Arabia. Sputnik discussed this with Dr. Denis Rancourt, a civil rights advocate and social theorist.

Sputnik: How significant is this row between Canada and Saudi Arabia? Could it be nipped in the bud or is it likely to expand and involve other countries?

Dr. Denis Rancourt: You know the relationship between Canada and Saudi Arabia, trade-wise, is about $3 billion per year, which is less than 1% of Canada’s trade, ingoing and outgoing. The Saudi Kingdom represents the 20th trading partner with Canada; so it’s not a big deal in absolute terms economically. But it is a big deal in terms of everything that's happening and politically it’s a big deal. At the moment, the Canadian Parliament is not sitting and this is a low media cycle, the deadest time of the year, so the government is very fortunate here in Canada for that reason; but it’s certainly a huge diplomatic row which will not go away immediately.

READ MORE: ‘We Can’t Do it For Them’: Washington Bows Out of Saudi-Canada Row

Sputnik: Do you feel that Canada is going to back down or are they going to be more robust about it moving forward?

Dr. Denis Rancourt: They can’t easily back down because they would lose face. We’re talking about some tweets here. I think that Canadian demands regarding human rights are disingenuous and are political in nature. Let me explain that. First of all, the target of these criticisms tends to be rather biased: they will go after Saudi Arabia, but there are equal or even greater violations against Canadians in Israel, for example, from the same region, where Canada’s very careful about being critical. So there is an extreme bias diplomatically, but also you have to understand that in Canada, this kind of complaint is part of what I would call “domestic virtue propaganda politics,” in other words, the Liberal government has some political advantage domestically to be seen as a government that is promoting human rights, women’s rights and so on, and so it’s part of that politics, but it's disingenuous. When you look at the human rights violations within Canada itself and other places in the world where Canada could have an influence to make things better, it does not. It choses its occasions and its targets and it’s part of the domestic propaganda politics here in Canada. That’s the picture from this side.

The other thing I would say is that, why did this happen? How is this possible that a large nation like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would have such a virulent reaction, to spontaneously go out like this? I’ve got some things to say about that. The kingdom is under tremendous pressures: it’s in a violent war with Yemen, which it’s having a hard time with, with the new technology of small hand-held missiles that are anti-vehicle, anti-ship and everything, it is having a really hard time and it’s inexperienced in this war, so it’s taking big losses, the oil shipments have been affected by this war; the domestic problems within Saudi Arabia are significant, I mean I could go on. Saudi Arabia is extremely vulnerable to social media-induced internal revolution. If there is an important faction of Saudis who are discontent, especially the middle or professional class and a large fraction of women, this could really snowball into something significant. Saudi Arabia has no experience with social media openness, they haven’t developed the kind of propaganda handling methods that the West have developed to its openness. They are very vulnerable to this and they’re very nervous about it. If you look at all of this, you can kind of understand their virulent reaction.

Sputnik: Conversely when we look from Saudi Arabia's point of view in terms of exports, Saudi Arabia is one of Canada's largest export markets in the region. How  would this freeze on new projects and investments affect Canada’s economy?

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Dr. Denis Rancourt: Canada’s main technological export is related to cars and vehicles and car parts, and it is trying to develop an important military vehicle technological export market and it has been successful with the largest contract of its type with Saudi Arabia recently, worth some $15 billion. I don’t think that contract is in jeopardy, but future contracts of that type are on hold at the moment. This is very significant because it’s really the only area where Canada can have a technological export market that's significant; so that’s going to hurt. I think it was a mistake by an inexperienced Canadian government, that is not really concerned about human rights. They just made a big mistake here and I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.

READ MORE: Saudi Twitterians Spark Internet War vs. Canada, Troll With Quebec Independence

Sputnik: What’s your take on the weapons sale side of this equation?

Dr. Denis Rancourt: Like I said, it’s a big deal, $15 billion or so; it is going to go ahead as far as I can see. But there aren’t going to be any more for some time, that would be my sense of it. They’re not going to make another deal like this with Canada; why would they? Why would they when they can be criticized in this way publicly? They don’t need Canada. It’s part of being allied in the world in these wars, like the regime change war in Syria, that has now failed; it’s part of being allied in this way with Canada and the United States, Israel and so on to have this trade, but they don’t have to do it, so they can easily drop this. It’s not really that important in terms of the trade itself, it’s more about cohesion among allies and ensuring that trade is between allies in order to not advantage opposing blocs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

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